You know those lists you get in December? The Best Whatever of Whenever. I always think ‘yeah I should do one of those about podcasts’ but can never remember anything that happened before October.
So this year I’m going to be a bit more on top of things.
Note – It’s likely that some episodes were actually released in previous years. The only rule is that I listened to it in 2017. The second rule is that I can make up more rules whenever I want, even if that means inventing multiple new rules within the same paragraph.
Radiolab: Lose Lose
The point of sport is to win. But sometimes it’s strategically or socially better to lose (e.g. letting your girlfriend win at arm wrestling as a lead-in to some sexy time). I once watched some so-called ‘elite level tennis’ with two Spanish players ‘competing’. The stronger player had already got through to the next round and if he lost, his countryman and best friend would get through too. It was super tedious since I knew what they were up to. And guess what? The best player won in the end. Which didn’t fit my conspiracy theory narrative at all.
But this Radiolab episode is the true story of some shenanigans at the London Olympics. The twist – both teams wanted to lose.
Featuring Radiolab’s trademark over-production, mellifluous voices, and superbly constructed story, this was a super start to podcasts in 2017.
James Bond Radio: You Only Live Splice
The JBR guys have taken it up a notch since I reviewed the best James Bond podcasts. They’ve got a musician (Warren Ringham) helping them with episodes about the James Bond theme music (much more interesting than you’d expect – there was a bitter court case about it) and the one about the James Bond trumpeter was a good listen.
But today’s episode was from their other new recruit, audio/film editor Dan Gale. He did one about the James Bond audiobooks that was fairly incredible – he spliced himself into some bits of the audiobooks – really funny and clever. This latest thing was the same but with video, which I imagine is 200 times more time-consuming. It was his tribute to John Glen, who edited and directed a bunch of Bond films.
Now, I despise video-format podcasts. They’re like 6 times bigger than audio-only files, and if you’ve got limited space on your phone or a limited data plan, you’re not going to want too many video podcasts coming down your pipes. Also, I listen to podcasts while doing other things – I can’t play Skyrim while watching a video. But as a one-off I’ll give this one a pass. It’s about film editing, after all, and how better to show that than by… showing that.
Long story short, it’s outstanding and funny but not really a podcast, so head over to their website and watch it there. You’ll be hooked within the first couple of minutes.
Special mention goes to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, episode 59 about the history of nuclear weapons.
This month I was on a bit of a history tear for my ‘Best History Podcasts’ article.
History Hit: Why Do Empires Build Walls?
Timely. Relevant. Fascinating. Dr Adrián Maldonado from the University of Glasgow explains how walls are built by weak, crumbling empires.
The Land of Desire: The Three Alexandres
A 4-part series telling the adventures of 3 generations of dudes all called Alexandre Dumas. I knew the one who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, but the best episode was probably the one about the invincible cavalry officer spreading fear into the heart of every Austrian.
I spent countless hours listening to pods about the soap opera for men known as Arsenal Football Club, and catching up with The Greatest Generation’s backlog of Star Trek episodes. Love those nutjobs!
The Beef and Dairy Network: The Church Of Eli
This one provoked various emotions. 1) The emotion of lolz. 2) Beef pangs. 3) Craving to be part of a cult again.
It’s a really layered podcast, with slabs of world-building being laid down on one another like thin cuts of beef in an all-beef beef lasagna. For that reason I suggest you go back to the start and work your way through previous episodes, since the Church of Eli features the continuation of two previous story arcs.
So what tickled me? In the first 90 seconds alone:
- Bovine pacification lozenge
- “Stay tuned for the beef forecast”
- “He took the rare step of burning the premises to the ground, an action which cemented him as one of the most exciting young cases officers working at the [Food Standards] Agency.”
And most of all, everything to do with ‘Mosquito Mayhem’.
To ensure a steady stream of this podcast, I signed up to the Maximum Fun ‘Drive’ to pledge my eternal loyalty to beef – the first money I have ever knowingly given to a podcast.
HDTGM: #161 The Fate of the Furious
I am not the target audience for the Fast and Furious films. Not really into cars or macho challenges, and I rarely mumble things like ‘It’s all about family’. But the guys from How Did This Get Made are obsessed with the franchise. As far as I can remember, these are the only new movies that they review – their typical material is from the 80s and 90s.
So I was only half-listening as they began gently poking fun at the movie’s ludicrous plot and unlikely alliances. But my attention was increasingly drawn to the audio as the hosts’ enthusiasm for the movie they’d just watched seeped into me. They said Vin Diesel did proper acting and electrified the screen! They said the partnership between The Rock and Jason Statham was destined to be a legendary combo in cinema history! And the action scenes they described BLEW MY TINY MIND even though I only heard what goes on.
This episode did a rare thing – it made me excited to break my daily routine and go and do something.
This article about the best podcasts for cat lovers had a surprise in at number 2. Purrcast is simply a short recording of a cat purring. A different cat every time and it’s all in a good cause. Hearing the purrs brought a big Cheshire Cat grin to my face.
My Day Wrote a Porno: S2E14 Texas, USA
Possibly the single greatest moment in podcasting history is the cliffhanger at the end of this episode. The podcast as a whole is EXTREMELY funny and you should listen to it from the start. (I listened to series 1 on my own, and then went back to the start and listened with my girlfriend. She normally hates cringey humour but is a huge fan of this and remembers all the past characters etc.)
I won’t go into the cliffhanger itself – I’ll just raise a glass to the hosts. The narrator’s American accents are wonderful (in their way) and the co-hosts’ reaction to the cliffhanger are perfect.
The next episode and the revelations that come in it are equally amazing, though I had some aches from cringing too hard.
Roll on the next series!
The Beef and Dairy Network: Wendy Axminster
There’s a real danger of this list becoming overly beef-heavy, but oh, lordy! I had tears streaming down my face listening to this. A joyful experience.