Like many of the shows in PRX’s Radiotopia catalogue of podcasts, Criminal’s sensibility and sound partake of the US public radio formula made famous by This American Life: journalistic rigour and gothic yarns. The show tells “stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or got caught somewhere in the middle”. But it’s moved beyond mere crime journalism to something that aspires to a bit more philosophical heft. Most of the stories unspool through the elegant co-narration between host Phoebe Judge and each episode’s central protagonist. The effect is almost always seamless, thanks to the expert mixing of Rob Byers, and the painstaking interviewing and editing process necessary to produce a coherent and tonally appropriate narrative. While we get the who-what-where details upfront, the when is not as clear, a key distinction between the daily crime beat of a journalist and the story-first imperative of non-fiction narrative podcasting.
This review focuses on the first eight episodes to air after the milestone 50th landed in 2016, listening for signs of how the show is evolving as it matures and moves into its next fifty.