The fifty Best Podcasts of 2016
From politics shows to horror series, highlights from a year of listening
What Will Hurricane Irma Do Next?
- Marina Koren
- Ten:43 AM ET
Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake.
South Korea Is Right
Have Smartphones Ruined a Generation?
Only Mueller’s Team Knows What It’s Actually Doing
- Laura Jane Standley and Eric McQuade
- Dec Legal, 2016
Gone are the days of explaining what a podcast is: The arrival of money to the form and a continued increase in listeners has led to another banner year and the premiere of hundreds of shows to suit any listener’s audio preferences. Whether it’s entrepreneurial advice, movie game breakdowns, or candid looks at celebrities, if you know what you want, there’s likely a showcase that offers exactly that. Finding them, tho’, can be a trial-by-fire enterprise that requires serious listening hours. The following shows don’t require you to love a certain movie or have a particular sense of humor. They don’t force you to become best friends with the host or listen to five gigs before you pick up on the “in” jokes. We’ve chosen the fifty best podcasts of two thousand sixteen based on their innovation this year, consistent high quality, excellence within their genre, and of course, entertainment value.
Highlights from the year in culture
Heavyweight probes the tricky business of redemption and estrangement by kicking off with the premise that to make something right, you have to very first get over the idea that someone is at fault. You also have to laugh, to the point of tears, as much as possible. Each scene finds the host Jonathan Goldstein moderating a fraught moment intensified by years of distance: a time when someone broke a promise, or another person’s heart. The hurt is still there—sometimes for everyone, sometimes for just one person who can’t let something go (like the time a man named Gregor lent the then-unknown musician Moby a collection of CDs that were never returned). As Goldstein presides over these thorny divisions, he injects the narrative with a buddy-cop mania, letting the listeners laugh at how flawed his subjects (himself included) are, without ever being demeaning. Goldstein leads special-ops soul-searching missions, seeking common ground inbetween the aggrieved and the blissfully ignorant. With him as the host, Heavyweight can’t help but attempt to make amends with everyone it seeks out.
In a year of widespread polarization, The United States of Anxiety rose up from the cracks, cataloging and responding to a nation’s election fears as they played out in real time. USA premiered during the height of campaign madness and, each week, eased people’s fears about “the other side” with a specific kind of medicine: information. By suggesting historical context (say, stats about the cortisol levels of conservatives versus liberals), explaining how one-time Obama voters found themselves screaming support at Republican rallies, and dignifying the voices of xxx Trump supporters, the display shrank the scaring chasm of stuff that seemed beyond understanding. The demonstrate also produced post-November eight call-in scenes, which asked people of contradicting creeds to talk it out with podcast darlings like Anna Sale, Brian Lehrer, and Manoush Zomorodi. If USA is the barometer, hope for progress still exists.
“We the People of the United States, in order to for a more flawless union . ” are the opening words of the preamble of the Constitution from which this Radiolab spinoff derives its name. The audio revolutionary Jad Abumrad and his team became interested in the Supreme Court after working on a story about a complicated adoption case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act. The story, as does each More Flawless scene, zooms out to expose how nine justices form our everyday lives in unexpected—and, in some cases, unintended and alarming—ways. More Flawless suggested a useful way to gear up for the energy of this year’s election cycle and can serve as a nice comedown, too, because it’s not about picking sides. Also: Season two is in the works.
People live in two almost indistinguishable worlds now, one made up of skin and one piped in from broadband lines and cell-phone towers. By making sense of the two, Reply All exposes the source of its greatness—the hosts have old souls, despite only being in their 30s, and they know everything about the youthful web. The display finds stories buried deep down Reddit rabbit slots and in the weeds of a Craigslist posting. One popular segment has their middle-aged boss asking them the meaning of a tweet riddled with memes and internet shorthand, and they walk him—and the audience—through how to interpret it all: a uncommon Pepe, Tim Buckley’s “loss.jpg,” or swipes at Harambe, all of which become good fodder for the hosts. Reply All—brilliant, nerdy, and cool—takes the unable-to-wrap-your-mind-around-it internet and crams it into one cozy podcast scene.
Banner Scenes: “On the Inwards Parts I, II, III and IV”
The true-crime genre brings with it some ethical controversy—namely, when its practitioners create entertainment from other people’s anguish. Criminal manages to uphold high journalistic standards instead of trafficking in monster stories or gory details. It does fresh reporting and avoids being a sound-bite aggregator, instead shining a light on the bizarre shadowy interplay inbetween the law and outlaws. For example, a tiger that lives at a truck stop in Louisiana is truly a story about activists versus petite business (“Tiger”). A prisoner’s assets, stolen and harvested, exposes the lengths to which doctors used to go to obtain cadavers, all by way of an infamous escape artist (“One Eyed Joe”). Crime shows don’t have to glorify bad guys in order to please listeners’ desire to examine the underbelly of society. Criminal’s ethos sets the true-crime bar high.
The average demonstrate description for Expose (say, “life as an au pair isn’t easy”) doesn’t capture how incredible any given scene actually is. The podcast uncovers topics that you didn’t know you knew so little about (wildfires, the Zika virus, welfare) and renders it into the audio version of high-definition color. Where some would-be news sources and opinionators skim the surface, Expose lodges for nothing less than the long game. Its stories—told via gigs that run long enough to feel lived-in—call into question how the U.S. treats its people and request that listeners engage with injustice. No other showcase we know of puts this much energy into hard-news podcasting. Reminiscent of the in-depth investigative journalism usually reserved for print, Expose goes to the disaffected in puny towns and farms and metropolises and seeks answers.
Tho’ it has the potential to create the same hysteria as Serial or Making a Murderer, Stranglers certainly has its own thing going. The showcase concentrates on guilty parties who may still be on the loose—specifically, the Boston Strangler(s) of the 1960s. And while it sets a serious tone, Stranglers isn’t just blood and guts. Joy production cues (a rotary phone noise indicates a phone call, a typewriter sound indicates an old news clipping) assuage the difficulty of hearing graphic details, as does the excitement of key principals willing to participate (such as police officials and the badass female reporter who covered the crimes in the very first place). It says something that amid proliferating true-crime shows, Stranglers is one of the most compelling of the year.
Invisibilia seduces listeners with the apparent promise that it will prove or disprove the unseen coerces that surround us. But more often than not, the show’s hosts turn the enterprise on its head, leaving listeners to contemplate their own automatic behaviors or notions about basic things, from clothing to personality. Instructive shows don’t have to come in three acts or with hokey production; here, solid audio can take drastic, unexpected turns. In 2016, Invisibilia veered into the hosts’ private lives—Lulu Miller exploring her family’s fight with mental illness in “The Problem With the Solution,” for instance—breathing fresh life into a demonstrate already alive and well. Invisibilia’s novel treatment is capable of surprising even the most scrupulous among us.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan, was captured by the Taliban, and then held hostage for five years, which incited a tremendous manhunt—but that’s about as much as anyone can agree on in Serial’s 2nd season. If mental illness, cowardice, or a valiant effort to expose the misdeeds of his superiors factor into the equation, the case remains unresolved—as does the question of whether Bergdahl will be held responsible for the death of six guys in his unit (his court-martial is set for April 2017). Along the way, the show’s 11-part story details torment, escape, and sometimes unflattering portraits of the U.S. Army. Serial’s 2nd season didn’t recreate the cultural moment of its very first, but its producer Sarah Koenig’s relentless grappling with the constructs of truth and fact are even more relevant today than when the display originally took off. And despite a drifting plot, Serial is the most daring investigation again this year.
Perhaps you heard a story once about a distant cousin’s co-worker whose son announced he was a dame and you thought to yourself that three-year-olds don’t know what they are talking about, but isn’t it nice that a child could claim something so grand. After one scene of How To Be a Woman, an incontestable fact becomes clear: Three-year-olds can and do know themselves in ways some of us never will. Marlo Mack—a pseudonym for the show’s elegant indie producer—puts all doubts to bed through her own examination of her daughter’s happiness before and after she accepted her as trans. The soulful exchanges inbetween them will grow your heart.
This American Life is the granddaddy of narrative podcasting. It’s where the construct of three acts that go after a theme emerged, and its success proved that listeners dreamed to hear stories about people. But that doesn’t give it an automatic invitation to this list. In its 22nd year, TAL continued to thrust boundaries, reimagining itself and audio. Standout gigs this year covered a broad multitude of topics, including a man explaining what he learned after living his life as a badger—and everything he smelled. A TAL producer, Elna Baker, offers a difficult confession that could very well affect her relationship in “Tell Me I’m Fat.” And TAL’s election coverage gave listeners a uncommon look into Ira Glass’s private life when he speaks to his uncle on the phone. Many of its risks pay off; slew fail. But the fact that TAL is still finding ways to outdo itself and attempting fresh things means it lives up to its reputation of being America’s podcasting sweetheart.
Dan Savage has been providing comprehensive love advice to the gay, the straight, the polyamorous, and the asexual for decades. If you’re a first-time listener to Savage Lovecast, you’ll be astonished at his readiness to go anywhere—he doesn’t shut people down over their kinks, fetishes, or extra-marital affairs. He’ll regularly rant about a homophobic politician, sometimes bring on an accomplished to help treat the call blast, and then set about furnishing your brain with a fresh way to look at hook-up. Savage Lovecast will affect the way you love and enthusiasm, and it will give you a fresh vocabulary for talking about relationships, some of which Savage has coined himself: “GGG” means good, providing, and game, in the sack. “Monogamish” means exactly what you think it does. While some fresh listeners may feel that Savage is unfairly penalizing callers—listen closely to people who ask his advice about their terrible decisions to stay with a bad partner—or being too lenient on cheaters, he’s unwavering with his code of ethics, which values kindliness and consistency over what happens inbetween the sheets.
Glance at the logo of Snap Judgment in your podcatcher, and you’ll get a good idea of how the host Glynn Washington envisions his role. He’s part storyteller, part MC, part DJ, part host. He doesn’t timid away from the way in which Ira Glass has influenced him either, co-opting This American Life’s multiple-act structure for Snap. In one segment, you’ll hear from a man who masters the art of speaking in tongues; in another, you’ll find out what it’s like to be captured in Iraq while on a humanitarian mission. Based out of Oakland, California, Snap Judgment lends a crucial voice to the podcast scene and makes space for many points of view. With so many stories vying for airtime, Snap is a showcase that competes, year in and year out, pound for pound, with the best narrative podcasts.
The Heart offers sultry, experimental gauze centered around everything dealing with, or adjacent to, love and hookup. As often as listeners will practice vicarious butterflies or feel titillated by unconventional entanglements, the demonstrate will also weigh in on significant women’s issues. Complicated lovescapes inbetween friends, women who’ve been victims of sexual onslaught, and the universal expression of longing through fiction are all fair game. Slew of podcasts aim to have poetic resonance, but so few treatment the art of it in a way that doesn’t go over the listener’s head. The Heart strikes this balance through the display producers’ tastefulness and fluency in audio, employing fresh technologies with each gig while remaining raw and authentic.
In Fresh York City, gentrification takes place a few blocks away, down a flight of stairs from your walk-up, even in your apartment. It’s that close. And There Goes the Neighborhood canvasses the people living in Brooklyn—where displacing the working class with affluence is the norm—and finds out how 90-year-old grandmothers get evicted from their homes, how white renters and buyers feel about gentrifying their blocks, and how aggressive builders, scammers, and speculators prey on the poor. Even for those who aren’t being shoved out or priced out, the neighborhood isn’t the same—one longtime resident talks about how he avoids walking too closely behind a fresh neighbor so as not to scare her and attract the police. A nine-part series co-produced by The Nation and WNYC Studios, There Goes the Neighborhood spends much of its time in the streets, hearing from the different faces moving in and out of Brooklyn, as well as the ones staying put who can tell you how exactly how everything switched overnight.
Imagine combining everything you know about human behavior and science in order to interpret why in the world we do the things that we do—like how people plan vacations to unwind, but instead end up tedious themselves organizing their trips. With the help of scholars, experts, and theorizers, Hidden Brain’s host Shankar Vedantam mines for exactly these kinds of answers, ways to extract humanity from dense research, which is why the podcast makes for such a likable listen. Hidden Brain also obsesses over how our minds manipulate us. For example, in one scene, the guest researcher Dan Gilbert explains to Vedantam that the mind interprets an irrevocable choice on your behalf, which leads to a conversation about how committing to the love of your life will actually stop the indecision and make you more satisfied. Whether discussing a nicotine addiction or billionaires, Vedantam steers the podcast back to compassionate, fertile ground.
“Terrible, thanks for asking,” is how Nora McInerny wants to react when asked how she’s doing. Her display asks people to reaction that question with honesty—and to showcase how dishonest the question is in the very first place. A duo of years ago, she had a miscarriage and lost both her father and hubby to cancer, all within six weeks of each other. That’s intense. But McInerny is generous with her grief—she’s not asking listeners to sob for her (tho’, that’s a near-impossibility). She’s simply exploring her own trouble through other people’s. She’s good at it, too. Scenes might commence with her life (like how her family is coping with the holidays) and then leap to other people’s. She uses ordinary metaphors to give listeners access to enormous truths about loss—she compares herself to stew and then says, “Have you ever seen stew? It’s repugnant.” But what makes the display titillating is the uncertainty about what her distress brings up in the listener and what she’s driving at with her guests. You can’t predict how you’re going to feel with McInerny at the helm.
Podcasting is flooded with two things: comedians interviewing notable people, and nonfiction narratives. Tell Me I’m Funny distinguishes itself from all of the above. The host and aspiring stand-up Peter Bresnan recorded his successes and failures as he gave comedy a shot, which meant he had to listen to hours of his own bombs and dissect his thinking on gauze for his listeners. It was awkward at times, but not confessional—like when he determined to write all over his assets for a bit. It was private and yet never self-absorbed—like when he described touring the South as a gay man. But like so many shows, Tell Me I’m Funny died on the vine, and Bresnan determined to end the display. Even so, he managed to tie up the series in a satisfying way, which isn’t always possible when a person’s life is the plot.
One of the greatest things about podcasting as a medium is its capability to give complicated stories an avenue into our hearts and minds without us having to stop what we’re doing, from driving to cooking. Embedded—whose reporters spend months in Greenland to draw out a story or hours on the street talking to cops and the community they serve—is particularly good for this sort of listening. Often, their reporting takes an unexpected but ultimately exposing turn—like when in the middle of producing a story about a school closing down there happened to be a shooting in the community that directly affected the students in the story. In each of its gigs, Embedded masterly extends the idea of fieldwork past its usual conclusion, something few shows ever attempt more than once a season. For people who can’t sit still for long-form reading but who hanker that level of depth and reflection, Embedded picks up the slack.
Most literary podcasts adopt a familiar highbrow voice, but Esquire Classic makes English lit conversational. Each gig sees the showcase reexamine one good lump from the magazine, poring over all the insider details: what Susan Orlean was thinking when she profiled a 10-year-old boy, or why Richard Ben Cramer was the flawless foil for Ted Williams. By interweaving readings of the essays with conversations inbetween the host and someone close to the chunk (usually a writer or editor), the podcast contextualizes the making of essential literature.
If you’re looking for the real-life podcast form of The West Wing, this is it. Keepin’ It one thousand six hundred centers around former Democratic advisers talking politics, not dramatized fiction—and it believes that working politicians can still achieve good things. As evidenced by the presidential election this year, practice isn’t everything. But not for Keepin’ It 1600. The hosts—Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor—used to work for President Obama on the campaign trail and in the White House, and for many, this podcast was the voice of this year’s jaw-dropping election season. Arriving right as President-elect Trump locked down the Republican nomination, it dissected the politics of the moment as unapologetic insiders. Keepin’ It one thousand six hundred is warm, serious, self-deprecating, funny, and optimistic.
This Is Actually Happening, simply put, takes first-person narratives to the extreme. In one gig, an argument with an abusive beau turns into a kidnapping by a totally unrelated party. In another, the story of a man who wants to circumnavigate the world using only motorless transportation becomes a profound meditation about the good outdoors and survival. The demonstrate hooks listeners with unique voices and storylines that, at some point, knock the wind out of you. Even however the showcase makes very clear that this is what it’ll do in every scene, it never fails to to leave you panting.
Like the magazine that creates it, The Fresh Yorker Radio Hour draws material from creative and thinker types. Only, instead of creating a periodical, it crafts a multitude demonstrate, a loosely connected series of segments that mix and match art, conversation, music, spectacle, and farce. You never know when you’re going to get a Jack Handey reading, George Saunders on the campaign trail, or a demonstrate tune. The podcast certainly succeeds because of the massive talent pool that brings it to life. But grind doesn’t get in the way of experimentation. The Fresh Yorker Radio Hour is structured for people who like pageantry; it’s brainy but not afraid of cheap thrills. David Remnick hosts, presiding over scenes with such a quiet dignity, you’ll mistake him for a swan.
Fresh Air books damn-near all the having-their-moment people right as their art or idea hits the culture at large. And when the greats die, Fresh Air replays past interviews so listeners can say goodbye to David Bowie or Gene Wilder. The host Terry Gross is a preternatural interviewer; it’s why her radio program has lasted decades and proceeds to thrive as downloadable content. And Fresh Air survives on Gross’s candid curiosity. It’s hard to understand why so many detractors have accused NPR of faux-intellectualism, because Gross’s straight-to-the-point interviews succeed precisely because they aren’t pretentious.
Homecoming is a fictionalized drama and thriller that conjures some of the eerie-movie nostalgia and binge-watchability that made Stranger Things so popular on Netflix. Podcasts that provide Hollywood escapism, especially when paired with tremendous turns from A-list actors, are almost nonexistent. A woman named Heidi Bergman—voice-acted here by Catherine Keener—gets a visit from a suit with a badge. While Bergman must engage the military-industrial elaborate to keep the plot moving, the best moments of the series are when Keener shares dialogue with David Schwimmer, playing her boss, or Oscar Isaac, starring as a traumatized soldier back from war. The writers Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg understand how to make characters sound natural, and that people hide their motivations behind everyday speech. The actors—particularly Schwimmer, who shines as an irritable yet somehow likable government cog—give excellent spectacles, unlike anything you’ve heard in podcasting.
Piggybacking off the Fresh York Times’s beloved column, this showcase invites actors to make the podcast rounds in a fresh way: by picking a past “Modern Love” column, reading it aloud, and then discussing why they chose it. But it doesn’t stop there. The Modern Love editor offers broader context about the printed version, and the actual writers give updates about their lives, which is especially satisfying for big fans of the column. The intersection of all of this has Gillian Jacobs promoting her Netflix series Love but, instead of talking about her fresh character, discussing how much she loves science. It has SNL’s Cecily Strong putting her voice to a more serious script. It even has the host Meghna Chakrabarti sharing her own romantic history. Most podcasts that attempt to repurpose something already in existence instead of creating something fresh fall brief. But with Modern Love, the adaptation is perhaps better than the original.
This collaboration inbetween the Fresh York Times writers Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris is, at base, a set of discussions about the big cultural events of the day. But Still Processing is acute and intellectual, goofy and raw: The two hosts talk to each other and to guests (including RuPaul and Margo Jefferson) about anyone from Colin Kaepernick to Kerry James Marshall; about society and art; about dating and work. For those looking for probing, entertaining conversations about how race and culture intertwine in America, Still Processing is vital, mandatory listening.
This year, Anna Sale, the host of Death, Lovemaking & Money, moved to the West Coast and had a baby, which meant fans of the display went along with her. The majority of scenes coalesce around interviews inbetween Sale and a guest—sometimes a celebrity such as Jeff Daniels, sometimes a listener, always polite. The openness and sympathy that define these recorded conversations help to form how the Death, Hook-up & Money community talks to each other. Listeners share their beloved brief stories. They open up about their hook-up lives. By encouraging and directly responding to feedback, Sale erases the lines inbetween herself, her fans, and her guests.
If you see a topic in the Science Vs feed, such as fracking or antidepressants, and roll your eyes, keep in mind that this demonstrate works very hard to make sure you have a good time no matter how unsexy the material. The host Wendy Zukerman pits science versus everything, from controversial subjects to subjects you didn’t even know were controversial. Her enthusiasm is as energizing as three cortados—without the headache. In each demonstrate, listeners go after Zukerman as she answers the question, “Does the science hold up?” Listeners never truly know which way it will turn out, and the results are often surprising, even however the demonstrate doesn’t hinge on the taunt. As an added bonus, Zukerman just moved to the U.S. from Australia, so her demonstrate makes keen observations about Americans from an outside perspective, too.
In 2016, podcasting whet the ambitions of a few big-name talents outside the once-sleepy field. That a writer with Malcom Gladwell’s credentials would turn to podcasting for his next creative project bodes well for the future of the medium. In some ways his podcast operates as a platform for his popular nonfiction writing, continuing his research and obsession into upending conventional wisdom (for example, is providing large sums of money to renowned universities a quixotic misuse of resources?). In other ways, the demonstrate is a vehicle for something fresh, a space where listeners get to hear him brain-crush on the basketball player Rick Barry over his particular free-throw method. The podcast is a contemporary, portable conversation, inbetween Gladwell and the people whose ideas he admires, delivered right to your smartphone.
Nathan Brackett, the host of Rolling Stone Music Now, wants to talk to you about music. And since this is Rolling Stone, of course Bruce Springsteen will pop in to promote his book, and yes, Lars Ulrich has thirty minutes for the podcast to talk Metallica. A brand that has faithful this much time to promoting artists supplies the big names. During the very first segment of the showcase, the staff at Rolling Stone kick around what’s trending in music, and the singles and albums they can’t put down—a good time to pull out Spotify. The interviews and big-picture discussions that go after act as the show’s headliner. Rolling Stone Music Now resists the idea that pop art has died or become a monoculture. It’s comforting to be able to listen to a display that harkens back to a time when listening to Casey Kasem’s top forty program was enough to make you fluent in popular music.
Krista Tippett is as close to a shaman as audio has in the interview space. She’s a gentle, powerful interviewer with an open mind and a penchant for drawing in A-list spiritual leaders you’ve very likely never heard of, poets such as Maya Angelou, and significant figures such as the Dalai Lama to discuss mysticism, meditation, and religion. She told the Longform podcast that, to prepare for her display, she reads every book and interview she can about and by the subject. She said she wants to be so submerged in the consciousness of her guests that she asks questions from their point of view, ones that they want to response or will be inspired by—not ones they get asked all the time or might bashful away from. Podcasting proceeds to have a dearth of shows that embrace faith, so even tho’ On Being has been around for more than a decade, that it resumes to shove its own boundaries keeps this demonstrate in the avant garde.
Anyone enticed by the glamor of Old Hollywood should listen to the indispensable record of the film industry that is You Must Recall This. Once you pull on a pair of headphones and lodge down with the host Karina Longworth, however, you’ll detect something larger: the unabridged, unauthorized biography of showcase biz. This podcast will turn you into a Golden Age completist. For the better part of 2016, in a 16-part mini-series, Longworth tackled the Hollywood blacklist, a time of politics, war, nationalism, and censorship, when the behind-the-scenes backstabbing matched the big-screen drama.
Internet Explorer interprets everything many people don’t know, and don’t need to know about the internet, which means that sometimes the topics it takes on are raunchy or obscure. The details of outlandish teenage party antics and gossipy, pointless political conspiracy theories are all par for the course. For those who don’t understand millennial-speak and are clueless about where memes come from, this master class in internet culture from BuzzFeed is both wise and funny, even if you’re not invested in what they’re exploring. And for those who hear about what’s trending before it’s officially trending, the hosts will, on occasion, still be able to peak you off. Through very specific commentary about what’s happening online, Internet Explorer shines a light on the way online culture affects people IRL. Word is, it’ll be back in January.
Tho’ so many shows are guided by a one-word statement of purpose—crime, sports, interviews, comedy—Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything goes after the myriad curiosities of its host. From gig to gig, Walker pursues the topics that interest him, and that drives him crazy. He drinks to better understand beer culture. He rages against hypocrisy and commercialism by immersing himself in the very things that he lampoons. At times he fictionalizes and satirizes events because he wants to. Importantly, private grievance will not be liquidated from the narrative for the sake of objectivity. Walker’s got axes to grind. Gone are the NPR voice and the concept of the impartial observer. Conspiracies bubble up. Walker reminds you of Doc Brown from Back to the Future—excitable, sometimes cranky, and utter of big fantasies and beautiful ideas.
Banner Gigs: “Sudculture (Parts I and II)”
In the annals of digital-audio history, Marc Maron will be known for mastering the podcast interview, a form that has taken the best ideas from television sit-downs (think Charlie Rose) and liquidated the cameras. Influenced by comic self-loathing and therapy-enabled self-examination, Maron connects with his interviewees by latching onto their story and blending in his own. When Lorne Michaels sits down with the comedian, Maron brings up his failed interview for Saturday Night Live and asks him to react to it. The allure of the display, and what separates it from every other interview-style demonstrate out there, is precisely in how Maron synthesizes two lives—his own and the person to whom he’s talking. This blueprint not only suffers, Maron’s still improving it on air. If you want to know how the WTF sausage gets made, listen to him talking musical theater and singing with Lin-Manuel Miranda—it’s just two guys making sweet music together.
Love Me describes itself as “a showcase about the messiness of human connection”; it seemingly asks the world to response why, if all people want is to be loved, they get it wrong so often. It’s a topic ensured to capture audience attention. But the demonstrate is a true audio original in construct. In its premiere scene, a true story about how Google Translate brought a duo together is sandwiched inbetween a parade of people reciting words that don’t translate into English, and a skit that uses Google Translate to showcase how a (fictional?) duo fell apart. Listeners find themselves persuaded that there’s nothing strange about a man’s love for an orangutan and the orangutan’s jealousy over his gf. A youthfull man going through a series of mom-figure friends seems flawlessly natural on this podcast, as does three sisters dissecting their birth order and then acting out a fictive scene. Its mixed-media nature is strange, but because its concentrate is on love (familial love, romantic love, switching love, misplaced love), it’s permitted more artistic license than many other shows out there.
Producing a history podcast is a soft thing. Dramatizing the past when there isn’t anyone left alive to speak their truth means that the written material must be taut. The Memory Palace, a compact lump of entertainment that uncommonly runs over twenty minutes, manages to thrill and educate you without talking you to death. The creator Nate DiMeo mixes in ambient sounds and quiet pauses so that he can use voice to evoke the bygone eras that consume him. Listen to the The Memory Palace, and you’ll be transported to a ship moored in the Charleston Harbor, just in time to witness the escape of the autodidact and victim named Robert Smalls. DiMeo reads alone on his podcast, and he chooses working in scene, which lends an eerie and nostalgic quality to the material, like he’s haunting the past from the present.
Stylistically, Love + Radio resembles almost nothing you’ve heard. The caliber of each episode—the high-quality production, unnerving soundtrack, and meticulous attention to detail in storytelling—never wavers, but the gigs fucktoy with your senses in distinct ways. This is a showcase that will scar you from time to time. Take the gig most frequently cited as a primer for the series, “The Wisdom of Jay Thunderbolt,” from several years back—it’s a black-comedy thriller with a big scare. On this year’s standout, “The Man in the Road,” the host Nick van der Kolk goes on a treasure hunt to find out if a man named Melvin Dummar should have inherited exactly one-sixteenth of the billionaire Howard Hughes’s fortune. Love + Radio comes back often to this gooey nature of the truth: Are Thunderbolt and Dummar who they say they are, or are they con boys? The characters are so good you’ll want to believe every word, but even if they’re lounging, Love + Radio still needles for the truth. It’s the podcast version of cinema verité.
Home of the Courageous is the independent podcast from the auteur Scott Carrier, a lone wolf who calls Salt Lake City home and spends much of his life on the road capturing nature on gauze and interviewing hitchhikers, activists, sectarians, prophets, and doomsayers. Carrier records the people and landscapes he encounters exactly as they would sound in real life, and he never goes for the effortless interview. (Recently, he traveled to North Dakota to talk to protesters at Standing Rock.) He’s also a hell of a good writer: One of his best chunks, “Prisoner of Zion,” a poetic, individual essay about what it means to live in Utah, unpacks his relationship with Mormonism and the beauty of the West. Carrier can’t help but romanticize the wilderness, which underlines everything in his unique figure of work.
Banner Scenes: “The Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Parts I, II and III”
Sidedoor arrived this winter at the same time that a rash of poorly veiled self-promotional audio entered the already flooded podcast universe. In the case of Sidedoor, however, the demonstrate has figured out how to remind listeners that the Smithsonian is an endless well of treasures—through trivia told in joy and even sexy ways. Topics range from the archives of Phyllis Diller’s comedy; the parasite that turns little crabs into zombies; and how the museum is preparing an orangutan for parenthood. In one scene, a museum employee explains that after much thought, he has determined that the orchid is the most manipulative species and has duped humans into obsession in order to ensure its future. Another, “Confronting the Past,” describes the horrors of the Tulsa race riot. Sidedoor just premiered, but if its begin is any indication, this display is one to observe.
The host of Millennial, Meghan Suntan, pilots listeners through the many kinds of indecisiveness (about career, love, money) that youthfull people tend to grapple with on the way to middle adulthood. When it comes to her feelings on these subjects, Suntan is willing to share them all. While the show’s main narrative arc is ostensibly her pursuit of a job in radio, her frank emotional communion with the audience goes beyond fans wanting her to get a big break. She almost always connects with listeners in a way that makes her energy seem transferable—so you can, it feels, warm yourself with her tender, coming-of-age wisdom.
Even people who’ve never listened to Monday Morning Podcast have most likely heard the host Bill Burr’s rants about wielding a home. Propelled by an inexhaustible amount of scathing, hilarious monologues, Monday Morning Podcast tramples popular culture, the right and the left, athletes, political correctness—everything. It’s a vulgar, irreverent form of egalitarian comedy that never slows down. A YouTube cottage industry has formed around cutting audio from his podcast and mixing it with movie from whatever cable display or politician’s speech or Scorsese movie or hockey game he’s getting riled up about. Burr is very likely laying waste to some blowhard right now. But just when you think Burr has crossed the line, that he has no compassion, you find out the joke is on you.
Tell Me Something I Don’t Know takes science and wraps it up in a glittering game-show package. The creator and showrunner Stephen J. Dubner, of Question of the Day and Freakonomics, asks contestants to tell the judges something that they don’t know—like, say, how finding a few pounds of ambergris will make you ems of thousands of dollars richer. In the end, the judges crown a winner based on how much they are awed by the presentation. The demonstrate plays out like a glad hour before anyone’s dirty, with everyone attempting to one up each other, except the stakes are that someone goes home with a blue ribbon. When panelists break down in delight from a contestant’s I-bet-you-didn’t-know pitch—such as when an opera singer plays a recording of a man’s voice and then violates out in song herself—it reminds you of what it was like to be a child gawking at dinosaur bones.
When he shares his ghost stories, Lore’s host Aaron Mahnke chooses a slow burn over splattering blood. Unfolding with campfire solemnity, Lore is a pagan ceremony and religious sacrament all at once. Mahnke adopts muffle as his canvas while delivering his monologues, austere readings that remain like no other horror podcast you’ll find. And it’s no wonder that Lore discovered such a large audience: Unlike so much horror that needs over-the-top viscera to scare you, this podcast leans on history—folklore, myth, the stuff people once thought were true—to tell its tales.
Thousands of interview shows exist in the podcasting space, very likely because they’re fairly low budget and provide celebs an excuse to have playdates with other celebs. But so few strike the balance that the comedian Pete Holmes does, by sticking rather loosely to an agenda: He finds out how his guests feel about what happens after we die, about religion, meditation, veganism, and multiverses. He makes sure listeners know that his display isn’t funny, because it’s not about doing bits or “being on,” but it can often be the silliest conversation in the podcastsphere. Holmes’ candid efforts (and sometimes failures) to speak fluently with his guests about feminism, race, love, and friendship are the moments to look for. And most scenes conclude with stories about the hardest time the guest ever laughed, which leaves listeners reminiscing about the glad moments they hoard, too.
This ambitious and lovely project was also very ordinary: It put out a daily profile of someone the producer Austin Mitchell met on the streets of Fresh York City. Each profile ran at one minute and introduced listeners to people of all ages and colors with various jobs, complaints, and arousing news to share. Just sixty seconds of uninterrupted thoughts from a stranger put your own life into perspective in unexpected ways. Mitchell recently began working on a fresh documentary podcast called Crimetown with the people who created The Jinx, so Profiles:NYC is on hiatus for now. But going to its official website is a good way to lose an hour playing profile roulette, and if you haven’t heard the display, you’ve got about two hundred to go.
Mortified brings hilarious spectacle art to our ears with recordings of people telling private stories in front of an audience at a bar somewhere. But unlike other shows with a similar construct, these aren’t crafted and practiced for hours beforehand: People read aloud from their unedited middle-school diaries, for example, always around a particular theme. The silliness and the laughs will make you regress, in a good way, to a childlike state. The audience in Mortified is a crucial companion; it’s a camaraderie listeners need to ensure that they’re not alone in laughing at the reader’s expense. If nothing else, Mortified illustrates something everyone practices during adolescence: We all just dreamed to be loved—and we were pretty funny in our self-absorption.
The Us & Them host Trey Kay has been preoccupied with the culture wars for years, but what transfixes him most is where people can wave the white flag. Kay listens. He looks for what’s true and what’s good. Check out “Hello Mary Lou” for an example of his openness to someone with whom he staunchly disagrees; he spins her radical ideas about education in Texas into a Petri dish—and makes the issue not just for the two of them, but something significant to all of us. It’s the only time he can’t find common ground with a guest, and he’s unsettled by it. But what listeners hear is that he doesn’t dismiss his guest as dangerous and never loses track of her good intentions. Kay and his demonstrate are a valuable model, arguing that cultural divides stem from the unhelpful pose of us versus them. The “&” in the title is no puny feat.
LifeAfter is an audio soap opera that captures your attention entirely, even when its dialogue and plot have crevices. If you were a fan of last year’s The Message, then you’re already familiar with the flavor of the Panoply and GE Podcast Theater collaboration. This year, we go after a low-level FBI employee as a voicemail-based social media site preserves and (perhaps) resurrects his wifey who died eight months ago. He’s been instructed to stay away, but he can’t stand against, and even starts taking instruction from the voices he hears when he’s on the site, which may menace his life and the world at large. The plot sounds strong, tho’ LifeAfter is anything but. The story isn’t even halfway to its finale, and it’s already pulling out all the sensational stops, providing listeners a wonderful portal through which to escape for a few minutes. LifeAfter is the audio equivalent of a beach read, just in time for winter.
Khizr Khan on the Constitution
The Lawyer and Gold Starlet father believes that Americans should look to its oldest documents for guidance.
About the Authors
- NASA / NOAA / UWM-CIMSS / William Straka III
What Will Hurricane Irma Do Next?
The hurricane was just upgraded to an "utterly dangerous" Category five storm.
The continental United States is preparing for another major hurricane just weeks after Harvey extracted torrential rains over southeastern Texas, leading to catastrophic flooding, the displacement of thousands, and the deaths of at least sixty people.
Hurricane Irma strengthened into an “extremely dangerous” Category five storm early Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center said Irma packs maximum sustained winds of one hundred eighty miles per hour and resumes to grow.
Irma is expected to pass over the Leeward Islands, a chain that includes the British and U.S. Cherry Islands, Tuesday night or early Wednesday. The hurricane will then proceed its westward churn toward Puerto Rico. Later in the week and over the weekend, the storm could reach Hispaniola, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Cuba, and Florida.
Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake.
The current debate over public education underestimates its value—and forgets its purpose.
Public schools have always occupied prime space in the excitable American imagination. For decades, if not centuries, politicians have made hay of their supposed failures and extortions. In 2004, Rod Paige, then George W. Bush’s secretary of education, called the country’s leading teachers union a “terrorist organization.” In his very first education speech as president, in 2009, Barack Obama lamented the fact that “despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we’ve let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall brief, and other nations outpace us.”
President Donald Trump used the occasion of his inaugural address to bemoan the way “beautiful” students had been “deprived of all knowledge” by our nation’s cash-guzzling schools. Educators have since recoiled at the Trump administration’s budget proposal detailing more than $9 billion in education cuts, including to after-school programs that serve mostly poor children. These cuts came along with enlargened funding for school-privatization efforts such as vouchers. Our secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has repeatedly signaled her support for school choice and privatization, as well as her scorn for public schools, describing them as a “dead end” and claiming that unionized teachers “care more about a system, one that was created in the 1800s, than they care about individual students.”
South Korea Is Right
Trump has characterized its policy as “appeasement.” But Seoul’s treatment is far more sensible than Washington’s.
Here’s a rallying sob for Democrats unassured what to say about the North Korean nuclear crisis: The South Koreans are right. On Sunday, in a typically self-aggrandizing and grammatically challenged tweet, Trump chastised America’s longtime ally. “South Korea is finding, as I have told them that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work,” he proclaimed. “They only understand one thing!” The implication is that because Pyongyang understands only the logic of force, Trump’s policy of menacing war, and aggressively preparing for it, is the best way to woo Kim Jong Un to relinquish his country’s burgeoning nuclear arsenal.
The premise is correct but the conclusion is exactly wrong. Yes, North Korea understands the logic of force. It says so all the time. Again and again, Pyongyang has observed that adversaries of the United States who abandon their nuclear weapons programs—Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi—end up dead. Kim thinks America wants to add his scalp to the list. And why shouldn’t he? The U.S. dropped more bombs on North Korea during the Korean War than it dropped on the entire Pacific region during World War II, George W. Pubic hair announced the North a member of the “axis of evil” in 2003, and the United States regularly practices “decapitation raids” against Kim’s totalitarian regime. It is precisely because North Korea believes in the logic of force that it is accelerating its nuclear program despite economic sanctions. And it is precisely because North Korea believes in the logic of force that Trump’s policies are so insanely counterproductive. Imagine you’re in a standoff with a man you have bloodied before. You have an AK-47. He has a hunting rifle, which you consider a threat but he considers his best shot at staying alive. If you fire in the air and scream that you’re going to gargle him to smithereens, as Trump has done in latest weeks, you won’t make your adversary drop his weapon. You’ll make him to cling to it for dear life.
Have Smartphones Demolished a Generation?
More convenient online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
O ne day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her dearest songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d love a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every thirty minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teenagers of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that permits users to send pictures and movies that quickly vanish. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which showcase how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer dangling out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Only Mueller’s Team Knows What It’s Actually Doing
With so little public information about a very significant probe, the urge to interpret—and overinterpret—each fresh morsel is strong.
Washington sometimes comes to resemble the sitting president. Like Donald Trump, the political and media establishments of the moment have come to expect—nay, demand—instant gratification. Trump’s chaotic style have produced an unintentional experiment in unprecedented White House transparency, in which a senior aide can hardly sneeze without seven colleagues telling The Washington Post about it. This in turn has created the expectation that any fresh development will soon be explained with detailed accounts of what the major players are thinking and what their motivations are—sometimes relayed by anonymous sources, but at times, as with Anthony Scaramucci, delivered in shockingly vivid terms by the principals themselves.
More Than one hundred Exceptional Works of Journalism
This fantastic nonfiction from two thousand sixteen is still worth discovering and pondering today.
Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction that I encounter as I publish The Best of Journalism, an email newsletter that I curate weekly for its subscribers. This is my annual attempt to bring harshly one hundred of those stories that stood the test of time to a broader audience. I could not read or note every worthy article published in the past few years, and I haven’t included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that goes after is worthy of broader attention and engagement. I hope it provides fodder for reflection and inspiration for future writing. My thanks to all of the publishers, editors and, writers who made these gems possible.
The Art of Storytelling
Trump Finishes Obama-Era Protection for Undocumented Immigrants
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Obama-era program shielding almost 800,000 people brought to the U.S. as children from deportation is being rescinded.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the administration will end the Deferred Act for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects almost 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation, with a six-month delay.
“I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama Administration is being rescinded,” Sessions said in a news conference.
The DACA program, announced by President Obama in June 2012, offers recipients renewable protection from deportation for two years, and permits them to legally work in the country. To qualify, applicants must have entered the United States before the age of sixteen and lived in the country continuously since two thousand seven and have no criminal record.
How America Lost Its Mind
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional across its history.
When did America become untethered from reality?
I very first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious investigate of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world truly works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the very first few minutes of the very first scene, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His very first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.
Photos From Searing Man 2017
Each year, participants in the Searing Man Festival travel to the playa of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to form a improvised city—a self-reliant community populated by performers, artists, free spirits, and more.
Each year, participants in the Searing Man Festival travel to the playa of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to form a makeshift city—a self-reliant community populated by performers, artists, free spirits, and more. An estimated 70,000 people from all over the world came to the 31st annual Searing Man to dance, express themselves, and take in the spectacle, themed this year as “Radical Ritual.” Gathered below are some of the glances from this year, photographed by Reuters photographers Jim Urquhart and Jim Bourg.
5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus
Why playing with algebraic and calculus concepts—rather than doing arithmetic drills—may be a better way to introduce children to math
The familiar, hierarchical sequence of math instruction starts with counting, followed by addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division. The computational set expands to include thicker and fatter numbers, and at some point, fractions inject the picture, too. Then in early adolescence, students are introduced to patterns of numbers and letters, in the entirely fresh subject of algebra. A minority of students then wend their way through geometry, trigonometry and, ultimately, calculus, which is considered the pinnacle of high-school-level math.
But this progression actually “has nothing to do with how people think, how children grow and learn, or how mathematics is built,” says pioneering math educator and curriculum designer Maria Droujkova. She echoes a number of voices from around the world that want to revolutionize the way math is instructed, bringing it more in line with these principles.
A Discussion on Barack Obama’s Unique Upbringing
Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks to PBS NewsHour about Obama’s childhood, his legacy, and how he connected with the American people.
Genetic Testing Is Recreating Bonds Violated by Slavery
Alondra Nelson discusses how ancestry tests can empower African Americans.
From a moral standpoint, it makes the world worse.