2014 in review: 'Serial,' 'You Made It Weird,' were some of the best podcasts of the year
There is far too much creative content out in the world today, and podcasting is certainly no exception. From comedy to educational, talk about real crime to real talk about culture, it’s been a thorough year for podcasts. Keep an ear out for some of our favorite programs of 2014.
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You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes
The crux of You Made It Weird came in an episode in which host Pete Holmes speaks with comedian Mike Birbiglia. The self-effacing Birbiglia consistently apologizes for his uninteresting, pedantic stories and keeps saying this is a bad podcast. “No, this is exactly the ballpark of the podcast I’m trying to do,” Holmes tells him. “And when you say the podcast you’re ‘trying to do,’” Birbiglia said. “You mean WTF with Marc Maron?” Holmes’ show is the happy-go-lucky antithesis of WTF. He aims to touch on comedy, sex and god with each of his guests. Guests from 2014 included Bill Nye, Deepak Chopra, Patton Oswalt and TJ Miller.
Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich break down particularly complex scientific situations and concepts and presents them in easy-to-digest explanations. Each episode is thoroughly educational and punctuated with quirky sound effects. There’s no other podcast that will have a women’s choir sing at different octaves to represent the wavelengths of electromagnetism or a flurry of animated pops for cell reproduction. Some of the best episodes focus on how Disney movies were instrumental in assisting an autistic child socializing with his family (“Juicervose”) and pinpointing the human who first contracted AIDS (“Patient Zero”). Radiolab embodies the Albert Einstein aphorism, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
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U Talkin’ U2 to Me?
Co-hosts Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman have probably concocted the silliest show available online. Aukerman casts the show as a “comprehensive and encyclopedic compendium of all things U2,” but the Irish band is probably covered only about 15 percent of the time. Often incorporating guests like comedian Paul F. Tompkins or music video filmmaker Lance Bangs, Scott and Scott have recorded an installment to correspond to each U2 album, but have made excuses to record a surplus of episodes. They’ve recorded an episode about the Broadway play Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark with comedian Doug Benson, commentary specials (in which they overdub an already existing episode of their podcast), and most recently, an episode chiefly inspired by Bono’s bike accident.
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No list of best podcasts would be complete without Serial. Half-murder mystery, half-enterprise journalism, this offshoot of This American Life traces the events of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was ultimately convicted of the crime. But fuzzy details and unturned leaves during Syed’s trial inspire the podcast’s narrator Sarah Koenig, to reexamine the case and its witnesses, giving the classic “Whodunnit?” story an auditory twist. Over the course of 12 episodes, you’ll hear the live dissection of phone records, conversations between Syed (who is currently serving a life sentence at the Maryland Correctional Facility) and Koenig, and the testimonies of those who knew Syed best.
It’s Koenig’s distinctive stream-of-consciousness narrative style that makes you feel like her colleague and confidant at the same time. Pro-tip: find a buddy with whom you can bounce your theories off while you listen.
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Star Talk Radio
Carl Sagan’s protégé Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosts Star Talk — a marriage of astronomy, physics and pop culture. Tyson, who has become a less-geeky version of Bill Nye through both his research in astrophysics and appearances in popular talk shows like The Daily Show and Real Time with Bill Maher, discusses everything from Mars to Morgan Freeman. But perhaps the most stellar (get it?) part of StarTalk — besides its savvy, mustachioed host — is the impressive guest list it boasts: everyone from Alan Rickman to Bill Nye has joined in on the podcast. Pretty soon, Tyson will have his own show on the National Geographic Channel based on Star Talk.
TED Radio Hour
However pithy and profound the 10-minute TED Talk you just watched on YouTube, sometimes there’s just not enough time to tell the full story. That’s where TED Radio Hour steps in. This podcast takes the talks you love and holds them under a magnifying glass. Though the episodes always use an actual conference talk as their base topic, the narrative almost always takes a turn for Ira Glass territory — phrasing questions to the listeners and broadening the scope of the topic. Some great episodes include “How We Love,” an April 2014 segment that starts out with audio from Amy Webb, a Philadelphian that used algorithms to hack the online dating game for her perfect match, and “Quiet,” an episode rooted in best-selling author Susan Cain’s TED Talk about introversion. Recommended for: future motivational speakers and those of us who can’t figure out what the acronym “TED”stands for (it’s mentioned in the podcast’s opening).
Grantland.com writers and co-hosts Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald are two grown adults who use their college degrees to discuss things like Homeland, The Knick or a new A$AP Ferg album. This podcast praised TV shows like The Honorable Woman or even Black Mirror months before they appeared on Netflix. Ryan and Greenwald have a kinetic and well-spoken dynamic. This is a podcast that stands tall over every other culture podcast.
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