Serial + 4 Other Addictive Podcasts You Need to Hear

Will 2014 go down as the golden era of the podcast? These five gems make a strong case

Netflix is great and so is your favourite playlist. But occasionally a gal needs to take a break from binge-watching BBC cop dramas, or lip-synching to Robyn. Enter the podcast. The perfect way to spend a long commute, doctor’s office wait or weekly house cleaning session.

Here are five that are guaranteed to  prick up your ears.

Serial If your Facebook feed is like ours, all your friends are post-happy about Serial, the new podcast from the creators of This American Life, the granddaddy of great podcasts (if you’re not listening, start). There’s good reason for the hype. Serial focuses on one real-life story all season, telling the tale in weekly segments that run between 30 and 45 minutes. That parceled-out approach to storytelling makes it the antidote to our bite-sized, ADHD-inspired news cycle. This season centers on the murder of a teenage girl in Baltimore back in 1999, and the subsequent arrest and conviction of her boyfriend. You can download the podcast for free on iTunes or visit the website.

The Bugle Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver co-hosts this bi-coastal, comic “audio newspaper” along with fellow Brit comedian/author Andy Zaltzman (Zaltzman hosts from the UK, while Oliver links in from NYC). The Bugle will remind you of Oliver’s HBO series, as it, too, takes a satirical approach to digesting world news and current affairs, but it’s madder and more literate in the best British way. Another bonus: at just shy of 30 minutes an episode it’s treadmill friendly.

Love + Radio Think of Nick van der Kolk’s Love + Radio podcast as the darker and slightly unstable descendant of This American Life. It focuses on everything from the sordid to the pedestrian and presents each real-life tale seemingly unfiltered and unframed by intention. The intimate episodes, which range in length from 30- to 45-minutes and are updated monthly, have a vaguely illicit sensibility—at times you may feel like you’re eavesdropping on a stranger’s internal monologue as they talk about everything from their first experience with a gun to their first bank robbery.

On Being  Host Krista Tippett serves up big ideas in a well-researched, inclusive and in-depth manner. In that respect, it reflects the best traditions and values of public broadcasting—but before you start thinking it’s the audio equivalent of kale, be assured that it’s time well spent as long as you’re in the mood for considering such topics as the science of mindfulness and reimagining the cosmos or listening to Rosanne Cash discuss her music and life. These typically hour-long dispatches are best for when you’re in a contemplative state of mind.

Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour comes as a nice change from over-hyped entertainment marketing, offering in-depth and witty conversations on pop culture that don’t involve cheesy marketing tactics or bored celebrities droning on about their “process.” Each 30- to 40-minute session (also available in 15-minute “small batch” bites) features real-live people with really interesting things to say about books, movies, TV, etc.