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