Pop Culture This Week: 6/22/15

I am too into pop culture and all the current happenings so why not write about it more generally while offering a guide to what is out there for people. Maybe this will come in weekly installments, maybe I’ll get too apathetic, for now enjoy this weekly update on what’s happening this week in popular culture.

MUSIC 6/23

Son Lux “Bones”

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Son Lux is an interesting artist–an experimental talent who combines a knack for creating orchestral-lite pieces with atmospheric electronic sounds. Backed by his deep vocals, it all combines to make something that is nearly always interesting but not necessarily easy to listen to. The moments of beauty tend to be there and he is really effective at creating mood (he has worked on several films including one of my favs Looper, as well as upcoming Paper Towns). If you like Sufjan at his most Age of Adz-y you may enjoy this (he worked with Sufjan as a part of hip-hop project Sisyphus last year). He doesn’t quite have the critical pedigree that Sufjan does, but certainly has talent.

Kacey Musgraves “Pageant Girl”

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This is country’s critical darling for some reason, particularly resonating with people at NPR and the like. This is probably because she offers some critique of the place she comes from while simultaneously fitting pretty perfectly into that mold. She doesn’t really do much for me and the reviews are down from her debut, but it will probably sell a lot of copies so lookout for her as a potential crossover act.

Other albums of note: Meg Baird “Don’t Weigh Down the Light”, Wolf Alice “My Love is Cool”, and The National playing “Sorrow” for six hours straight in “A Lot of Sorrow”

MOVIES 6/26

Ted 2

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Yes the Seth MacFarlane movie about a stuffed bear that comes to life and does fratty things with Mark Wahlberg made a lot of $$$ and now it’s back in order to make a bunch more. The first one was decent critically and I can’t imagine this one will be anything close to that, so you should probably just go see Inside Out instead.

Big Game

This movie sounds strangely fascinating–about a Finnish boy participating in a rites of passage/wilderness survival venture who runs across a crashed plane where the American president (played by SAMUEL L. JACKSON!!!) is found as a survivor (I already want to think of this as a Snakes on a Plane sequel). They must survive together, not only against the wilderness, but also against kidnappers trying to take the president hostage. If this doesn’t sound crazy enough, I should add that it is directed by Jalmari Helander whose credits include Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale which is essentially a Christmas horror film that uses a Santa-like figure and Norse Jul traditions to make a crazy and fairly terrifying movie. Plus the title is Big Game which asserts that somebody will be hunting somebody else, which sounds out of control. Watch the trailer for this, it feels like something that will be a cult film for years to come.

Other movies of note: Just go see Inside Out and maybe check out Dope, it looks, well, cool.

TELEVISION

6/24

Big Brother 17 (CBS)

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Not much to say about the newest season of Big Brother though I do like to irrationally advocate for it now and then. Its underlying game mechanics are actually quite complex even if its exterior remains the silliest of all reality TV. It’s not as perverse a show as you’d think, I swear! Another noteworthy announcement is that we will see the first transgender reality contestant (at least in a major US competition) so that should be a newsworthy topic over the first few weeks and maybe longer depending on how the other houseguests react to her.

6/28

Humans (AMC/Channel 4)

I only wanna talk about the most intriguing of culture, because there is already so much out there, but this does seem to show some promise. Humans is a sci-fi show based off of a Swedish idea, taking place in a world similar to the present except for there are AI servant robots (what could go wrong?!?). It looks to add to the catalog of other culture looking at how we relate to AI and its potential dangers (Her, Ex Machina). The most interesting thing to me is that it is a co-production taking place between British Channel 4 and American cable channel AMC, but I doubt any of you really care about that.

Other TV to check out: Well, True Detective season two premiered yesterday at the time of this writing; reviews are not great but we can all watch it in nostalgia of the first, right?

OTHER

I don’t have much else for ya, I’m sure the Barack Obama episode of WTF with Marc Maron will probably get released this week and that should be a fascinating listen.

The Gap in Posting Explained

It’s been quite some time since I’ve posted on here, that is in large part to a new project that my brother and I have been working on.

We launched it a couple of weeks ago now, it is called Rival Podcast Club–an amateur alliance of podcasts built around the premise that amateurs can do it too and if a bunch of podcasts support one another, they can be built into something greater.

I enjoy podcasts immensely as a format, there is a comfort that comes with audio and repeated listens of the same voices that can really be special.

If you are reading this and it sounds interesting then definitely go check out all of our shows, we are hoping to expand our roster, but for now we have the shows that I had already been making, a comedy chat show, and a couple of TV recap shows that are pretty fun.

So if you are a regular reader of this (and I don’t really know if you people exist), I’m sorry for not staying up to date with writing. I do love writing, but it does take energy out of me that has been dedicated to running this podcast thing for now, so have patience because I have been hankering to write a bit.

And really go check out the other things we’re doing at Rival, because I think it’s pretty cool.

Podcast Review: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim

I’m going to start trying to write more reviews of the things that I consume. My first one, albeit a strange medium to review (Ira Glass just tweeted about this), is going to be a podcast review. I listen to over 25 podcasts on the regular and rarely have the time to consume any more, but find myself consistently browsing the iTunes podcast section. Last week as I was browsing, I came across one titled Good Muslim, Bad Muslim and decided to give it a listen. Here are my thoughts on it:

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is hosted by two comedians: Tanzila ‘Taz’ Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh, both women who grew up in the United States as Muslims, but feel varying degrees of connection to the religious practice today. However, they remain strongly connected to their families and culture from which their religion is inextricably tied, even if their personal practice has dwindled over time.

The title refers to this idea that, as Ahmed and Noorbaksh explain, there are varying expectations thrown around as a Muslim from both inside and outside the Muslim community. To be a good Muslim according to Muslims has to do with following the guidelines set by the religion, but to those outside the religion a good Muslim may be someone who doesn’t hold onto what they see to be strict guidelines and rigid belief. This is the world that many third culture kids have to inhabit, that of their parents who bring in expectations from their own worlds and of their new friends who are from a different culture, experiencing their own youthful rebellion and world exploration.

Not only is this tension a fascinating one, but the hosts explore it with great humor and wit. The show is more of a comedy podcast than a cultural or religious one–each revelatory point is met with funny anecdotes that allow it to flow from topic to topic. This ability to make fun of people on both sides allows any outsider (like me) to enter in, understand, and perhaps relate to their lives.

I found myself–raised an Evangelical Christian and still a practicing one–relating a lot to their world. Though I wasn’t raised in an outside culture, Evangelicalism is known to create its own separate way of viewing the world, one that can be quite at odds with what popular culture is doing, even with American culture’s ties to Christianity. There lies a tension–easier than being a Muslim in America I’m sure–to either be a ‘cool’ Christian, one who constantly says “I’m a Christian, but I’m not like those other Christians”, or to lean the other direction toward a more fundamentalist rigidity.

There’s an incredible cognitive dissonance required to walk through the world like this. Respecting the authority of your parents and their religion (who tell you to reject those who tell you your beliefs are wrong) and your peers on the outside (who may not tell you to reject it, but have no understanding as to why you should live that way). Good Muslim, Bad Muslim reaches right at the center of this, doing so with humor and empathy, shedding a light on globalized America.

(Oh I didn’t mention that they talk about Serial a bunch, giving the perspective from someone raised by immigrant Muslim parents–like Adnan–presenting, perhaps, an entirely different way of thinking about the show.)

Top 10 Podcast Episodes of 2014

I released my best podcasts of the year not long ago, but wanted to do more with them, so I tried to keep track of my favorite episodes I listened to throughout the year. This proved to be very difficult, but I think I came up with a wide range of some of the year’s best. As always some shows are explicit in content so proceed with caution.

Two more best of lists left for 2014; best albums and best films. Look for best albums this weekend and best films later next week.

10. Hang Up and Listen: “Superfest East”

Featuring all members of Slate Gabfest podcasts (Hang Up and Listen-their sports talk, Political Gabfest, and Culture Gabfest) this live episode is like a podcast celebration. Each show does one segment, with others interceding at various moments, and then each competing in a mostly funny debate. Slate has jumped fully into the podcast world and this show highlights all they are doing in the world.

9. Rob Has a Podcast: “Cochran Breaks Down the Final Four”/Dom and Colin Podcast: “A Closer Look at Cagayan with Tony Vlachos”

Both of these episodes are deserving of being in the top 10 by themselves, but I didn’t want Survivor commanding two of the top 10 so I put them together. The first is Rob Cesternino’s recap episode in which he interviews John Cochran–superfan turned player turned winner turned CBS screenwriter–Cochran delivers as he usually does, but this time both get into their personal history with the show and how their fandom evolved after being so successful on it.

The second is Dom and Colin whose podcast centers on hardcore strategy talk doing a “Retrospective” with winner Tony Vlachos. The Retrospectives are typically fascinating looks at the entire thought process behind a person’s experience on the show, with the hosts breaking down each and every decision made by a contestant, but here the format is elevated by the incomparable Vlachos. Vlachos explains every detail of every single thing he did with the manic energy that made him one of the best winners the show has ever seen. He is so enthusiastic about explaining himself that even three hours in he is begging the hosts to continue the interview.

8. Comedy Bang Bang: “Oh, Golly! You Devil”

This is the second part of an episode that saw Scott Aukerman and guests Jason Manzoukas and Andy Daly end their show on a cliffhanger with the Apocalypse hanging in the balance. This episode features a tour-de-force performance by Andy Daly who acts out a battle of good vs. evil while being ten different characters each of which joins a different side. The entire show is improvised and to hear Daly go through such a wide range of characters without ever missing a beat is incredible.

7. Improv4Humans: “Shoehorn A Shoehorn Story”

Improv4Humans is a podcast that takes suggestions from Twitter and other topics to create improvised scenarios–doing their best to bring Improv comedy to the podcast format. It’s typically hilarious, but hard to pick one over another. This one however stuck in my mind for so long that I had to include it on the list. Every segment kills it, but particularly the segment about the 2014 Emmys–one of the funniest moments on a podcast all year.

6. Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything “1984 (the year not the book)”

Benjamin Walker does an interesting form of podcasting that includes a sort of typical public radio style of interviewing alongside a piece of fiction that he himself usually writes and performs to create an interesting thematic hybrid. Here Walker uses real events in the past with a made up journal from his younger self to talk about youth, growing up, and the year 1984.

5. This American Life: “Tarred and Feathered”

My heart starts beating faster just thinking about this episode, the central theme being people who are “tarred and feathered” in some way. They choose to focus a segment on a group of people who claim to be non-practicing pedophiles who have formed an online group to deal with their problem and to hold each other accountable. For those who can handle the subject it is a captivating look into people who will never (and should never) be accepted in society. It brings questions of how we should deal with such a thing and tells the story of a young person who seems to be doing a lot of good. I don’t know if I could ever listen to it again, but that one time it was an incredible piece of radio.

4. U Talkin’ U2 to Me: “Slowing It Down”

In my opinion the funniest of the U2 podcast, Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott don’t actually discuss any U2 albums and instead go over listener feedback and just chat with one another. The episode also features perennial podcast guest Paul F. Tompkins who, as always, adds to any podcast he is on.

3. Start Up “How to Divide an Imaginary Pie”

Start Up is so good because of the transparency that Alex Blumberg brings to the process. The podcast is documenting Blumberg attempting to start his own business, a podcasting company, and this episode tells of him trying to get a business partner. Blumberg finds a person and then must deal with choosing how to split the company with his partner. It’s a document that shows how difficult and cringeworthy business decisions can be, especially when one doesn’t have a knack for that sort of thing.

2. Serial: “The Alibi”

I wouldn’t say that any episode of Serial really stands above the rest, so the pilot gets the nod for introducing us to the story that would captivate listeners for 12 weeks.

1. Radiolab: “For the Birds”

This is my favorite episode of the year because of the deep impossible questions that it poses. Radiolab presents a situation that cuts deep into our humanness asking whether it’s okay to choose something that helps our loved ones at the cost of larger world issues. At what point should we choose logical conclusions over the ones we love? These questions have stuck with me and definitely deserve to be asked, even if they can never be answered.

Honorable Mentions:

The Goosedown: “Outkast vs. Tribe”,Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show: “Serial Game Show Contestant”, U Talkin’ U2 to Me: “Staind Glass”, This American Life: “No Place Like Home”, 99% Invisible “Walk This Way”, The Andy Daly Pilot Project Podcast “The Travel Bug with August Lindt”

Top 15 Podcasts of 2014

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This is the year that podcasts took off, well in their own corner of the internet sort of way. This is my fourth year ranking my favorites and I have listened to more than any other year of my life which is why it gets a top 15 instead of a 10.

Again I don’t necessarily recommend all of these for each person, so proceed with discretion.

15. The Grantland NFL Podcast

You will only like it if you are into football, but hey that’s most of this country right? Great show with really in-depth takes on the NFL season.

Check out the latest ep here

14. Filmspotting

I’ve been listening to this show for probably six years and even on its third different cohost it is a must listen for film fans. I usually listen after I’ve seen the movie they are reviewing, so I’m not always consistent, but every time I do it’s such an enjoyable experience.

Check out episode 500: Top 5 Films of the Filmspotting Era

13. Improv4Humans

It’s better when Matt Besser isn’t ranting about his opinions, but in between when Besser and other improvisers come together to create scenarios they are able to make some of the funniest and creative material on the spot.

Check out Funky Kong

12. Hollywood Prospectus

Andy and Chris probably have my favorite podcast relationship out there, having known each other for years and years. Their pop culture show for Grantland continues to be at a high level every week.

Check out the end of the year episode

11. This American Life

This year they continued to make some of the best and most interesting stories out there. If you’ve never checked out this show it’s about time to do so.

Check out Is This Working?

10. Rob Has a Podcast

Rob Cesternino continues to get bigger and bigger every year in his coverage of teleivsion, especially reality TV. He has now turned it into a well oiled machine bringing in great guests, many of which he has a repertoire with, having now past 1,000 episodes of RHAP.

Check out Rob with Tyson Apostal

9. Hang Up and Listen

The best sports podcast out there featuring talk that goes beyond the your typical sports journalism, focusing on social issues and advanced statistics. This year they stepped up their game further featuring mini episodes about the NCAA Basketball tournament andthe World Cup.

Check out the latest episode

8. Who Charted?

Howard and Kulap countdown the top of the charts each week, but really this show has little to do with pop culture. It’s all about engaging the guest and using Kremer’s personality to its greatest potential. This deserves to be on here merely for the game “Jaws is Better” in which Howard asks a guest what their favorite movie is and then argues with them as to why Jaws is better–the only way to win, say the name of the game.

Check out the Matt Gourley episode

7. The Gist with Mike Pesca

The new daily podcast from Mike Pesca, a former NPR reporter and member of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen (see above), is great for its coverage of today’s topics, but also because Pesca is a master podcast personality. Taking a fairly central perspective on a lot of today’s issues he also is very funny and open to ideas from all his guests. Pesca is a breath of fresh air in podcast journalism.

Check out the latest episode

6. The Cracked Podcast

The surprisingly eye-opening podcast from the people of Cracked.com is focused on scientific, social, and pop cultural matters all from the perspective of funny dudes who read a lot on the internet. I would take some of what they say with a grain of salt (they had an episode about obesity some of which I looked up to confirm what they said and couldn’t find anything) but they would probably to tell you to do the same thing.

Check out Decisions Your Brain Makes Behind Your Back

5. Start Up

A new show that is only 10 episodes in hosted by former This American Life and Planet Money producer Alex Blumberg who created the show in order to chronicle him trying to start up his own podcast company. Not only is it a unique look at the inner world of business, but it is a strikingly transparent view of Blumberg’s mind as he deals with various pressures and his own neuroses.

Check out How to Name Your Company

4. Radiolab

Radiolab is a storytelling show that focuses on science-based subjects, not only making fascinating stories, but some of the most thought provoking material out there. Their editing techniques are always incredible and this year they continued their brilliance.

Check out Outside Westgate

3. Comedy Bang Bang

Scott Aukerman’s sort-of parody of an interview show reached its 300th episode this year. For those who don’t know it guests come on (some real, some characters played by comedians) and Scott does his best straight man asking ridiculous questions in order to get the most out of his guests. What results is probably the most consistently funny thing out there.

Check out 2014 Holiday Spectacular

2. U Talkin’ U2 to Me?

Was my favorite for a majority of the year, until the number one came around. U Talkin’ U2 to Me? is the Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang) and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) hosted podcast in which they are supposed to talk about everything U2. While they do get around to a lot of U2 discussion the podcast is an exercise in the most laid back silly form of improv, with both hosts riffing on just about everything and teasing one another in this semi-hostile manner. Let’s not forget all the shows within shows, because these too are a highlight of the show.

Check out Staind Glass

1. Serial

The podcast that escalated podcasts and made a few more people realize that podcasts are wonderful (but ultimately ask any non-NPR type person if they have heard of Serial and the answer will be no). Aside from this, Serial was a great piece of true crime storytelling with host Sarah Koenig obsessing over a 15 year old case and allowing us to obsess alongside here for 12 weeks. Her way of investigating draws you in as a listener, the story and interviews were fascinating, and the theme music may have been the best part. Was the end satisfying? Well being that it is a non-fictional story I don’t think it ever could have been–at least the way that would have felt the most satisfying–but it didn’t feel out of touch with the rest of the show and really the story isn’t over.

Check out The Alibi

Honorable Mentions: The Sylvester Stallone Podcast, 99% Invisible, The Dissolve Podcast, The Liturgists, Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, Criminal, How Did This Get Made?, The Andy Daly Pilot Project, Planet Money

Three started late in the year that may have had a chance if they had been released earlier: Rembert Explains, OMFG!, With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus

Weekly Thoughts 9

How to Stop a Dictator: Read This Blog

The other day I listened to this podcast, Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything, part of the Radiotopia network (who, by the way, has some of the best storytelling podcasts out there and is highly recommended). The episode was a short one, beginning with an advertisement for Radiotopia’s latest Kickstarter campaign and then continuing into a short interview with someone who works on the show. They are in the park and there is a concert happening, the guest Walker interviews makes a point of clapping nine times once the musician is finished playing. When Walker asks him about this, he goes into an anecdote that has captured my attention for a couple of weeks now. The guest asks us to ponder if Hitler had been able to have a successful art career, whether or not human history goes down in the same way (I think the knowledge that is excluded is that Hitler at least attempted to have an art career and failed). He goes on to give a couple of other examples of people who had failed careers in creative endeavors and later committed horrendous acts. He then turns his attention to the performing artist, saying that we should support those attempting to make art as a way of contributing into their lives as they try to make something. The whole thing can be listened to here.

I’ve been an advocate of this approach, especially when it comes to people you know or are friends with. Creating something and putting it out there takes a level of vulnerability. Even in the YouTube, blog, and podcast era where having a voice is just a few clicks away (this reminds of the Portlandia “DJ Night” sketch–everyone has something that they’re making), committing oneself to creating content and continually putting it out there is difficult. This is why half of these efforts are given up on within a  matter of months–it’s hard and if you’re not getting a lot of positive feedback it leads into this spiraling creative depression and discouragement. The real creative types have a need to express themselves and frustrations are paramount when people just don’t get it. But these people are expressing themselves and trying to do something which I would posit is a better, more active life activity than say, watching cat videos or playing Iphone games. They are making contributions to life and while not inherently good, creativity is a net positive.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room–you are obviously reading this on my own personal blog right now (or more than likely not reading it, if a blog gets written and nobody reads it, has it actually been written?) and so I will throw in my two cents from personal experience. I’m not really going to complain because I don’t blame anybody for not reading these posts or not listening to my podcasts (check them out here and here) they are hardly lucrative mediums and the content I’ve produced is not populist at all. But I suppose there is part of me that wishes there was some sort of reward or recognition for the work that I make. Even when I try to go more mainstream (celebs!) it doesn’t really payoff and when I see others regurgitating simple ideas and expressing thoughts that don’t really say anything, it annoys me.

It’s fine. I get it.

When my friend and I ironically created a Facebook page for a hail storm that happened three years ago, it gained 65 likes even though we didn’t do anything and didn’t try to do anything with it. When I created a podcast where over two years at least two episodes were released per month, 34 people liked it on Facebook. I don’t know if I need to do the math here, but that ratio favors one much more than the other.

What’s with that? There’s part of me that gets it–people don’t want to be spammed on their social media sites and self-promotion can feel nagging and annoying. I have 385 friends and if we’re being generous, probably 200 like me or desire to have some sort of relationship with me. Of these let’s say 100 would have any interest in listening to a show about taking things in pop culture and ranking them in top 5 lists–a silly and lighthearted venture. Yet, 34 of them clicked like.

Despite this complaint–or lament if you will–consuming things takes time. It is often expensive (here is where I again plug my free podcasts) to support people over and over. We are often flooded with options–what I like to call the Kickstarter effect: the result of there being so many crowdsourcing options, one feels obliged to help this or that via Kickstarter, but ends up so overwhelmed that you end up not endorsing anyone. You can’t give to everyone all the time.

There is also the coffee shop dilemma. We should want to support our friends and our community’s local artists, according to our thesis it will lead to a more positive world, possibly life changing for certain people. Yet every coffee shop on every corner on every Friday night hosts their open mic where aspiring musicians come to play and these musicians cannot possibly all be supported. Most of them hardly stand above the fray of any musician or artist or whatever playing in your local cafe.

How should we respond? This isn’t communism, not everyone can be good or worthy of supporting (cue The Incrediblesif everyone’s special then nobody’s special). Is it even right to support and encourage somebody who is not good? (This is the question parents must ask themselves of their not-good children and one that American Idol brought to the forefront with all of its notoriously bad singers).

Either way, I think it’s worth it to support our friends in their attempts at creativity. Life has a way of weeding out the bad and the worst that could happen is that they realize they suck through terrible and humiliating failures, or they become incredibly successful despite the fact that they are no good at all.

In a world–or generation–that is increasingly cynical, steeped in ironic support of the viral, there is something deeply sincere and authentic about the creator and that alone is worth rewarding in some way.

Top 10 Podcasts of 2012

I absolutely love podcasts. I probably listened to more podcasts this year than I did to music. I even started my own podcast (The Rankings Podcast). They are a hard thing to judge or rank objectively. The podcasts that you enjoy will probably be about something that you like as most are based around some sort of subject. Thus you will see very few commonalities between my list and other well known sites that cover podcasts (AV Club, Paste). My list is a lot more niche driven, while others tend to be focused on comedy by professional comedians without real subject matter. Most of mine are passion projects done by people just for fun, although some podcasts are just radio shows that are put on the internet. I have counted those anyway because the podcast format is the only way in which it is available to me.

The Top 10 

10. Homebrewed Christianity

Tripp and Bo do Homebrewed in order to guide folks into a deeper theological life. They promote discussion of all the issues (most of which go beyond a lay persons understanding). They have a deep knowledge of all things theology and seem to care about people, the world, and God. From their guest interviews to their “Theology Nerd Throwdown”s, they always keep it lively, while discussing complex theories that at times I certainly can’t understand, worth a listen if you are into that sort of thing.

Ep. Recommendations: My favorites are usually the Nerd Throwdowns and I really enjoyed “Nerd Out! Leaving Church, Packing Heat, and Metaphysical Violence“. Also, the interview with Peter Rollins is great (though it mostly is just him speaking).

9. 9 Thumbs

A new podcast this year, 9 Thumbs has a basic premise, 3 guys talking each week about 3 things that they like (3×3=9, the thumb is a reference to the Facebook “like”). Since I love talking about all the facets of pop culture (that’s why I am even making this list), this podcast is a great listen. Jason, Matthew, and Rob are all writers who all love pop culture and cover a wide variety of subjects in their likes. This includes everything from music and movies to iPhone apps and Tumblr blogs, they keep it fun and fresh every week.

Ep. Recommendations: “From Gaga to Garfield to Liquid Pumpkin Pie” stands out as a fun one, most episodes are fairly equal in my eyes, but this episode’s discussion of politics, raising kids, television, Lady Gaga, and Starbucks drinks seems to offer a wide range of subjects that makes the show fun to listen to.

8. This American Life

This American Life is technically more of a radio show than a podcast, but since I only listen to it in podcast form, I will include it on here for now. It is run by the famous Ira Glass and weaves together real life stories from various people to form a theme during each episode. The staff at This American Life does the interviews and the stories are always interesting, sometimes hilarious, enticing, and even beautiful. Storytelling has become a big theme in the podcasting world with This American Life at the forefront and they really do it well, highlighting the American population in a fair, balanced, and fascinating way.

Ep. Recommendations: “This Week” was a really interesting if not beautiful episode that simply touched on things that had happened to people in the last week, showing the simple insight that can happen when we stop and listen to people’s stories. “Red State Blue State” came out the week of the election and told stories of people who had faced problems because of the politics that they have or believe are right. The episode tells both sides of the story and even goes further to bring in two people and try to offer reconciliation to them.

7. The BS Report

The BS Report features sports writer/personality Bill Simmons doing interviews about various topics relating to either sports or pop culture. The majority of the time he interviews those within his inner circle (Cousin Sal, Joe House, Mike Lombardi), but being one of the top sports guys out there he has the ability to get special guests as well (such as President Barack Obama!, Louis CK, Adam Carolla). He is always very funny and has a deep knowledge about sports that gives him a unique and entertaining take on most topics.

Ep. Recommendations: Each week with Cousin Sal (a writer for Jimmy Kimmel) Simmons and him guess the lines for the upcoming week in the NFL all the while discussing the previous week’s games, this is my favorite episode of the BS Report, though it should be listened to timely here is a recent one. And of course the Barack Obama one, in which the president talks about basketball, football, coaching his daughter’s team, and The Wire.

6. Relevant Podcast

The crew from Relevant Magazine continues their long running podcast featuring weekly segments, interviews, games, and musical performances. Honestly I like it better when they don’t have an interview to fill the time and choose to do a game instead, as the people they interview have become increasingly less interesting to me. There are some interviews and performances that remain solid though. The weekly segments include New Releases and Slices (weekly news stories) which often take on tangents and evolve into hilarious bits. The crew has a lot of chemistry and is a lot of fun to listen to week after week.

Ep. Recommendations: The “John Tesh” and “Paper Route” episodes show the group’s knack for inspiring the fans to Twitter stalk people into special guesting on the show. Both build off of past episodes bringing in a hilarious payoff.

5. Hang Up & Listen

Slate’s Hang Up & Listen is probably the most intelligent talk about sports that you can find out there. Josh, Mike, and Stefan tackle issues as serious as how to talk about suicide in sports and concussions in the NFL to basic coverage on playoffs and anything news worthy. They look at the ethical side of things, a side that is often overlooked in the sports coverage world, and come up with honest, well thought out responses.

Ep. Recommendations: All episodes are really worth checking out, but the recent “The How to Talk About a Murder-Suicide Edition” definitely stands out as an episode of specific depth as they criticize how tragedy is covered in sports (as they oft do). Also the, Greg Popovich controversy is a particularly interesting segment.

4. The Dom & Colin Podcast

This podcast is specifically focused on strategy in reality game shows such as Survivor and Big Brother. While it is hardly organized or edited at all, the depth to which Dom and Colin go into analyzing the strategic perspectives of each player is fascinating (especially for a strategy nerd like me). This is certainly a very niche podcast, which should only be listened to if you are ready for 3 hour discussions about reality TV (which I am). They also bring in former contestants for “Retrospectives” of their seasons, in which they discuss their experience from beginning to end, talking at length about each move they made. There is nothing else like this out there.

Ep. Recommendations: “Survivor Storytime with Sophie Clarke” might be my favorite walk-through of theirs, because it allowed Sophie to tell her story in ways that weren’t edited into the show. She definitely responded with a lot of insight and was honest about each thing that happened.

3. Radiolab

I’m a new listener to WYNC’s Radiolab, but with each and every new listen I am absolutely blown away. It is similar to This American Life, only even better edited to include mixed interviews, music, and sound effects that make each story more exciting. Taking on usually scientific subjects, they explore different theories about things making them fascinating and laying them out in often pensive, suspenseful ways. It’s not only entertaining, but makes you question morals, ethics, and what you know.

Ep. Recommendations: “What’s Up Doc?” talks about voice actor Mel Blanc (of Looney Tunes fame) and asks how much the things we create become a part of us and help us to work through things in our life. It is an extremely touching episode.

2. The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show

The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show is hosted by Jeff Rubin a comedy writer for College Humor who also is an extreme nerd. With his podcast he basically explores things that he likes whether it be through interviews, games, or visiting certain places. His interests span everywhere from video games to toys to old TV shows to roller coasters and pizza, his nerdom is expansive. What makes the show truly great is Jeff’s genuine interest in the subject he is talking about, his sincerity and his wit go on to make every show interesting (even the ones that you may not be personally interested in).

Ep. Recommendations: There are a lot of really interesting ones and “Episode 37: Pizza Expo, Angry Birds, TMNT, and Hunger Games” will probably give you the best overview of his interests. The Alamo Drafthouse episode is pretty great too.

1. Rob Has a Podcast

Rob Cesternino is a former Survivor contestant who has been running this podcast for about 3 years now. This year the show grew bigger and better than ever before. He brought in unique perspectives to discuss reality TV (ESPN’s AJ Mass), had amazing interviews with Survivor host Jeff Probst and legend Boston Rob, and continued what is probably the best coverage on reality television (if you like Survivor or Big Brother). His shows are humorous (check out his interviews with Tyson), but also cover strategical analysis (like his weekly “Know-it-alls” recaps with Stephen Fishbach show). While it may not interest you if you do not like reality TV, it certainly is very well done and the community of fans he has helped bring together is great.

Ep. Recommendations: “Boston Rob Has a Podcast”, “Rob Has a Probst Cast” both of these interviews with 2 of Survivor‘s most famous faces show why this show has elevated within the past year.

Honorable mentions:

Slate’s Spoiler Specials

The Film Talk

Sound Opinions

Pop Culture Happy Hour

The Truth

How to do Everything

Good Job Brain

Unbelievable

Filmspotting

Hollywood Prospectus