In the past couple years I have noticed the quality of podcasts have improved to the point where they have transcended simply being used as passive entertainment and have become their own art form. Since so many podcasts are now able to immerse us into thrilling stories or improve our understanding of complicated subjects, they deserve to be highlighted and celebrated.
Below I ranked my five favorite podcast episodes of the year and then my three favorite podcasts seasons of 2017. The top three podcasts were not eligible for individual episodes to avoid repeats.
Middle of the Row podcast was deemed ineligible for this list to maintain objectivity. However, Zac did attempt to bribe me with a duffle bag full of his Darren Aronofsky memorabilia, but I cannot be bought!
5) Parent Corner, The Bill Simmons Podcast
It seems fitting that I include one of the podcast pioneers on my first Best Podcasts lists. While I don’t listen to Bill and Cousin Sal break down the NFL like I did 10 years ago, I still love to hear them talk about nonsense. This is the best nonsense podcast I’ve heard all year. It is basically just a compilation of Bill Simmons and Cousin Sal complaining about their kids over the course of two months, but it is so damn funny. I do hope their kids never find out that their dads were oversharing at their expense, but maybe having Bill or Sal as a dad makes you immune to embarrassment.
4) Going Undercover, TED: Radio Hour
This episode stood out because of the complexity that is addressed by the speakers who are communicating and relating with people who belong to a different group. Theo E.J. Wilson’s segment got me thinking about the Alt-Right in a whole new way. He expresses compassion stating that the Alt-Right backlash comes from white males refusing to be ashamed of what they were born. In searching for the root of the racial hatred he posits that southerners could not have been a part of a force that did that much damage to a people without doing damage to themselves. In other words, the acts of violence and hatred experienced during childhood could become a lifelong trauma based around fear.
3) No Inheritance, The Heart
This episode and the one before it “No Advance,” provide amazing insight into uncomfortable sexual interactions and examines the nuanced emotions experienced by many women. The great sound effects and editing helps Kaitlin Prest quickly and effectively navigate though a history of interactions and relationships while maintaining the big picture. These two episodes should be used as a part of sex education for high schoolers as it would help the students be more knowledgeable and respectful during their sex lives.
2) The Prime Minister and the Prof, Revisionist History
This episode is a great example of the power of Malcolm Gladwell’s great podcast, the ability to reexamine something that you thought you understood. The episode introduces us to a fascinating historical figure and proves an entirely new perspective when thinking about Winston Churchill and his accomplishments. Gladwell highlights the importance of the associates of world leaders, who should no longer be ignored.
1) The Other Mr. President, This American Life
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but the evidence that is presented in this episode about bombings 1999 in Moscow and the rise of Putin were staggering. This episode also included insights into the rampant propaganda that surrounds Russians and provides insights into their worldview. And of course this episode meets the investigative rigor and quality that we have come to expect from This American Life.
When Jonathan Goldstein first came out with the podcast in 2016, I wasn’t sold by the first couple episodes. Following a recommendation, I gave it another chance and I was amazed by how great the podcast has become. The emotional investigations are powerful and complemented beautifully by pot-shots at Alex Blumberg and Goldstein’s self-deprecating humor. Also he gives us great lines like “Hitting kids was like the hula hoop back then, it was a fad, everyone did it.” This podcast found its stride and I’m sorry for ever doubting it!
Burton brings an earnestness and a passion to reading fantastic short stories. He picks an interesting mix of genres and themes, while some are well known, others are obscure. The beauty of the podcast is the combination of the compelling stories with the personality of LeVar Burton. It is a great way to learn about new authors or to hear more stories by established authors like Elmore Leonard and Neil Gaiman. Also, from this podcast I have a new favorite short story Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie.”
1) Reply All
This is by far my favorite current podcast. The success of the show is built around the slightly antagonistic friendship of PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It is an incredible combination of comedy and tech journalism. The segment “yes, yes, no” could be a podcast of its own that is always hilarious and is quite insightful about internet subculture…or as they would probably call it “culture.” In the episode “Long Distance” Goldman receives a call from a scam call center and instead of ignoring it like the rest of us, he becomes determined to figure out who these people are. Annoying the people that pray on people’s tech ignorance makes this episode that much more satisfying. The other high mark of the season was “Man of the People” which described the crazy life of a fraud who claimed to have an unconventional cure for male impotency in the 1920s. He became a demagogue politician, spitting in the face of scientists and the establishment. As you may have guessed, it provides great insight into the rise of Trump.
Also S-Town was quite good…
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