I might release some thoughts about podcasts and some honorable mentions at a later date. Or I might not. Either way here’s my ten favorites from this year.
10. The Nod
Gimlet moved Brittany Luse from Sampler and brought in her Eric Eddings, co-host from For Colored Nerds, to make a show that celebrates black culture. The Nod is what is typical to Gimlet at this point, turning what should be a pretty straightforward conversational show into a highly edited and researched program. The Nod is a great combo of public radio research and fun bits the hosts bring.
Paul F. Tompkins continues to reign in the podcast world, forever an essential guest for every comedy show, Tompkins show, which interviews a guest to inspire a longform improvised story (while soundtracked), is a consistent delight. Perhaps even more importantly is Tompkins willingness to break free of the white man guest that so often occupies comedic podcasts. He consistently features women and people of color to fantastic results.
8. Off Book
Off Book combined two of my very favorite things this year: improv comedy and show tunes. Jess McKenna and Zach Reino improvise an entire musical every episode, breaking into song with the help of pianist Scott Passarella to create songs that are often clever, catchy, and tell a complete and typically wild story.
The much anticipated follow up to the Serial series once again rocked the podcast world. This time lead by Brian Reed who follows a lead he gets into the south and discovers one of the most fascinating interviews he could possibly find. I think the show makes too much, too early of its “mysteries” when all it really wanted to be was a character study and boy does it deliver on the latter.
6. Vox’s The Weeds
A show for policy wonks, occasionally the hosts get sucked into discussing the latest political news, but the show really thrives when they get “into the weeds” of an issue. Most episodes end with the discussion of a research paper where they discuss the feasibility of an idea and how its real world implications would play out. It’s a highly informative and often entertaining look into the underlying ideas that shape our country.
5. Rob Has a Podcast
The RHAP empire somehow continues to grow, releasing multiple episodes a day, to the point where Rob has now left certain shows to be hosted by former listeners in order to continue them on as he manages more and more. He’s probably the hardest working guy in podcasting and it’s paid off, there’s no other TV recapper who does a better job than him. Even for those not interested in reality television, spending time in the RHAP community will likely convince you it’s something worthwhile.
4. NPR’s Embedded
The regular format of the show was an extremely well produced look into news stories that had disappeared from the forefront of the headlines in order to see where they were at now. It was excellent, but the episodes Kelly McEvers and team produced this year, were brilliant and necessary. Across two different seasons they tackled “Police Videos” and “Trump Stories”, bringing nuance and history to two highly controversial subjects. “Police Videos” brings multiple perspectives across multiple shootings, including one where a police officer is shot and killed. “Trump Stories” covers the people who surround Trump, what they were doing beforehand, what their motivations seem to be and how they got to be at the righthand of our current president.
3. Radiolab presents More Perfect
Last year I combined the two and Radiolab was great again this year, but I had to highlight More Perfect for taking the flare of what makes a great Radiolab episode–production value plus moral quandary–and turning it on the justice system. As our nation’s political state grows increasingly tense, understanding the underlying powers that hold it together is important and More Perfect is here to walk us through the questions, tensions, and massive frailties of our system.
Doughboys continually is a must-listen upon its weekly release and in our overloaded podcast environment, this is the hugest compliment. The boys remain as self-deprecating as ever despite their continuing success in the podcast. They treat each fast food restaurant with a surprising amount of sincerity for a show that goes off on wild tangents and have series of shows like “Rocklobsterfest” and the “Tournament of Chompions”. The blend of sincerity and comedic skill still remains one of my favorites in the podcast landscape today.
1. Comedy Bang Bang
This show has been essential for me for the past several years, but has never quite snuck into the top spot. Sometimes you’ve got to reward your favorites and Scott Aukerman continues to crank out the funniest shows. For those not in the know Aukerman plays a version of a talk show host who typically interviews a guest, before eventually being interrupted or bringing in another guest who is actually a character played by a comedian. They travel down some wild paths as they offer up strange characteristics and Aukerman tries to throw them off and get them to start discussing even more off kilter ideas. It’s my favorite podcast and this year it deserves the number one spot.