Top 10 Podcasts of 2015

I realize I’m a little behind schedule, but the holidays were a busy time. My lists will continue with best albums, tv shows, and movies, but first the best podcasts of 2015, featuring five shows that have never graced my top 10 before!

 

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10. Whistlestop

Panoply’s new podcast is a one-man show hosted by Face the Nation host John Dickerson. It’s completely scripted, telling fascinating tales of election campaigns past which ultimately prove the world of politics was never so pure.

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9. Planet Money

Small bites of economic theory done by some of radio’s best storytellers. Planet Money’s episodes are always a lot of fun, while also providing insight into the world’s most complex ideas.

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8. Hot Takedown

Fivethirtyeight launched their first podcast this year and it’s everything I could have hoped for: a deeply insightful, statsy, and anti-hot take (as the title implies) sports podcast. Lest you get the impression that it’s a complete nerd-fest, at its core it’s a really solid sports talk show.

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7. About Race

From Panoply, About Race is all about the ways in which race gets talked about in the media. It’s often a lively and challenging conversation with different and conflicting opinions showing their face throughout. It’s not something that someone who doesn’t agree with the panel’s opinions would easily be able to get into, but it’s nonetheless full of important and necessary perspectives.

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6. Slate’s Hang Up and Listen

Hang Up and Listen has made the list every year since I started ranking podcasts and still it remains. It’s intelligent sports talk, and, like Hot Takedown above is so refreshing amidst the voices of yelling morons in sports radio. I must admit there is a certain level of highbrow required to listening to it, not everyone will be into the hosts going off on poetic tangents as happened at one point this year in response to Kobe’s retirement poem–but for me, I would ask for nothing less.

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5. Rob Has a Podcast

Another show who has made it every year since my podcast list inception, Rob Has a Podcast covers Survivor and other reality television, using the podcast format to its fullest with multiple episodes per week. Rob Cesternino’s use of live shows is great for the instant reactions we crave when watching reality tv, but he always adds intelligent follow up shows throughout the week for those who desire a deep dive. He’s created a whole nation of devoted fans, and I am placed firmly within that group.

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4. Doughboys

Podcasts have to have a good premise, mixed with good chemistry, and continuing creativity in order to hold my interest. There are many podcasts that, despite an interesting premise I have not continued to listen to. Doughboys captured all three of these requirements, Nick “Burger Boy” Wiger and Mike Mitchell of “Spoon Nation” have an instant chemistry, a legitimate sincerity about chain restaurants, and a hilarious sense of humor that transcends all of it. It captures everything that the more pointed comedy chat podcasts should be striving to be.

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3. Comedy Bang Bang

Comedy Bang Bang is the king of comedy podcasts for me with each episode be a must-listen in an often crowded market. Scott Aukerman keeps every episode lively, while old guests and a deep canon mix with new improvisers creating instant classics. Each additional episode pays off listening to the last, but even without all the context it is hilarious.

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2. This American Life

If Comedy Bang Bang is the king of comedy podcasts, then This American Life reigns atop all storytelling shows. Each week a new episode is released I never really believe that it will pique my interest as the last one did, but almost every week I am surprised at just how good it is. There are a lot of storytelling shows that have come out in its wake, but I still think that Ira Glass and company are the best at what they do.

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1.The Gist

The Gist is a daily news show covering hot topics, interesting facts, or whatever else crosses host Mike Pesca’s mind. Pesca is a veteran of public radio and always brings a nuanced, intelligent opinion to all of his view points. Add to this his great sense of humor and segments like: ‘Is that bullshit?’ and the year in pop, and you have the year’s most consistently great podcast on your hands. With the amount of podcasts I subscribe to (around 50 that I listen to at least every once in a while) I shouldn’t have time to listen to a show that comes out every day, but still I try to make time to catch up with every episode that comes out.

Honorable mentions: Channel 33/Hollywood Prospectus, The Cracked Podcast, Radiolab, Spontaneanation, Filmspotting, Doug Loves Movies, NY Times’ Music Popcast, The Allusionist , The Liturgists, 99% Invisible

If there were more eps: Surprisingly Awesome, Next Picture Show, Getting Curious

Ranking the Survivor Seasons

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I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but have never gotten around to it. Now that Rob Has a Podcast is doing an official fan poll and that there is a nice even 30 seasons, it feels right to give them a good ranking. Arguments are welcome, but please don’t hate.

30. Redemption Island

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There is something kinda neat about watching Boston Rob roll all over a group of mostly incompetent Survivor players, but boy most of it is awfully boring. There is an alternate version of this season where Phillip is out first and Mike Chiesl becomes an all time great, perhaps that would be more interesting. Add in the awful Redemption Island twist and yeah, this is the worst season.

29. All-Stars

I don’t hate Boston Rob, I really don’t–in fact he is usually the most interesting person in his seasons, but the way (when he is successful) he shuts down the rest of his competitors makes for awful television. This season is hurt by how personal it gets and the way the meta-game causes all of the interesting players (Tina, Rudy, Rob C., Richard) to go early while Jenna Lewis and Amber dominate.

28. One World

Kim is probably the best person to ever play Survivor, but this season is filled with duds–yes even upon their return Colton, Kat, and Monica remained duds. Even the slight opposition Kim faces is done in the most annoying form possible in “this is my island!” Troy Robertson. Sorry Kim, but I have no desire to rewatch this season at all.

27. South Pacific

Seasons 21-24 were the low point of Survivor history and season 23 showcased just how out of touch the producers were, bringing back the awful Redemption Island twist with two returning players we were less than slightly excited to see. Unlike Redemption Island there were a couple of bright spots in John Cochran’s wit and the huge turning point his flip caused, as well as the slayer of the dragonslayer herself in Sophie Clarke. But Coach’s cult, Brandon Hantz 1.0, and Rick just don’t do it for me.

26. Thailand

It’s hurt by so many of its people getting ignored throughout the future of Survivor, if Brian or Helen had had the chance to come back (as they should have) it probably gets remembered better. I think Brian is super entertaining and talented, but again the genius who runs over everyone doesn’t make for great TV.

25. Nicaragua

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Unlike most of the ones that have been ranked below it, this season is not dominated by one person, featuring quite a few twists and turns leading up to the ultimate surprise in a Fabio win (it is so scary that Chase comes within one vote of winning this thing). It’s a hard season to rate because it’s filled with good crazy (Holly and the shoes! Benry’s strange confessionals! Fabio’s slapstick moments) and annoying crazy (Naonka and Jane). Ultimately it rates lower, just because other seasons are just better.

24. Marquesas

Some people love this season, I guess that depends on having some sort of interest in people like Paschal, The General, Tammy, and Zoe; sorry but I find most of those people pretty boring to watch. While the downfall of John Carroll is epic, Kathy’s redemption arc is good, Sean is a legend, and Vecepia is fine as a winner, those people in between do a bad job of filling in the gaps.

23. Cook Islands

I’m back and forth on this season, I loved it at first because of Yul vs. Ozzy and Jonathan Penner. But on a further rewatch it didn’t do as much–Ozzy is great at challenges this first time, but he is awful socially. The weird early merge leaves a bad taste and Rebecca is probably the least memorable person to ever make jury. The twist was saved by the multicultural finals, but there is a moment where Jonathan Penner is saved twice over two people who were not white, despite nobody liking or trusting him–this could be because he was an original tribe member, but debating back and forth is the reason this twist probably should not have happened.

22. Africa

This season is pretty boring and would be even lower if the whole cast weren’t so likable. T-Bird and the two Kims are all worth rooting for and have their own level of skills. Ethan, Big Tom, and Lex are Survivor legends. Brandon and Frank’s relationship is a hilarious pairing that exemplifies the magic of the odd-couple that was at the heart of early reality TV. These people’s interactions were interesting and the gameplay is there, despite probably living in the worst conditions in Survivor history.

21. Palau

I always thought this season would be better had they not allowed Ulong to be decimated down to the final person. Sure it makes for an interesting factoid, but it essentially splits the season in two, with Stephanie as the winner of one season and Tom as the winner of the other. This is why we need tribe swaps and why the three tribe format has become a current fixture. Other than this the season is filled with people that are fun to watch: if Ian doesn’t jump off that pole in that way he 100% comes back, Gregg is an underrated player, Katie is an underrated character, and Tom is one of the best players in the show.

20. Caramoan

I don’t really have any desire to go back and watch all the girls get voted off the fans, Brandon Hantz 2.0’s meltdown, or Shamar yelling–but the second half is really good. Malcolm and Corinne leading a failed uprising, Malcolm again leading a failed bro-rising, and Cochran completely owning a season was a lot of fun. Give Erik and Brenda a better edit, take out the taking out of Dawn’s teeth and it’s probably top 15 or 10.

19. Gabon

There are a lot of interesting things at play here, the season’s multiple swaps probably ended up giving us the worst final 3 ever (Sugar, Bob, Susie) but also prevented us from Marcus just sweeping up everyone in a really straightforward way. I am thankful that we got to see Kenny the underdog turn into Kenny the mastermind turn into Kenny the fallen god in one of the more unexpected character story arcs. Randy and Corinne are forever great, but I can’t ignore that awful final 3.

18. Guatemala

There are so many fun people here and it’s disappointing some had to leave so early (Brian, Amy), while Cindy and Lydia made it to final 5. Stephanie and Bobby Jon’s return worked out okay, but it’s people like Judd that really make the season. Danni recognizing Gary was one of the more random shocking moments in the show’s history; Danni could secretly be as good as Kim Spradlin, it’s a shame we will likely never get to find out.

17. Worlds Apart

Hard to rank because of recency and the way the last half of the season was filled with so much Dan, both in and out of the show, and Will’s pretty despicable thrashing of Shirin. Mike is one of the more interesting winner’s, combining Tony’s scrappiness with Colby’s challenge wins and love of Texas–I think he’s a good player, but didn’t really play that well here. I’m still not sure what I think of Rodney and how I remember him will have a huge effect on how I view this season going forward.

16. Australia

This is a good season with lots of classic moments and characters. I agree with the reputation that it slows down after the merge and though Colby and Tina are great, for me they are not that great. That being said, those first 6 or so episodes are classic due to Alicia’s finger, Mike’s craziness, and Jeff Varner being amazing.

15. Panama

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I keep moving this season up and I think it’s because of how great that Casaya tribe is: Aras, Cirie, Danielle, Courtney, Shane, and Bruce are the least likely bunch of people to ever stick together under the guise of tribe loyalty, but they sure did it, defining the term dysfunctional in the process. Terry made it interesting playing the near-spoiler to Casaya and Cirie made one of the best plays of all time in splitting people’s votes to get Courtney out.

14. San Juan del Sur

Surprised it’s this high, but the more I think about it the more I love it. The first three episodes are average (depending on how much you like John Rocker’s storyline), but the fourth episode features Drew Christy making a buffoon of himself and similar to the Roger in Amazon episode makes no bones about who is going home. After the worst episode (Julie’s quit) we get Josh vs. Jeremy, Jeremy’s blindside (with Natalie’s “what the f*** Missy?”), the near blindside of Jon only negated by Keith’s “stick to the plan”, Jon and Jaclyn’s fight, and Natalie turning into a Survivor goddess by “accidentally” voting out Alec, blindsiding Jon, and idol-ing out Baylor.

13. Heroes vs. Villains

This is probably the most overrated of all seasons for me. It was great seeing all the big characters battling it out with one another – Russell vs. Rob is amazing – but the big moments rely way too much on the hidden immunity idol. I am a fan of hidden idols, but having 5 in a 2 tribe season was overkill (though JT’s letter is still great). This is the point where Russell started to get annoying and by the time the final 7 comes around the season feels tiresome.

12. Micronesia

One of my favorites upon my first watch, but trying to think of watching it again feels exhausting considering that we have to watch episodes with the boring fans in the pre-merge. I have no desire to watch the Chet, Kathy, and Joel drama; this is probably a fundamental problem with the fans vs. favorites format, the fans are never interesting enough when compared to the favorites. The post-merge however, with blindside after blindside, is incredible and that is why it still remains high. I’ll never forget watching Eliza play the stick, Ozzy get blindsided, or Erik giving up immunity.

11. Samoa

This might be the worst edited season of all time and though it was entertaining to see Russell shoved down our throats so much at the time, it does not hold up anymore. A more moderately edited season with a bit more Galu (Brett anyone?) and Natalie might enter into top 5 territory, because Russell is entertaining and the Foa Foa comeback is fantastic.

10. Blood vs. Water

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This was a mighty gamble for Survivor to do and it is one that actually paid off. Seeing players compete with their loved-ones was fascinating, adding extra layers of emotion, drama, and strategy. There were huge moments (the rock draw) and small ones (the coconut bandits) leading to a great season, one in which the new players actually competed with the old – both in strategy and air time.

9. Fiji

I suppose this season gets some heat for its have and have not twist, as it should, but the fall of the four horseman, as well as everything Earl/Yau Man do is mightily entertaining on all levels. Even the “Rocky” pre-merge is fun to watch in my opinion–loved it then and I love it now.

8. Borneo

This season might be quite boring to watch at certain moments but I argue that it is the best cast of them all. Nearly every person lives in memory and helped to define not only the show but television over the last 14 years. On rewatch it is fascinating to watch the lightbulbs go off one by one as they figure out the format and the game. Richard Hatch will always be a top 10 best character of the show.

7. Philippines

This might be the best edited season of them all, the opening of episode 4 showing the decimated Matsing tribe is cinematic. This season cemented that a three tribe format leads to great unpredictability with the final 10 tribal council leading to potentially the most last minute tribal council scrambling ever. Malcolm and Denise are both top 20 players of all time, Abi-Maria is a great character, Lisa was intermittently interesting, and Penner lived up to all that we wanted him to be.

6. Vanuatu

The ultimate underdog story, Chris coming back from being down 6 to 1 is only lifted by how funny and entertaining of a character he is. The final 7 blindside is one of my favorite moments in the shows history – the glances between Ami and Eliza are priceless. Rory, Chad, and Sarge are all underrated characters, while Ami and Leann were fierce before their downfall. And Twila never coming back was an absolute shame!

5. Tocantins

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It might be the best final 2 ever, even if Stephen gets absolutely torn apart, JT played up his Southern charms, Tyson brought people to tears and laughed in their faces, and Coach was Coach, leading to a season full of great characters and gameplay.

4. Pearl Islands

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Has three of the biggest icons in the show’s history and is also wildly unpredictable. The pirate theme is a lot of fun and it made Rupert really fun to watch, His nemesis Jonny Fairplay brought in his professional wrestling style storytelling and did some of the most unique manipulation in the shows history (the famous Grandma lie) while also playing a legitimately good game. Outcasts aside, this is one of the best.

3. Cagayan

Episode after episode proved to be wild, it might be the best cast since the show’s original season. Tony vs. Spencer was one of the best showdown’s ever and it ended with such a satisfying conclusion. Let’s not forget those moments when we were all convinced LJ was the winner either, this whole thing kept us on our toes.

2. China

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An excellently cast season featuring characters to cheer for (James) and against (Jean-Robert). Watching superfan Todd truly become the first major fan to win the show is so satisfying and makes up for all the other gamers doomed to 3rd place before him (Rafe, Rob C, Fairplay). Plus, even those who should be forgettable (like a Jaime or a Peih-Gee) are pretty fun to watch and pretty decent at the game. Courtney is one of the funniest people to ever be on the show and Denise is unintentionally up there too.

1. Amazon

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Picking a number one is forever difficult, so it is easiest to revert to the season that I first watched/fell in love with. Rob Cesternino essentially introduced the flip-flopping strategy which always makes for the most compelling version of Survivor. The other characters are great, but all is elevated by Rob’s ability to play strategically and to come up with golden observations in his confessionals (“the only way Roger is gonna win immunity is if it’s a contest like “name that Perry Como song” or perhaps “what type of prune is this?”‘)

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

Top 10 Podcasts of 2013

Earlier this year I made a list of podcasts meant to introduce beginners to what exists in the format. This here is now the third year I’ve listed my top podcasts and each year I’ve brought in a lot more into my listening rotation. This year feels especially so with 5 new shows entering into my top 10 favorites.

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10. NY Times’ Music Pop Cast (last year: UR) – This one has quickly become my favorite music podcast, as New York Times’ critics discuss the latest trends in music with intelligence and enthusiasm. This is one that truly looks at culture and music from a thoughtful and critical perspective, so don’t expect a ton of laughs, but if you’re into that sort of thing you will love this.

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9. How Did This Get Made? (last year: UR) – Paul, Jason, and June watch a bad movie, bring in a guest, and proceed to tear it apart. This is often hilarious and at this point I don’t think I’ve actually seen a film they’ve reviewed but find each one engaging.

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8. Slate’s Hang Up and Listen (last year: 5) – The most thoughtful sports show out there, which this year I think got really funny, with Josh, Stefan, and Mike’s banter seemingly growing crazier and wittier.

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7. The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show (last year: 2) – The JRJR show was not as consistent this year, but still delivered great interviews in and around nerd culture.

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6. This American Life (last year: 8) – Obviously this show is just amazing, all the time.

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5. Rob Has a Podcast (last year: 1) – Rob had another great year covering Survivor, Big Brother, and new show Whodunnit as well as other various podcasts. Within the reality tv world, Rob is at the top of the charts as a sort of curator bringing together the best guests in entertaining shows. The formats his shows have taken are pretty great and the ever evolving RHAP machine is only getting better.

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4. Sklarbro Country (last year: UR) – I listed the show as Sklarbro Country, because that’s technically its name, but what I really love is the other show the Sklars run which they title Sklarbro County. This show covers odd news stories, features Dan Van Kirk along with a guest comedian. I like County better because it is more focused, giving them a topic to riff off of as well as the other loves that the Sklars include in every show: sports and comedy.

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3. WYNC’s Radiolab (last year: 3) – This show has made an art form out of radio. They have the ability to ask questions that cut so deep, simultaneously giving you conflicted answers, leaving you to figure out what is truth like art should.

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2. Comedy Bang Bang (last year: UR) – I never listened to this because I thought it was just another interview comedy podcast, of which there are a plethora. After being convinced by a friend to give it a shot, I did so and am hooked. Scott Aukerman hosts it like any radio host, but quickly undercuts it by not taking anything that happens seriously. Later an extra guest enters the studio, voiced by some comedian, joining in on the interview as the character. The laughs are endless and the show’s tone is perfect.

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1. Grantland’s Hollywood Prospectus (last year: UR) – Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald are two writers for Grantland and their show covers relevant pop culture on a weekly basis. This is mostly television, but they also occasionally touch on music, movies, books, and whatever else is happening in the world. What makes this so great is the relationship that Chris and Ryan have, they grew up together and have known each other for a long time. Listening to them banter is amazing every time, they have an ability to come up with the cleverest metaphors seemingly instantaneously. Their knowledge and takes on the pop culture they consume is always great. If you like anything that Grantland does, this podcast is the true representation of the site’s pop cultural coverage.

You can find it here under Hollywood Prospectus, unfortunately they don’t have their own feed.

Honorable Mentions: Grantland NFL Podcast, Improv4Humans, Virtue in the Wasteland, Ask Me Another, Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Dissolve, The BS Report)

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

The Best Podcasts of 2011

This list re-begins my favorites of 2011. Since it is actually the new year, I figure it is time to reflect upon my favorites of 2011. Coming later in the next few weeks will be lists on my favorite songs, albums, films, and general things of 2011. All lists are based on personal opinion and experience and are ultimately subjective. Feel free to comment with your own favorites.

In 2011, I took a bigger step into the podcasting world, probably doubling the amount of podcasts I listen to. I think that podcasts are taking the place of talk radio and are doing so in a way that nearly anyone can put themselves out there. I look forward to see what people will do with the platform in years to come.

This list is especially subjective, because each podcast is generally based around a certain subject, so if you have no interest in the particular subject, you will likely not enjoy it as much as I have. However, I do believe these people to be at the top of their game in their subjects, so if it does interest you, I suggest checking it out.

5. The Relevant Magazine Podcast-I have tried for a couple years now to get into this podcast, but it was either not serious enough for me or had too many inside jokes to really enjoy. This year however, I gave it a few episodes, where I committed myself to listening to it in its entirety and I became hooked. The hosts really have a great chemistry and this makes the segments flow really well. For the most part it contains lighthearted conversation about random subjects, but it also has live performances, interviews with artists, leaders, and organizations, and discussions about the magazine. Not necessarily for those who love the magazine, but entertaining for sure.

4. Rob Has a Podcast-RHAP is hosted by two time Surivor contestant Rob Cesternino (whom, to be clear, is my favorite contestant ever). For the most part the show covers reality television (mostly Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, and Big Brother) and it may be hard to get into if not a fan of any of those shows, but Rob is hilarious and his chemistry with his wife and co-host Nicole is fantastic. Rob has a brand of nerdy humor that I love and a real knowledge of social media that makes everything he does work great. If you’re a fan of reality television, or just television in general, it is definitely worth a listen.

3. NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour-NPR’s hour long, weekly podcast touches on just about everything possible in culture. Its four hosts are experts on everything from music and television to opera and comic books, giving it quite a range in perspective that definitely places it ahead of some of their colleagues. At times it can get a little highbrow for a simple minded kid like me, but they pick such great topics to talk about that it always remains interesting. The “what is making me happy this week” segment is always great to listen to and makes me want to participate in my own culture podcast.

2. The AV Club’s Reasonable Discussions-The AV Club barely edged out NPR with their own culture podcast due to their more serious approach to art and how culture interacts with it. They have different people participate depending on the discussion, which makes it suffer a little as the relationship and chemistry is not developed week after week like in other podcasts. That’s not to say that the chemistry is not there, because it certainly is, especially in Scott Tobias and Tasha Robinson’s movie debates. Overall, they have a true love for the art that they discuss and a fervor for discussing it making it one of my favorite podcasts out there.

1. Slate’s Hang Up and ListenHang Up and Listen is a sports podcast for the intellectual. It is a weekly podcast featuring three highly educated sports lovers conversing about all the latest in sports around the world. While mostly talking about the four main American sports, they also try to cover other main sports events as often as possible. What makes them unique is their thought and attention to things that most sports fans or reporters often look over. Ethics and behavior for some reason get a pass in the sports world, as our stars can get away with things that a regular person would not. These guys call out this lack of accountability in the sports world and view sports through the lens of a philosopher. My experience has been eye-opening (as a sports fan who often glossed over these ethics in the sports world) and it has also been entertaining and informative. For these reasons Hang Up and Listen is my top podcast of the year.

Other podcasts worth checking out: Filmspotting, The Film Talk, The Tribe: A Survivor Podcast, Neue, CBS Sportsline Fantasy Football Podcast, The BS Report with Bill Simmons, The Kindlings Muse, NFL Podcast with Peter King, The Sports Poscast with Joe Posnaski