This post was a toughie because I enjoyed so many memorable podcast episodes this year. But I made some hard decisions today to pare it down to the top five episodes that stood out to me.
Honorable mention does to the many kickass episodes in Seth Godin's Akimbo, the fine folks at Weed + Grub, Canadaland, Beautiful Anonymous and the live shows courtesy My Brother, My Brother and Me.
In no particular order...
Episode: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
In this love letter to films, Unspooled profiles a new movie each episode and hosts Paul Scheer and Amy Nicholson break down the appeal of each prolific work. My favourite in their debut season has to be this on-ehour look at Spielberg's gem E.T., a classic I revisited in late 2017 when I realized that, heck, I haven't seen this movie in around 15 years. It still holds up, for all the reasons the Unspooled hosts share: sharp writing, telling the story (for once) from the child's perspective, breaching a sentimentality that rarely veers into predictability. Scheer and Nicholson have a free and easy chemistry that makes listening to Unspooled a pure joy. Amy Nicholson The Extra-Terrestrial
Podcast: Hidden Brain
Episode: Starving the Watchdog
I've long been fascinated by neuroscience and social science, and Hidden Brain combines both in each episode, dissecting a certain aspect of human behaviour in each ep. In this late 2018 standout, host Shankar Vedantam looks at what happens when a local newspaper vanishes from a community requiring those municipal watchdogs to oversee law enforcement and politicians. It's harrowing stuff, especially when we learn about the studies concluding how government corruption increases when those media outlets aren't around to hold public officials accountable. This episode might be treading familiar territory for anyone with knowledge of the battered media landscape, but I'd reco this episode just the same, mainly due to how succinctly Hidden Brain argues for journalism to thrive in communities in desperate need of those critical reporters.
Podcast: Reply All
Episode: The World's Most Expensive Free Watch
Few podcasts shine a light on the seedier niches of tech and social media than Gimlet's Reply All. My fave this season was their deep dive into an odd corner of Instagram where shady companies promote free watches which end up being anything other than gratis. The ep ends as you'd expect but along the way you get a detailed picture of just how easily someone can get wrapped into the frenzy of getting free stuff online. It's a cautionary tale that will undoubtedly be relatable to anyone who's felt they were swindled into getting something other than they wanted, whether online or IRL.
Podcast: Business Wars
Episodes: The Netscape vs Microsoft Browser Wars series
It's hard to flush out one segment of this six-episode series recounting the Net browser battle between Netscape and Microsoft. If you only have vague memories of the Netscape browser (such as myself), you'll want to take this adventurous trip down a geeky lane to get acquainted with a young Marc Andreessen and a hustling Bill Gates, both of whom had their peaks and valleys when they unveiled their new browsers for the nascent Net market. Even if you aren't a big tech head, but got a thing for competitive spirits between entrepreneurs, you'll want to give this series a listen. Honourable mention goes to BW's other fantastic series this year, where they revisited the fight between Xbox and Playstation.
Podcast: The Moment With Brian Koppelman
Episode: Seth Godin
"If you write every day in public, your brain will behave in a different way. We are hiding because we got taught to hide by the mechanistic managers who only want us to focus on quality." That's just one of the many thoughtful and inspiring quotes by marketing guru Seth Godin, who I've long admired for his cogent analysis of making great art and what it takes to be a freelancer. In a conversation with the writer and host Brian Koppelman (who never just sticks to a list of questions but lets the conversation flow freely), Godin covers a lot of ground, from the importance of finding a fulfilling life beyond what the market dictates to pursuing excellence to why we resist making decision and so much more. I might be biased because I love me some Godin but I challenge you to spend an hour with this ep and tell me you weren't encouraged to think differently about your life and/or the path you want to take to be a better person, in some way, in any way.
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