What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
20 Best Podcasts of 2017 So Far
We’re now nearing the end of 2017, and trying to make sense of the daily news has become a skill unto itself. The post-Serial transformation of podcasting from niche to mainstream is old news at this point, but in this era of uncertainty and flux, the role of online broadcasting has become more prominent than ever. Between the wave of new bite-sized morning update shows, designed to keep up with the frenetic pace of news coming out of the Trump administration, and the liberal behemoth that is Crooked Media, it’s a great time to be a politically minded podcast listener. And if you’d rather avoid reality entirely with some rich, atmospheric storytelling or true-crime thrills, you’re covered.
Here are the 19 best podcasts of 2017, so far. There’s no overlap from our list of The 25 Essential Podcasts of 2016, but most of those are still running and still essential.
Following the election of Donald Trump, former Obama administration staffers Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor shuttered their no-bullshit campaign podcast Keepin’ It 1600, and relaunched with a new show, a new company, and a new purpose. Pod Save America was the first podcast released under the now-booming Crooked Media banner, billed as “A political conversation for people not quite ready to give up or go insane.” In their twice-weekly episodes Favreau, Lovett and Vietor delve into the latest political news with a fitting blend of incredulous humor and righteous rage, and host compelling interviews with politicians, journalists and activists. Guests have included David Axelrod, Kara Swisher, Trevor Noah, Ana Marie Cox, Katie Couric, and President Barack Obama. Even Pod Save America’s ads are unmissable, thanks to their gloriously surreal yet topical segues: “Are you looking for someone who will slow the investigation of your campaign’s possible collusion with a foreign adversary? Try ZipRecruiter.com!”
The strangest, saddest, most bewitchingly human story of the year so far came out of the This American Life team with their second spinoff podcast after Serial. To say too much about S-Town is to ruin the slow-burn impact of its wildly unpredictable real-life Southern Gothic story, which explores the life and locale of a chronically dissatisfied Alabama man named John B. McLemore. The team were approached by McLemore, who asked them to investigate allegedly widespread corruption in his town, and specifically a local man who was bragging about getting away with murder. From that true-crime sounding premise, S-Town evolves into a complex and haunting character study.
One of WNYC’s newest shows already feels like an essential classic. Hosted by Kathy Tu and Tobin Low, Nancy offers provocative, frank, and funny conversations about the modern LGBTQ experience. Stories run the emotional gamut: there’s an episode all about coming out, an episode exploring queer representation (or the lack thereof) in the Harry Potter series, and this week’s stunning episode, “Here’s What It’s Like,” which features two generations of people living with HIV.
Author and self-described “notable widow” Nora McInerny hosts this revealing talk show, which deals in honest, non-BS answers to the question, “How are you?” The subject matter is often extremely dark—there are stories of irreparable brain damage and devastating career mistakes, several deep-dives into the process of dying and grieving, and one exceptionally harrowing episode about a vicious sexual assault. But every terrible story brings with it a ferocious sense of hope, thanks to the insightful honesty of TTFA’s subjects and the humanity with which McInerny draws out their stories.
5. The Daily
Twenty minutes a day, Monday to Friday of every week, dropping shortly before 6 a.m., The New York Times’s Michael Barbaro covers the essentials of “what you need to know today”. It’s a reassuringly consistent way to feel like you’re at least keeping moderately on top of things, and the show offers an inside track on scoops like Emily Steele’s Bill O’Reilly exposé, or Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush’s consistently revelatory White House reporting.
This show had us at “from the creators of HBO’s The Jinx”, and went on to meet and exceed the expectations set by that tease. Each season of Crimetown focuses on the culture of crime in a different American city, with the now-complete season one focusing on Providence, Rhode Island, where “organized crime and corruption infected every aspect of public life.” Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling host this series of true-crime vignettes, which comprise an investigative deep-dive into a city populated, as the show puts it, by “crooked cops and honest mobsters,” a story where the moral lines are continually blurred.
Morally suspect? Arguably. Increasingly uncomfortable listening? Sure. Now rendered irrelevant by subsequent developments? Absolutely. But for any conversation about the most culturally impactful podcasts of 2017, Missing Richard Simmons is indispensable. Fitness guru Richard Simmons disappeared in February of 2014—he stopped teaching his regular classes, cut off all communication with his friends, and seemingly became a recluse —and nobody knew why. Filmmaker Dan Taberski, a friend of Simmons’, sets out to find out what happened.
Ever since Serial sparked a fresh wave of interest in the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, and ultimately led to her convicted killer Adnan Syed being granted a new trial, a wave of copycat true-crime efforts have sprung up across the podcast landscape. Podcasters of varying qualification have set out to re-examine cold cases in the hopes of finding new evidence, and one of the most successful to date is the Georgia-based Up and Vanished. In 2005, high school teacher and beauty queen Tara Grinstead disappeared from her apartment in Ocilla, Georgia, a case that was never solved and became “the largest case file in Georgia history”. Documentarian-turned-podcast host Payne Lindsey sets out to find answers, and without spoiling too much… he gets them.
A psychological thriller so gripping, tightly scripted and star-studded that it feels like a movie in your memory. Told largely through a nonlinear series of phone calls and taped therapy sessions, Homecoming stars Catherine Keener as a case-worker at a mysterious government facility who is assigned to treat a soldier (Oscar Isaac) with severe PTSD, and gradually comes to suspect that her facility’s treatment program—and the agenda of her boss, played by David Schwimmer—is not quite what it seems. Season two is coming, and a TV adaptation is also in the works from Mr Robot creator Sam Esmail, so now’s the time to get caught up.
10. Las Culturistas
Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang are a pair of comedians and pop culture obsessives who devour the best—and worst—of the entertainment world. Each episode features a special guest (comedians Rachel Bloom, John Early, Sasheer Zamata, and Phoebe Robinson have all made appearances), joining to chat with the hosts about a variety of pop culture topics without breaking Rogers and Yang’s brilliant, rapid-fire chemistry. The seminal moment of the show, however, comes at the end of every episode, when the hosts and guests take a minute to rip apart a cultural topic in the laugh-out-loud hilarious segment called “I Don’t Think So, Honey!”
11. Why Oh Why
If you’re sick of reading superficial takes about how Tinder and Bumble, et al, have ruined and/or revolutionized dating or how soulless swiping has rendered millennials incapable of real intimacy, take note. Andrea Silenzi’s weekly deep-dive into the emotional realities of modern love is wry, inventive, and soulful, blending real stories with dashes of fiction to create something that feels truly unique.
12. Ctrl Alt Delete
Emma Gannon’s tech-focused interview show features weekly guests—most of them young creative women including Tavi Gevinson, Lena Dunham, and Mara Wilson—who discuss work, feminism, and the nuances and pitfalls of existing online. With its much-needed focus on the internet from a female perspective, Ctrl Alt Delete makes a great companion piece with Gimlet’s essential Reply All.
One of the year’s best documentaries just happens to be in podcast form. This six-episode series from Gimlet Media and the Loud Speakers Network is a biography of the late, legendary hip-hop executive Chris Lighty—who managed artists like Nas, LL Cool J, Missy Eliot, and 50 Cent—prior to his untimely death by suicide five years ago. In a year stacked with biographical podcasts, Mogul stands out, thrillingly charts the rise of hip-hop through a man who both witnessed and steered it.
Great though NPR’s Politics Podcast is, it hasn’t been the same since the departure of host Sam Sanders, whose trademark “y’all” and pop culture references could always be relied on to brighten up whatever fresh hell Washington had served up. Now Sanders has his own show, featuring bi-weekly episodes in which he chews over the week’s news with a panel of guests, and conducts deep-dive interviews exploring the intersection of pop culture and politics.
Though this Washington Post podcast is from last year, released in the run-up to the election, it’s become even more relevant now that the 45th presidency has taken its chaotic shape. Hosted by Lillian Cunningham, the show explores in chronological order each of America’s 44 presidents to date, analyzing their personalities, actions, and legacies. Cunningham is joined by historians, journalists, and icons like Bob Woodward to put each POTUS under the microscope and reflect on how the presidency has changed over time.
16. Sincerely, X
Some stories are so sensitive, painful, or potentially damaging that the only way they can be shared is anonymously. That’s the premise of TED and Audible’s compelling new confessional show, which features an array of guests whose identities are hidden, but whose inner selves are laid bare. Among the subjects of the first few episodes are a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who suffered a mental breakdown, a doctor whose burnout ended up costing a patient’s life, and a woman haunted by her own uncharacteristic, PTSD-triggered moment of violence.
17. The Nod
Gimlet Media’s latest explores “all the beautiful, complicated dimensions of Black life”, delivered with smarts and panache by co-hosts Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings. Discussions on the show so far have run the gamut from durags, to Afrocentricism, to intense Beyoncé conspiracy theories, and in regular segment “Good For The Blacks?, hosts and guests offer a tongue-in-cheek assessment of whether a given person is a net positive or negative for the Black community.
L.A. Times / Wondry
18. Dirty John
If S-Town was the breakout podcast of early 2017, this L.A. Times-Wondery collaboration is the equivalent for late 2017. Dirty John begins with a glamorous divorcée, Debra, going on a first date with a seemingly great guy named John; a handsome and wealthy doctor whose insidiously poisonous presence slowly wreaks havoc on Debra’s life. This is as gripping and unsettling as true crime gets, unravelling a tale of “seduction, deception, forgiveness, denial, and survival” through several generations of two families, and building up to an adrenalin-laced conclusion you’ll never see coming.
Public Radio Exchange
The has been bookended by jarring, incontrovertible reminders that sexual violence is not simply common, but endemic. In January, an alleged serial predator took the Oval Office, and last month the first allegations against Harvey Weinstein broke, opening the floodgates for hundreds more victims to come forward with their own stories of rape, assault and harassment in Hollywood. The Heart’s “No” series has never felt more essential in the wake of this past month. A textured, deeply personal exploration of sexual boundaries and ambiguities around consent, the series pivots on a conversation between host Kaitlin Prest and a male friend with whom she once had a complex, coercive sexual encounter. Tracking Prest’s sexual boundaries from youth through adulthood, these episodes amount to an unflinching, unforgettable memoir.
If you’ve ever quietly, creepily wished you could eavesdrop on other people’s therapy sessions—or you just really miss HBO’s In Treatment—then this podcast is your dream come true. Iconic relationship therapist Esther Perel, with the blessing of several extremely brave (and anonymous) couples, invites listeners into her office to hear her clients unravel their deepest secrets. Each episode is an edited-down version of a real, unscripted therapy session between a couple, covering raw subjects from sexlessness to infidelity to trauma, punctuated by Perel’s characteristically incisive interjections, and the result is arresting.