In Depth

Podcasts of the Week: fun factoids, bad films, spoof crimes

How to Save a Planet is a bit different to other climate-themed podcasts

There is no shortage of climate-themed podcasts “howling about the terrible state of things”, said Fiona Sturges in the FT. How to Save a Planet – an impressive new series from Gimlet and Spotify – is a bit different, because its approach is “deliberately optimistic”. In each episode, Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist and self-anointed “policy nerd”, and journalist Alex Blumberg explore different initiatives and inventions that could stave off ecological catastrophe. The second episode, for example, looks at how a town in Massachusetts that was once economically dependent on the local coal-fired power station survived and prospered after blowing it up and embracing wind power. “This is not a sexy subject, but it is brought to life as a tale of conflict, money and nimbyism.” The focus is on “storytelling, rather than proselytising, and on highlighting viable solutions. On that front, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

Similarly invigorating was a recent episode of the Radio 4 series Analysis, titled The Return of Reality?, said James Marriott in The Times. In this “small classic of smart radio”, the Kiev-born journalist Peter Pomerantsev “joined the dots” between fake coronavirus conspiracy theories, political polarisation and even psychoanalysis. There was a “broad choice of clever interviewees and a scatter of chewable factoids”. One such nugget: when the Facebook “like” button is replaced with one that signals “respect” it increases users’ tolerance of opposing views. The Return of Reality? is one of several programmes that has reaffirmed my faith in Radio 4 of late, and it is definitely worth seeking out on BBC Sounds. “I demand more Pomerantsev!”

The pandemic has inspired all manner of podcasts over recent months – but surely none more silly (in a good way) than the new series of The Worst Idea of All Time, said Hannah Verdier in The Guardian. It involves two New Zealand comics, Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt, watching and reviewing the same atrocious film together every week for a year. Previous series have centred on Grown Ups 2 and Sex and the City 2. After a four-year break from the show, they spent lockdown watching Home Alone 3 every three days – and are “still stuck”. It sounds nuts, but it’s very funny. Then there is A Very Fatal Murder, The Onion’s spoof “true-crime” podcast, which brilliantly lampoons the “hot dead white girl” trope. When a teenage girl is murdered in the town of Bluff Springs, the police draw a blank, and it’s up to Onion Public Radio’s David Pascall to investigate. “Plinky-plonk piano, 911 calls and fast-talking waitresses blend with a big dose of absurdity.”

The Week Unwrapped

Should doctors monitor mothers’s alcohol intake? Are electric cars an investment bubble? And should spies have a “licence to kill”? Olly Mann and The Week delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.

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