Thursday, December 22, 2016

My 10 Favorite Podcast Episodes of 2016

I listen to a lot of podcasts - the same way a lot of people watch television shows or movies, I listen to podcasts.  If I'm alone I'm probably listening to someone chattering away in my headphones.  So here are some of my favorite episodes from 2016.  Note: I'm a Basic Bitch of podcasts.

1. "Extinct Hockey" from Surprisingly Awesome
Surprisingly Awesome is an uneven show. The premise is that the hosts take a seemingly boring topic and make it awesome. I'm not actually crazy about the original hosts (Adam Davidson and Adam McKay) and sometimes the shows actually are just boring (the broccoli and flossing shows, for instance), but it seems like the Adams are gone and they're playing with some hosting changes. I, for one, would like John Hodgman to host the show permanently because both of the episodes he's hosted have been super memorable, including his dive into sports fandom in "Extinct Hockey" and an actually surprisingly look at "Cardboard," which I almost didn't download because I thought it was going to kill my soul. You can probably skip all of the other Surprisingly Awesome shows and just listen to those two.

2. "Sharon Shockwave" from Our Debut Album
This podcast follows two comedians as they write a song in an hour. Every month they write this song, then record it, and we get to listen to the whole hilarious process.  I find the premise preposterous and brilliant, all at once. If you haven't listened to this podcast, there are only eight episodes as of right now and they are all brilliant, but I really thought the guest on this particular episode was pretty spot on (shout out to the hilarious "King of the Deep" and "Ice Hotel," too).

3. "Falling in Love...with Heroin" from Death, Sex, & Money
Anna Sale is an interviewing genius. She cuts right to the heart of matters, but somehow comes across as caring and empathetic while she's asking super hard, uncomfortable questions. This particular episode stayed with me for months and even now I find myself wondering about the couple in this story and their children and hoping for good things for them.  The show itself is a mix of interviews with famous people and just normal people and I don't always LOVE her celebrity interviews, but I do love most everything else about this show.  It makes me wonder a lot about what I do that's perfectly normal to me would seem bizarre to people on the outside.

4.The Elizabeth and Mary story from Strangers (Part I, Part II, and Part III)
I don't always  love Lea Thau, the host of Strangers. I particularly dislike when she starts talking about her personal life, although some people love it. But. She really shines when she interviews other people and this three part series about a woman who is donating her kidney to a stranger she met via the internet is a fascinating story. I kept talking about it with my husband and it sparked a lot of interesting discussions in our house.

5. "Missing Fathers" from Hello From the Magic Tavern
I have recommended this podcast before and I still get quite excited when it shows up in my feed. I'm pretty sure you'd have no idea what the hell was happening if you did actually just listen to this one episode because the brilliance of the show is that what happens in previous episodes is canon to the world in which one of our main characters has landed himself in alternate, fantastical world named Foon.  I almost cried with glee with this episode because Aaron Mahnke (of Lore fame) did a brilliant intro to it and I was laughing and pretty soon tears were running down my face because I was laughing so hard. This episode might be a little inside baseball, but the collaboration between Lore and Hello From the Magic Tavern was quite possibly the best thing I heard in my earbuds all year.

6. "The Truth" from In the Dark
This podcast is an in-depth look at the child abduction case of Jacob Wetterling, an infamous case that I learned a lot about when I lived in Minnesota.  The podcast was already in production before the police announced that the 27-year-old case had been solved.  It's a scathing look at failures in law enforcement and legislation.  The entire nine episode (plus an additional update) series is fabulous, in a well-researched, well-produced, and terrifying kind of way. It's also not really all that surprising if you have ever met a small town police officer.  You should listen to the whole podcast, but if you don't have time for that, the last episode is a great capsule of all the main criticisms raised by the investigation.

7. Rachel Monroe on Longform
The Longform podcast interviews writers, journalists, editors, and other people involved in the world of media.  I'm not always a big fan of talking about writing (just write if you're gonna call yourself a writer!), but this podcast somehow sucks me in most of the time.   I've really been digging the interviews with women recently - the Krista Tippett interview was surprisingly interesting, as was the Ellis Jones interview - but this Rachel Monroe interview is one that I find myself thinking about as I'm going to sleep at night. You live in a crappy little town? Make the best of it.  You are interested in some random topic that no one else seems to think is important?  Write something to make people think it is important.  Monroe is my new accessible role model.  She's just doing her thing and doing it well and I think I can reasonably emulate that.

8. "Boy in Photo" from Reply All
Reply All recently changed its logo. I don't like the new logo at all, so I went with the old one.
Reply All is a show ostensibly about the internet, but in actuality most of the stories are tangentially related to the internet and truly about people and their quirks. Some people might argue that the "On the Inside" series (episodes #64 - 67) is the best of Reply All this year, but I found that series a bit hypocritical at the end. But "Boy in Photo" is haunting. The amount of legwork it took for these fools (the hosts play fools on a regular basis) to figure out the mystery was surprising and exciting. I was taken aback at how much I was on the edge of my seat. It was great pacing, great editing, and just great storytelling all the way around.

9. "Public Works: Rethinking America's Transportation Infrastructure" from 99% Invisible
I've written here before about my love for 99PI and Roman Mars' sexy, sexy voice, so I won't go on any further in my slathering adoration.  Surprisingly Awesome could take some cues from Mars on how to make a topic I have no interest in the most fascinating thing in the world.  But, my friends, I am actually acutely interested in public works and if I ever get to teach a class on American infrastructure in the 21st century, I am going to lead the first day of class with this gem. (I also considered "The Trend Forecast" as an episode rec because I had never heard of WGSN and it was absolutely riveting, but then I realized that my frequent predictions that the end of the United States will come with an attack on our infrastructure really demonstrates that I'm a public works kinda gal.)

10. "Wendell Sayers" from Making Gay History
Have you ever wandered what it was like to be gay before being gay was even moderately socially acceptable? Not a leader in the movement, not someone who was there for Stonewall, not someone you already know, but just a guy?  Then this episode is for you.

And if you're interested in other great podcasts, consider The Adventure Zone for a comedic Dungeons and Dragons game (I've never played D&D, but I love TAZ anyway - you have to start at episode 1, though), The Memory Palace for storytelling like no other, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text for a philosophical lifting of your soul, Hello Internet for neurotic dudes talking about neurotic things, Offshore for a mix of history and current events in Hawaii that somehow represents the entire world, Totally Beverages for random talk about drinks and hilarity, and You're the Expert for interesting, knowledgeable scientists chatting with comedians who clearly know nothing.

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