Slow Burn Hits the L.A. Riots (and 4 More Podcasts Worth Trying)

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Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Hey everyone! Hope your post-Halloween hangover is going okay. This week: Slow Burn returns, middle school is hell, and The Paris Review will never die.

As always, tell me what you’re listening to. You can reach me at nicholas.quah@vulture.com or find me on Twitter.

A YA fiction podcast series with spectacular teenage performances.
Available on all platforms. Listen here.

As you probably know, either based on personal experience or a recollection from someone with a much less peaceful childhood than you, middle school can be hell. The same applies to 13-year-old Noa, a riot grrrl in the making who serves as the protagonist of this new YA fiction podcast created by Hillary Frank and published by Lemonada Media.

The story follows Noa as she navigates the battlefield of eighth grade, which kicks off with a boy, who calls himself “God,” declaring his (possessive) love for her, antagonizing a guy she kinda-sorta likes, and causing her to be pushed out from her friend group due to the excess of his attentions. Noa is perturbed by the situation, and when she’s looped into a secret club made up of former targets of God’s obsessions, she takes the opportunity to plot revenge. High jinks, chaos, and learning ensues.

I’ve only had access to the first two episodes, and let me tell ya, I loved what I heard. Here Lies Me is fun and fantastically written, and Frank’s choice to cast teenage actors from the High School for the Performaning and Visual Arts in Houston in the primary roles really pays off. (A benefit of age and relative anonymity, probably.) Ollie Grishaber, in particular, who plays Noa, is reason enough to check out this series. She shoulders the bulk of the narrative responsibility and largely succeeds.

Here Lies Me clearly has a lot on its mind. Frank overtly wraps the story toward a bundle of weighty topics — the show’s description contains a hefty aside that doubles as a disclaimer: “Here Lies Me contains themes of harassment, classism, sexism, racism, trauma, consent, and finding your voice” — and does so in a manner that’s light but not unserious. It’s a delicate balance, and based on the first two installments, she seems to be walking the line pretty well. Whether or not she’ll be able to sustain that throughout the series as it grows in stakes and complexity will be the thing to watch.

Frank is perhaps best known in the audio world as the creator and host of The Longest Shortest Time, a podcast born out of the pre-Serial era that was notable for the way it took parenting as a serious subject of inquiry, narrative, and humor. With Here Lies Me, and supported by producer Hannah Boomershine, Frank gets to parlay her earned wisdom into a whole new genre. The results are exciting.

Joel Anderson returns to an American flash point.
Available on all platforms. Listen here.

Slate’s flagship audio-documentary series continues apace.

Today marks the debut of Slow Burn’s sixth season, which is also the franchise’s second release this calendar year following Noreen Malone’s formidable The Road to Iraq. Behind the mic this time is Joel Anderson, who last led the series during its third season, where he revisited the murders of Biggie and Tupac and explored how their deaths continue to vibrate through the culture.

In The L.A. Riots, Anderson brings listeners back into the ’90s, unpacking the six days of unrest that engulfed Los Angeles after four LAPD officers were acquitted in 1992 for their brutal beating of Rodney King during a traffic stop, despite video evidence. Notably, the season begins with an episode that contains the last known interview with George Holliday, who filmed King’s beating at the hands of the officers. (Holliday died of COVID-19 earlier this year, not long after speaking with Anderson on tape.)

As is the Slow Burn way, the rest of the season is slated to spiral outwards in time and scope, with Anderson — backed by a production team that includes Jayson De Leon, Ethan Brooks, Sophie Summergrad, and Jasmine Ellis — pulling together a few key threads: the long-unchecked history of violence and racism within the LAPD; the killing of Latasha Harlins, which happened shortly before King’s beating, that increased tensions between the Black and Korean communities in the city; the manner in which the trial and the unrest played out in the media, which was well on its way toward the 24/7 news cycle; and the cultural legacy of the riots that stretch out to this day.

Slow Burn’s general method is to convey the memory of what it was viscerally like to live through a thick historical moment. The approach falls from one of its core arguments: that the past never really ends, and that the present is abundant with unresolved tensions that echo through time over and over again.

An audio magazine, quite literally.
Available on all platforms. Listen here.

Poke around the podcast business long enough, and you’ll find a (small but powerful) species of producer who believes that The Paris Review is the best-made production in podcasting. I don’t necessarily share the ferocity of the sentiment, but I can see where they’re coming from.

The Paris Review Podcast is quite literally an audio magazine. The podcast, which comes out of a partnership between the esteemed literary publication and SiriusXM’s Stitcher, adapts the print-magazine format in more or less the same way Wes Anderson sought to replicate the structure of The New Yorker for The French Dispatch. Each episode is composed of discrete sections — short stories, brief sonic-art pieces, interviews, and so on — that are all bound together for your listening pleasure. They tend to favor a drifting, dreamlike aesthetic that recalls early Love + Radio stuff, which feels appropriate. Both projects share a certain high-mindedness.

My favorite portions involve any instance in which The Paris Review Podcast builds a section around archival recordings, typically an interview. In the first episode of the new season, which debuted this week, that takes the form of a Robert Frost interview recorded in 1959, preserved in the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. I suppose I find some amount of charm from the crackling sound you commonly hear on old tape, along with the differences in the cadence of speech between how people talked then and now. It’s my preferred form of time travel.

 Dead Eyes returned for its third season earlier this week, as the actor Connor Ratliff continues his quest through the world of showbiz for answers (and personal growth, probably) to why Tom Hanks once fired him from a small role in Band of Brothers over his having “dead eyes.” Someone recently told me that Dead Eyes is best consumed through the lens of Whatever Happened to Pizza at McDonald’s? That sounds right.

This is an extremely niche rec, but whatever. I was rewatching M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village over Halloween — which rules, by the way, and has always ruled, 

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