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The Best Podcasts To Start 2020 Off Right

New series, one-offs, and standout podcast episodes from long-running favorites.
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The podcasting ecosystem is rich, varied and complex, and that’s obviously a brilliant thing in itself—especially if you're in the market for a new mattress or need an all-in-one solution for creating a beautiful website—but it can also be a bit overwhelming. There are only so many hours in the day. Pick the wrong podcast and you could ruin your whole commute.

You need a David Attenborough to point the way through the undergrowth and stop you wasting time wandering down dead ends. So to that end, here’s our running list of the best new ones that come out this year, as well as pointing up new highlights from long-running favorites.


January

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The Rewatchables

You could be forgiven for assuming that Quentin Tarantino spends all of his time watching obscure Japanese Westerns and ranting about how great Dennis Weaver was to anyone who'll listen. That's not the case, though. Tarantino is a cinematic omnivore, as the films he brings along to this film roundtable chat podcast prove. The first two of his three picks for films he can't seem to stop himself returning to are Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and Tony Scott's runaway train thriller Unstoppable.

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What Happened To Annie?

You might have first got into Sky News's award-winning podcast strand Storycast with its excellent retelling of a 1983 heist, The Hunt for the Brink's-Mat Gold, but its newest true crime podcast is rather darker. What Happened To Annie? tries to get to the bottom of the death of 30-year-old Annie Börjesson, who was found dead on Prestwick beach in Ayrshire, Scotland, in 2005. Was it suicide? Or was it something to do with the CIA? Annie's family go in search of the truth.

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Murmurs

If you've never really been into radio drama, this might be the radio drama for you. The things that might normally wind you up—constant grunting and sighing, characters walking into rooms and describing where they are and why they're there—are conspicuously absent. Then again, so are a lot of the other norms of radio drama. It's been described as a kind of audio Black Mirror, but the first episode, in which a soldier becomes scattered across time and space and begins to change events, is a lot more floaty and cosmic than Charlie Brooker's plot-centric futureshock series . Not exactly the Archers, then.

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The Greatest Game

Pretty simple, this one: Jamie Carragher sits down to chat about the best game of football each guest has seen live or played in. That's about it, aside from a fairly standard bit where they pick a five-a-side team of ex-teammates or favourite players. What's interesting is the admirably insane seesawing in the quality of the guests. On the one hand: Thierry Henry, Steph Houghton, Jordan Henderson, Craig Bellamy. On the other: Niall Horan, Line of Duty's Martin Compston, Paddy McGuinness. The latest guest is firmly in the first camp, though. Steven Gerrard talks his good buddy Carra through his own favourite game—and it's not Istanbul 2005.

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Sleeping with David Baddiel

Comedian, writer, one of three lions: David Baddiel's got a lot done for a man who suffered with insomnia for many years, and his new podcast with sleep guru Dr Guy Leschziner is intended to make sure even those who don't have it appreciate how important sleep is. It goes in deep on the science of sleep, why it matters, and how you can improve the quality of your sleep. Sleep evangelists can get a bit wearing, but given the range of health benefits you're probably missing out on, this might be a decent investment of your time.

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Fake Heiress

You've probably heard the story of Anna Delvey, the wealthy German heiress who ran up tens of thousands of dollars of debt at New York hotels and flew in a private jet, but was actually Russian-born Anna Sorokin, most recently an intern at a fashion magazine. You might even have read the Vanity Fair piece about it all, written by one of those taken in by Sorokin's charade. This BBC drama-doc takes a slightly different tack, mixing straight reporting with fictionalized scenes. The drama segments occasionally tip into radio drama hamminess but do summon up the surreality of Sorokin's invented life story and the factual segments adroitly pull together bits and pieces from the vast amount of reportage the story drew across the world. It's almost too perfect to learn that Sorokin means 'magpie' in Russian.

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The Peregrine

January is tough. Oh boy, it's tough. This might be the best way to add some grease to the grind, though: Sir David Attenborough reading JA Baker's classic piece of nature writing on the titular bird of prey. It takes the form of diary entries covering autumn to spring in Baker's native Essex, and despite being published 53 years ago, his prose has a direct, visceral punch which makes it feel timeless. Peregrines are both beautiful and terrifying—the hook-tooth at the end of their bill is used to dig in between the vertebrae of other birds so they can snap their spinal cords—and frankly so is the sensation of staring down the barrel of a new decade.

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The Bugle Presents: The Last Post

Andy Zaltzman's long-running satirical current affairs podcast has a new 10-minute spin-off which joins the growing number of shortform daily pods which started to pop up in the second half of 2019. This one's hosted by Alice Fraser, but Zaltzman turns up in the first episode to preview all the political shenanigans coming up this year in America, and in the second Nish Kumar drops in for an update on everything that's been going on over on our shores.

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Gossipmongers

A podcast examining ludicrous small town rumours and urban legends feels like such an obvious idea, and yet here we are. Joe Wilkinson, David Earl and Poppy Hillstead read out readers' submissions and decide which they like most. Some are obviously nonsense, like the tale of the baby who was born into a welly, grew into the shape of a welly and sadly died when it was mistaken for an actual welly and killed by a vicar who shoved his foot down its throat. Others are sort of believable, like the man who started getting baptised at as many different churches as possible as a sort of hobby and ended up racking up more than 50 dunkings without actually being a Christian. Get up to speed with the Best Of 2019 episode and get into series three this year.

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This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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