25 Must hear podcasts from 2017
2017 was an amazing year for podcasting. There are more podcasts than ever, and since this time of year is a time for reflection, we wanted to look back on some of the podcasts that really stood out. Here are my picks for the most memorable and compelling podcast episodes of 2017.
Homecoming has set the standard for modern audio fiction and that bar is high. This podcast uses what could be seen as the medium's limitations to its' fullest advantage. Plus, the list of actors involved in this project is pretty impressive (David Schwimmer, Catherine Keener, Michael Cera, Amy Sederis, David Cross, and the "internet's boyfriend" Oscar Issac, just to name a few). It's a serial, so you'll want to start from the first episode. I couldn't stop thinking about this story and as much as I loved the final episode, Job, I was truly devastated to leave the world it created.
Pen Pals, "Romeo and Juliet"
This podcast is so underrated. The (genius) premise takes the listener into a parallel universe where familiar characters are placed in unfamiliar settings. Like, what if the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet had smartphones and a data plan? Or if Nietzsche and Charlie Chaplin were roommates? The clever concept is backed up by strong storytelling and the high production values you expect from premium content.
The Secret Life of Canada, "Subversive Women"
This podcast is only five episodes in so it's the perfect time to get caught up. Hosts Leah Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson explore stories from Canadian history that have rarely, if ever, been discussed. This episode about subversive women is pretty wild (and as the warning at the top of the episode points out, not for kids). But it's so interesting and surprising and, like all of their episodes, thoroughly researched and digs up all sorts of gems from Canada's past.
The Adoption, "The Mother's Story"
This podcast is so special. It tells the true story of two children who are removed from their home by social workers and put up for adoption. The access that the BBC was given to tell this story is really what makes it so compelling. You hear from almost everyone involved about how the adoption has affected their life, from the social worker, the foster carer, the parents and grandparents and the potential adopters. Each episode clocks in under 10 minutes in length, so you can binge this one pretty quick.
Kitchen Sisters, "Black Cake"
You may think you know Emily Dickinson. The reclusive poet who dressed all in white. But her life was so interesting and full of intrigue. Secret romances, family drama, poems quickly scratched out on the back of a recipe. You have to hear this beautiful episode.
The Longest Shortest Time, "Accidental Gay Parents Part 5"
The Accidental Gay Parents series from The Longest Shortest Time is (so far) a five-part series that is truly riveting. Trystan and Biff were dating for a year when Biff got a call from a social worker. His sister's two small children would be put into foster care unless Biff came to get them.
Missing Richard Simmons, "Episode 1"
It may be the mystery element that draws you into the first episode, but it's the startling and sometimes bizarre facts about Richard Simmons that makes this story so compelling. The amount of empathy Simmons had for his fans is unheard of, and their stories are just as interesting as his.
Reply All, "Longmont"
Reply All is one of the most popular and hyped podcasts out there. Surely there were more talked about episodes in 2017 than this one. But this episode, about Alex's obsession with a prank caller, is a standout because it's got all the ingredients of a great Reply All episode. It's irreverent, funny, heartwarming and it illuminates a weird subculture you didn't even know was a thing (but are so glad you now know about).
Story Corps, "Kevin Fredericks, Isaiah Fredericks and Josiah Fredericks"
2017 was an intense year. It's nice to be reminded that some things never change. Like kids will always be there to catch adults off guard with really random questions. I listened to this piece at least five times after I first heard it because it gave me something I really needed: a laugh.
Safe Space, "Canada's Broken Prison System"
Safe Space is a current events podcast that is super accessible and fun to listen to. Hosts Vicky Mochama and Ishmael Daro have a comfortable rapport and book amazing guests to join their discussions. This episode shares some incredible insights about the prison system in Canada and how it could be better.
Every Little Thing, "Your Bedtime is Killing You"
If you or someone in your life needs a sleep intervention this podcast episode will turn things around. The facts that host Flora Lichtman shares will have you texting your loved ones in all caps. It really is shocking how much sleep can affect our health, and in this case the title of the episode pretty much says it all.
2 Dope Queens, "Tegan and Sara's Female Condoms"
Every episode of 2 Dope Queens is a winner, but this one is a standout. Hosts Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams are so charming and disarming, they have a way of making their guests comfortable enough to open up about topics that just wouldn't get covered in any other interview.
First Day Back, "Love Birds"
Season two of First Day Back really shook me to my core. Tally Abecassis shares the story of Lucie. Lucie was with her husband for 13 years. He was the love of her life. Until the fall of 2010 when she shot and killed him — an act she has no memory of. There's some imagery in this episode that I still think about. It touches on so many issues: love, memory, alcoholism, the justice system. This story is unforgettable.
The Imposter, "Why There Are No Period Films About Black People in Canada"
This has been a great year for The Imposter and it's hard to pick just one favourite episode. In this episode, an in-depth conversation with filmmaker Charles Officer. Even after being in the film industry for almost 20 years, Officer still struggles to get funding for the fictional stories he wanted to tell. So he turned to documentary. This is not just a conversation about his career and the film industry, but a much larger conversation about race in Canada that you have to hear.
The Butterfly Effect, "The Fallow Years Between Teen and MILF"
Jon Ronson's The Butterfly Effect is a seven part documentary series that explores the tech takeover of the porn industry, and the many consequences of free porn sites. Even if you think you don't care about the porn industry, this series is sure to draw you in. There are some incredible personal stories, and it's surprisingly moving at times.
Making Oprah, "Skinheads and Scented Candles"
This podcast series is so candid, you really get a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes of the biggest show on daytime television: The Oprah Show. You discover what motivated Oprah and her team, but also get a clear idea of the evolution of daytime talk shows and how Oprah fit into it all.
Sooo Many White Guys, "Margaret Cho"
I really can't get enough of Pheobe Robinson, and every episode of SMWG is a winner. For anyone who followed the Tilda Swinton/Margarat Cho e-mail exchange from late last year, this episode offers some insights from Cho's perspective.
The Land of Desire, "The Sweet Life of French Bees"
A podcast about French history, The Land of Desire is so charming and lovely. This episode shares some unexpected facts about bees that will certainly work their way into your conversations about "Where are all the bees going?"
Our Fake History, "Who was the Queen of the pirates?"
We know Long John Silver and Blackbeard, but what about the women of the high seas? This episode of the Toronto-based podcast shares what is known about their fascinating lives.
Broadway Backstory, "Come From Away"
This recommendation came from associate producer Alison Broverman. Broadway Backstory is a documentary-style podcast that goes behind the scenes of popular Broadway shows.
"As a major musical theatre nerd, Broadway Backstory was one of my favourite podcast discoveries of the past year. Host Patrick Hinds gets great interviews from the creators and performers from Broadway's most interesting musicals, and the season two episode about the development of the Canadian Broadway hit Come From Away had me tearing up on the subway several times over the course of 45 minutes." - Alison Broverman
Crybabies, "Mara Wilson"
Crybabies is a show that celebrates the things that make us cry. For anyone who loves a sad song, a sad movie or a sad story, this is the perfect podcast to wallow in.
Where Should We Begin, "Speak to me in French"
In Where Should We Begin you get to be a fly on the wall during a real-life couples counselling session with psychotherapist Esther Perel. It's incredibly raw and intimate — you feel like you're eavesdropping on a couple at their most vulnerable. While most episodes can get pretty intense, this episode is a standout for its moments of levity. This couple has a unique issue: they lack chemistry when they're together. But sometimes the husband pretends to be someone else: a swarthy Frenchman named "Jean Claude". But what happens when his wife starts to like "Jean Claude" better than him?
ILLUSIONOID, "What's in the Box"
Podcasting is a great platform for improvisation. Illusionoid takes full advantage of this, creating a rich sci-fi world with storytelling, music and sound. They've been at it for nine seasons, but don't let that stop you from diving in.
S-Town, "Chapter 1"
My main takeaway from this podcast epic is that everyone has a story. When Brian Reed received an e-mail from John B. McLemore about a mystery in "S-Town," Alabama, he surely had no idea he'd be heading down a rabbit hole that led down so many strange paths. There's a reason this podcast had 40 million downloads in one month: you have to hear it to believe it.
Dirty John, "Filthy"
Dirty John tells the true story of Debra Newell, a woman who surely lived the worst online dating horror story of all time. Listening to this podcast was like watching a scary movie. Instead of yelling, "Don't go up the stairs!" at the TV, I was covering my face and pulling my headphones off to ask a co-worker, "Did you get to the part where he wears scrubs to a black tie event!?" This podcast is truly unreal and addictive.