In Review

Podcasts of the week: cult scams, cronyism and bingeable true-crime

Featuring Twin Flames, Our Friends in the North and Chameleon: Wild Boys

Cults, scams and con artists make for such “reliable podcast fodder”, it sometimes feels as though there are “more series about QAnon than there are actual members of QAnon”, said James Marriott in The Times. But while the genre has become tired, when it’s done as well as in the new Wondery podcast Twin Flames, it remains a “winner”.

It tells the story of two Americans, Jeff Ayan and his partner Shaleia, whose business Twin Flames Universe supposedly helps people find love (at a cost – $4,444 for the full subscription). Their theory, not backed by science, is that “everyone has a twin flame: that is, the person who possesses the missing half of your soul”. We hear Jeff whispering weirdly compelling “gnomic bullshit” (“All of it is yours... everything, everything, everything you desire... follow me”). And we hear from clients who get “egged on so vigorously in pursuit of their twin flames that they end up with restraining orders”. It’s bonkers, gripping and ultimately rather dark.

The news that Peter Flannery had adapted his classic 1960s-set TV drama Our Friends in the North for radio filled me with “wearied bemusement”, said Patricia Nicol in The Sunday Times. For one thing, the nine-part series (which made household names of Daniel Craig, Mark Strong, Gina McKee and Christopher Eccleston back in 1996) is easily viewed, on BritBox.

But, in fact, it is proving an “absorbing and convincing” stand-alone audio drama (available on BBC Sounds). There’s an “exhilarating verve to Melanie Harris’s pacey production”. Sound designer Eloise Whitmore conjures up the period atmosphere with news footage and snippets of song. The underlying themes – the housing crisis, political cronyism, levelling up the North and Labour’s future – are decidedly current. And the actors, especially Norah Lopez Holden as Mary, are “terrific”.

As a journalist writing about all things audio, people often ask me which new podcasts to look out for, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. “What they mean is: are there any new bingeable true-crime series?” My current response is for them to try Chameleon: Wild Boys. It’s not quite true crime: it’s about two strange and half-starved teenage boys who walked out of the wilderness surrounding the small Canadian town of Revelstoke in 2003 with an extraordinary tale of isolation and survival against the odds. “The only problem?” notes presenter Sam Mullins: “The boys weren’t who they said they were.”

The podcast is “beautifully paced, with excellent cliffhangers”, Mullins is “great”, and the sound production is top-notch. “I was gripped and surprised throughout Wild Boys, right up to the final episode. It really doesn’t go where you think it will. Recommended.”

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