I can go on and on about how 2016 has been a defining year for television, but in some ways, I think 2016 has also been a defining year for podcasts. Fueled by the stranger-than-fiction presidential election, podcasts became more than just a source of entertainment, they became a constant and fully-realized source of news and news analysis. And with the election of Donald Trump, I don’t think news podcasts are going away anytime soon.
It seems that everyone listens to a podcast or two or many now, which makes sense considering there is literally a podcast for every interest. I listen to a number of them on a daily basis that range from topics as broad as “politics” to as specific as a deep dive into the show “Mr. Robot”.
Out of the many shows I listened to this year, a few stood out above the rest.
Here are my favorite podcasts of 2016:
10. In the Dark
For those who feel like nothing quite scratches the Serial Season 1 itch, rest assured – In the Dark is here to rescue you. Just like Serial Season 1, In the Dark meticulously covers a case that happened years ago that has suddenly, and surprisingly, become relevant again. If 2016 is the year of true-crime as entertainment, then In the Dark deserves to have a prominent part in that discussion.
This new podcast from NPR covers stories the way more stories in general should be covered – through immersion. These reporters spend a significant amount of time with the subjects they are covering, to not only report the facts, but to report the reasoning. Why do cops make the decisions they make? Why is it so hard for a drug addict to find treatment? Embedded doesn’t just throw around statistics and headlines, Embedded gives you reasons and understanding into the lives of people we assumed we understood.
8. 2-Bit Encryption – A Mr. Robot Podcast
This past season of Mr. Robot invited some wild fan theories, with it’s bizarre moments and Easter eggs. For fans, this podcast was a one-stop shop of those outlandish fan theories and in-depth episode recaps. Their 2+ hour weekly episodes deep-dove into every detail of that week’s episode of the TV show, and enhanced my enjoyment and interest in Mr. Robot.
7. Fresh Air
All hail Terry Gross, the world’s best interviewer.
6. The Vulture TV Podcast
More and more TV calls for more and more analysis – but instead of focusing on “more”, The Vulture TV Podcast focuses on “better”. This show stands out for a number of reasons. Whether it’s in-depth discussions about recent trends, or long-form interviews with show creators and actors of some of today’s most prominent shows, The Vulture TV Podcast proves week after week why it’s essential listening for TV geeks.
5. The Run-Up
Twice a week this election season, The Run-Up (from The New York Times) was there to help you make sense of what the hell was happening. With smart analysis and guests from all over the political spectrum, The Run-Up stands out as the best election-specific podcast of the year. The most surreal episode was recorded in the late hours of election night, when reporters realized, well, that Donald Trump was going to win. Their reaction to what was happening is raw, unfiltered, and unforgettable.
4. On the Media
This show should be required listening for all broadcasting and journalism students. Especially now.
3. The Watch
The Watch is my pick for the funnest podcast of the year. Each week, Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald discuss the latest happenings in TV and movies, and have candid conversations about what makes something great, and what makes something terrible, in a pop culture landscape that is so crowded.
2. Serial (Season 2)
I LOL at those people who compared Season 2 of Serial to Season 2 of True Detective. Yes, Season 2 tells a much different story than Season 1, but it doesn’t lack in quality as a result. The story of Bowe Bergdahl is every bit as intriguing, captivating, and thought-provoking as Adnan Syed, and just like Season 1, Sarah Koenig admits that while there is a lot of available evidence, there are no easily available answers to the controversial case.
1. Keepin’ it 1600
Without question, Keepin’ it 1600 is the best podcast of the year. Hosted by former Obama staffers, the hosts pick apart the week in politics with a sense of humor, exasperation, and disbelief, and in doing so creates a cathartic experience for anyone even remotely worried about the next four years. These guys have worked on presidential campaigns and in the White House, and aren’t afraid to admit how difficult and exhausting the next few years will probably be for, well, everyone. They bring on prominent reporters (Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper, and Katy Tur, just to name a few), pundits and operatives on both sides of the aisle in an attempt to get to the bottom of what is going on, and what contemplate what should be/could be/probably will be done about it. And in this political landscape, every discussion is nothing short of lively.
Honorable Mentions: Buzzfeed’s Internet Explorer was a recent discovery for me, and I can’t wait for this show to return. Gen Pop is a new pop culture podcast that only has three episodes out, but I can see it becoming a favorite for 2017 if they keep up the good work. FiveThirtyEight Politics and NPR Politics are always informative, in-depth listens. Inside the Times is a good listen if you’re a journalism nerd. Slate’s Trumpcast was an early favorite, but as the Trump phenomenon became more and more real, I backed away. This American Life and Radiolab are always great and essential by default, and I’ll always love Planet Money.