December’s Top 10 Podcast Episodes

It’s the start of 2015 as I’m writing this. December started off very strong, with nearly all of my entries occurring before the start of my holiday break, well before Christmas. It was a month of new beginnings and discovery as well as some departure. I hope you find something that interests you!

Here’s the list:

Reply All #3 – We Know What You Did

Reply All is the rebirth of the podcast TLDR (which has itself been restarted!) after the hosts moved over to the startup Gimlet Media. It’s short (as Too Long; Didn’t Read implies) and often about tech and its intersection with our lives.

This episode is about one man who did a very bad thing. I won’t say what, but it’s something that is synonymous with “annoyance” when browsing online.(1)Yes, of course it has to do with advertising. The episode brought up some interesting questions, as well, about what the internet would be like if he didn’t start off this trend. If someone else first popularized his innovation, would browsing online have taken a different form? The guest believes that the influence his small development had was profound in shaping the exchanges we accept for services online today.

Serial #10: The Best Defense is a Good Defense

Serial is the new hotness when it comes to podcasts. It’s an enrapturing story that everyone can’t wait to hear the next chapter of. A high schooler is convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in 1999. The host investigates the details to explore just who really did it.

This episode is about the trial, though a few have included elements of it. More specifically it is about the lawyer for Adnan, the accused murder. Facts about her hiring, payment, involvement, strengths, and weaknesses are all laid out that provide new intriguing information on this perfect storm of a case.

Also there’s no way I won’t include a Serial episode on this list anyway. It’s worth noting that the season one finale also aired this month, but one episode is enough for this list.

(Plot)opsy: BlockBusted

(Plot)opsy is Gordon Maples’ new podcast! He’s a friend of mine who runs the Misan(trope)y blog, critiquing good and bad, A- and B-movie alike. The episodes aren’t too long, just enough for him to chat about a film you may or may not have heard of. He draw connections to other works and explains key elements of just what makes a film… whatever it’s known for, be it the catchy theme song or the massive advertising budget. All is explored!

This episode was a bit different, though. Maples remembers the video store heydays of the 90s (that I also participated in) and shares the culture of those environments that is in jeopardy of being lost. He names specific stores he’s visited that uphold the tradition of the brick-and-mortar video store, including one in Atlanta.(2)That I mistakenly tried to buy videos from instead of renting. D: It really felt like a kind homage to the fading BlockBuster and its role in creating cult films and film buffs.

On The Media: Cameras, Conservatives, Con Men, and More

On The Media is a great show that covers news in general but also specifically the quality and effect of other outlets’ coverage. I find them to be so often insightful and thorough on complex issues, giving me a feeling of assurance that as many angles of a story are covered.

This episode is on my top list because it covered many different subjects all quite well. They discuss police body cameras and their effectiveness, analyze the conservative narrative of Ferguson, reveal the faulty background checks of the authority of guests on news broadcasts, and criticize the yearly headlines that some bad Black Friday data generates.

This episode also brought back the TLDR podcast that I mentioned earlier with a new host and an episode on a woman calling the mothers of those who sent her rape threats. To great success!

Global Public Square: December 7th

GPS is a CNN show that comes on on Sundays that covers news international and domestic, political, social, and economic. I appreciate its place in the new cycle for not being in such a hurry to get sound bites but rather encouraging discussion and conversation. It’s not as free-form as podcasts, which are not restricted to television timing, but it’s good.

This episode covered many topics well, similar to On The Media above. Zakaria expands the conversation of Ferguson to other inequalities beyond race, like poverty and education, while not ignoring the racial element. He predicts the new Secretary of State will reign in the many-armed and secretive Pentagon. He discusses with panelists about the influence of oil prices on Putin’s rhetoric and outlook. And he interviews a woman who has spent time in North Korea about her experiences in that secluded country.

StartUp Podcast #9: We Made A Mistake

StartUp is a podcast about itself and the startup company behind it. It documents the progress of Alex Blumberg and those he works with (and his family) on what the process really is like creating a company.

This episode was so intriguing to me from the title alone. It was a mini-snafu on Twitter that I didn’t catch, so the idea that they made a mistake was quite curious to me. What I thoroughly appreciated was seeing the event laid out plainly, then StartUp’s side, and then the harmed party’s side. The episode presented all of them fairly, and it came down to a simple mistake and misunderstanding.

If you like conflict resolution, this is your episode.

Welcome to Night Vale #57: The List

Hazelnut, mystify, cuddlefish… Oh, sorry. Just… saying some things. Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast acting as a radio station for a small down where very weird stuff happens. It’s brilliantly written, perfectly surreal, and always intriguing. Follow their Twitter for textual glimpses of what the tone is like.

This episode is a return from a not-really-hiatus last month. Like just about every episode, some strange phenomenon or edict is presented and slowly uncovered through the broadcast. If you like Night Vale, you’ve already heard it. If you don’t, I don’t know how much I can say to get you to listen. I simply continue to be marveled and delighted at the humor, imagery, and poignancy. I am excited for each new episode, choosing particular times when I know I’ll be mentally most appreciative of what Cecil has to say this fortnight.

I will say, since I’ve heard this concern, that there is little need to start from the beginning. Youre experience would be enriched by it, but each episode works on its own, the plot develops slowly, and arcs are recapped often. I haven’t heard maybe two dozen episodes myself.

Nerdist 610: Benedict Cumberbatch

The Nerdist is a long-form interview/conversation with a guest, hosted by Chris Hardwick and often Matt Mira and Jonah Ray. They’re all comedians, adding levity to the show, but Nerdist is versatile. Guests can come on and be serious or intimate or hilarious. It all flows smoothly with Hardwick’s good questions and malleability.

This episode is Benedict Cumberbatch, who everyone knows… but I don’t think knows. He’s one of those people whose name is lodged in our brains and his face in so many hearts, but I at least hadn’t heard a candid thing from him. Only space villainy (Star Trek) and detective-speech (Sherlock). This episode runs the gambit of tones I described: there are serious discussions of acting, fame, and centering oneself, there’s a telling of the life of his upcoming role as Alan Turing, and there are fart jokes. All of these things add up to show a really charming, fun individual. Just like everyone wanted him to be.

BMJ talk medicine: Can you trust the advice of TV doctors?

I have only listened to this one episode of the British Medical Journal podcast, but it was a very positive experience. The hosts discuss the origins, purpose, methods, and results of their paper, which was very popular in the skeptic community. Specifically, the researchers analyzed the claims made on the medical advice shows Dr. Oz and The Doctors for if they have any factual basis. They found that half of Oz’s claims have no basis or even contrary evidence, and similar results were found for The Doctors! I really enjoyed hearing about their methodology, and I’m happy to learn of this style of podcast!

Honorable mentions:

Cracked: How the PG-13 Rating Took Over the World

I’ve started listening to Cracked since it was suggested to me by someone at Skepticon in November. I liked this episode a lot because it essentially captures 30+-year-olds coming to terms with being less relevant in the cultural space. Crucially though they all manage to do this without overtly hating upon the popular media arising with kids my sister’s age. It’s the easiest target in the world to ridicule PewDiePie(3)A YouTube video game streamer, entertainer, and personality or laugh at the appeal of watching someone else play video games. It’s almost pathetic to show astoundment and disbelief at hauling or unboxing videos.

(Another great episode of this podcast was the “2014: A Year in Review in Review” episode, where the hosts tackle the usefulness of reviewing a year of media, moments, and content so soon after they occurred. So many examples, like eyebrow-raising film award nominations from decades past, highlight the need to look back at perhaps 2012, or even 2009 to truly have meaningful context to build upon.)

The Atheist Experience #896: Can Atheists Run for Public Office?

I’ve started more sporadically listening to TAE this year, but this episode had two important sections to me. The first is Jen’s topic, the name of the episode. She takes a stance contrary to one that many atheists and even organizations I’ve seen take. Yes, atheists can run for public office, even if “on the books” there are laws that are obviously illegal saying there should be a religious test.

The second topic of interest was the final call where a man saying he’s suffering from PTSD and depression argues about his desire to become a theist for a sense of purpose in life that he doesn’t feel he can attain alone. I thought this was a real challenge for the hosts, or specifically Matt, because he is a proponent of the idea that any false belief (like theism) is harmful in the long term. But this caller’s situation is an extreme test of that idea. I side with the hosts on the discussion, but I’m still not totally sold on the absolute position of any false beliefs being harmful (though Matt might say that’s a mischaracterization).

OTM goes to Liberia

Another important On The Media episode deserves mention this month. Brooke Gladstone visits Liberia to get perspective on how Liberians themselves are actually, tangibly affected by Ebola and to talk to reporters about their experience doing their job. I found it very important to hear from actual journalists there about their struggles with oppressive governments and to wash away misconceptions I had about how developed their nation is.

The Skeptics Guide #494 – Dec 27 2014

The Skeptics Guide To The Universe is a longstanding podcast in the skeptic movement. I consider it the go-to podcast for the subject and this community. Episodes are consistently informative, entertaining, and stimulating, and they have been consistently for many years. This episode is notable because it marks the last one with Rebecca Watson as a host. Wrapping up the year by discussing the best and worst moments of 2014 in the world of science and skepticism, the show also pays tribute to Watson’s nine years on the show. She’ll be missed!

I hope these lists perhaps serve to spark people’s interests in a new podcast, or to at least become familiar with the wide variety and what they have to offer! See you at the end of January.

Notes   [ + ]

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