Do By Friday
Topics: Comedy, Politics, Technology, Culture, Lifestyle
Format: Conversation, Challenges
Description: A weekly challenge show hosted by Merlin Mann, Alex Cox, and Max Temkin.
Content Warnings: This podcast talks about so many things, but the most common subjects of note are regular discussions of mental health, anxiety, conservative politics, and occasional discussions of sexual kinks, germs, and poop.
Why I Love This Show: It becomes apparent pretty quickly that this is not a show about the three hosts challenging each other or challenging themselves. Like so many good conversation podcasts, the heart of this show lies in its guests. But I challenge you to find three people who are more thoughtful, analytical, and careful about the way we as people interact with the world, technology politics, media, and each other, all while remaining gut bustingly hilarious. I mean, it’s not hard to see why. Max Temkin created Cards Against Humanity, Alex Cox is the brilliant mind behind so many great shows, and few have been in the podcasting game as long as Merlin Mann, whose early works inspired the likes of Myke Hurley, Marco Arment, and the McElroys. Whether the challenge is to sous vide your shoes, play the game Dream Daddy, or send gifts to your co-hosts from Amazon, the conversation will leave you with so many thoughts, so many laughs, and the positively optimistic views that only truly honest comedy and insight can imbue.
Favorite Episode: 57: Blue Apron for Jesus
Why I Love This Episode: This episode sees the hosts joined legendary radio producer James T. Green, for a conversation about holidays, family, and the loss of religious communities in this country that has stayed with me for months after listening to it.
Best Episode: 45: Fortunate Son
Where to Start: Listen to the first episode (1: Meth Lab Full of Mysteries) then the third (3: Schroedinger’s Gift) then the fifth (5: Can’t I Just Like My Stories?) and then get sucked in and go for the ride. (You can come back to 2 and 4 later, but they are less comedic and more just good conversations about Steve Jobs and Game Design respectively.) (As well, you can always just pick up with the most recent episodes. You’ll only be missing a few inside jokes.)
Podnauts: V Silverman, Andrew Prensky, Ben Stern
Topics: Comedy, Education, Science, Culture
Format: Conversation, Submitted Questions, Research
Description: The podcast where the hosts know a whole lot about very little. They answer three questions using only the knowledge in their brains and then correct themselves using the internet.
Content Warnings: On the whole this podcast mostly sticks to family friendly subjects, but does discuss them in a not family friendly way. Some strong language and occasional discussions of violence, clowns, and winged spiders do occur.
Why I Love This Show: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no where on the internet will you find a more poignant commentary and balm to the “Well, actually…”, mansplaining culture that scourges the internet. Baked into the fabric of this hilarious podcast is the repeated testing of the hypothesis that a person’s thoughts are infallible because they are their thoughts, and every week that hypothesis is shattered into itty bitty pieces. Not only do I learn so much from listening to this podcast, but I find myself regularly stopping everything to take a moment and die of laughter. If you are a fan of content where you watch people struggle and overcome (e.g. Pastry Chef Attempts…), or if you’re the kind of person who thinks they have an answer for everything (e.g. yours truly) this is undeniably the show for you.
Favorite Episode: 17: Dr. Dr. Prankenstein
Why I Love This Episode: This episode has to this day, one of the funniest bits that has ever graced my ears. This is one of the episodes I return to every time I need a pick me up. It is absolutely hilarious and is such a perfect example of what this show does so well.
Best Episode: 15: Crack’d Black Pepper
Where to Start: I think the best way to do this is to listen to 14: Dragon Energy and 15: Crack’d Black Pepper back to back. If you’re still not sold, keep going through 16: Gold Snack and 17: Dr. Dr. Prankenstein and you’ll be in for sure. If 14 and 15 are enough, go back to the beginning and listen all the way through. (As well, you can always just pick up with the most recent episodes. None of the show is dependant upon previous episodes, except in the case of a few small inside jokes.)
Podnaut: Charles Gustine
Keywords: History, Culture, Literature, Music, Film, Icons, Geography
Format: Soundscaped, Essay, Scripted
Description: ICONography is a podcast about the geography of icons real and imagined. Season one focuses on England icons and season two focuses on New England icons.
Content Warnings: There are episodes that deal with war and tragedy, like the Dunkirk and Salem Witch Trial episodes. Listener discretion is advised.
Why I Like It: In my mind there is a show where an icon is discussed with reference to its location in an incredibly cursory and uninteresting way. This? This is not that show. Charles Gustine quite literally explores every avenue, every nook and cranny, and presents the listener with a very robust and engaging story, that will both introduce you to icons you’ve never heard of before, and expose the complex narratives and nuances that often get lost in examining the icons you already love. This show is beautifully soundscaped and engaging from start to finish in a manner that very few others in the world history based media have achieved.
Favorite Episode: George Michael’s Leather Jacket
Why I Love This Episode: This one just stuck with me. Not only is it the beautiful story of George Michael’s complex relationship with masculinity, the eighties, and his sexuality, but it is so deftly connected to the music that even a whiff of organ on the breeze takes me back to Faith and back to Charles's incredible story.
Where to Start: I highly recommend starting at the beginning of season two, The Citgo Sign and the Boston Marathon. Once you’ve caught up, you can either work your way through the entire London series in order, or you can bounce around to some that peak your interest. (I personally recommend George Michael’s Leather Jacket, Piccadilly Circus, the Spice Girls two parter, the Robin Hood three parter, and James Bond.)
Dear Young Rocker
Podnaut: Chelsea Ursin
Topics: Music, Youth, Growing Up, School
Format: Soundscaped, Letters, Memoir, Narrative
Description: Dear Young Rocker is a coming of age audio memoir about a loner kid finding relief from the anxiety, body issues, and pent up aggression of adolescence as well as a way to connect to others through rock music. It details the trials of being the only girl rock musician in her conservative hometown and sheds light on the un-talked about issue of aggression in girls and the importance of providing outlets. It’s also a series of letters about all the things we wish we could tell our young selves.
Content Warnings: There are audio content warnings included at the beginning of each episode. There is some discussion of body issues, anxiety, mental health, sex, and self harm. There is also language.
Why I Love This Show: Chelsea Ursin accomplishes something truly spectacular with Dear Young Rocker. I recommend this show regularly to teens, of all genders, who are looking at their lives with anxiety and upset. Not only does Ursin give voice to her younger self, she believes in the struggles her younger self went through, and her advice is never dismissive and always constructive. In terms of sound design, Ursin weaves her own narrative in with music which she is playing herself and the occasional sound effects, giving this world a feeling akin to remembering a story. The sound design is incredibly fresh and wholly unique. And while I am not necessarily the intended audience for the piece, I am caught directly between the ages of the young rocker and the modern day Ursin, and it’s an experience through which I gain so much more emotional understanding of who I was and where I am going.
Favorite Episode: 4: Samsara
Why I Love This Episode: Right in the middle of the eight episode run, Samsara is like a little triumph, seeing the Young Rocker get to take the stage and perform. The sound design is gorgeous and the narrative on anxiety and belief in self is incredible.
Best Episode: 8: Graduation
Where to Start: This is a narrative podcast, so I must insist that you start at episode one, Steam, and work your way through the story.
History Is Gay
Topics: History, Culture, LGTBQ+
Format: Conversation, Researched
Description: Two queer nerds share their love for the past, hijinks, and all things gay, sharing stories of those of us in the unexplored corners of history who have always been there.
Content Warnings: Obviously in talking about queer and gay history there are occasionally not nice parts of the story, but Gretchen and Leigh do an excellent job of content warning and letting the audience know in the audio when there is going to be discussions of violence or otherwise in an episode.
Why I Love This Show: Let’s start by getting beyond the fact that Gretchen and Leigh are doing amazing work, that needs to be done more and needs to probably be work done not simply in indie podcasts, but in the larger world of general academia.That is true, but simply beyond that, this is an absolutely incredible history podcast. The shows are incredibly thoroughly researched, masterfully organized and presented in a delightful and engaging way. Gretchen and Leigh bring such enthusiasm to their stories and hit upon the most critical thing that any history podcast must realize: the stories aren’t important as gems of a fargone time to simply be marveled at- they are the key to understanding how we got here and where we go next.
Favorite Episode: 4: Bulldaggers & Lady Lovers: The Bisexual and Lesbian Blues Legends
Why I Love This Episode: As someone who once studied the blues legends for many a long night in college, this episode took something that I loved and took it to a whole new level. The details and nuances they bring to telling the stories of these women are masterful.
Where to Start: This is one of those beautiful history podcasts where you can pretty much jump in anywhere. So here’s my recommendation: first, pick a subject that sounds like something you’d be interested in. (Pirates?) Then pick an episode that’s something you might not totally be interested in. (Medieval Clergy?) Then just listen to every episode. (Yeah I know I just suggested the first two episodes. This whole show is so good y’all. Just listen to every episode and be delighted.)
Podnaut: Cole Cuchna
Keywords: Musicology, Music Theory, Culture, Analysis
Format: Soundscaped, Essay
Description: In a world creating and accessing more content than ever before, we’ve quickly become a scrolling culture, hurriedly swiping through this infinite swath of content that seems to replenish without end. Dissect was created to counter this cultural shift. Dissect picks one album per season and analyzes one song per episode measure by measure, word by word. Season one discusses Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, season two is Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, season three is Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and Blonde, and there is a mini-season on Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Content Warnings: Because this show deals primarily with hip-hop albums, there is language and regular discussions of racism and homophobia, as well as the various subjects discussed on the albums, which include suicide, violence, mental health, poverty, alcohol and drugs.
Why I Love This Show: As a musician and a musicologist, this show is literally everything I could ask for in a podcast about music. Each track on the seasons album is thoughtfully broken down not only by the lyrics, but by cultural, reception, music theory, and historical analysis, all while remaining very grounded in the text of the music. Sample are sprinkled in regularly to keep the music in your head and occasionally Cuchna will bring in his own musical skills to isolate sections of the music. Honestly, even with a background in hip-hop musicology, you would be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive and engaging analysis of these works in academia or otherwise. Maybe you’ve heard a song off any of the albums that Cuchna digs into and liked it even a little; or maybe you don’t understand what people see in hip-hop; or maybe you’re already a dedicated student of these albums; no matter which is the case, Dissect is the show you need to be listening to.
Favorite Episode: Runaway by Kanye West (Part 1 and Part 2)
Why I Love These Episodes: A high point of both West’s album and Cuchna’s analysis, this two parter sees Cuchna pull out all the stops to break down an incredibly complex song, and draw an amazing parallel between the songs theory and arrangement and its place in the larger narrative of the album.
Where to Start: My recommendation is to pick one of the seasons that appeals to you the most. I think season two with Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a great place to start if you’re on the fence about them. Cuchna has gotten the shows feel under his feet and delivers a whirlwind analysis of this iconic album.
Those Happy Places
Keywords: Theme Parks, Disney, History, Literature, Cultural Analysis
Format: Conversation, Researched
Description: The show that treats theme parks like literature. Each episode, Buddy Duquesne and Alice White consider a theme park ride or attraction through the lens of literary analysis, and delve deeper into how and why these amusements tell stories.
Content Warnings: The show is generally family friendly and uses no language, but when sensitive subjects are brought up there is an indication in the audio.
Why I Love This Show: I think I should begin by saying that I have never been to a theme park in my life, and I love this show. That’s how good it is. Buddy and Alice do such thorough research on both the history of the rides and the traditions of their literary terms that even someone who has never been on the rides they are talking about can feel included in the conversation. (Additionally, I feel like I should note that those who *have* been to these rides have also commented that their analysis is brilliant, and that this is, in fact, “that good Disney podcast you’ve been waiting for.”) They’ve picked a part of this world that some may consider a frivolity for children, and taken it seriously with love and thoughtfulness. Few podcasts pull this off with so much grace and in such and entertaining and engaging way.
Favorite Episode: 19: Pirates, Revisionism, Revisions, and Adaptations
Why I Love This Episode: There are very few podcasts that so successfully balance the discourse on multiple conflicting ideas, tackling the revision of pirates from their history to children’s stories, their revision back towards a more historically accurate approach, and then revised again away from the sexism of all of those narratives. It’s truly a masterclass in intellectual rigor and thoughtful criticism.
Best Episode: 15: The Jungle Cruise, Comedy, and Colonialism
Where to Start: No matter if you’ve been to a theme park or not, the first episode on The Haunted Mansion is a must for getting a sense of what this podcast is and what it can accomplish. If you’re a theme park regular pick a ride that you like that they’ve talked about and then bounce around. If you’ve never been to a theme park, I recommend starting from the beginning and working your way forward, as this podcast works as an excellent educational text on both theme parks and how to read them.
Keywords: Conversation, Mythology, Folklore, History, Booze
Description: Spirits is a boozy podcast about mythology, legends, and folklore. Every episode, co-hosts Julia and Amanda mix a drink and discuss a new story or character from a wide range of places, eras, and cultures. Learn brand-new stories and enjoy retellings of your favorite myths, served over ice every week, on Spirits.
Content Warnings: Content warnings are included in the text of the show notes and in the audio of each episode, but this show does regularly discuss ghosts, the supernatural, and alcohol.
Why I Love This Show: I always get a little anxious when I see that a podcast includes booze, and I know many others feel the same But let me quell that anxiety with Spirits. This show is thoroughly researched, beautifully told, with an incredible chemistry between the hosts, and the booze place a lovely complementary role to the rest of the show. As well, Schifini and McLoughlin have built quite a community around the show and regularly have delightful episodes of listener submitted stories. But they also achieve something more that just a researched conversation podcast about mythology, because they truly understand the role of mythology and folklore in our lives. I leave every episode thinking not just about the story told, but how I’m going to let the story impact my thoughts and actions.
Favorite Episode: 87: Horses
Why I Love This Episode: This episode is absolutely cursed and will leave you questioning every equine being in your day to day encounters. Caveat Emptor. (But seriously it’s a delightfully spoopy.)
Where to Start: This is a great show for finding an episode that peaks your interest and going with it, or just starting with the most recent ones and keeping up. None of the show is dependent on any other episode, but every episode is a delight.
Adapt or Perish
Keywords: Adaptation, Literature, Film, Culture
Format: Conversation, Analysis
Description: Adapt or Perish is a bi-weekly podcast that examines adaptations of all kinds, whether stage to screen, book to television, comic to blockbuster, or movie to musical and back again.
Content Warnings: The content is all family friendly but the do use language. Any episodes with content warnings are indicated in the episode audio.
Why I Love This Show: There is so much to love about this show. First of all, while the premise seems simultaneously impressive and daunting, the hosts do an incredible amount of research, reading, watching, and listening to so many adaptations in preparation for each episode, and thoroughly looking into the production and motivation behind them. Then they package all of that research with a delightful axis system and a presentation style that is both engaging and very insightful. I regularly leave episodes with a list a mile long of movies and books I want to consume. But beyond the content, which is top notch, Lipshaw and Latour bring an energy and chemistry that only a married couple could, and it adds a whole new layer of joy and delight to the show. Getting to listen to these two talk about all these versions of a story they’ve consumed together is an absolute treat.
Favorite Episode: 30: Sherlock Holmes
Why I Love This Episode: In this episode, they break from the format a bit to rank 15 different traditional iterations of the infamous detective, and the result is a delightful journey through the filmic history of this character.
Where to Start: I highly recommend the first episode on Anne of Green Gables for a sense of how the show works, even if you’re not totally familiar with the story. Then I totally recommend picking some properties you’re familiar with and jumping around. And this is critical: Go listen to episodes where you know the general storyline, but have not seen or read all the adaptations. You will find yourself with a list of amazing and not so amazing adaptations to check out.
This Is Love
Keywords: Love, Personal Stories, Memoir, Narrative
Format: Soundscaped, Interviews, Framed Story
Description: From the makers of the award-winning podcast Criminal, This is Love investigates life’s most persistent mystery. Stories of sacrifice, obsession, and the ways in which we bet everything on each other.
Content Warnings: This show regularly has content warnings in the audio, but does deal with love, loss, family, sex, homophobia, and death.
Why I Love This Show: There are not enough podcasts that carefully and cogently look at the most beautiful human capacity. There are a million shows out there that will take a journalistic approach to murder and the intrigue of cold cases. (The hosts of This is Love also make the best of those, Criminal.) But there are only a handful of shows out there that will look at the mystery and intrigue of love in quite the same way. Each episode looks at love from a completely unique and beautiful perspective and, like any good true crime podcast should do for crime, humanizes and demystifies love through the process of thoughtful inquisition and careful examination. If you let it, this show can and will change the way you see the world, and what more can you ask for in a show about love?
Favorite Episode: 1: The Run
Best Episode: 1: The Run
Where to Start: 1: The Run
Why I Love This Episode: Ok, ok, all joking aside, this podcast has a lot of brilliant episodes. But Judge’s incredible interview with the runner about the first time he met the woman who would be his wife brings tears to my eyes even as I remember it. It’s one of those pieces of audio that I feel immensely privileged to have gotten to listen to. If you listen to no other episode of this show, make it this episode.
Tuned In, Dialed Up
Keywords: Podcasting, Industry
Format: Conversation, Interview
Description: Tuned In, Dialed Up is a nonfiction, conversational podcast about podcasts. Hosts Gavin and Wil talk about their shining moments in podcasting, recommendations, have an in-depth conversation about something in the podcast industry, and make some terrible podcast puns.
Content Warnings: The show does use language, but is otherwise family friendly or notes in the audio when they are going to talk about a sensitive subject.
Why I Love This Show: Admittedly this is show is not for everyone. This is a podcast about podcasts made for podcasters by some of the most brilliant minds in the podcasting industry. Wil Williams, of Will Williams’ Reviews, and Gavin, of The Pod Report, are constantly asking and vocalizing the important questions in the podcast industry, and then working carefully to seek out the answer from the right people. Like so many of the shows on the lists, I often walk away from an episode of TIDU being really thankful that I’m not the only one whose having these thoughts and grappling with these questions. As well, even when their show has to talk about things that they don’t like, they remain brilliantly positive and constructive in their criticism. (You’d expect nothing less from Wil Williams and Gavin, but could imagine a podcast about podcasts that doesn’t achieve this.) So let me end with this: if you make podcasts, this isn’t a recommendation. I must insist that you listen to this show. It will make you a better podcaster and a more thoughtful creator.
Why I Love This Episode: Do you want to listen to Wil Williams bring the academic rigour of Gothic Horror and Terror to a conversation with James Oliva, the creator of the incredible What’s the Frequency?? Of course you do, you silly goose. Stop reading this and go listen.
Where to Start: This is the kind of podcast where you can jump in anywhere or just start with the new ones, but if you are a podcast, try to find an episode that relates to something you’ve been thinking about and jump in!