Top 15 Podcasts of 2016
The best of 2016 coverage continues with my 15 favorite podcasts of the year. Check out the other lists here.
This might be a little influenced by Matty Besser putting on a great show when I saw him with Wild Horses live at Now Hear This Fest. Ever since then it’s reinvigorated my love for the show. Besser brings in some of the best folks in the indie comedy scene to do improvised scenes based on a variety of suggestions from Twitter, YouTube videos, guest musicians, and more. There’s always a keen ability to take each scene down unexpected paths, with great callbacks, and great bits that pay off hilariously.
Listen to: Ep. 264 Live at Now Heart This Fest
14. Election Profit Makers
Below you’ll find a few measured and moderate politics podcasts, ones that use data and truly try to discover the truth–this is not the case with Election Profit Makers–whose sole purpose this election cycle was to make a buck. They placed bets on whether the candidates would mention certain words during debates and which way certain states would go. They did what they wanted and though they were biased to one side, this never affected their true desire–that they wanted to make money. The show was always entertaining and even educational for anyone who finds playing the odds fun.
13. Vox’s The Weeds
The Weeds is Vox’s political podcast where they try to take the political nature of things out of the equation and do deep dives into the issues. Obviously Vox has their left leaning biases, but it’s refreshing to hear talk about actual written up policies and the expected results of enacting policies. It’s a nerdy, but fascinating listen and is perhaps best represented by an episode they recorded at the height of the election where they don’t mention Donald Trump’s name once.
Listen to: Is Obamacare failing?
Paul F. Tompkins is a delight, so naturally his improv podcast follows suit. It’s very particular to Tompkins’ interests– soundtracked by Eban Schletter’s live piano tinkering and featuring a bunch of small segments that allow for the show to naturally mine comedy from. The most underrated part of the show, and probably my favorite part, is when Tompkins introduces his guest improvisers, showing off a charming and often hilarious camaraderie with his guests that is a joy to listen to.
Listen to: Ep. 88 East NYC Village w/ Oscar Nunez
11. The Watch
Grantland shut down in 2015, leaving an internet pop culture void for many of us. Earlier this year Bill Simmons’ new pop culture/sports venture The Ringer rose from Grantland’s ashes. Nothing will ever replace Grantland, but The Ringer is very satisfying. With the disappearance of Grantland, former podcast of the year Hollywood Prospectus was gone, but with The Ringer came the reuniting of best buds and pop culture fiends Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald in the form of The Watch. The two essentially carry over the same dynamic, fun banter about the latest happenings in television, movies, and music that is both intelligent and lighthearted.
10. 2 Dope Queens
WNYC is probably best known for producing public radio type shows like Radiolab (see below), so it was kind of a surprise when it was announced that the latest show added to their roster would be a podcast that is essentially just a reproduction of a live comedy show. I kind of believe that public events that are recorded and put into podcast form are not actually podcasts, but who really cares because 2 Dope Queens is fantastic. Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams (of The Daily Show correspondent fame) host, often opening with in-studio banter that leads into on-stage banter before a curated list of stand-ups take the stage. They feature a diverse set of comedians that typically are an amazing array of the funniest people in America (caution: not safe for most situations other than your earbuds or a comedy club).
Listen to: Ep. 1 Dad Bods
9. Hot Takedown
Fivethirtyeight grew in influence this year–after all it was an election year–but they proved that expertise when it comes to numbers is insightful in every facet of life. As a huge sports fan, the data driven perspective has become an essential part of watching and keeping up and the Hot Takedown crew is a big part of that. Whether it’s debating the story bias inherent in our sports narratives or coming up with formulas to determine who is the best at a particular sport, they do some of the best sports analysis around.
Listen to: Is the College Bowl System Unfixable?
8. Hang Up and Listen
Year after year this podcast shows up on my favorites list. It’s a consistent show about what is happening in sports, taking the perspective that Slate is known for–the contrarian–and allowing their hosts to discuss and debate the issues and topics of our time. It’s the smartest sports podcast you will find, period.
Listen to: The Japan’s Babe Ruth Edition
7. Rob Has a Podcast
You won’t find this show on any other list of the best podcasts of the year, but you will always find it on mine. Rob Cesternino covers reality television, using a combination of live shows, experts, and former contestants in what typically combines the strategic elements of these shows with the callbacks and fan interaction of a talk radio show. There are plenty of inside jokes and sound drops that when combined with the constant work Cesternino puts in to the show (almost an episode a day) it proves that RHAP really is one of the best shows around.
Listen to: Survivor 33 Finale Feedback Show
6. This American Life
This American Life consistently makes the best pure storytelling podcast around. I don’t think there’ll ever be another show that matches the charm of Ira Glass with the consistent tone of each of its radio presenters, not to mention the emotional depth each episode brings along with it. There are duds now and then, but each episode is a masterclass of radio.
Listen to: Ep. 603 Once More With Feeling
5. Slate’s The Gist
Last year’s reigning podcast champion, Pesca delivered on another year of great news coverage. He always has a unique perspective and delivers it in his intros and spiels, while also bringing in interesting guests to interview and explore current topics with. No podcast has made me think more and there’s almost no one else whose opinion I will seek out via podcast form.
Listen to: Boeing, Get Off My Plane
4. Comedy Bang Bang
If you had to make me choose what my favorite podcast was, I’m probably going with Comedy Bang Bang. Scott Aukerman’s brand of willfully obtuse hosting alongside improvised characters is the perfect range of comedic tones and talent. This year featured the rise of Jessica McKenna as a CBB superstar, along with the Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ cast, and some excellent live shows, proving the show is as strong as ever.
Listen to: Ep. 463 Holiday Spectacular
3. Radiolab/More Perfect
Radiolab and its spin-off show More Perfect are masters at setting up a premise, causing you to believe in it, before destroying that premise and leaving you even more confused about the subject than when you began. They capture grey areas and force you to live in them as they create the most beautiful sounding radio around. More Perfect was an incredible set of shows exploring the Justice department and the cases that were and are important to our lives every day in America. Never have I realized just how frail our lives as members of a Republic were until I learned from these shows that our fates rely on an interpretation of just a few words by just a few people–God help us.
Listen to: Imperfect Plaintiffs
2. FiveThirtyEight Elections Pod
A crazy election season ended in a crazy outcome and the thing that got me through most of it was FiveThirtyEight’s reliance on cold hard numbers. Sure the numbers and the data were a little mishandled and perhaps relied on too heavily, but I needed the voices of Nate Silver, Harry Enten, Clare Malone, and Jody Avirgan to help explain to me why different things were happening. Aside from this, the show has a fun dynamic and its hosts have a great repertoire with one another, giving you that old podcast feeling that you’re sitting around with friends–they’re just friends who are way smarter than you.
Listen to: Final Election Preview
The Doughboys started as a comedic venture into chain restaurants, an idea that’s still at the core of the show, but has been cast aside to allow it to truly thrive as the comedian’s comedy podcast featuring two guys who kind of dislike each other trying to get by week after week. Every guest on this show remarks just how much they enjoy listening to the show, something not even the most popular podcasts usually get. It’s probably its blend of sincere interest in the commonality of food, particularly food places that each person in the US has experienced, with silly but clever insult comedy. Every episode has layers that draw you in, basic food etiquettes and interests are discussed, in-jokes are created that reward the listener episode by episode (I guarantee there’s no place else where The Force Awakens‘ Unkar Platt has gotten more traction than with the Doughboys), and Wiger and Mitch’s love-hate dynamic is a great listen that paid off with a behind-the-scenes mostly real fight and make-up in the last episode of the year. Not to mention the strangest March Madness bracket that ever occurred during the “Munch Madness: Doughboys Tournament of Chompions”, a battle to find the best fast food burger that ultimately (and strangely) served as a precursor to our post-truth year.
Honorable mentions: Dom and Colin Podcast, NPR’s Embedded, Science Vs.