No one needs to point out that 2017 has been off the rails regarding politics, social media, and news sources.
We have all been experiencing an unprecedented turn of events since Donald Trump took office in America and many of us don’t really trust television news anymore. Also, podcasts are becoming better produced, and so there’s no mystery why we can’t seem to get enough of them. The choices of what to subscribe to are practically endless.
So, here is what I consider a succinct list of the “best” for this year. Not all of these debuted in 2017, but they did all offer new and compelling episodes perfect for binge listening.
S-Town. In terms of podcasts that have crept in so far under my skin that I have had difficulty not thinking about them days after I’ve finished listening to them, I give it to “S-Town.” Brought to you by the same folks who brought you “This American Life” and the incredible “Serial” podcasts, this one outdoes them all.
It’s got a lot of surprises that I will not give away but in short, it began as an investigation into the suspicions of the chronically dissatisfied Alabaman John B. McLemore and very quickly turned into something peculiar. Check it out—you will not be disappointed.
Pod Save America. A couple days after Trump was elected, former Obama administration staffers Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor closed down their campaign podcast “Keepin’ It 1600” and began the much needed “Pod Save America,” a podcast they billed as “A political conversation for people not quite ready to give up or go insane.”
These guys, who put out two of these per week, are the calm voices responsible for keeping me sane in 2017. Guests have included Trevor Noah, Katie Couric, and even Barack Obama. They provide a great antidote for the anxiety brought on by…umm…reality. Look this up when you are at the end of your rope.
Crimetown. Want to listen to something that is almost a cross between investigative journalism and a “Sopranos” type reality show? “Crimetown” by Gimlet media is fantastic. This takes place in Providence, Rhode Island and tells the story of the controversial mayor Buddy Cianci, the Patriarca crime family, and dozens of interesting satellite characters that are interwoven through the skein of the New England underworld. This is the sort of show that will have you on their website every other week looking for season two.
What Really Happened? Produced by documentary filmmaker Andrew Jenks and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, this is investigative journalism at it’s finest. With episodes that uncover the story of Muhammed Ali saving a suicidal Vietnam vet, Britney Spears going over the edge, and Princess Diana’s sad and premature death, you will be practically glued to the edge of your bucket seat. Each of these were years in the making and that sort of quality comes through in the production.
Ear Hustle. This podcast has the undeniable distinction of being the first to ever be produced inside a prison—San Quentin, of all places—and it does deliver. Produced by California State University photography professor and visual artist Nigel Poor along with prisoners Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, it explores the human side of the two dimensional legislation we hear in passing on the news all the time.
More Perfect. This podcast is a spin-off of the riveting “Radiolab” which has been wowing audiences for last 15 years. Essentially it dives into the moving parts of the United States Supreme Court and how an elite group of nine judges get to decide on everything from “marriage to money, to safety and sex for an entire nation.” From its ghostly opening “oyez, oyez, oyez” to its dramatic pregnant pauses and dead air punctuation, it will keep you thinking for days. Definitely download this one.
This American Life. This podcast has been a staple of this genre for more than 20 years, but I have alluded to it in many different situations and have always been surprised about how many people have never tuned in before. Host Ira Glass, who at 58 years old somehow miraculously sounds like he just turned 19, cobbles together an incredible show every week. It is usually presented in segments, and at the end of the hour I always find myself wishing there was more to listen to.
Terrible, Thanks For Asking. Author Nora McInerny, who describes herself as a “notable widow” has taken the awful experience of watching her young husband die of brain cancer and turned it into the fuel which propels her to get out there and ask the hard questions. Although most shows deal with dark and depressing realities, there is always a certain redemption at the conclusion that makes the roller coaster worthwhile and I always feel better for having listened.
Missing Richard Simmons. Okay, the premise is silly, the subject matter is obsolete, and the interviews are awkward but don’t let that stop you from binging on this oddball winner from filmmaker Dan Taberski. Taberski was a friend of Simmons who had a personal stake in finding out where this gregarious guru disappeared to for the last three years. As an avid lover of this art form, I have tried literally hundreds of titles that I wound up shutting off before the first episode was halfway done. This was not one of those. Add this to your library sooner rather than later.
Dirty John. This LA Times and “Wondery” collaboration is every bit as poignant as “S-Town” and, for me, really wound up filling the vacuum that “S-Town” left when it ended. It’s got all the essential elements: seduction, deception, forgiveness, denial, and survival, and an ending you’ll never see coming. Do not, I repeat, do not let this one go without at least listening to the first episode. I guarantee you will listen to them all before long.
Author: Billy Manas
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen
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