Here are the 42 best podcast episodes I heard in 2018. I listened to over 2600 individual episodes, and preference on this list goes to non-serialized shows. These are the episodes that I’m still thinking about months later, that just left a mark. If you’re looking for a list of the best series of the year, you can find it here.
A tremendous amount of creativity and passion went in to making these podcasts – thank you so much to the creators for all you have done. I’ve created a Podchaser playlist of all these episodes that you should be able to play on any player.
Reply All, Episode 130: The Snapchat Thief (11/8/18): What it’s about: “This week, a new Super Tech Support: after Lizzie’s Snapchat gets hacked, things start getting really creepy. Alex investigates.” Why it’s great: This was one of the best podcast episodes I heard all year. It’s classic Reply All investigation – which they are so good at. It was genius to first go through everything Alex needed to protect his identity given the type of people he might be exposing (and who would potentially go after him) – it painted the picture so clearly of how serious this hacking is and how it can mess up your life. Then, Alex finds and confronts (with Lizzie) the hackers, who are astonishingly willing to talk on the record.
Scene on Radio, MEN Part 10: The Juggernaut (11/14/18): What it’s about: “Writer Ben James and his wife Oona are raising their sons in a progressive and “queer-friendly” New England town. They actively encourage the boys to be themselves, never mind those traditional gender norms around “masculinity” and “femininity.” All was well. Until the elder son, Huck, went to sixth grade.” Why it’s great: This was a very heavy, you-need-to-look-in-the-mirror-as-a-parent episode of the MEN series – it hit so close to home. Celeste and John begin by talking about how John remembers using “you’re such a woman” as an insult to another boy as a kid, and how that was wrapped up in some desire to be perceived as masculine. Ben James then tells his parenting story about wanting so desperately to raise woke and tolerant kids, but realizing he can’t force them to be anyone but who they’re going to be. I’ve written about this many times – I have two boys, am raising them with an atmosphere of tolerance, and try to show them examples of how to accept people who are different from them and to value individual worth. But I will have to accept that I can’t control them; I am only one influence in their lives, and society still has so many messages to boys and young men about what it means to be a “man.” The worst is to be a mama’s boy. But that has to change; I want to raise independent, strong individuals, but I also want them to realize people of any gender have valid feelings and emotions are critical to have, share, and work through. I guess I could write an entire essay on this topic (or at least a multi-page journal entry) but I just want to say – please listen to this series.
Love Me: In the Distance (11/13/18): What it’s about: “Sara collects sounds of her son, her second child, during the first year of his life. Laughter, cries, shrieks of joy… Her first child never made much sound and died three days after she was born. The story explores Sara’s connection to both children as she listens to the sounds of her family and grieves for the sounds that are missing.” Why it’s great: Wow. If you need a tearjerker (and I often do, I welcome them – if you have any suggestions I will gladly accept), this is it. It’s incredibly beautiful, sad yet hopeful, tender, and real. I love Sara’s bravery to let us in to the most painful thing in her life.
Today, Explained: The $43,000 Phone Booth (4/17/18): What it’s about: “Scott Pruitt, the embattled head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is facing a host of new scandals: a $43,000 soundproof phone booth, a security detail to Disneyland, and even using a siren on his car to get to a restaurant faster. But Vox’s Umair Irfan says that behind these controversies, Pruitt’s EPA has been one of the most consequential government agencies in the Trump administration.” Why it’s great: There is no way this episode was NOT going on the best of list, because they made up a song about Scott Pruitt to the tune of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, and it was amazing.
The Brain Candy Podcast, Episode 215: A Very Special Brain Candy — Sarah’s Story (4/25/18): What it’s about: “We thought today’s show was going to bring a joyful surprise, but instead it is a difficult one. Hear what’s been going on with Sarah, and why she hasn’t been herself lately. We also discuss crazy news stories like the woman who was embalmed alive, Katy Perry’s questionable shoes, roads that play music, and more.” Why it’s great: I wrote about this in a separate post, but trigger warning, host Sarah Rice shares the story of her recent miscarriage. The ladies still find time to discuss some lighter topics, like Katy Perry’s smelly jellies.
PLAYLIST Podcast, S3Ep2: Changes (4/4/18): What it’s about: “Today we’re sharing the songs that changed the ways we listened to music. And as Jason says, ‘This whole tracklist is totally fucked.’ Plus: A song that inspired IKEA’s nomenclature, a song to trash a grocery store to, and a song to lap dance to. Dan and Josh share a kiss. Jason fights a man over miscarriages. Dan is concerned about the state of home furnishings in 90s music videos. And a song that actually causes one of our guests to walk out on a job. This week’s playlist: Svefn-G-Englar by Sigur Ros (Josh) – I Luv The Valley OH by Xiu Xiu (Dan) – Life Itself by Glass Animals (Hannah) – Love You Madly by Ella Fitzgerald (Amanda) – Pretty Good Year by Tori Amos (Jason) – Spark by Tori Amos (Josh) – Caroline Shaw’s Allemande by Roomful of Teeth (Dan) – Through The Wire by Kanye West (Hannah) – Good Times by Chic (Amanda) – Dragon Lady by The Geraldine Fibbers (Jason)” Why it’s great: PLAYLIST sometimes makes me feel sort of mushy, nostalgic for a song I haven’t heard in years or that is one of my all time faves. This was the case in this episode. I had totally forgotten about how much Tori Amos changed the way I listen to music and what I hear in music, because it was about 20 years ago that I started listening to her. Two picks in the playlist this week were Tori songs, and I felt myself immediately transported back to a tumultuous time in my life when I was going through much change myself.
The Allusionist, Episode 79: Queer (6/3/18): What it’s about: “Strange or obtuse; a stinging homophobic slur; a radical political rejection of normativity; a broad term encompassing every and any variation on sexual orientation and gender identity: the word ‘queer’ has a multifarious past and complicated present. Tracing its movements are Kathy Tu and Tobin Low from Nancy podcast, Eric Marcus from Making Gay History, historian and author Amy Sueyoshi, and Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye.” Why it’s great: Loved hearing Eric Marcus (who I interviewed in 2017) on this episode where people from two generations that sandwich my own non-generation (I’m a 1980 baby) talk about a word that I myself feel conflicted about; when I was younger, it was not cool at all to call someone queer, but now, the word has been reclaimed. Classic The Allusionist episode where we get to learn the origin of a word, its evolution over time, and how many ways people understand a single word.
Outside/In: The Sky is Burning (8/16/18): What it’s about: “There are between eight and ten thousand wildfires in the United States each year, but most quietly burn out and we never hear about them. The Pagami Creek Wildfire in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area was supposed to be like that, but things turned out differently. And Greg and Julie Welch were camping right in its path.” Why it’s great: A breathtakingly scary story about a couple who lived to tell what happened when a forest fire descended upon them.
We Came to Win, Episode 4: The Rise and Fall of Diego Maradona (5/2/18): What it’s about: “The retired Argentine midfielder Diego Armando Maradona is regarded by many soccer fans as the greatest player who ever lived. They’ll say he was creative, surprising, masterful—a gift to the game. But there are others who will tell you the opposite. That Maradona was the worst: A scoundrel, a villain, a cheat. In this episode, we tell the tale of soccer’s most complicated icon.” Why it’s great: I don’t think Maradona will be too thrilled with this account of his life, but I was totally engaged throughout the entire episode, and I have been telling people about this one all week. Great new show from Gimlet – it’s succeeding in storytelling where perhaps the other new Gimlet shows have fallen a bit short – but you decide. I really like sports, so this is up my alley anyway.
Help, I Sexted My Boss, S1E08: Help I Don’t Wash My Gym Kit (5/7/18) What it’s about: “William and Jordan share very different advice as they help you navigate the struggles of going to the gym.” Why it’s great: Thanks to my Podcast Brunch Club Podcast co-host Adela for this recommendation – I listened while I was on a plane and I must have looked like a crazy person cracking up as I heard William and Jordan’s advice about what you should do if you see a guy’s balls fall out of his yoga gear during a particularly sweaty session.
Lost Notes: A Million Dollars Worth of Plastic (5/17/18): What it’s about: “In 1989 McDonald’s ran the biggest flexi-disc promotion ever, sending out 80 million discs (playing the “Menu Song”) as inserts in newspapers all over the country. A very special copy of this record was almost burned to heat a family home in Galax, Virginia. Instead, it ended up winning the homeowner a million dollars.” Why it’s great: In this story only slightly tangentially related to music, the listener is constantly wondering whether they’re going to learn the truth.
Other Men Need Help: She Makes More (11/7/18): What it’s about: “Your partner makes more money than you. What do you do? Mark meets a few men to learn about their economic insecurities and looks for some answers, as he fights to keep his own series of numbers a mystery. SPOILER ALERT – it does not go well.” Why it’s great: You may remember from previous posts that I am an engineer, so this is top of mind for many women in my field at some point – it can be very awkward to be the breadwinner or even to contribute equal earnings to a family pot. It was so thought-provoking to hear the comment that one partner’s self-worth doesn’t have to be at odds with the other partner’s ambition or success level.
Ladies, We Need to Talk: Settling for Average (7/30/18): What it’s about: “Everyone’s relationship looks great on social media, but it’s hardly reality. A healthy relationship is meant to feel like a warm hug from your mum after about a year, according to psychologists. But if your partner doesn’t feel like your perfect soul mate all the time, you might feel like you settled for something you didn’t sign up to. So does ‘settling’ exist or is it just a reality of long-term monogamy?” Why it’s great: Whewwwww. I love this discussion of the concept of settling in relationships. I don’t really believe in it myself, I think it’s a cultural construct derived from the acceptance of judging strangers we have no business judging. Each couple’s relationship is their own and I think the idea of “could I do better” is suggested by external parties. But many, many people do question whether they should settle or have settled, so this was a great discussion to listen to.
Latina to Latina: Comedian Cristela Alonzo (4/24/18): What it’s about: “Writer. Actor. Trailblazer. How Cristela Alonzo makes room for stories like hers in every medium.” Why it’s great: Host Alicia Menendez draws out deep feelings from her guests – what a great skill. Cristela Alonzo talked about her imposter syndrome as the lead character in Cars 3 and I almost cried. She said she always felt she achieved because of hard work and not because anyone thought she was special – heartbreaking but so relatable.
Criminal, Episode 82: The Choir (1/12/18): What it’s about: “As a child, Lawrence Lessig was a gifted singer. His church choir director encouraged him to attend a choir camp at a prestigious boarding school in New Jersey. He was so talented that the school invited him to stay and join their official choir. He sang at Carnegie Hall and toured the world. But it was what happened behind the scenes that would change his life forever.” Why it’s great: Lessig’s stunning bravery to be open enough to share his childhood sexual abuse by the hand of someone who is not behind bars floored me. His vivid storytelling painted a clear picture for me of what that boys’ choir school looked like, how his abuser worked his way into the pants of boys who didn’t know any better, and how he felt as he worked through the abuse as an adult.
In the Dark, S2E1: July 16, 1996 (5/1/18): What it’s about: “On the morning of July 16, 1996, someone walked into a furniture store in downtown Winona, Mississippi, and murdered four employees. Each was shot in the head. It was perhaps the most shocking crime the small town had ever seen. Investigators charged a man named Curtis Flowers with the murders. What followed was a two-decade legal odyssey in which Flowers was tried six times for the same crime. He remains on death row, though some people believe he’s innocent. For the second season of In the Dark, we spent a year digging into the Flowers case. We found a town divided by race and a murder conviction supported by questionable evidence. And it all began that summer morning in 1996 with a horrifying crime scene that left investigators puzzled.” Why it’s great: What I waited nearly two years for … In the Dark is amazing. Terrific investigative journalism with the perfect reporter-host, Madeleine Baran, who along with her team, won a Peabody Award for the first season of the show. This was the best show of 2016, the last time it was published – you cannot miss this season. Episode two, The Route, is just as fantastic as the first episode: the team follows the supposed route prosecutors say Flowers walked in order to commit this crime.
Qualia: Risk (7/2/18): What it’s about: “In this IMMERSIVE episode, “Risk,” our goal is to immerse you in a soundscape that pulled and pushed you to alternatively feel risk-seeking and risk-averse. To preserve this immersive experience, we stripped out a lot of the reporting we did on the science of risk. Here, you can find out more about the science of risk perception. We’ll walk you through the episode, and point out materials – interviews we did with researchers, journal articles we dug up, books we read – that let you dig deeper into the research.” Why it’s great: I love this because it’s so different from anything I’ve heard. The last immersive podcast I listened to was The Walk, and I just couldn’t ever get into it, I think it needed a different type of narration style. Here, it’s very clear what you should be doing, the scenes are set up well and if you want to read about the scenes you can find useful research in the show notes. The intense sound mixing added so much to the show; the team was so intentional about where sounds should go and how volume should be used.
Homemade Stories with Shannon Cason, Episode 99: Hi, My Name is Shannon (7/10/18): What it’s about: “The 1994 Freaknik spring break in Atlanta is the scene. College spring break is a perfect time to come out of your insecurities and let loose. My breaking loose was more practiced and rehearsed, but it did the job well.” Why it’s great: Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I come across a storyteller that in any medium, on any show, I can tell – the story being told is uniquely “that person.” Al Letson, Andrea Silenzi, Glynn Washington, Erica Heilman are all great examples of this. I love Shannon Cason’s style and I was only a few minutes in to this story when I knew – this is so Shannon Cason. Narrators who have the ability to make you feel like you know them personally are my idols.
How It Is: Time, With Maria Menounos, Eve Rodsky, and May Kim-Tenser (10/17/18): What it’s about: “If there’s one thing we never have enough of, it’s time. So how can we be more mindful of it — appreciating each moment without losing momentum? Relationship expert Eve Rodsky shares her groundbreaking research about how couples divide their time and household labor; Maria Menounos tells us how being diagnosed with a brain tumor changed her perception of time; and neurosurgeon Dr. May Kim-Tenser explains what it’s like to make life and death decisions in a matter of minutes.” Why it’s great: At the risk of sounding dramatic, Maria Menounos’ commentary on what time means to her given her potentially shortened life was profoundly impactful for me. Why should we spend hours, days, weeks of our lives worrying about meeting non-family members’ expectations? We have to take time for self-care. Life is just not unlimited and it’s crap to waste time stressed out when a job, something you volunteer for, all the mental load things that women carry will be there whether you’re alive or not. All The Things will get done. You don’t have to do all of them.
Sooo Many White Guys, Episode 34: Phoebe and Terry Gross Make it a Girls’ Night (5/1/18): What it’s about: “Radio legend Terry Gross (we’re not worthy!) is in the studio to tell Phoebe about her early days in radio, her marriage, and how the Trump administration is ruining her music listening.” Why it’s great: I haven’t heard Terry Gross interviewed very often, and I love that she was interviewed by a comedian who is honing her interviewing skill. Robinson just gets better and better. This was really fun and personal.
Nocturne: Finding the Void (12/10/18): What it’s about: “What makes a place home? Is it a place that feels like a refuge? Is it somewhere you sleep really, really well? What if the place that feels like home is a secret apartment in the bowels of a giant mall?” Why it’s great: Host Vanessa Lowe has a knack for finding stories that make you think about the night in new ways. I’ve listened to this show forever, and I would listen to the back catalog over and over again because it makes me want to settle into my bed or a comfy chair in the dark and tranport myself into the story. The sound is always excellent. This is a show that deserves your download.
Varmints!, Episode 100: Emus (10/3/18): What it’s about: “Emus! Woo hoo! It’s our 100th episode and we have all sorts of fun stuff in store! First, we’re joined by nationally recognized biologist and TV personality, Corbin Maxey, to discuss emus! And, we announce the winners of our Cellphone Backyard Wildlife Photo Contest! It’s going to be a fun ride, and we’d like to thank you, the listener, for making 100 episodes possible. You Varminions rock! Let’s get our giant bird on!” Why it’s great: Congratulations to Varmints! on 100 episodes! Paul and Donna have profiled dozens of critters, have kept the show fresh and creative the whole time, and truly produce something fun, funny, family-friendly, and educational to listen to. How awesome is it that Corbin Maxey binge listened to all 99 previous Varmints! episodes? And he didn’t just come on for a guest spot, he stayed for the whole episode about emus, because Maxey has one (of course!). If you haven’t heard Varmints! before, one of my favorite parts is when Paul and Donna debate how intelligent an animal is on a scale of 1-10. Emus are … not bright.
Song Exploder: Ludwig Goransson – Black Panther (3/14/18): What it’s about: “Marvel’s Black Panther was released in theaters on February 16, 2018, and in just a few weeks, it made over a billion dollars worldwide. It’s already broken some box office records and it looks like it’s going to break some more. The score for the film was created by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson. His film and TV credits include Creed and New Girl. He’s also Grammy-nominated producer, who’s worked most often with rapper Childish Gambino. In this episode, Ludwig takes apart one of his pieces from Black Panther. The track is called “Killmonger,” and it’s the theme for Erik Killmonger, a character played by Michael B. Jordan. Black Panther is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and coming up, Ludwig tells the story of doing research and making recordings in Africa, and how he incorporated that into the score for the film.” Why it’s great: Some of the best Song Exploder episodes are songs from a TV show or movie. I am thirsty for everything Black Panther right now and this was fantastic, of course now I want to go watch the movie again and listen for the Killmonger music.
Latino USA: The Remarkable Rebirth of Medellin (6/15/18): What it’s about: “Medellín, Colombia, is lauded as one of the most innovative and tourist-friendly cities in the world. But 30 years ago, the city was the world’s cocaine capital—ravaged by the cartel war led by Pablo Escobar. Latino USA travels to Medellín to hear how the city’s violent and narcotic history changed the lives of one family and how Medellín went from being one of the most dangerous places in the world to the “model city” it is today.” Why it’s great: Maria Hinojosa and Luis Gallo bridge two generations to share what Medellín once was and the incredible investment in urban planning that transformed the city. A surprise bonus was the connection that Hinojosa and Gallo have as reporters in the city, including Hinojosa’s present-day encounter with a cartel killer who was watching her as a young reporter.
Hidden Brain: Why Now? (2/5/18): What it’s about: “Nearly a quarter century ago, a group of women accused a prominent playwright of sexual misconduct. For the most part, the allegations went nowhere. In 2017, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, more women came forward to accuse the same playwright of misconduct. This time, everyone listened. On this episode, we explore the story through the lens of social science research and ask, “Why Now?” What has changed in our minds and in our culture so that allegations of sexual harassment and assault are being taken so much more seriously than they were in the past?” Why it’s great: I am not done with #MeToo, I want to keep hearing more angles, perspectives, solutions. It was terrific to learn about the social psychology (if you will) and societal reasons why #MeToo is a thing now, but couldn’t have been even twenty years ago. I started working around fifteen years ago and can totally relate to feeling that if I spoke up, the consequences for me would be grave. Now, strangely because of Trump, for many women the outcome may be much different.
The Competition, Leather: May the Best Man Win (10/7/18): What it’s about: “11 contestants fight for the title of Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2018. But only one will win.” Why it’s great: The penultimate episode of The Competition season two has all of the contestants we’ve met in previous episodes competing for Mr. L.A. Leather. Some completely bomb portions of the competition (be it the “bar-wear” or very personal interview questions in front of the judging panel) and others are total crowd-pleasers. When James Kim and Elyssa Dudley caught up with the winner after he was announced, I could totally feel his exhilaration and freaked-out-ness – really great tape.
Radiotopia Showcase: Errthang #1: 808s and Three Heartbreaks (3/23/18): What it’s about: “Al Letson and Willie Evans Jr. are back with season two of Errthang! After a long hiatus, the dynamic duo returns to tell stories, and have a good time. This season Letson and Evans focus on stories and interviews about fatherhood, the political unrest in the country, and ruminations on love. It’s a wild, fun ride with a lot of heart and depth. In episode one, Al tells the stories of three excruciating heartbreaks that will leave you laughing.” Why it’s great: Al really should meet Terry Gross and just, you know, chill and have coffee. What’s wrong with sending her a love letter first to break the ice? I was laughing out loud.
Women at Work: We Deserve Better Than “Attagirl” (10/9/18): What it’s about: “Hearing your manager say you’re doing a great job is, of course, lovely. But without examples of your greatness in action, or suggestions for how to be even better, you don’t have the information you need to keep improving. Studies have found that women tend to get feedback that’s vague or tied to their personalities, which doesn’t boost our performance ratings. Meanwhile, men get feedback that’s specific and tied to business outcomes, which sets them up to develop and be promoted. First, we talk with Harvard Business School professor Robin Ely about the research on women and feedback. Next, we talk with Tuck School of Business professor Ella Bell Smith about how to draw out actionable, useful feedback from our managers, and how to respond when we’re not getting what we need to succeed.” Why it’s great: I was yelling “YES! YES! YES!” listening to this while simultaneously wondering if it would be kosher to send it to my boss. No offense to him, but his reviews are along the lines of “attagirl” which leave me almost no actionable growth opportunities. I know enough to push back and ask for specific examples, so I felt validated by this podcast episode albeit a little depressed that it’s so prevalent.
Household Name: The Bodies at the Brooks Brothers (9/5/18): What it’s about: “There’s a Brooks Brothers store across the street from the World Trade Center in New York. Shortly after the attacks on September 11, a young doctor named Sandeep Jauhar headed to ground zero to help. He ended up at the store, which was transformed into a makeshift morgue. Suddenly, he’s put in charge, which was the last thing he wanted. This is a story of ties and white collared shirts, and how heroism is often improvised.” Why it’s great: A story of a different kind of heroism, and the long-lasting trauma from it, on the worst day in American history – all in a Brooks Brothers store.
Terrible, Thanks for Asking, Episode 55: T-T-T-Today, Junior! (11/6/18): What it’s about: “Did I stutter? Erin did. Erin does. And here’s what it’s like to live with a speech impediment that people still make jokes about.” Why it’s great: This is one of the bravest stories I’ve ever heard. Erin didn’t go into a burning building, save a puppy who fell into a sewer, or fight in a war, but she put her stuttering story out there for everyone in the world to hear. She endured the cruelty of childhood bullies and “well-meaning” adults who didn’t understand her speech impediment but offered unqualfied and unsolicited advice, and worked her way toward giving presentations at work. I admire her so much.
Everything is Alive: Maeve, Lamppost (7/30/18): What it’s about: “Maeve is a lamppost. She sees all of us, but does anybody see her?” Why it’s great: I recognized Maeve Higgins’ voice immediately and was therefore in love. Everything is Alive is a very silly show about inanimate objects and the life they lead. Poor Maeve just wants to be famous.
RISK!: Pulling Through (11/20/18): What it’s about: “Meghan DePonceau, Christian Finnegan and Jenn Gavlin share stories about a mushroom overdose, a tumultuous romance and living life to the fullest.” Why it’s great: RISK! is so good because it’s no-holds-barred, totally open and honest, and attracts phenomenal storytellers. I particularly loved the first story about a woman who OD’ed on mushrooms and essentially left a suicide note for her family, which of course, she had no knowledge of the next day when she finally started to come back to earth in the hospital.
Bodies: Bleeding (8/8/18): What it’s about: “KalaLea has terrible, awful periods. But don’t a lot of women? Well, yes and no. After more than a decade of suffering, KalaLea discovers that the cause of the pain is common for Black women like herself, but far from normal.” Why it’s great: I was riveted listening to a biological problem so many women deal with and are told to accept.
Our Americana, S04E01: Mount Horeb, Wisconsin (The Reading) (3/1/18): What it’s about: “A rural town, known as The Troll Capital of the World, unites over the attemped banning of a book reading and its very close-to-home consequences.” Why it’s great: I got choked up multiple times during this episode and felt spurred to activism, so yeah, it was frickin’ great. The book in question is “I Am Jazz.” The way the community responded to the potential banning of this book was what the true America is, and should be proud of. There is a lot of hope contained in this story and there are a lot of amazing people fighting for human rights.
Caught, Episode 7: ‘It’s the Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done’ (3/26/18): What it’s about: “The justice system isn’t the catch-all for every struggling kid. Desperate parents with means can turn to a whole network of private programs before their kids even get caught. The state of Utah houses a $400 million industry for just such families. For an average cost of $513 a day, parents can send their kids to one popular option: wilderness therapy camps. These are programs that send kinds into the wild in hopes of curing all kinds of issues, including everything from drug use to screen addiction, anxiety, and defiance. For a young person named James, this type of intervention in his teenage years was life-changing.” Why it’s great: Caught is a great binge-worthy miniseries, and this was my favorite episode. Not only does the episode address what happens at wilderness camps and how the young people are impacted by it, but also compares this type of treatment to regular juvenile detention.
The Hilarious World of Depression: Andrew Zimmern Wrecks His Life, Rebuilds His Life, and Eats Weird Food (8/13/18): What it’s about: “Celebrity chef and Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern has made a reputation as a culinary expert with an adventurous streak, traveling the world and sampling tree grubs, shark meat, tarantulas, and horse rectums among many other cuisines. But before his current fame, he was on the street, stealing handbags to fuel his alcoholism, which existed to deaden his long-held depression. We hear about hitting bottom, redemption, and Andrew’s friend, the late Anthony Bourdain.” Why it’s great: I share Zimmern’s extreme love of the Minnesota State Fair, so he’s always been one of my favorite food celebs. It’s sad how many chefs travel down the path of addiction, and Zimmern tells all of the details in this interview. My favorite quote from the episode was, “Trauma that is not transformed is transmitted.” This is a cerebral, yet still fun interview.
Code Switch: Searching for a Home After Hate (3/6/18): What it’s about: “In February 2017, Srinivas Kutchibhotla fell victim to an alleged hate crime. In the aftermath, his widow, Sunayana Dumala, had her life and her immigration status thrown into question. Now, she’s trying to figure out what it means to stay — and find community — in the small Kansas town where her husband was killed.” Why it’s great: Sometimes an episode will stick with me because I find myself so drawn in to someone’s emotional diary-like story; this is one. It was heartbreaking listening to Dumala share how her husband just didn’t come home when he was supposed to, and she had this intuition that something bad happened.
This is Love, Episode 1: The Run (2/14/18): What it’s about: “In 1971, David Alexander went for a run in Central Park and started talking to a stranger. For our first episode of This Is Love, a story about what’s possible when we bet everything on each another.” Why it’s great: Just wow. Beautiful, beautiful story about the strongest love between a man, his wife, and their daughters. All the feels.
HumaNature, Episode 39: Junk (3/28/18): What it’s about: “Marcus Eriksen wanted to draw attention to a problem no one could see. So he sailed into the middle of it.” Why it’s great: I had a hard time deciding between episodes 38 and 39 – you may as well just check them both out – HumaNature is SO GOOD. Every story is told first-person, about something that has happened in nature. I loved this narrative about a man who sailed out into the ocean in search of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Ologies: Rhinology (NOSES) with John Craig (6/12/18): What it’s about: “Allergies. Nose jobs. Smell nostalgia. Street drugs. Septum piercings. Snoring. Hang on to your faces because Dr. John Craig goes deep and shares why he’s so passionate about rhinology. You’ll have a whole new relationship with your whiffer, appreciating what happens behind your nas-holes and coming away with some strategies to combat hay fever, Afrin addiction plus: a very legal substitute for illegal party drugs. Also: why you may want to shove a crayon into your nose.” Why it’s great: I laughed out loud several times listening to this episode of Ologies, especially at Alie Ward’s nose puns (nas-hole, OMFG) and the discussion of cocaine ingestion.
Soul Music: Boys Don’t Cry (1/17/18): What it’s about: “Boys Don’t Cry by The Cure is, on the surface, a tribute to teenage angst and a slice of pop perfection. Lol Tolhurst, the band’s drummer, wrote the song with his band mates in Robert Smith’s parents’ house extension. Poorna Bell saw the song’s lyrics echo her husband’s struggle with expressing his emotions, and describes the devastating impact which that can have. Runner Derek Redmond recalls the moment he lost his ‘game face’ at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, and Sara Pacella and Jeffrey Axt chart the changing fortunes of a giant Boys Don’t Cry poster.” Why it’s great: If you’re not familiar with this show, each episode explores a single song and how it has impacted people’s lives. Tolhurst’s songwriting memories interspersed with these very emotional stories was masterful; I was completely engrossed in this episode. Excellently produced and terrific storytelling. Plus – hella amazing logo.
BBC Documentary: The End Zone (1/28/18): What it’s about: “Concussion is taking much of the sheen off America’s behemoth national sport and leading to many parents forbidding their children from taking it up. Bill Littlefield asks whether this multi-billion dollar business can survive if so many players turn their backs on the sport. Where will the next generation of players needed come from?”
What did you think of this year’s list? Notable omissions? Want to recommend something to me that you don’t see here? Drop me a line on my contact page. I also have a newsletter which is slightly more editorial/opinionated and comes out roughly every two to three weeks.