Audible Feast’s 50 Best Podcast Episodes of 2017
It’s almost time to bid farewell to 2017 – I’m hopeful for the coming year and personally appreciate all of the happy family memories I’ve been a part of over this past year. I’ve made new friends and focused on health and happiness to help cope with the increasingly depressing news cycle. Podcasts have helped me a lot along the way, so I want to share some of the best podcast episodes I heard all year with you. I published a list of
best overall podcasts last week, so check that out too.
If you’re new to Audible Feast, I publish
reviews of all kinds of shows and curate a list of the best stuff I’ve heard all week on Fridays. I have had some great guest reviews in 2017 and have interviewed a couple of amazing podcast hosts. I also have a newsletter that is published every other week. Here’s to even more great audio in 2018! The Best Podcast Episodes of 2017
These episodes appeared on my weekly “best of” lists that I call my Delicious Ingredients, but I picked the very best out of those to share with you in hopes that you might open your ears to something new. I listen to all kinds of stuff – indie shows, highly produced, one host/multiple hosts, comedy, sports … whatever. But stories are my
favorite (channeling Will Ferrell in Elf). Hope you find something good here to listen to! (Clicking or tapping on the photo should take you to a way to listen to the episode, or the episode’s webpage.)
The Bristlecone Interview - This unique podcast, which is part fiction, part self-reflection, has a sporadic release schedule, which makes it perfect to binge on, in order. In short, host Daniel Leone had a traumatic experience in his life and is currently working through ... well, it's hard to describe, but I think I'm safe to say mental health issues and wanderlust. This particular episode is not fictional, it's an excerpt of his interview with The Bristlecone Project, which is a campaign to share men's stories of sexual abuse in order to inspire healing in others. I'm impressed by Leone's honesty in the entire show, it's so different and although hard to explain, I am always wanting more.
Episode 626: White Haze - Producer Robyn Semien showed such restraint while talking with Jason Kessler, the bigot who organized the Charlottesville white "nationalist" rally. I also didn't know anything about Gavin McInnes but realized I had a scowl on my face as I read up on the Vice co-founder more after listening to this episode.
Episode 4: A Woman to Will-Be Woman - I could feel my heart lifting and sinking as I listened to Stacia Brown's new podcast, Hope Chest. She is an amazing poet, essayist, voice. This essay is intended to be a letter to her daughter about self-doubt and self-worth, and what it means to be in a relationship. It was breathtaking.
Episode 100: What If He Wouldn't Let You Leave? - Completely gripping story, so well told, about a woman in an abusive relationship that turned deadly violent. I don't know that I could be brave enough to share a story like that, but the narrator is a very, very strong woman.
Father of 2 Sons with Schizophrenia Talks of His Struggle to Save Them - This interview is a master class in interviewing. Terry Gross expertly navigates an impossible conversation with a parent of two sons with schizophrenia, one of whom took his own life. She asks delicate questions with class and grace, and Ron Powers is eloquently honest and thoughtful in his response.
Episode 609: It's Working Out Very Nicely - If it's not evident, it's not "working out very nicely" for legal immigrants to the U.S. Thousands of people--asylum seekers, refugees--who had already been through rigorous vetting may now have to start the entire process over, and in the meantime remain or return to a very dangerous environment. The best "act" of this TAL hour is the highly "blurred out" interview of an agent who interviews and vets refugees for entry into the U.S. Zoe Chace's on-location investigation of the literal immediate aftermath of the immigration ban (she reports from JFK Airport) is also excellent. Required listening.
Episode 2: Send in the Swans - Thanks to #2PodsADay, I learned about this storytelling show all about Russia. I haven't tried out any other episodes yet but this one was awesome, about how the government (ostensibly?) will play Swan Lake over the radio to signify that "everything is okay" when it is clearly not.
Episode 21: Tom Cassidy - This is just a phenomenal story, and it embodies what this entire show is about. When Eric Marcus ends this interview with Tom Cassidy, he rides with him to a chemotherapy appointment, and Marcus never sees Cassidy again. It was a beautiful interview. This was the finale of season 2, so there were a couple bonus moments at the end that I loved - a note from the minority whip in the Wyoming state legislature and a shoutout from host Eric Marcus to his partner - be still my heart.
Episode 30: A Catalogue of Nights - At the beginning of this episode, host Vanessa Lowe suggests that you curl up in a chair, maybe with a blanket, and just enjoy the sounds of the show. This is classic Nocturne (and The Heard) audio - I felt enveloped in the show and literally stopped what I was doing to go along with Lowe on her audio journey around the world.
J.J. Watt: Am I Any Good? - I live in Houston so of course I love any J.J. Watt story (and he pops up here and there on podcasts!), he's such a tremendous part of our community. I loved the realness of his self-doubt and how he uses that to propel himself to be great. This series' first season was terrific, especially with Anna Sale's old friend and former NFLer Domonique Foxworth as host.
Misguided Loyalty - I guess this particular episode was so striking to me because I really wasn't expecting it. Episode one in this new series was more or less about prison life, and was also terrific, but this episode was about what put a man in prison, and it's extremely sad. It was captured so well, it is truly art.
How Race Was Made (Seeing White, Part 2) - There have actually been two episodes so far where producer and host John Biewen explores the concept of the "white race." In this one he recalled his high school history book describing race as "caucasoid, mongoloid, and negroid." But where did that even come from? What is the actual science, and then what is the cultural significance? I feel like this should be required listening for high school students, so we can send much more educated humans into the world. I'm especially interested in this because my son talks about "race" as shades of someone's skin - so his is peach and he has tan, light brown, and dark brown friends.
Episode 63: Antonio Fernandez (KING TONE) has A Pint with Seaniebee - : I can't fathom interviewing a gangster, whether he is reformed or not, and keeping my shit together. Sean Boyle is totally in his element and handles King Tone so intelligently, focusing both on Fernandez's past and how he's turned his life around. I enjoyed listening to Boyle mirror Fernandez's energy throughout the interview.
Mini-Season Episode 7: Naomi + Khaleel - I'm not surprised, but I'm disappointed, that I haven't heard about this story in national news. Host Nora McInerny says right up front - this is not an investigative reporting show, we're not going to get into what is happening with the case, but we are going to talk to Khaleel's mom about what she's going through. Similar to the "19 Hours" episode where McInerny interviewed a woman whose husband had died less than a day prior, Doualy Xaykaothao interviews Khaleel's mom about her sadness and shock in the days following the shooting. The picture Xaykaothao paints of Naomi sitting in this dark apartment will take any mother to that room in her mind.
Episode 11: Christina -
Christina really doesn't want to confront her foster mom about when she was forced to quit playing basketball in high school, but Jonathan Goldstein tags along to help the conversation flow. The palpable fear was electric; I found myself recalling parent-kid incidents where I simply couldn't see the big picture and was sure my parent was commiting an evil act against me.
Episode 8: Christmas Tree Farm - As you know, I love this show and it has truly contributed to improving my mood over the last month. As a recap, the show is about two trust fund babies sharing their first apartment in the late 80s in California who write letters back and forth to their landlord trying to get money refunded to them from their rent. Many of the letters in this particular episode were from Ellen, and wow, Ellen should not be an elementary school teacher. My favorite line in an Ellen letter from this week - "Catholics also have nuns. Nuns are women who have taken bowels of chastity, which doesn't make sense to me. Like I said, Catholics have some weird ideas." We also learn about Mary Christ, you know-obvi, Jesus Christ's mom would be named Mary Christ!
Episode 503: The Son You Wanted - I almost don't want to tell you anything more about this episode other than that it made me cry in a very sweet and tender way. I guarantee you'll come away from listening to this wanting to do this with your kids over the span of a decade.
Episode 1 - Audio fiction is growing on me. In many ways, Bronzeville is like Gimlet's Homecoming - it has a fantastic cast of actors including but certainly not limited to Laurence Fishburne, Larenz Tate, and Lance Reddick. But even better than Homecoming, this podcast is independent (though sponsored of course) and that undoubtedly gives its team a ton of freedom to make the best artistic decisions. I was jonesing to hear the rest of the 10-part series after one episode. Give it a listen and I guarantee you'll be transported to the south side of Chicago.
HBM078: Sagittarius Has $45 - Here Be Monsters is sometimes so icky in a great and engaging way. What's revealed almost immediately is that Sagittarius is a sex addict, and he came to HBM in part to help himself. The questions Jeff Emtman asks him about sex addiction and the impact it had on his family, in his quiet and calm, measured voice, are phenomenal.
Burton Snowboards: Jake Carpenter - Awesome How I Built This episode that had the usual dose of renegade entrepreneurship but this time, a significant amount of personal tragedy. This was probably my favorite HIBT episode ever.
Episode 42: Cockroaches - Perhaps one of the most hated varmints of all time, the cockroach is a common houseguest especially here in the Deep South. They are just so gross-looking. My favorite parts of this episode were the cockroach song (Donna and Paul always find the best pop culture references) and the thought of cockroaches all partying in the bowels of the earth - but all in one hotel room while the rest of the hotel is totally empty - because you gotta stick with your pack!
Advance - This is episode 1 of the 4-part 'No' series. This is excellent because I'd venture to guess at least 90% of women in relationships with men have faced unwanted sexual advances - even in a relationship. This is so relatable, and I love the fact that it's Kaitlin Prest (the show's producer and creator) herself recounting her earliest uncomfortabilities about sex.
Puerto Rico, My Heart's Devotion - Shereen + any story where she gets emotional = ILOVEITSOMUCH. This should be required listening - Americans need to understand the relationship Puerto Ricans have with "our" "shared" government.
Episode 23: Phoebe and Tom Hanks Make a Biopic - Tom Hanks was on fire on podcasts in early 2017 - I loved his quick appearance on Nerdette where he talked nerdy with the ladies about typewriters. This interview with Phoebe Robinson was phenom ... he is so animated and he and Robinson together are hilarious. I loved when Robinson asked him if he even knew what the show was about, and he said no, but the title of the show alone made him want to be a part of it. Love it!! So enjoyable - one of my favorite interviews of this year. BRA-VO Pheebs.
Katie - This is a poignant narrative of a woman who is facing death and sharing her hopes for the future for those she's leaving behind. Impossible not to cry by the end.
Two guys and a guest host read Yelp reviews for locations around the Detroit area in the voices they think the reviewers would have. This episode was about reviews for restaurants and bars within the DTW (Detroit) airport. OMG, the tears streaming down my face as I heard this show for the first time ... we all need a little funny in our lives and I'm so glad I found this show.
Episode 61: Vanish - One of the finest things about Criminal is how the show addresses what is "criminal" from so many different angles. It's so artistic and creative how Phoebe Judge has designed the arc of the show; in that way it reminds me much of Here Be Monsters or Nocturne. This episode was thrilling - I loved how Judge said she's thought seriously about canoeing across the border into Canada for a long time.
Episode 38: We Grew Up Here - : I kind of thought this episode was really going to be about Megan Tan's parents selling their house and how Megan and her sister felt about it. And it was... but it actually had a lot to unpack about the complicated view kids (and their parents) have about parents drifting apart after decades of marriage. I know so many people can relate to this. I heard the joy in Susan Tan's voice as she reflected on why they bought the house in the first place, and how she felt about marriage, hope, and the future at the time. It's a surprisingly touching episode and the Tan family is brave to participate and share their family conversations on separation, love, being an adult child, and of course, the house.
Episode 72: 'Take My Son to Jail' - My kids would be horrified to hear this and someday when they're old enough to dig up mom's podcast review and recommendation archive on the interwebs of the future, I'll apologize, but I fear, yet can picture, the day when I will have to let them take responsibility for something awful they've done. Ann Bauer, however, had the added complexity of a son with mental illness when he was making bad choices. It's a beautiful essay full of tension and a great reading by Atkinson.
A Queen of Sorts - Podcast news writer and reviewer Nick Quah wrote in a Vulture article that he felt at times the podcast is "stiff," potentially due to the podcast trying to fit these traditionally very visual stories into audio. I don't feel the stiffness - I love the picture painted by the words and sound design. In this episode, I felt like I was listening to a movie and didn't need the visual display of the advantage players Ivey and Sun. It was fascinating and I loved the inclusion of commentary from other advantage players.
Rap on Trial - An engrossing story that made me think of the current season of Invisibilia, how two people can perceive a situation through completely different filters. Oduwole did go to prison for what he was accused of, and the prosecutors swear to this day that he was guilty and a threat to society. He says he was persecuted for writing rap lyrics and a whole bunch of coincidences lining up, not in his favor. The show explores the bias against rap music and how much that bias has to do with race. Violent lyrics appear in many music genres, but rap is considered the threatening art form.
700 Fathoms Under the Sea - This story originally aired in 2014, and I'm so glad Transistor replayed it. In a short eight minute package, Transistor captivates with one of the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard--coupled with a fascinating story about why we are even able to hear this music.
Robert Ford, Last Ambassador - This is a great interview, and it's not going ot leave you feeling happy or hopeful about what may happen next in Syria. This type of story is why I love Rumble Strip - I love that host Erica Heilman finds people from all across Vermont and pulls fascinating stories out of them. These people could be your neighbors, and they have remarkable pasts worth sharing.
The Miseducation of Ta-Nehisi Coates - I was moved by Between the World and Me, Coates' last non-fiction book, and have really enjoyed the first few (absolutely left-leaning) episodes of Radio Atlantic, so this was a home run for me. The long episode can easily be split up if you're not feeling one of the interviews, but I loved them all for their diversity of journalistic style. The third episode was my favorite; in the end Coates reflects on supporting his wife through a complete career change and how he realized that's what it means to be in love with someone, to want them to feel fulfilled and be happy in whatever they want to do. It was a beautiful sentiment that actually brought a tear to my eye. I really, really loved this episode and will probably listen to it again soon.
Sept. 11 First Responder John Feal - This story is really about hope and helping first responders get the medical care they deserve. Terry Gross is SO good at interviewing. Without being exploitative, she draws out Feal's feelings - there is nothing quite so moving (for me at least) as a man with a gruff New York voice getting a lump in his throat and choking back tears. I loved when Gross asked Feal about whether attending so many funerals for other 9/11 first responders has made him feel differently about death - it was a fantastic question and a great moment in the interview.
Mirrored - This is a perfect story for audio with no visual accompaniment. FitzGerald starts with the youngest subject and works her way up to the oldest, asking each along the way what they see in the mirror. You don't need to see what the people look like, because the point is that they describe what they see. I absolutely loved this documentary and thought it was really beautiful and tender.
Al Letson Reveals: Roger Stone - Oh my god. I could listen to Al Letson Reveals every week - but then it would be overdone. I love these short special episodes that have appeared very occasionally in Reveal's playlist. It was very much like Letson's discussion with Richard Spencer, although Stone backpedals quite a bit more than Spencer, who fully owns being a "white nationalist." White supremacist, you mean.
Megan Mulally and Nick Offerman - Mulally and Offerman are uber endearing, and I loved hearing about their affectionate relationship. It was a great interview by Baldwin who stayed in his lane enough to make it not about him (something he has to be careful of occasionally in his HTT interviews). If you like either of these two you'll love this interview.
Friction: Stories of Difficult Relationships in Science - : I have written similar comments about The Story Collider in the past - I'm a women in STEM in my day job and so many of the stories resonate with me; here, I cringed and felt my stomach turning with these brave women who experienced very tough relationships at a young age - so painful to hear. But I'm glad that these experiences didn't turn the women away from STEM, which it so often does.
Episode 52: Seduced by Sound: The Weeknd + Daft Punk - Um, it's surprisingly a super sensual episode, so sign me up. Nate and Charlie are super smart, and they're talking about a great song and how it borrows from other great sensual pop songs in history.
Episode 56: New Cookie, Who Dis? - Another episode where I can feel how excited the ladies of BUG are when they have a guest they find totally fascinating - it's so contagious. Callie Wright, a transgender woman who is the host of The Gaytheist Manifesto podcast, was an engaging guest who was willing to go all in with the ladies and talk about all kinds of personal sexual and emotional feelings. On some shows, three people interviewing one guest gets overwhelming with hosts talking over each other, but Michel, Danielle, and Sharonda handle it extremely well.
Big Game Hunters - ABC is coming out of the fall (or spring, down under) new-show gate like Ric Flair at a WWF match - I just want to hear more and more and more. Host Sarah McVeigh basically asks the questions we wish we could ask people we think are doing insane things, like "are you better than a serial killer if you kill animals?" - and she actually gets answers to her questions. Pop the popcorn and settle in for a great listen.
How to Hit Back at the Harveys of the World - I loved Lauren Schiller's fierce response to the news from Hollywood this week. I hope like hell it truly is an inflection point for how sexual harassment is handled in the workplace. #metoo
Time to Name (and Shame) the Mental Load - This is a brand new show from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It's by ladies, for ladies and talks about stuff we don't want to talk about but need to. In this episode a group of women discuss their own mental load and make pledges to dump some things from that long list. Inspiration came knocking at my door while listening to this and I am hereby pledging not to go to every.single.kid.birthday.party.ever to cut back on my mental load!
Episode 141: It's a Real Mother, Part 1: Governor Mom - What a smart choice to profile a former Republican governor, Jane Swift, whose story may have been unknown to many listeners but absolutely resonates. This entire mini-series really made me think a lot about working mother discrimination, I listened to all four episodes straight through.
S03E05: Austin, Indiana (An Interlude) - Our Americana looks at life across the United States with one person's story at a time. We are connected to where we live, and the show explores those relationships. In episode 4 of season 3, producer Josh Hallmark visited Austin, Indiana where a drug epidemic became an HIV crisis. There are three parts to this story, and the second part is the episode that came out this week. It is the producer's personal story about HIV that he was brave enough to share with the world. Hallmark recounts a sexual assault in a personal flushing of emotion; he lets it out and if you listen, you will feel it wash over you. Your heart will swell and you'll feel the tear ducts around your eyes start to warm as you hear what Hallmark endured. But much like The Heart's Mariya and Silent Evidence series, and in the vein of Our Americana, this story is worth telling. Hallmark did endure, he persisted, and he's here. Josh: You have worth.
Episode 71: A Bump in the Night - Holy shit. This is a super scary story and you can tell Phoebe Judge is freaked out at the end of it. It's not fictional. ZOMG.
The NFL Made Me Rich. Now I Watch It ... Sometimes. - I didn't hear Anna Sale's original interview with Domonique Foxworth from a couple years ago, but some of it was replayed for this episode. My 5 year old son played basketball on a local team here in Houston and his coach was a former NFL player. I find the post-professional sport life to be fascinating (would be a great idea for an entire podcast if anyone's game - you can have the idea), because until my son had that coach, I just kind of thought of retired professional sports players as rich men and women who kicked it around the house or went to other sports events all the time. Or, were profiled on 30 For 30 or Real Sports as having fallen on rough times. Rarely do we get to hear from the athletes who have a good head on their shoulders (which I assume is a vast majority of them) who venture out into a second career post-sports. The playful friendship between Sale and Foxworth was evident. I absolutely loved this interview.
Episode 102: Long Distance - Alex was smart enough not to bite when he was targeted in a scam to get him to pay for his computer's security to be restored. I was astonished at how forthcoming the scammers were that they were in fact scammers. In this episode, every time you think Alex Goldman might back off and accept that it's just a scam, he goes deeper and deeper into the scam.
Episode 50: Under the Covers, Part 1 - : I still wish Helen Zaltzman was my personal friend (reference 2015 review of The Allusionist where I fawn over her and the show equally), and this episode was a perfect illustration of why I feel that way. The Koch sisters give Zaltzman an education on dub-con in romance novels and with Milton she goes back many decades to understand the reason for some of the stereotypes of romance novels. This was like learning about a genre of fiction I probably should know about, with a close friend guiding me through it non-judgmentally. Thanks, Helen!