THE BEST PODCASTS OF 2017
We're combining two end of the year favorites: the listicle and the gift guide. Gift the best podcasts of 2017 to the people in your life!
For your neurotically political coworker: Slate's Trumpcast & NPR's Embedded
Trumpcast has been following Trump since we all thought he was just a terrible practical joke. They vowed to keep making episodes as long as he was in the race. Well, that didn’t turn out the way we all thought it would! They have super insightful guests and they work hard to keep from succumbing to pessimism or getting carried away with Impeachment Fever. (Although the most current episode did have a guest suggesting that Trump was flipped by Russian kompromat in the 1980s!)
This season NPR’s Embedded is focused on Trump’s backstory, if you will. From tales of The Apprentice set to Jared Kushner’s real estate deals to Steve Bannon’s career in Hollywood, this show has it!
For your grandma, if she knew what a podcast was: You Must Remember This
Basically, this is a gossip mag from the last century. Karina Longworth fills in the gaps about the Golden Age of cinema. She often themes seasons around one concept. Earlier this year she focused on Dead Blondes. It was as tawdry and depressing as one might imagine!
For your Lord of the Rings obsessed nephew: Hello From the Magic Tavern & Offices and Bosses
Like LotR but with waaay more talk of buttholes. This mostly improv-ed podcast is not afraid of getting silly. Come for the buttholes, stay for the secret names of Usidore, Wizard of the 12th Realm of Ephysiyies, Master of Light and Shadow, Manipulator of Magical Delights, Devourer of Chaos, Champion of the Great Halls of Terr'akkas. The elves know him as Fi’ang Yalok. The dwarfs know him as Zoenen Hoogstandjes. And he is also known in the Northeast as Gaismunēnas Meistar.
Offices and Bosses features the cast of Hello from the Magic Tavern playing a Dungeons and Dragons style game set in the enchanted realm that is Earth’s corporate world. I like it better than the original!
For your SJW sister-in-law: Ear Hustle
Recorded by inmates at California’s San Quentin State Prison, this podcast highlights the true (often tragic) stories of men behind bars. Among the things that stand out: the harsh truth of “three strikes” laws, the racial dynamics of prisons, and the essential humanity of these men.
For the insomniac in your life: Sleep with Me
Featuring the creaky, dulcet tones of the host, Scooter, as he meanders through a bedtime story made to put the listener to sleep. Scoots recaps Star Trek: The Next Generation, Game of Thrones, and tells original stories as well. Each podcast is a real labor of love and is as effective as two Benadryls and a glass of wine. There is something deeply comforting about listening to this man murmur about basically nothing.
Pairs nicely with SleepPhones (wireless headphones in a headband for sleeping and never having sex at night. May result in being called “Rambo” every morning.)
For your eccentric uncle: S-Town
The blockbuster podcast from waaaaay back in March. This is a master class in the slow reveal of information, as well as a text for questions of journalistic ethics. It also explores grief well. John B. is a character in the truest sense of the word.
For your comedy nerd brother: Comedy Bang Bang
Comedy Bang Bang may be getting long in the tooth, but still can be the most hilarious hour you can spend in a week, especially if Jason Mantzoukas or Paul F. Tompkins is guesting. (Or Bone Queef and Chief show up.)
For your mom who thinks that David Letterman is mean: Missing Richard Simmons & Dear Sugar
Missing Richard Simmons was even more ethically suspect than S-Town, but the one thing it did well was celebrate the effect that Simmons has had on our culture and on countless individuals. He truly has touched people’s lives, and that motivated this multi-episode series. Lots of other stuff here is bad, gross, or morally questionable and there are no journalistic ethics on display, but I do think it gave the world a glimpse into his impact. The thing that stands out to me is RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Willam, interviewed in the first episode. Willam suggests that Simmons doesn’t owe anybody anything, and that was what I was left with by the end.
You know what else all moms love? Cheryl Strayed! So stuff her stocking with Dear Sugars.
For your cool baby sister: I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats
I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats could be transformational for a young person, I think. Nightvale co-creator Joseph Fink sits down with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats and dissects, track by track, the album All Hail West Texas. I fucking love this show so much. The two discuss writing, music, faith, life on the road, and basically everything else under the sun, and then you get to listen to a cover of the song they’re discussing. It sounds like a deep dive, and it is! I love the Mountain Goats, Nightvale, and All Hail West Texas is my favorite album of theirs, so it hits my sweet spot. If most of the words in the previous sentence were nonsense to you, check it out anyway. You’ll like it.