Podcast Recs: Like true crime but with less murder
August 13, 2019 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for engaging story and/or investigative-style podcasts that aren't dark.

I like to listen to podcasts when I run, but they need to be super engaging to take my mind off the fact that I'm running. For me, that means either a story or an investigative/mystery component, often both.

True crime often scratches this itch, but I'm not sure it's really so great from a mental health perspective to spend all my time listening to stories about murder. I'm in search of some lighter fare. Stories about scams/cons/international spies are totally fine-- just looking for anything where grisly violent crime is not the centerpiece.

I like the informal host with interviews interspersed style a la This American Life, but I can also deal with the two/three hosts bantering back and forth style if it's otherwise an interesting topic. Some podcasts that I enjoy/have enjoyed are Serial, This American Life, My Favorite Murder, Reply All, The Moth, and Who the Hell is Shamish.

I also like Radiolab, Invisibilia and 99% Invisible but they're not always engaging enough for running specifically-- depends on the topic but I tend to need a little more focus to stay engaged with them.

What should I be listening to?
posted by geegollygosh to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Bah, I posted and then I saw this question. A little different, but lots of overlap so I'll definitely start working through those suggestions too.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:36 PM on August 13, 2019

I don’t THINK it was mentioned in that other thread, but I just barreled through ‘Nice Try’ (phone posting or I’d link!), a Curbed podcast. The first season’s episodes focus on different attempts at creating utopias around the world, and each episode is really distinct and fascinating. I think there’s only 7 or so episodes but I really loved it and can’t recommend it highly enough!
posted by caitcadieux at 7:53 PM on August 13, 2019

Wow, I could have written this! Here’s what I listen to regularly that’s not on the list (sorry re links, on phone.)

The Hidden Brain
The Perfect Scam
On the Media
My Brother My Brother and Me
Every Little Thing
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:58 PM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

It was very short-lived, but Mystery Show sounds made for you.
posted by babelfish at 10:16 PM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm really looking forward to hearing the answers. But an imperfect answer is that you might consider audiobook police procedurals. The Harry Bosch ones are bloodless in a good way. I find them to have just enough murder to instigate a compelling whodunit, but no more than that. Another might be legal thrillers (e.g., the Lincoln Lawyer). Maybe both of those have too much murder (i.e., any), but to me, it helps that the murder is fictional. (I got to the point where I could no longer handle true crime podcasts myself.) I do also find some romance books to have as much of a page turner plot as some mysteries. Sorry that none of this is a murder-free podcast like you asked for. :)

Oh! I do have an on-topic answer! Have you tried some of the narrative podcasts? I really liked Homecoming. There's also one about surviving in a world with zombies called We're Alive. (It kind of goes on too long, but the first few seasons are compelling.) I'm not sure if you'll consider those dark, though.
posted by slidell at 10:22 PM on August 13, 2019

Uncover Season One (seasons two and three involve murder)
posted by kbuxton at 10:38 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pretend is true crime but about people taking on false identities. The stories are often heartwarming and the host’s voice is soothing.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:52 AM on August 14, 2019

Reply All (more or less techie, often funny), Every Little Thing (random rabbit holes), and Curious City (about Chicago) are all "investigative" and rarely dark. (I see I mentioned all of these - plus more - in the previous thread too :) )
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:44 AM on August 14, 2019

My partner and I are addicted to Your're Wrong About. "Mike and Sarah are journalists obsessed with the past. Every week they reconsider an event, person or phenomenon that's been miscast in the public imagination."

This review pretty much matches my experience.
posted by maudlin at 4:52 AM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm liking Heavyweight. The host investigates stories from people's past and tries to help them reconcile a relationship or solve a mystery. For example, Rob Corddry believed he broke his arm as a kid but no one else in his family remembered.
posted by starman at 6:17 AM on August 14, 2019

Family Ghosts!
posted by veery at 6:20 AM on August 14, 2019

Last Seen was a great podcast about art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. Unsavory characters, true crime, but the only thing murdered were priceless Rembrandts.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:26 AM on August 14, 2019

I recently blew through the entire back catalog of Ear Hustle in a week. It's fascinating and heartbreaking and terrible and sweet.

I also just listened to a 6-episode limited series called Conspiracyland about the Seth Rich murder. I don't love listening to political podcasts these days, but this one was really something.
posted by something something at 6:37 AM on August 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you tried Criminal? It’s usually not about murder.
posted by OrangeVelour at 6:58 AM on August 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't consider The Uncertain Hour light, but there's no grisly murder in it. Super deep dives into welfare, regulation, and the war on drugs.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:19 AM on August 14, 2019

Oh man - some good ones for you:

Swindled (great podcast about white collar crime)
Empty Frames (museum heist!)
Gangster Capitalism (college admissions scandal)
Missing Richard Simmons (what happened to him?)
Running From Cops (great podcast all about the show Cops)
Slow Burn (Nixon and Clinton scandals)
The Dream (about mid-level marketing)
The Drop Out (about Theranos)
The Last Days of August (about the pornography industry)
The Butterfly Effect (about how pornhub took over the world)
The Pope's Long Con (about a crazy politician)
This Land (about Oklahoma and the native american supreme court case)
UnErased (about gay conversion therapy)
Uncivil (lesser known civial war)
Dear Franklin Jones (about a cult)
Uncover (season 1 is about NXIVM)
Believed (not murder, but very serious sexual assault, difficult but amazing)
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:23 AM on August 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Adding my vote for The Dream - it's riveting! And infuriating! But bloodless.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:25 AM on August 14, 2019

Yet another vote for The Dream, and for Slow Burn. (I've only listened to the Nixon season, but it's AMAZING.)

Also, Revolutions: engaging histories of, well, revolutions; from the English Civil War to the Russian Revolution, which he's just starting. Mike Duncan is a great storyteller, and I've learned a ton, especially about Haiti and South America. (He also did a history of Rome podcast, but I couldn't get past the poor production values of the first episodes.)
posted by epersonae at 11:07 AM on August 14, 2019

Oh wow, I love The Dream so far. Not sure it's really going to help my mental health though, I can tell it's going to be enraging.

Thanks for all the suggestions, lots of interesting stuff here. Excited to dig in.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:13 PM on August 14, 2019

The Shrink Next Door was absolutely captivating. No murder, nothing grisly, but lots of psychological manipulation.

I've really been enjoying Room 20, too.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:17 PM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

BBC Radio 4 has Punt PI, where Steve Punt (comedian and comedy writer) investigates a variety of mysteries. It’s lighthearted and interesting but sadly few episodes.
posted by ElasticParrot at 11:52 AM on August 15, 2019

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