So those who know me know that I listen to a lot of podcasts. At any one time I am subscribed to between thirty-five and fifty-five podcasts. Some drop three times weekly, some fortnightly, some have no schedule at all. While I do listen to a lot of film podcasts, the majority of my podcasts could proudly be categorised as “culture”. From current affairs, to long-form journalism, and interview-based shows, there’s a good variety. Considering the volume I listen to, I decided to put together a list of my favourite ten podcast episodes from 2015. Hopefully it encourages someone to give something new a listen.
My favourite podcast episode of 2015: WTF with Marc Maron – Episode 565: Paul Thomas Anderson
My favourite podcast episode of 2015 is from way back in the first week of the year, January 5th to be exact. The podcast is a lengthy discussion with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, someone who doesn’t do an awful lot of interviews. In this episode the men go through PTA’s filmography, with the writer-director giving incredible insight and tidbits about each and every film, including Inherent Vice, which was newly in cinemas at the time. Maron even broaches the Scientology/The Master controversy and doesn’t get completely dismissed.
Other notable film guests in 2015 include (but are not limited to): Jason Schwartzman, Richard Linklater, Danny Boyle, Joe Swanberg, Rose Byrne, Kevin Corrigan, Judd Apatow, Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Jason Segal, Harmony Korine, Lynne Shelton, Lake Bell, and Daniel Radcliffe.
The following 9 episodes are listed in no particular order
Love + Radio – Greetings from Coney Island
Rachel receives a postcard from 1938. The card is addressed to her at her current 21st century abode, but the writer is from 1938 and they write as if Rachel is someone very close to them. At first there is one card, and then another arrives. Rachel is perplexed, fearful, but craving the next piece of mail. Not only a cracking mystery, but also quite the emotional rollercoaster. I’ve thought about this episode often and wondered what I would do if the same thing happened to me. Caution: so to not spoil the mystery, click on the episode link near the top of the page. Do not scroll down and read the other links.
If you’d like to listen to another excellent Love + Radio episode try ‘Thank You, Princess’, a discussion with Ceara Lynch, a self-described humiliatrix.
WTF with Marc Maron – Episode 614: The President was here
President Obama is arguably the biggest get for any interviewer, and this year he and his secret service detail rocked up to Maron’s suburban LA home for a chinwag in his garage. While that episode is good, I’d argue that the following episode, ‘The President was Here’ is even better. For those who don’t know Maron, he has some anxiety issues (don’t we all?), and it turns out having the president come to your home is quite the mind fuck. In this episode Maron and his assistant talk through what it took logistically for it to happen and what Maron went through mentally in the lead up to his most high-profile interview yet.
For a further peek into Maron’s inner turmoil check out the episode when he finally got to talk to Lorne Michaels, someone who has loomed large over Maron’s life since he interviewed for SNL and never got the gig.
Mystery Show – Case #3: Belt Buckle
Mystery Show describes itself as ‘A podcast where Starlee Kine solves mysteries’. A simple premise that has absolutely delightful results. The show has only had 6 episodes thus far, but half of them rank among the best podcast episodes of 2015. The premise of ‘Belt Buckle’ is that a young boy finds a unique belt buckle on the street. The investigation into what this buckle is and who it belongs to takes such interesting and unexpected turns. It’s difficult to explain just how entertaining it is.
Like ‘Belt Buckle’? Check out ‘Britney’ and ‘Source Code’ next.
Radiolab – Birthstory
‘Birthstory’ starts off as the story of two men, an Israeli couple who are going through the process of hiring a surrogate so that they can have biological children of their own. For these men to have each have a biological child of their own requires sperm, eggs, two wombs, four countries, and a lot of money. The process gets a lot more complicated when a natural disaster occurs, and the men learn what the women who are carrying their babies really get out of the deal. This is an incredible piece of journalism that looks at the complicated issues surrounding international surrogacy. It does so with intelligence and empathy, never passing judgement on anyone who participates in the process.
Check out ‘To See Or Not To See’ if you want to listen to another powerful episode of Radiolab.
Women of The Hour – Episode 1: Friendship
‘Friendship’ is the first part in Lena Dunham’s five-part podcast series. The series was designed to mimic the chapters in Dunham’s book, and allow her to speak about the major issues facing the modern woman. In this episode Dunham explores friendship, specially female friendship, and why it’s so important and yet is often undervalued. I am not a huge fan of Dunham’s comedy in general, but as a woman, this podcast series really spoke to me. Bonus points for having June Squib and Emma Stone answer listeners questions – they’re hilarious and completely lovely.
If you enjoyed this then be sure to check out the rest of the series. There are only five episodes in total and they’re all interesting, and at times, inspirational too.
Invisibilia – Entanglement
Can you imagine being able to feel people’s emotions? I don’t mean picking up on the atmosphere or vibes someone is giving out, rather physically feel what you see others feeling. In this episode we meet a woman who physically feels the emotions of others and we learn about the impact this has on her life. Comedian-actress Maria Bamford also talks candidly about the complex ways in which we are connected to our mothers. This is intelligent, thought-provoking podcasting.
If you enjoy ‘Entanglement’ try ‘How To Become Batman’, the story of a man who is blind and says expectations have helped him see.
This American Life – #562 and #563: The Problem We All Live With Part One and Part Two
In this two-part special, This American Life looks into an issue which is important to almost all of us, education. How do we make the school system fairer and help underachieving minority kids reach the heights of their more privileged, academically successful peers. A solution that has had success in the past in America is desegregation, but it’s something that people hardly want to talk about, especially the predominately white upper middle class. This is good journalism and it’s uncomfortable to hear a lot of it. We don’t like to think we’re part of the problem, but there’s a good chance we are.
Other good TAL episodes this year include: #569 – ‘Put A Bow On It’, #566 – ‘The Land of Make Believe’, and #560 -‘ Abdi and the Golden Ticket’.
Judge John Hodgman – Episode 215: Great Balls of Ire
Judge John Hodgman is one of my favourite podcasts, and this episode had me in absolute hysterics. For those who don’t know how the show works, the premise is very simple – each week the judge (actor/comedian/writer John Hodgman) presides over a case. He speaks to the defendant and plaintiff, and with the help of his bailiff (typically Jesse Thorn) comes to a ruling. The cases vary from disputes over buying a second television set, to a person who wants to force their father to wear a hearing aid.
In this case a couple ask for a ruling over what to do with all the balls that get kicked into their yard. They’ve recently moved into a property that backs onto a park and they can’t agree what to do with the balls. Do they throw them back? Build a 10 foot high fence? Pop them? This episode is so much fun, in part because I can totally get how annoying it would be. This is a wonderful starting point for those who have never listened to an episode – get on it!
Other great 2015 episodes include: Episode 227 – ‘No-show Contendere’ and Episode 222 ‘Eminent Toe-main’.
I Was There Too – Episode 13: Groundhog day with Stephen Tobolowsky
I Was There Too is a great podcast in which host Matt Gourley talks to people who were there during great moments in film and television. They might be a supporting actor, a production assistant, or a child star. In this episode legendary character actor Stephen Tobolowsky talks about his role as Ned Ryerson, the insurance salesman who pesters Bill Murray each and every morning in Groundhog Day. He talks about the film, working with Murray and Ramis, and about some of his other roles. Stephen is such a talented storyteller and the insight he gives is just wonderful.
If you enjoyed listening to Stephen you’re in luck! He has a story telling podcast in which he tells stories of life, love, loss, and Hollywood. He’s truly gifted and has such an interesting view of the world. Check out the Toblowsky Files here. Protip: start from episode 1; this is a show that rewards prior knowledge.
What were your favourite podcast episodes this year? Please share them with me – I am always looking for new shows to listen to.