This past year I have become a huge fan of podcasts. They’re the perfect way to accompany me while I’m cataloging stuff in my office, and I have such a variety of ones that I listen to that I never get tired of them, like I can with the radio or Spotify. Now a days, there is a podcast for just about every topic under the sun, and I’m sure many people have favorites that they pass around. Here are just some of my all stars, loosely grouped by topic:
The West Wing Weekly
Run by The West Wing megafan Hrishikesh Hirway and former The West Wing cast member Josh Malina, this podcast takes the beloved show episode by episode and examines it for its writing, its acting, its place in society, and more. Many of the episodes feature guests that range from cast members to writers to director Tommy Schlamme and creator Aaron Sorkin, to current politicians and policymakers who comment on the machinations within the episodes. Josh and Hrishi have a great relationship and make every episode of the podcast funny and fascinating in equal measure. If you ever watched The West Wing, or were looking to start and want a guided tour, this is the podcast for you.
Ok. Ok. What’s next?
80’s All Over
I love 80s movies. And so do Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg, two film critics who are taking the 80s month by month and showcasing the best and worst of film in that decade. This podcast is as entertaining as it is informative, and it has one of the best themes in the podcast business. McWeeny and Weinberg know their shit, and their recollections of seeing some of these films as kids, or discovering them now as adults, is a delight. And the best part is, I’m finding films that I had never heard of before and loving them thanks to this podcast (I’m looking at you, Used Cars!)
You Must Remember This
Classic Hollywood is my jam. The stars, the studios, the scandals- I’m obsessed with it. And this podcast is a fantastic trip down memory lane that explores the “forgotten history” of Hollywood and its members. Karina Longworth knows her Hollywood stories, and she explores a lot of shady corners that haven’t been investigated in a long time. The episodes are mostly grouped into series, some of which include Dead Blondes, stars and how they handled World War II, Six Degrees of Joan Crawford, and a fantastic one that examined the Hollywood Blacklist. The current series is all about the lives and parallels between Jane Fonda and Jean Sebring. Longworth’s narration is full of information, and she has a great voice to listen to. This is one where I downloaded all of the back episodes and burned through them with joy.
Hrishi Hirway is back on my favorites list, this time with a stunning look at a song, broken down by the artists who composed them, and how they crafted the song from melody to lyrics to effects. It’s a fantastic journey, and the kinds of music featured are varied with tons of genres represented. I don’t know much about music composition, but hearing how these songs come into being is fascinating every time. And since each episode is usually under 30 minutes, it’s the perfect podcast to fill a hole in your day.
Rhett and Link of Good Mythical Morning host this podcast that covers a variety of topics, from their personal lives, to interviews with interesting people including their own staff, to things like Hollywood conspiracy theories and killer bees. Rhett and Link have been best friends since childhood, and that is especially evident on this podcast. They have a great flow between them, and it feels like sitting down with a couple of friends and talking about something cool that they had heard about. If you like GMM (and if you don’t, you should check it out, it’s great), this is an awesome podcast for you.
Pod Save America
I love this podcast unabashedly. Hosted by former Obama speechwriters Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and former Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor, the podcast tackles the week’s political news. They describe their podcast as, “a no-bullshit conversation about politics where you can laugh, cry, scream, ridicule us daily, share your ideas, and hopefully decide that you want to help fix this mess too.” I love them. They help me laugh about the news so I don’t cry, and they keep me informed and hopeful in a time that feels so hopeless. There are always fantastic interviews with political figures: recent ones include Nancy Pelosi, Al Franken, Eric Holder, and Elizabeth Warren. And I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but it’s true- they even make the ads worth listening to.
(Blue Apron. A better way to cook.)
Lovett or Leave It
We’ve got another repeat podcast hoster- this time, Jon Lovett from Pod Save America is back with this hilarious weekly show. Featuring a panel of comedians, journalists, actors, and famous Friends of the Pod, Lovett or Leave It takes the week’s biggest news and breaks it down into a series of funny segments like the Rant Wheel, Okay Stop, and more. There are Parachute gift cards up for grabs, and mentions of Jon’s adorable dog Pundit. There is yelling, and games, and terrible impressions, and so much more, and I always laugh and listen with joy when there’s a new episode. The people at Crooked Media know how to do a political podcast, and they’ve got some gems here with Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It.
“I’m Phoebe Judge. This is Criminal.” So starts each Criminal episode, following an introduction that piques the interest and leads to you leaning in for more. As described on their website, Criminal “is a podcast about crime. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” And man, the stories are fantastic. You’ll hear about a case of identity theft with a twist that takes you on a wild ride, serial killer Jolly Jane, a pro-soccer player turned amateur detective trying to solve a murder, and more. Some of the episodes are more gruesome than others, some just have interesting and bloodless stories that aren’t usually covered by the media. Phoebe Judge has a melodious voice that makes each of these stories into an adventure, and it’s one that you’ll want to join.
What to say about Serial that hasn’t already been said? Like most people I know, I was completely obsessed with the first season’s twisty tale of Adnan Syed and the did he or didn’t he murder of his ex-girlfriend. Season 2 was a little more hit or miss for me, and it focused on the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier held captive by the Taliban who was charged with a court-martial for desertion once he was released. Sarah Koening has become famous in the podcast world for her tone and voice, and it’s well earned. Season 3 is supposed to be coming out soon, and I hope it will be half as fascinating as the earlier seasons. Either way, I will be there for the ride.
You’ve probably heard all of the hype about S-Town. And for me, it’s all true. This was a fascinating ride into a small-town community, and the life of one man who was bound to stand out. I don’t want to say too much about it, as the journey through the story is part of what makes it so fantastic, but it’s not a very long series, and it’s definitely worth the time. So great.
Dear Sugar Radio
Dear Sugar was an advice column on The Rumpus that was a touchstone for a lot of people. Over the years, there have been two Sugars: Steve Almond, and famous author and Wild walker Cheryl Strayed. Here both of them provide advice to the world’s lost and lonely-hearted. The two of them have been friends for years, and you can hear that in their advice. They sometimes bring in guests to help answer questions, and they are compassionate, kind, and give good advice. If you want even more Sugar, Cheryl released a book of some of her most beloved Rumpus columns called Tiny Beautiful Things that’s one of my favorite books. Highly recommended.
Mallory Ortberg is one of my favorite writers today. Former co-founded of my late, beloved The Toast, Mallory has taken up Dear Prudence’s mantle to provide advice to the needy of both the web and the podcast. Mallory is hilarious, kind, and doesn’t mince words, and I adore how she answers these questions. Sometimes you just need to call someone out for being an asshole, and it’s gratifying to hear her say what you’re thinking. Her guests are always delightful, and honestly, I would tune in to hear her read the phone book. Dear Prudie is a highlight of my week.
So, now that I’ve touched on my favs- what are your favorite podcasts? What should I be listening to that I’ve missed?