Being funny when scripting a TV series, and being funny when making off-the-cuff comments as a podcast host aren’t the same thing. Luckily, both are very much in the wheelhouse of Amy Aniobi and Grace Edwards, who met as writers on the excellent HBO comedy Insecure, and spent the year bringing us this delightful audio attempt to find the joy in our increasingly dark world. Whether it’s the hosts’ enjoyable don’t-give-a-damn attitude, the show’s commitment to swearing, or high-energy guest interviews on topics such as the grownup way to drink tequila, it was an unfailingly funny listen.
Where There’s A Will, There’s A Wake
The last thing the world needed in 2022 was another celebrity podcast, but who wouldn’t make an exception for Kathy Burke? Bleakly hilarious and uplifting, this show about death was full of excellent celebrity interviews. Highlights included Joe Lycett’s desire to be reincarnated as Harry Styles or a baboon, and Diane Morgan’s brilliantly thought-provoking view that funerals are creepy and pointless: “Just put me in a body bag, pop me in the back of an Uber, take me to the crematorium, burn me.”
You, Me and the Big C
The BBC’s candid look at cancer has long been a moving, funny and charmingly honest account of what it is to battle one of modern society’s biggest killers. But, when host Deborah James announced that she had weeks to left to live, it made the world sit up and listen. A beautiful final episode from James that somehow found laughter amid the tearful goodbyes and conversations about “death admin” was surely one of the most intimate hours of podcasting ever created. No wonder she inspired people to donate more than £7.5m to Cancer Research UK in her name.
Life of Bi: A Slippery History of Bisexuality
So dedicated to this show are its hosts that they ended up moving in to a Margate flat together so it was easier to pour time into its creation. And it shows: Ell Potter and Mary Higgins’s breezy historical looks at bisexuality and excitable conversations on topics such as Susan Sarandon coming out as bi were hugely engaging – not to mention a highly important contribution to a debate that’s far too rarely tackled.
Ki & Dee: The Podcast
Singletons quickly became obsessed with Chiara Hunter and Diana Vickers’s Instagram accounts in lockdown, as the housemates recorded all-too-relatable and laugh-out-loud funny ditties about being horny, sex-deprived and obsessed with Jack Grealish’s Moroccan oil-slicked hair. No wonder they turned it into a podcast with a huge following. The show, in which the pair chatter, write and sing witty songs for their guests (Dawn O’Porter, Emma Appleton, Cheryl Hole), and answer agony aunt dilemmas, might sound like a bit of silly fun – and it is – but it’s also like having a much-needed catchup with friends.
Visible Women With Caroline Criado Perez
Caroline Criado Perez’s 2019 book Invisible Women had long ago established her as a trailblazing authority on the gender data gap. But this 12-part series, tackling everything from pockets to AI-fuelled healthcare, really brought the fun to her research, with her team’s investigations seeing them do things such as track down the man whose face serves as the template all PPE face masks have to be designed around – AKA “the Sheffield head”. Chatty, entertaining, and monumentally important for gender equality, this was a triumph.
Conviction – The Disappearance of Nuseiba Hasan
When investigative journalist Habiba Nosheen received a mysterious email about the disappearance of a woman she’d never heard of, she can little have expected it would lead to one of the year’s most intriguing podcasts. But, from an opening episode where she meets Hasan’s daughter – who had been raised by an adoptive family and only discovered her mother’s identity after 18 years of dogged investigation – to a finale that sees the show’s popularity actually begin to start assisting her research, it was a highly personal and emotive tale that was never less than compelling.
The Superhero Complex
It’s hard to think of a podcast this year with a more distinctive story than this costumed, crime-fighting tale of “real-life superheroes”. We started with the promise of a story about a crime-fighter who had his comeuppance after being busted for drugs, but, as the series progressed, its subject Ben Fodor – AKA super suit-wearing crusader Phoenix Jones – soon emerged as an utterly unreadable character around which endless debates swirled. Is he really working with the FBI? Did he steal from his team-mates, as they claim (and he denies)? And is his crime-fighting just a way to pivot into a career as an MMA fighter? Answers were thin on the ground, but the joy of this show was its many compelling questions.
Slow Burn: Roe v Wade
It’s hard to think of a more fantastically timed podcast than this award-winning show. Just as the US supreme court leaked plans to overturn Roe v Wade, Slate launched the seventh season of its high-quality history podcast. Looking at the years leading up to the landmark decision, this series spotlighted how few rights women had over their own bodies prior to the 1973 ruling, including facing manslaughter charges and being forced to give birth. It’s sobering to think this is all relatively recent history – not least due to the bonus episodes detailing how, 50 years later, abortion access could change in each state as a result of the recent supreme court decision.
The News Agents
If there were any doubt that ex-BBC journalists Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall were enjoying their increased free rein on their new podcast, Maitlis’s dishing out of nicknames such as “Sopes” and “Luigi” for her co-hosts in the first episode gave you a very big clue. As the series progressed, the chemistry between hosts, which reached heights of such fun that Maitlis ended up being threatened with White Lotus spoilers by colleagues, added a lovely informality to the thing you never questioned from them – nuanced comment and insightful interviews on topical issues from the introduction of voter ID to strikes.
Christopher Allen was shot dead on the frontline in South Sudan, in circumstances that have left his family racked with questions about exactly what happened to the 26-year-old war reporter. After a request from his cousin, this sensitive series saw Tortoise Media’s Basia Cummings take up the story and try to break down the speculation around his character. Was he reckless and inexperienced, or so devoted to war reporting that he had to take risks? It was a masterclass in nuanced storytelling, looking at what it takes to work on the frontline and the ethics involved in doing the job.
The Rest is Politics
Ex Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell and former Conservative politician Rory Stewart’s current affairs chatshow has won so many fans this year that they claim they’re continually accosted by members of people exclaiming: “love your podcast!” Given the surprisingly warm camaraderie and breezy, accessibly expressed opinions on everything from Chinese protests to the World Cup, it’s not hard to see why.
We Were Three
Serial Productions’ show about a US family that lost two of its members to Covid was a well-crafted puzzle box of a podcast. Ostensibly about the death of Rachel McKibbens’s unvaccinated father and brother, it slowly broadened into a wider look at pandemic-era vaccine scepticism and misinformation, and the decades-long family dysfunction that further complicated the poet’s grief. Presented by This American Life’s Nancy Updike, it offered both journalistic prestige and raw and radical honesty.
Wild Things: Siegfried & Roy
So astonishingly flamboyant were the lives and careers of Las Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy that it was inevitable that any podcast about them would be dynamite. What was surprising is that it took this long for anyone to create one, but this eight-part exploration more than made up for lost time. From the arresting opening moments that chronicle a tiger mauling Roy’s neck, to an origin story involving Nazis, cheetah-smuggling and Grace Kelly, it was packed with mindboggling detail. And just like the shows of the two men in question, it was solid gold entertainment from start to finish.
Hot Money: Who Rules Porn?
A documentary podcast about the dark inner workings of the adult entertainment industry could easily risk falling into salacious sensationalism. Gladly, the FT’s insightful audio series proved a smart, frequently frightening look at a sector shrouded in much mystery and linked to some of the world’s richest (and most shadowy) people. Reporter Patricia Nilsson and editor Alex Barker showed off some serious investigative chops, while interviewees such as performer Stoya shared their impressively expert opinions.
The Trojan Horse Affair
The follow-up to hit Serial-related podcast S-Town was always going to be something special, given how much personality and intrigue creator Brian Reed brought to his tale of murder in small-town America. But, with the introduction of new co-host Hamza Syed – an ex-medic turned journalist and debut podcaster – the show gained a new fire in its belly as it pivoted to take on a national British scandal. This look at the supposed 2014 Islamist plot in Birmingham schools did just that, leaving no stone unturned in its investigation – to the extent that it ended up dragging an ex-teacher’s South African dentist to Perth, Australia. While it might ultimately have been far shorter on answers than questions, the show’s passion and dedication to exhaustively pulling threads more than made up for it.
Can I Tell you a Secret?
All too often, true-crime tales fall into the trap of lingering over the details of the awful incidents they’re covering, rather than giving sufficient time and respect to their victims. Not so with journalist Sirin Kale’s six-part Guardian true-crime tale about Matthew Hardy, who spent more than a decade stalking women online. This deep dive saw her tour the country to speak to recipients of his campaign of online harassment, creating a vivid human portrait of the souls affected. Given a lightness of touch that had Kale meet Hardy’s own mum in an attempt to understand his behaviour – and to offer genuine empathy to his mental health struggles – this gripping series was a fascinating, 360-degree tale with real heart.
28ish Days Later
An audio tour of the womb might not have been at the top of your wishlist, but once this podcast took us down there, it was absolutely fascinating. In each snappy 15-minute episode, host India Rakusen’s journey through the menstrual cycle never failed to amaze, as she spoke with experts and explored subjects such as endometriosis and menstruation tracking apps. A much-needed education – given how many people still don’t fully understand what goes on during a period.
Unreal: A Critical History of Reality TV
Reality TV has undergone something of a reckoning in recent times, with an increased focus on participants’ mental health as well as race and class divides on screen – plus a realisation for many that the dramas of “real life” TV are often just as manufactured as fiction. Sirin Kale and Pandora Sykes’s BBC series offered what it described as “a critical history” of the genre, via the rise of small-screen talent contests, problematic makeover shows, and the dawn of the influencer. Despite often serious subject matter, the hosts reminded us that – for all its flaws – it is still a genre beloved by many.
To follow up our 2021 podcast of the year, Sweet Bobby, with a show that has gone on to be voted our 2022 podcast of the year is no mean feat. But Alexi Mostrous’s investigation into the conspiracy theory about a Hampstead-based satanic paedophile cult is a remarkable listen. As we heard from ex police officers, MPs and those responsible for destroying lives by publishing people’s names in conjunction with these false allegations, we were taken on a wild, frequently jaw-dropping ride that journeyed across continents – and went right to the heart of government. It wasn’t just clever, compelling and measured, it was also, frankly, terrifying.