Welcome to “Should I Listen To This?”, where we deep-dive into a podcast to find out what it’s about, what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not you need to make the all-important decision to hit subscribe and add it to your rotation.
Know a podcast you’d like us to consider? Send an e-mail and we’ll add it to the audio pile.
What Is it?: “Criminal is a podcast about crime. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” Their official summation is about as concise as you’re going to get. Episodes vary in type and topic but they all find a connection, however tangible, to crime. Some episodes recount historic crimes that happened a century ago while others are based around an interview with someone who works in the legal system today. Theme-aside, you don’t know what you’re going to get episode to episode.
Who’s The Host?: Phoebe Judge, a former public radio broadcaster and reporter. She’s got plenty of bonafides, including multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards.
What’s A Normal Episode Like?: Phoebe will introduce the crux of the episode, often an intriguing bit of information about a mystery that we’re about to dive into. From there, it depends on what kind of episode it is (see above) but whatever we’re dealing with there will be resolution by the end. Each episode is its own contained story (so far).
Who Is It For?: Some might say that Criminal fits into the category of “informational” podcasts, such as 99% Invisible or Lore. The show has a theme and each episode provides you with information that you might not have known beforehand. You come away from the episode feeling like you’ve learned something.
However, I think it goes deeper than that. While podcasts like Criminal do exist around the premise of providing information, there’s also a critical aspect of “connection.” Whether it’s coming away from the episode feeling a connection to a person, a time, or a place, Criminal often leaves you with an emotion to go with that information. Listeners of This American Life or Reply All probably know what I’m talking about. And this podcast is for people like that.
Who Is It Not For?: If you’re looking for a very consistent type of story out of your podcasts, you’ll probably get frustrated here. Some episodes are humorous. Some are grim. Some are uplifting. Some leave you hollowed out. If you’re not prepared for that kind of journey you probably want to skip out.
It’s probably also not for the squeamish. Not every episode deals in murder and blood, but enough do to mean innocent ears are best pointed elsewhere.
How Many Episodes Are There?: As of this writing there are 45 episodes and episodes are on a bi-monthly schedule.
How Are The Live Episodes?: The only live episode I can remember is Live Exit, in which Judge interviews a woman who acts as an “exit guide” to people who wish to end their own life. The recording was done at a live event and the interview sound was clean and loud. Her story is so affecting it more than makes up for any audio concerns.
Can I Jump Right In?: Absolutely. Episodes are not time-sensitive so you can start at any point based on interest level. You can go back to the beginning and start with episode one or you can cherry pick based on which episodes sound the most interesting.
What’s Not Great?: Only the aforementioned notion that the show has a tendency to shift tone and story type from episode to episode. Personally that’s not an issue for me but it could be for other listeners.
Gimme Some Great Episodes to Get Started:
Episode 45: Just Mercy – Right now, this is my frontrunner for best podcast episode of 2016. Bryan Stevenson shares his stories from a life spent working to get people off of death row. Along the way his story intersects with the Civil Rights Movement and he leaves with us an argument about mercy that is impossible not to spend the next few days thinking about no matter where you stand on the issue.
Episode 42: The Finger – If you want to get a sense of the podcast’s fun side, here’s an episode dedicated to the middle finger, why we use it, and what it really means. The episode is bookended with a fascinating interview with a man who gives the middle finger to every police officer he sees (and then sues them if they give him a ticket).
Episode 33: Deep Dive – Can you imagine what it’s like to be the first person to ever submerge yourself in the La Brea Tar Pits in order to retrieve something that could be anywhere without any guarantee that you will ever be able to surface? This is the story of a police officer who faced this head-on (or feet-on, since he stepped in).
So, Should I Listen To This?: OMG yes. Criminal is thoroughly fascinating and the rare podcast that I count the days as the next episode nears its scheduled release date. There’s an unknown quality to each episode that adds to the anticipation. The funny episodes are funny. The poignant episodes are poignant. And rarely will you come away from any episode without learning something new or considering something about crime you hadn’t before.