The “In the Dark” podcast has begun its second season, and by the time I get around to it, the subject will have been exonerated by a retrial. I already have six true-crime podcasts to finish, and to be honest, they’re starting to sound the same.
They all begin with the sponsor pitch:
“‘Under the Night’ is brought to you by StuffBox. Every month StuffBox curates a pile of meat, underwear and razor blades and brings it right to your door. Use the promo-code UNDER to get the free shipping that’s obviously built into the cost of the product.
“And we are brought to you by MailPrimate. Let’s face it, most e-mail is crap. Shouldn’t it be flung at its recipient by a real ape? And also by SleepSlab. Our patented mattresses offer a unique, marshmallow-based sleep technology at a price you can’t beat because we’ve eliminated the middleman. Use the promo-code ETHER for free returns, which you won’t do because, well, as if you’re going to take a king-size box spring to the post office.
“This ... is ‘Under the Night.’ ”
(Sad music. A lonely violin played by an orphan in a graveyard.)
Narrator: “In the rural Iowa town of Rurliwa, there’s not much to do on a summer night. The Tastee-Squeeze is open until 10, the neon sign buzzing like the lost soul crying for justice, except using a buzzing sound. Years ago the high school boys might lay a crowbar across the train tracks to derail the 10:52 out of the Quad Cities, but the train hasn’t come to Rurliwa since the mattress factory closed.”
Voice: “Oh sure, that’s what did it. All the mattress stores started closin’ up, and before you know it the factory closed. Folks got to wondering, what’s happening? Who’s eliminating all those middlemen?”
Narrator: “Between 1992 and 2007, 16 middlemen were eliminated across Iowa. Police in this small town blame a faceless man they named ‘Promocode.’ But who was he?”
This goes on for 16 episodes.
As an alternative, there’s always the chatty current-events shows.
“Welcome to ‘You’re Absolutely Correct,’ the podcast that has all the same political opinions you do! Today we’ll be reinforcing your already rock-hard preconceptions about climate and foreign policy, and, as usual, we’ll dip into the ol’ mailbag to read some disagreeing letters chosen to make the other side sound like the lunatics they are.”
Want something else? iTunes suggests “Cruelty-Free Investment.”
“Hi! I’m the over-caffeinated young man who talks through his nose and ends every sentence with a question?”
“And I’m the sassy millennial woman who has trained herself to sound like a crow with a sore throat. It’s the Vegan Finance podcast, where we talk about meat-free alternatives to 401(k) plans!”
The problem with investment shows is that they’re just like college: You’re fascinated while you’re listening but you remember nothing.
So, how about a history podcast? You feel smart when you listen to history podcasts. It’s the podcast version of going to church: someone lecturing about something that you tell yourself you probably should be listening to.
“Welcome back to the ‘History of Christhanimum,’ the forgotten empire. I’m your host, Eric, and I’ll be talking about the 7th century in a slightly depressed monotone for the next 37 hours.
“As we discussed last week, the Brungarians were a tribe of nomadic farmers who were constantly facing starvation because they would plant crops, then wander off. They had posed no threat to the empire since 743 A.D., when they sacked the city of Saqt, but now they were strong enough to threaten the empire’s southern border, which was defended mostly by mercenaries who had not been paid since the reign of Erik the Cheap in the previous century.
“The Brungarians were not to be confused with the Brangurians, a tribe that seemed similar in customs and language but braided the nose hair of their right nostril instead of the left. The two tribes went to war in 732 A.D., around noon, fighting for possession of a small frog believed to be the reincarnation of the god Crocus, who was the patron deity of mud.”
On the other spectrum for history, there’s the breezy dude-bro show.
“Welcome to the ‘Broad Strokes Podcast,’ where we give you a quick take on major events so you can sound bright at a dinner table conversation.
“Today: Rome! So, basically it was a small city, then it got reeeeally big and strong, ruled the world, laid down some roads, then fell apart due to corruption and cultural exhaustion. The end!
“If the subject of Caesar comes up at a party, just say, ‘You have to admit that Claudius Pulcher’s alliance with the plebes laid the groundwork for Caesar’s populism,’ and whoever’s talking will stop and look at you and try to figure out if you really know what you’re talking about. Really puts ’em off their game.
“All right, that’s it for today! Thanks for listening, and tune in next week for ‘50 Popes in 90 Seconds.’ ”
That sounds fun, but who has time for all these podcasts? I’ll settle for “90 Popes in 50 Seconds.”