Despite calling this post "The Best New Podcasts of 2016," I'm compelled to admit that characterization implies a level of objectivity and authority that I'm simply unable to lay claim to. So I'm simply going to share a few of my favorite podcasts that began releasing episodes in 2016.
These four shows represent the best of what the medium of podcasting can attain. They are wonderfully entertaining, and created by people who genuinely enjoy what they talk about and who they talk about it with. Though superficially they focus a variety of topics–media, comedy, science–they all touch on the fundamental challenges and joys of life.
It's frequently said that the past few years have witnessed a golden age of television, with amazing shows proliferating across the traditional networks, cable channels, and newly-created digital platforms. In the midst of all of the latest and greatest, there is a show that's maintained its acclaim and popularity–that's continually being rediscovered and is broadening & deepening its fan base.
Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing originally aired seven seasons from 1999-2006, and remains one of my personal favorite television shows of all time (for the record, the others are Firefly and Law & Order.)
The West Wing Weekly podcast is the brainchild of musician and The West Wing super-fan Hrishi Hirway, whose co-host is none other than Joshua Malina (veteran of Sorkin projects A Few Good Men, Malice, The American President, Sports Night, and of course, The West Wing.)
Together, Hrishi & Josh celebrate the show by analyzing each and every episode, along with a cavalcade of special guests. A less-than-comprehensive list of those who have appeared on the show (as of December of 2016) includes Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Janel Moloney, Dulé Hill, Melissa Fitzgerald, Emily Proctor, and Tim Matheson. Sorkin himself, and Thomas Schlamme have both been guests, along with production designers and technicians who made the show what it was–as well as actual politicians and public officials.
Josh & Hrishi are excellent guides for the exploration of The West Wing; they are hilarious, passionate, knowledgeable, and insightful (and have a glossary of newly- created terms that have sprung from episodes of the podcast!) Whether you are watching the show for the first time or the fiftieth, this podcast is a valuable addition.
Most people can probably name a handful of their favorite movies off of the top of their head–but can you name your 100 favorite movies, in order? Actor and improvisor Craig Cackowski can–he's been keeping his list for over three decades. In August of 2016, he set out on a journey to watch every single one–from #100 to #1– and talk about them on a podcast with his wife, Carla Cackowski.
On the Craig's List Podcast, Craig & Carla discuss each film in the sequence, evaluating its virtues and limitations. They examine the production and the performances, share behind-the-scenes details, and explore their own reactions to the material and the role it may have played in their lives. Films on Craig's list so far have included entries from a diverse array of genres spanning almost a century of film-making: La Dolce Vita, Dog Day Afternoon, Say Anything, Poltergeist, Man On Wire, and It Happened One Night.
The show has a few recurring segments, and "Carla's Quotes" is the highlight of each episode. In this segment, Craig recounts some of Carla's reactions to the film, revealing the true brilliance of a husband & wife comedy team hosting a show like this. Another noteworthy segment is "Cacky Theater" (not "Khaki Theater" as I recently learned) in which Craig & Carla exercise their considerable improvisation talents to recreate and re-imagine a scene from that week's movie.
Here's another amazing podcast hosted by a husband & wife team: Matt & Doree's Eggcellent Adventure. Matt Mira is a comedy writer & podcaster (co-host of The Nerdist, James Bonding, FEAB, Talk Salad and Scrambled Eggs, & #maketechhuman) and Doree Shafrir is a senior writer for Buzzfeed (and whose book, Startup: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.)
The podcast chronicles the couple's quest to create a baby, which they very effectively summarized their situation on their website:
We started trying to have a baby not long after we got married in October 2015. Nothing happened. After six months, we both got tested, and Matt learned he had low sperm count and that our only option for having kids would be to try IVF.
After going through one round of IVF and getting one viable embryo, we decided to do another round — and start a podcast chronicling our journey.
What makes Matt and Doree's Eggcellent Adventure so compelling is how honest and forthcoming both of its hosts are about the processes they are undergoing, and the effects they have on both of them. Since the podcast began in October of 2016, they have endeavored to explain in detail how they chose their doctors, what each medical procedure constitutes, and what the risks and costs are in each step of the journey to making a baby through IVF (in-vitro fertilization.)
Doree and Matt's honesty and candor have provided a beacon for de-stigmatizing IVF and other scientifically-aided pregnancy techniques by investigating and scrutinizing the methodologies and challenges of IVF from a first-person perspective. This show is a textbook example of one of the other key benefits of great podcasting: reminding us that no matter what we're going through, we're never alone.
One of the newest additions to the Nerdist Podcast Network, the Jackie and Laurie Show features two women in comedy, taking about their lives and careers. Since the show was launched in January of 2016, Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin have illuminated every aspect of the pursuit of standup comedy, from their first times on stage to headlining tours.
Jackie and Laurie are "two headliners who started in the '80s and never stopped," who weathered the boom-and-bust period of the 1980s and the rise of "alternative" comedy in the '90s to become incredible talents with a broad and diverse fan base. This show is a must-listen for anyone who is a comedy fan, or is considering becoming a standup comic. You'll hear all about good sets and bad sets, good crowds and bad crowds, what it takes to get on TV, and what it's like to get paid in cash with a gun on the table.
Every episode, Laurie & Jackie pick a Comic of the Week. The person they choose is a comedian who is talented enough that they deserve to be a household name, but inexplicably have not yet crossed that threshold. This segment makes the show an invaluable resource for a comedy fan who wants to broaden their horizons beyond just what they may see on television or at their local club.
The best part of the Jackie and Laurie Show is that even if you have little interest in the art & science of comedy, it's still hilarious and thoughtful, and makes an hour pass by like it's only 58.5 minutes!
[Disclaimer: this author actually has the privilege of working for Jackie & Laurie. I run the Twitter account for the podcast @JackieandLaurie – come say hi!]