My Favorite Podcasts of 2020
No matter what you may be interested in, there is probably a podcast covering it. Because I am a man who loves a variety of things, I listen to a variety of podcasts. This is usually done at the gym, but as you can imagine that did not happen a lot this year. Still I listened to a lot of these, but because it is humanly possible to hear everything, I will not be doing a traditional “Best of” and instead just looking at the podcasts I enjoyed in 2020.
This American Life: Since 1995, host Ira Glass has used the radio, and now the digital realm, to tell stories of often-ordinary people in a way which shows they are extraordinary. 2020 saw this acclaimed program win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for the episode “the Out Crowd” taking an in-depth look at the human cost of the Trump administration’s racist policies towards Mexico. With the American story taking on a new normal This American Life had plenty to tackle this year. They looked at the new challenges and triumphs people faced as well as looked back through a modern window as to how things used to be.
Talk is Jericho: Wrestler, rock star, actor, author, game show host, etc. Chris Jericho has a skill for talking and uses that skill on a nonstop parade of interesting guests. From wrestlers to paranormal investigators to rock stars to icons of pop culture there is nobody he will not feature. This diversity in guests is what makes this show a must-listen, one week he could be talking to someone proclaiming that Paul McCartney was replaced by a government look-alike, but then the next week talk to movie star David Bautista. Perhaps the most entertaining episode of the year, was Jericho going solo and giving a personal account of the infamous theft of his AEW world title.
The Plot Thickens: As an unabashed cinephile my TV tends to linger on the channel Turner Classic Movies. This year the network hopped into the podcast stream with a show any movie fan should hear. Host Ben Mankiewicz talks in-depth to the filmmaker, who in his debut revolutionized the horror genre (Targets), followed it up with the greatest coming-of-age movie ever (the Last Picture Show) then revived the screwball comedy (What’s up Doc?) Peter Bogdanovich. The legendary director who learned firsthand from the masters like Orson Welles, John Ford, and many others, talks about his life and career. Listeners hear firsthand what it is like to going from being the next big thing to becoming one of the most despised people in entertainment and eventually attaining the status of a cinema legend.
The Phil Hendrie Show: The cult favorite former radio personality and current podcaster made a banner year of shows in 2020. While this wild and strange election may have driven him mad, his irreverent and satirical humor thrives on him being a little bonkers. With his cast of nutjob characters (all performed via his impeccable impersonation talents) Phil gives listeners plenty of his unique brand of off-the-rails humor.
Office Ladies: It has been 7 years since the Office left our screens (and even longer than that since it was at its peak). Despite this, the popularity of the show has only endured since then. With this in mind, Jenna Fischer and Angela Martin, AKA Pam and Angela, give fans a look at the sitcom from the POV of those who were there. Each episode they take a witty and charming look at a different episode giving their personal insight and frequently bringing on guest stars from the cast and crew.
Radiolab: Despite losing long-time co-host Robert Krulwich, Radiolab continues to be one of the most fascinating shows to listen to. Host Jad Abumrad is joined by a host of contributors as they explore everything from medical advances to the importance of historical artifacts from both a scientific and philosophical perspective. With COVID-19 ravaging our society, Abumrad used it as an opportunity to change up the format of some of the episodes to give others a chance to shine. This led to some memorable editions. One of the best was when former Radiolab staffers who now host the podcast Nancy took the reigns and looked at HIV/AIDS through the eyes of two men a generation apart.
Jim Harold’s Campfire: For years, Jim Harold has been featured as an expert on the paranormal, but here he turns the show over to his listeners. Gathered around what he dubs “the virtual campfire” he encourages listeners to call in with their own encounters with: ghosts, UFOs, cryptids, and his favorite “head scratchers”. While you would not be begrudged for doubting the veracity of some of these stories you will no less find them incredibly entertaining. Understandably, there are terrifying tales of encounters with 8-legged demons, but also heartwarming accounts of people reached by loved ones on the other side, showing the whole gamut of encounters with the unexplained.
Throughline: I am a history fiend, and one of my favorite things is seeing the correlation between what happened on the past influencing our present. With this podcast Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei look at topics from the past which our relevant to us today. This year saw them look at the history of the American police system and its relation to the African American community in the light of the modern Black Lives Matter movement. They also shared how the history of Hong Kong eventually led to the massive protests the region is now seeing. As the name suggests they create a throughline by pointing out both the momentous and the obscure moments from history and allowing listeners to see how it effects our world now.
Murder in Hollywoodland: During the silent age of film, William Desmond Taylor was one of the most beloved directors in the business. Which leads one to wonder who would possibly have had the motive to murder him. The hosting duo of Tracy Pattin and veteran character actor James Remar look at this 90-year-old mystery in the style of an audio drama. Creating an image of what life was life in Tinseltown during the early days of cinema by taking listeners on a journey through studio backlots, seedy opium dens, brothels, and everywhere in between. While the mystery of who killed William Desmond Taylor remains unsolved, by the end of this podcast there will be plenty of theories to go around.
Haunted Places: All over the world there are places where spirits linger from beyond the grave. In 2020 listeners heard of the children who play at the playground of Maple Hill Cemetery and a red-eyed creature who lurks in Dow Hill Forrest. With each episode, host Greg Polcyn uses his skill as a storyteller to not only scare audiences with tales of ghosts, but also dig into the history and lore of each locale.
Talking about The Plot Thickens, I think you could enjoy another podcast, You Must Remember This. Earlier this year, it dedicated 10 episodes to Polly Platt, the first wife of Peter Bogdanovich. Super interesting! :–)
PS: thank you for your suggestions!