Move over Netflix, audio dramas are the new favourite in 2020. With many of us stuck in doors looking at our computer screens all day, endlessly scrolling through social media, and tearing through new shows on multiple streaming services, we’ve collectively reached peak screen fatigue.
Enter audio dramas, or fiction podcasts, which offer a rich form of storytelling you can devour away from the couch and the screens.
This new generation of radio plays have multi-layered sound design and big names attached to them – with the likes of Rami Malek, Kristen Bell, David Schwimmer and Oscar Isaac signing up for major parts in what’s seen as the next big thing in entertainment.
To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of the most bingeable mystery and horror podcasts you need to listen to.
Described as a cross between Twin Peaks and Sharp Objects, Unwell is an enthralling gothic horror set in midwest America, which has its own gothic flavour – think endless plains, rustling cornfields, road signs proclaiming the end of the world, and oppressive small towns.
Enter Lillian Harper, who is called back to (very) small town Mt Absalom, Ohio to nurse her injured mother. Lillian is forced to stay in her mother’s boarding house, which has been in the family for generations. Having been absent for years, she starts to notice strange things about the town and its inhabitants, and it’s only when she begins discussing her observations with the boarding house residents that she realises it’s not just her imagination.
What follows is a group investigation into the town’s history, that reveals murder, conspiracies, ghosts and the decay of middle-America.
Blackout is a big-budget podcast, produced by and starring Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Bohemian Rhapsody) as a local DJ who narrates the events following the downing of a fighter jet, which crashes into a cell tower in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, an event that marks the start of the end of civilization as we know it.
The show demonstrates just how dependent we are on modern technology – without the internet and electricity, civilisation starts to collapse in on itself with communities becoming cut off from large cities and power-hungry locals seeking to assert control where they see fear and vulnerability. It’s a powerful political thriller that will resonate with anyone who feels like they’d be lost without Google maps or Siri.
Carrier centres on Raylene, a truck driver hard up for cash who is desperate to get one final job so that she can get back to her sick father. Through contacts, she manages to land a gig last minute, but there’s a catch – she has to haul a sealed, refrigerated carrier across state, no inspections no questions.
The attention given to sound design in this podcast is unparalleled, the immersive soundscape makes it feel like the action and danger is taking place just behind your shoulder… Which is why we don’t recommend listening to this while driving, especially on open highways.
Carrier is a fully immersive horror/sci-fi story featuring Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale), that is now being adapted to film.
A classic radio play in the same vein as War of the Worlds, with a dash of 2016’s Arrival, The Message follows a team of scientists who are trying to decode an alien message that has dire consequences for anyone who listens to it.
Told through the recordings of podcaster Nicky Tomalin, who joins the NSA to document the process of decoding and declassifying the decades-old radio transmission, The Messages does a great job of mimicking real investigative journalism. The show’s hyper-reality makes listening to the extra-terrestrial voices so unnerving that for a split second you’ll find yourself wondering: ‘did they say that this was fictionalised or real’?
Limetown follows reporter Lia Haddock, who is determined to find out what happened to the population of a small Tennessee town, all of who suddenly went missing overnight 10 years ago. As she interviews people connected with the purpose-built industrial town, it becomes obvious that there’s a larger conspiracy at play and that it’s more than a missing person’s case.
If you found Serial haunting and addictive, Limetown operates in a similar way. The more you learn from the citizens that come forward for interview, the more questions you end up having about the town and its purpose, and it’s this slow and complex unravelling of the central mystery that makes the series highly bingeable.