Dec 20, 2013

Listmania: The Best of Podcasts 2013: #1-19

To know how these lists were compiled, please read the Preamble here.

One of the greatest forms of media currently growing is the podcast format. In recent years especially, it has gone on to encapsulate a lot of our culture. Featuring a mix of commentary, comedy, and information, these shows are indelible sources of enjoyment and makes celebrities out of the common man or personalize the celebrities that exist. The following is a week-long countdown of the Top 100 shows that I feel show the variety of skills that are present in these shows and hopefully will provide you the readers with new forms of entertainment. Enjoy and put your headphones on! They're all free.

Marc Maron

What made this a banner year for WTF was not just that it continued to be one of the best podcasts in existence, but it almost seemed to have a narrative. In between interviews with icons like Mel Broks and Bob Zmuda, he created a show (Maron) and managed to be both engaged and separated. For those that enjoy the opening monologue, there seemed to be a running exploit into his personal life in a way that suggested that it was the psychology behind a rising star. With his raw honesty, he continued to become more vulnerable and thus more fascinating. The show is also just a great place for interviews of every kind from musicians to actors and even authors. It is a show that tries to understand the world by understanding himself, and that is the lasting power that each episode has.

2. Operation Kino/Fighting in the War Room

While it is unfortunate that Operation Kino ended, the show quickly resurrected as Fighting in the War Room and is essentially the same show. With four of today's best film critics, they continue to explore culture through segments that focus on movies, comics, and even Kanye West's "Yeezus." With over 100 episodes in the can, they have become veterans of the podcasting format and continue to provoke with delightful jabs at summer blockbusters. Nothing is off limits on the show, and that may be its most satisfying element. They have even done wonderful interviews with performers varying from Derek Cianfrance to John Ratzenberger. However, if there is one episode that best sums up what makes them great and diverse, check out Operation Kino episode 112 which summarizes all of their best points.

It has been a strange year for Dana Gould. How weird? He ends one episode, upon sharing a harsh truth about his personal life, with the phrase "I really need the fucking money." However, he remains one of the most vital, professional, and entertaining hosts currently pushing the podcasting medium beyond microphones and soundboards. While the "hour" is at this point facetious and most episodes are twice as long, every minute is deserving, as they become catalogs of free flowing thoughts, segments delving in Gould's personal interests, and most strikingly a very long story about a recent shooting from a witness. For the infrequency that these shows are released, they are made with so much care that it is likely that these episodes remain one of the only sources of podcasts that will sustain time and be deserving of multiple listens. It isn't just a show, it is quality entertainment.

It has been a great year for Allan Sepinwall and Dan Fienberg, though at times a rather rocky one. The show continues to remain a consistent source of opinions on what should be seen and ignored on TV. Along with this, Sepinwall released a top notch book called "The Revolution Was Televised," which is a must read for TV aficionados. With all of the greatness, some weeks saw unfortunate health issues delay episodes and while they kept trucking along, some shows were a little empty. Nonetheless, the banter and insight that these two provide remains key to anyone trying to figure out what to watch. With the recent launch of their half hour video show, there is more of them than ever to check out, and that is rather welcoming news.

Left to right: Paul F. Tompkins and John Hodgman

With the Pod F. Tompkast being all but gone at this point, it was a banner year for the Dead Authors podcast. With Paul F. Tompkins playing H.G. Wells, he interviews deceased authors, played by comedians. Even if everything is made up and facts are questionable, what gives this live series an edge is that the dedication to performance is great. There is respect for the authors and their source material, but they aren't afraid to tear apart the likes of William S. Burroughs' cantankerous drug habit or Walt Whitman's homosexual undertones. The show is a celebration of literature unlike anything else out there. It may not get you to read the books, but it serves as often humorous histories of how these authors could have been. The only tragic fact is that there are too many authors that need to be on the program and only so many times a show can be recorded monthly.

It is a fact that I love Breaking Bad and with the final season, it seemed to be in the discussion more than ever. One of the highlights on a weekly basis is diving into this show, hosted by creator Vince Gilligan, whose exploits into the behind the scenes mechanics only became more intriguing as time went on. With plenty of cast and crew appearances on a weekly basis, this remains one of the few podcasts to fully embrace the construction of a TV series and it may even elevate personal interest from the listener in the show. Breaking Bad my not seem all that technical in execution, but with a crew that seems to care too much about every detail, it makes each listen all the more engaging and is a must for anyone interested in hearing recaps of this series' episodes.

When it premiered late last year, it was marketed as "Your new favorite movie podcast." There is way too much truth in that. This Film School Rejects series (replacing Reject Radio) has become one of the most fascinating new movie shows out there. Even if the show tends to be segmented around central themes, no two episodes are formatted equally. The show highlights mainstream fare while also giving interviews with smaller filmmakers. Each week is a great collection of thoughts and news pieces that make each moment feel crucial to checking out. They also have one crowning achievement in a segment called "Interrogation Review" in which they review films without spoilers through a question and answer format. Most of all, it is one of the up and coming places for film criticism and it may very well be on its way to being one of the best shows overall.

8. The Cracked Podcast (Earwolf)

Maybe it is just that I come from a place where reading Cracked is a great internet past time, but when the website decided to launch a podcast, it almost seemed destined to be great. Thankfully, the show dubbed "NPR with rap music" lived up to the hype by pretty much being the website personified through audio. No topic is off limits and discussions range from serious topics regarding how history is skewed to more humorous bits such as Lyndon B. Johnson being a sleazy president. If the show has one endearing factor, it is its lack of predictability and the well researched segments will inform as much as entertain. There's also plenty of rap music that is cleverly tied into the themes, which maybe makes this one of the coolest educational podcasts to hit the market this year.

9. Jonah Raydio (Nerdist Industries)

Even if there was a little bit of a stumble in the middle of the year with Jonah Ray being married and causing a brief hiatus, the show remains one of the best shows about music. While it takes certain subjects seriously and each guest has their share of road stories, it is the lack of professionalism in their chemistry that gives this show a hilarious edge. With the implication that most episodes are recorded while drunk, it is the camaraderie and poor use of the sound board that mixes into essentially a bunch of guys talking about music without being pretentious. There is little to argue against the show. It doesn't strive for perfection and is more of a release from the other shows while also promoting great music. Here's to hoping that the show never gets any tighter.

In a way, Extra Hot Great being on this list could be perceived as redundant, though it is more endearing that after it was laid to rest in 2012, it resurrected as the primer podcast for Previously TV. The one downside with this affiliation is that there isn't as much movie talk (which does hurt the show), but the energy and quality remains consistent. While it has taken on a habit of doing theme weeks, it also does allow for the show's topics to be stronger and more focused. It is a grab bag of TV goodness and with plenty of casual screw-ups, it remains one of the more entertaining programs to dissect TV on a weekly basis and with their subsequent Minis, even a daily basis.

Left to right: John Oliver and Andy Zaltsman

One of the strange questions I asked myself this year is why I "didn't get" the Bugle when I first heard it last year. As this year moved along, I found myself growing more and more into the satire and comedy of this political show that tore apart the news on a weekly basis. Nothing was too far removed from the butt of jokes and with the rising stardom of John Oliver, there was occasional promotions scattered throughout episodes and even some delays. Nonetheless, the show remains a great source for hilarious scouring of culture and a place where you can learn as well as being badgered with strange puns.

12. International Waters (Maximum Fun)

Still one of the greatest trivia concepts to exist is pitting American performers against English performers with this podcast. Even if it was quite infrequent in its release, the show has managed to maintain its hilarious highs as it not only allows audiences to know what other countries don't understand, but it is also a chance for the program to be lively and push the ethics and manners against each other. If only the show released more episodes, then this would probably have been higher. For now, it remains a highlight to the trivia format that will hopefully continue to release in the year ahead.

Greg Proops

Greg Proops is probably one of the easiest comics to get into because while he manages to do stand-up shows released as episodes that last for over two hours, his stream of consciousness never lacks intrigue. His snarky remarks and sense of higher intelligence give him an edge that allows topics to sway from political to Negro league baseball real quickly. Proops remains a fascinating performer who luckily manages to connect with his audience and provoke change among his listeners. Even if his shows aren't always funny, he is always engaging, which may be his biggest triumph. Along with the launch of his film club, he is more prominent than ever with his criticisms and deservedly so. Very few performs can be this innocuous for that long and still make you want more.

As stated yesterday in a post, Tom Scharpling is a sort of genius when it came to satirizing the radio show format. This continued to be true up until the show's 13 year conclusion on Tuesday night. His cantankerous persona and hanging up on callers mixed with endearing Jon Wurster characters continue to be some of the best weekly occurrences out there. It is likely that the show will continue to live on through its fans and newcomers eagerly checking out all 1500 hours in the show's archives (or the Best Show Gems for those who find it too daunting). What Scharpling made is a radio narrative empire through calls. That alone is a stroke of genius.

More than any other film show, /Filmcast remains one of the most influential forms of movie discussion for me. While the episodes have shrunk their usual lengths, the content manages to stay fresh and with David Chen and Devindra Hardawar at the helm, there is no limit to how long things can go. The show reached another milestone by impressively hosting a 24-hour fundraising podcast event in which an array of people such as Brian Singer and Rian Johnson were interviewed. While there are few segments released on the stream, it remains quite an experience that will hopefully inspire future events. The /Filmcast remains an endless source of film criticism at its best and is worth checking out, even when controversial critics such as Armond White come on. It is intelligent and embracing and most of all, a great use of your time.

One of the benefits (?) of the Pod F. Tompkast missing in 2013 is that regular guest Jen Kirkman took advantage and started her own show. Recorded "live from her bed," she talks about the past week while also regaling on her childhood. One of her perks is that she is older and not into youthful things (i.e. "Fun") and therefore makes it her goal to be just that. The show is full of captivating stories and great stream of conscious moments that prove why she is such a magnetic person to listen to. Along with also stellar book "I Can Barely Take Care of Myself," Kirkman is having a great year and hopefully that will continue in the next year.

17. The Flop House (All Things Comedy)

The best bad movie podcast out there. This is largely thanks to its selection featuring recent titles that aren't getting coverage on other shows. Films like Safe Haven and Olympus Has Fallen are skewered in delusional delight as the three hosts dissect the plot and try to make sense of everything. Maybe their comedic timing is a reflection of this, but they are definitely experts who have managed to just feel like a community experience. The riffing and the letters segment following the feature add weight to the reviews and makes this special because you don't have to see the film to watch it. You just have to pop it on and listen. 

18. Sklarbro Country (Earwolf)

Twice a week, the Sklar Brothers come together to talk sports and comedy in a mishmash that doesn't just appeal to those specific demographics. What they have done is made a show that is pure entertainment and while it helps to know a thing or two about the subjects, the jokes aren't isolating enough to be a turn-off. With comedic guests on every episode, the show remains a solid institution for looks into a world that otherwise wouldn't make sense to me and with the surprisingly effective interrupting banter, it is quite an authentic show no matter what they are saying.

19. The Auteurcast

In 2013, the show managed to branch out into stranger territory with an entire retrospective on Michael Bay and if he is by definition an auteur. That is the very definition of what this show does very well. It doesn't matter who the subject is or how they are perceived in the media, it is about the film at hand. While their subjects tend to be more respected like Sofia Coppola and the Coen Brothres, the variety is a fascinating reason to why this show is increasingly significant. It is film criticism at its best, even when talking about Transformers movies. It is a love of cinema and one that will hopefully continue to do every director of merit in the year to come.

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