Last year, I wrote about my love of podcast games, or grind-oriented games that pair exceptionally well with podcasts. I gave a few recommendations, too. I haven’t stopped listening while I play, thanks to games like Path of Exile, Pinball FX 3, and Overwatch. If you’re not sure where to start – or are just looking for some solid recommendations of shows that you may not have heard yet – you’ve come to the right place.
Let me preface these recommendations with a quick note. First, I already spend an awful lot of my day playing and thinking about video games. For that reason, I don’t listen to video game-related podcasts. Sorry. Additionally, I don’t expect that all of these will be a 100-percent hit for everyone out there. I will say that I have listened to dozens of hours of each one of these – binging through most of them in their entirety, when reasonably possible – and that I wouldn’t bring them up at all if I didn’t like ‘em. And I hope you find a few that you like, too!
The Best Show
With a name like that, it has to be good. Fortunately, Tom Scharpling’s long-running show is absolutely great. Each weekly episode clocks in at around three hours, but it flies by. A typical episode of the call-in show features an interesting guest, a jokey appearance from Jon Wurster (drummer for The Mountain Goats), and a bunch of regular callers. Listen to a few episodes, and you’ll probably start looking forward to some callers (and grind your teeth when others show up). Tom is the voice of Greg Universe on Steven Universe, but I first heard him from frequent appearances on Hollywood Handbook. He is legitimately the best. (Here’s a great clip from the show, where he and comedian Paul F. Tompkins talk about the Gathering of Juggalos.)
I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats
Since I brought up The Mountain Goats, it’s only fitting that I mention this show. I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats is a show from Welcome to Night Vale creator Joseph Fink, where he sits down with John Darnielle, the singer and songwriter from the band The Mountain Goats. It’s one of my favorite bands, so I’m probably a little biased here, but the show is a great listen even if you’re not a fan. Each episode breaks down a track from the album All Hail West Texas and then concludes with an all-new cover version of the featured song.
If you like the idea of getting deep dives on albums, Dissect is another great option. Its first two seasons have featured song-by-song analyses of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." Host Cole Cuchna does a fantastic job of digging into these songs, providing not only lyrical breakdowns of each track but also delving into chord progressions, the origins of the samples, and other music-nerd stuff. The show gave me a much deeper appreciation for each of those albums, and I’m looking forward to whatever Cole picks next.
You like chain restaurants? How about filthy jokes from a pair of hosts who seem like they can barely stand to be in the same room together? Welcome to Doughboys, where actor Mike Mitchell (The Birthday Boys), comedy writer Nick Wiger, and a special guest go to a different chain restaurant each week and give their review of the food and overall experience. The cuisine may not always be great, but the show is. Usually. Even when it does go off the rails – something that happens with an alarming frequency – it’s one of my favorites.
I have a tendency to dwell on things way past their expiration date. It seems I’m not alone. Each episode of Heavyweight focuses on a person that has something in their past that they’re not able to get past – whether it’s an unspoken thought, bad breakup, or the fact that when you were both in college you loaned Moby the CDs that he used to later record the platinum-selling album “Play.” Host Jonathan Goldstein tries to give people a chance to confront those past situations head on, with often cringe-inducing results.
This may be a shocking revelation, but I’m a white guy. I know, I know, it’s pretty unusual considering I live in Minnesota. I like to hear about what other peoples’ experiences are like, which is why I really like The Nod. Hosts Brittany Luse (formerly of Sampler, RIP) and Eric Eddings talk about being Black in America through discussions that are frank, funny, and illuminating. At least, they’re illuminating to this white guy who lives in Minnesota.
This podcast, from the creators of Radiolab (stealth recommendation!), highlights some of the most important decisions that the U.S. Supreme Court has made throughout the years, and provides context for how those decisions affect our daily lives. Recent episodes have tackled police use of force, the second amendment, and whether U.S. law can be applied to people who don’t live in the United States. And, oddly enough, it’s a really fun – or at the very least, interesting – show.
This one ain’t fun, but it’s important. Every episode of Wrongful Conviction highlights another case in the criminal-justice system where an innocent person was convicted and imprisoned for a crime, often for decades, before later being exonerated. Host Jason Flom is a founding board member of The Innocence Project, and his guests offer first-hand accounts of how the work of that organization and others can make a difference. Ultimately, it’s a terrifying glimpse into situations that any number of us could fall into, and a reminder of the power of skepticism.
On a lighter note, Jesse Thorn doesn’t know what he’s doing. At least, that’s the impression that the radio host and podcaster likes to present when it comes to the art of the personal interview. In The Turnaround, Thorn has a high-profile guest from radio, television, and other media outlets on to talk about their own individual approach to interviewing people. Guests include Ira Glass, Larry King, and Werner Herzog. It seems everyone has their own way of preparing – which in some cases means no preparation at all. I can’t recommend this enough to anyone who’s interested in journalism or has a curiosity about how the stories they read, watch, or listen to are put together.
30 for 30
“Boo, sports!” That seems to be a common sentiment among people who play video games, but those people are missing the point. As ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series showed, a good story is a good story, even if it involves a sport or person that you don’t know anything about. The same sentiment has made the transition into podcasting, with ESPN’s 30 for 30 podcast. Past topics include the rowdy world of bootleg T-shirts, the birth of the UFC, and the effect that EA’s John Madden Football series has had on the sport itself. I’ve listened to every episode, and there’s not a dud among them.
Did I miss any of your favorite shows? Let me know in the comments!