Podcast Playlist

The Best Podcasts of 2021

The coolest celebrity interview show you’ve ever heard. True crime with a twist. A cringeworthy coming-of-age drama to remember. All that and more made our yearly Best Of list.
(Elena Hudgins Lyle/PicMonkey/Courtesy of podcasts)

Podcasts helped our Podcast Playlist team navigate the chaos of 2021 in different ways. Some of us turned to podcasts for a good laugh. Some found escape in fictional worlds. And sometimes we even felt okay enough to dive into the darker stuff! Choosing the best podcast of 2021 was no easy feat. But we have a podcast to fit your every mood. It's also a snapshot of how podcasting changed this year. New shows gave genres like true crime, history and the celebrity interview show a welcome twist. Actual play podcasts (think Dungeons & Dragons) continued to boom in the pandemic. Through it all, some of our longtime favourite creators continued to impress us. 

Here are our favourites from the year—starting with 2021 releases, and then shouting out some returning shows that are still going strong. 

The Best New Podcasts of 2021:

Storytime with Seth Rogen

(Earwolf)

Sometimes the simplest formats are the best ones to listen to. This show really is Seth Rogen finding a person that he admires or likes and asking "What's your best story?" These simple stories are so heightened—and some of the sound design is kind of strange, which I really find engaging. There's something just comforting about a story, but because it's Seth Rogen and all his famous friends it's deeply entertaining. It's been like a warm podcast blanket for me.

- Leah-Simone Bowen, Host 


Do You Know Mordechai?

(UCP Audio)

"Mordechai" is the name used by a Toronto conman who duped more than a dozen women into relationships based on an elaborate set of lies and deceptions.

Host Kathleen Goldhar has a personal connection to the story: she is close friends with one of the victims. Motivated both by a desire for justice for her friend and by journalistic curiosity, she sets out to unravel Mordechai's web of lies, and discover his true identity.

It's a totally engrossing podcast that doesn't fit neatly into any one genre—it's part investigation, part true crime, part personal narrative storytelling—but with six episodes all under 40 minutes, it's well worth a binge. 

- Julian Uzielli, Associate Producer


Aack Cast by Jamie Loftus

(iHeartRadio)

One of the most anticipated releases for me in 2021 was the new one from Jamie Loftus: Aack Cast. It's a podcast about Cathy Comics and the creator behind it: Cathy Guisewite. In fact, Guisewite herself came up with the title for the podcast when Jamie interviewed her.

Like a lot of people in my age range (I'm in my 30s) I really underestimated Cathy. I assumed it was about a woman complaining about her diet. Which...sometimes it is. But it's also a lot more than that. Surprisingly (and disappointingly?) Cathy's gripes are super relatable even in 2021.

I have to say...I'm a Jamie Loftus fangirl. When she dives into a topic she goes hard. For Ack Cast she read every single Cathy comic from 1976 to 2010. It might not be the deep dive we wanted, but it's definitely a deep dive we need. Plus, Natch Beaut creator Jackie Michele Johnson is revelatory as the voice of Cathy herself.

- Kate Evans, Senior Producer

Listen to Jamie Loftus' guest curator episode of Podcast Playlist here.


Here Lies Me

(Lemonada Media)

Noa is starting the eighth grade and she's ready for it to be a great year, but that all gets ruined when the "weird kid" at school proclaims his love for her. Naturally, Noa is mortified. Here Lies Me is teenage angst at its finest, but it's also goofy and fun and relatable. 

I love the feeling that the show evokes. When you're a tween every little inconvenience in your life is exacerbated by a million, and this series encapsulates that so perfectly. Though, as an adult listening to this show, you can look at these situations and say "it'll get better." This podcast gave me nods to the Bo Burnham film Eighth Grade, Big Mouth on Netflix, and to throw in a Canadian reference, Degrassi. But please don't let the idea of a "teen drama" deter you. Teens and adults alike will equally enjoy this show.

Here Lies Me is also a great resource for parents and teens. The show looks at themes like bullying, harassment, and sex ed. And they provide resources for all those topics on their website, which is pretty great because those are all real issues that teens face, but are sometimes not given a safe space to deal with.

- Kelsey Cueva, Associate Producer


ICYMI

(Slate)

Ever feel like everyone's talking about the latest internet trend that makes no sense to you? ICYMI has been my solution to feeling out of the loop this year. It covers all things internet culture, from the silliest memes to the web's most harmful impacts (though mostly the former). So whether you need to know what the "berries and cream" TikTok is, why The Backyardigans are cool again, how Shrek's internet legacy grew, or whether or not you should take part in the latest slacktivist trend, you need this show. Plus, it's truly one of those shows that makes it feel like you're friends with the hosts (from their amazing chemistry you would never guess that Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher met online only this year!) 

- Elena Hudgins Lyle, Digital Producer

The ICYMI hosts came on Podcast Playlist for an interview earlier this year, which you can find here.


hanging out with audiophiles

(hanging out with audiophiles)

Host Jamie Lidell is a producer and songwriter and he usually talks to another producer or musician, but I don't even think I would really need to be into audio to get excited about him. I think if he were talking about trains it would kind of be the same thing. This show is really an opportunity for this guy who has a niche interest to vent for anybody who will listen to him about this thing he's really into. It's something I really relate to. Usually the start is him making some weird sounds with some new equipment that he has, and he's just so excited that he figured out how to make his delay oscillate, or something like that. That's what I love. 

- Josh Flear, Associate Producer


Maintenance Phase

(Aubrey Gordon & Michael Hobbes)

Yes, Maintenance Phase by Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon came out at the end of 2020. But it's been my jam for all of 2021. In fact, I've listened to every episode twice. It's a podcast that confronts and challenges diet culture, the wellness industry and fat phobia. But, I love that Michael and Aubrey aren't preachy about anything. In most episodes Michael and Aubrey will say that they're not trying to "ruin" diets or health trends for anyone. If you like celery juice, go ahead! Drink the celery juice. They let the listener decide for themselves. And their incredible research speaks for itself. I've learned a lot about fatphobia and sizeism. Discussing size is something we can all be more compassionate about. And this podcast is very compassionate. Also, a lot of what we believe about health is based on really unethical, janky studies from the 1950s and more people need to know this. Highly recommend their "Snake Oil" episode.

- Kate 


Dungeons and Daddies

(Dungeons and Daddies)

This is without question my top podcast of 2021, and possibly my favourite of all time. I've never laughed as hard, or cared about fictional podcast characters as much, or binged a show as fast, as I did listening to this one. It's the story of four dads from our world who get transported to a fantasy land of magic and adventure on a quest to rescue their lost sons, as told through the vehicle of Dungeons & Dragons. No prior knowledge of D&D is required to enjoy this podcast—at its core this is a comedy improv show, just with a little more structure, and a lot of heart. 

- Julian

To hear more from Julian about this show, along with interview clips from the hosts, listen here


Unread

(iHeartRadio)

This podcast definitely took me by surprise. The host Chris Stedman finds himself entangled in two mysteries. One, why did his friend Alex decide to take his life? And two, who is Alice? 

The podcast explores dealing with mental illness, coping with grief, and finding your people on the internet—somehow weaved together by a Britney Spears stan mystery. I laughed, I cried, and while I wish this series were longer I think the show wraps up quite nicely. You could tell that this production was a real labour of love for Chris, and I thought it was a beautiful tribute to Alex's life.

- Kelsey 


Spectacle: An Unscripted History of Reality TV

(Neon Hum Media)

I gleefully binged this series far too quickly. Yes, the genre of reality TV makes us groan. But it's still arguably one of the most fascinating, and influential, cultural products of the last 30 years. Host Mariah Smith is so thorough. I was surprised that the origins of reality TV reach back to a cinéma vérité-style documentary made in 1971 called The American Family. I've often wondered why we as a society fall for reality shows so often. This podcast gave me some insight on that. Which is not going to stop me from watching The Bachelorette (I know…). But at least I have a better understanding of why this genre is so addictive.

- Kate 


The White Saviors

(CANADALAND)

For many years, the WE charity was synonymous with philanthropy and good works. Thousands of Canadian students attended their star-studded WE Day events and volunteered with the organization to combat child labour and promote sustainability. But this investigative podcast from CANADALAND paints a very different picture of an organization that employees likened to a cult, and raises questions about how all that money they raised was actually spent. I was hooked from the first episode. 

- Julian


Telling Our Twisted Histories

(CBC Podcasts)

Words have the power to empower. They also have the power to silence. Telling Our Twisted Histories unpacks the meaning behind words that have silenced Indigenous histories for centuries. 

Host Kaniehti:io Horn and her guests explore words that have been warped by centuries of colonization. These include words and phrases that immediately sound out of touch like "savage" and "Indian Time," as well as words one wouldn't immediately think could cause harm like "school" and "discovery" (but with the latter set, that's the colonial mindset talking). This is a wonderfully informative podcast for people who are still in the midst of doing the work—though I believe that this podcast should be required listening for all. It's definitely been a great learning tool as I've worked toward decolonizing my mind and my vocabulary. 

- Kelsey 


Welcome to Your Fantasy

(Gimlet Media/Spotify/Pineapple Street Media)

This podcast uncovers the dark and twisted story behind the male striptease act Chippendales. The cast of characters is wild. You're invested right off the bat. The reporting is excellent. They talk to everyone who was close to the story. I don't want to give anything away, but they track down some people who I was amazed they were able to find. Just listen, it's unreal.

- Kate


Lolita Podcast

(iHeartRadio)

Yes, Lolita Podcast started at the end of 2020. But I discovered it in 2021, and was so impressed by this series I had to include it.

Before this show, I knew Jamie Loftus mainly as a comedian. But Lolita Podcast proves she's so much more than that. The podcast is a deep dive into Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita, and the many ways its meaning has been warped in our cultural memory. It's a pretty dark subject, but Loftus manages to make the podcast not only funny—no small feat when you're talking about a pedophile—but also an incisive and rigorous work of literary and cultural criticism. And you don't need to have read the book to enjoy it (I haven't). If you have even a passing familiarity with the term "lolita," you may be surprised how much you learn about the cultural baggage it carries. 

- Julian

Listen to Jamie Loftus' guest curator episode of Podcast Playlist here.


Stolen: The Search for Jermain

(Gimlet Media and Spotify)

Connie Walker's podcasts about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are essential listening. On her latest, Walker travels to Montana to investigate the 2018 disappearance of Jermain Charlo, a young Indigenous mother. Like her previous show Missing and Murdered, Stolen covers a lot of ground while still feeling intimate. Walker hears directly from Jermain's loved ones, while also connecting what Jermain experienced to larger issues—examining intergenerational trauma, domestic violence, and how our society treats Indigenous women. She brings in her own connections to the story as a Cree woman in a really beautiful way. I don't listen to much true crime, but work like this, that is told with such empathy, respect and diligence, and brings attention to the uncomfortable truths we like to ignore, is so important. It's a tough listen though, so I definitely recommend taking it slow! 

- Elena


Hot White Heist 

(Audible)

Hot White Heist is a six-part Audible series that stars Bowen Yang (SNL, Las Culturistas) as Judy Fink, a fortune-teller from NYC who ends up getting recruited by his long lost aunt to complete a special mission: break into a top secret government bunker housing sperm samples from every former US President and steal them on behalf of her commune which may or may not be a cult (?!?!?!) I know… it sounds like a fever dream. But believe me when I tell you that this podcast is everything! If you're still trying to get a picture, imagine Ocean's 11 meets SNL and 30 Rock. Yang is joined by a stellar cast of characters from all across the LGBTQ community, played by the likes of Mj Rodriguez, Bianca Del Rio, Jane Lynch, Abbi Jacobson, Alan Cumming, and Cheyenne Jackson. This podcast is a hilarious binge and I loved every minute of it.

- Kelsey

(Only available through Audible subscription)


9/12

(Pineapple Street Studios)

I listened to most of this podcast while standing in line to vote in the federal election. It was an interesting headspace to be in while listening to a podcast about the lasting impact of 9/11. Host Dan Taberski has such a distinct style of storytelling. He tells stories from recent history by talking to everyone around the story itself. His podcasts are also deeply personal, and empathetic. I like how the stories are woven together. Chaotic at times, just like 9/11 itself.

- Kate


The Adventure Zone: Ethersea  

(The Adventure Zone)

Ethersea is the newest campaign in the actual play Dungeons & Dragons podcast The Adventure Zone, hosted by McElroy brothers Griffin, Justin and Travis, along with their dad Clint. The McElroys bring their usual chemistry and humour to the show, but what really stands out is the setting. The story takes place in bubble cities and submarines beneath the waves of the Ethersea, a magic-infused ocean that has overtaken the world. The story contains neither dungeons nor dragons (so far, at least)—D&D is merely the storytelling vehicle. Five months into the season, the McElroys have created a compelling world with enough material to keep the story going for quite a while. 

- Julian 


Backstage Pass with Eric Vetro

(Pushkin Industries)

This is a podcast for singers and music lovers! Backstage Pass is hosted by Eric Vetro, vocal coach to the stars. His students include some of the biggest names in pop like Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes and John Legend, to name a few. On the show, Eric takes us behind the curtain to meet his celebrity students. We hear about their career highs and lows, and the challenges that come with being in the spotlight. Conversations are raw, candid, and intimate in a way that can only be experienced between student and vocal coach. These vulnerable talks are a reminder that even the most effortlessly talented singers need to practice too. Whether you're a pop music superfan or an aspiring singer, this podcast is a must-listen.

Leah and I had the pleasure of chatting with Eric in November (you'll get to hear that conversation in the New Year) and he was such a delight! He was so charming, down to earth, and genuinely excited about his students' success (re: Ariana Grande getting cast in the new Wicked movie). There's no wonder he works with the best of the best. A moment that stuck with me was when we brought up John Legend and he casually asked us, "Do you know John?" I didn't say this out loud, but I thought "In what world would I personally know John Legend?!" But that's just another day in Eric's life. These are the circles he runs in, and his podcast allows you to feel like you're a part of this exciting world too. 

- Kelsey


Matriarch Movement

(The Brand Is Female)

Like Leah said up top, sometimes the simplest formats are actually the best. Matriarch Movement is my favourite recent example. Host Shayla Oulette Stonechild talks to Indigenous women from across Turtle Island about their work, art, and lives. Past guests have included Tanya Talaga, Canada's Drag Race's Illona Verley, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, and artist Chief Lady Bird. The conversations flow between personal experiences and life lessons to broader conversations on topics like decolonization, law and justice, Indigenous representation in media, and beyond. The episodes are the perfect length for a long walk, chore break or commute. 

- Elena


Bad Women: The Ripper Retold

(Pushkin Industries)

This show brings us a completely different perspective on one of the most infamous serial killers in the world. I don't think I'll ever think of Jack the Ripper in the same way again.

Even though the Whitechapel murders are well-worn territory at this point, the stories of Jack the Ripper's victims are not. That is exactly what this series focuses on: not on the deaths of Jack the Ripper's victims, but on their lives. So it's not about theories and suspects. It's simply about the compelling lives of these five women: Mary Ann, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane. And how some of them went from middle class lives to sleeping on the streets of Whitechapel. A place where they were susceptible to violence. This podcast is part history, part social commentary and so fascinating! The lives of "the five" are complex and worth exploring. They say so much about how gender and class have held people back over the centuries. I love that host Hallie Rubenhold always shifts the responsibility of how these women were treated in life and death back onto us. As a society. This show is a must listen.

- Kate 


One Year

(Slate)

It's not easy to come up with a new spin on the history podcast, but Slate still found a unique take on the genre with One Year. Each season focuses on one year in history, with each episode focusing on a significant event, covering everything from politics to sports to music (the first season explored 1977, with the new second season revisiting 1995). Host Josh Levin doesn't just retell the stories we've heard before—rather, by interviewing the people who were there, he draws out new perspectives and insights that could not or would not have been shared at the time. It's a fascinating show that taught me a whole lot about the past. 

- Julian  

Listen to Leah's interview with One Year host Josh Levin here.


Greenhouse

(Atypical Artists)

If you're looking for a wholesome romance, this is it! Greenhouse describes itself as an "anxious audio love story." I mean, simply based on that…relatable. It follows a recluse, homebound writer named Rose Green who's forced to write letters to a florist named Abigail Adams. You see, Rose's father recently passed away. And in his will, he included a clause that required Rose to write regular letters to her dad's favourite local florist. At first, Rose is not too keen on the idea. She has a hard time opening up to people after a public incident. But letter by letter Rose slowly starts to open up to Abigail. I'd say Greenhouse is the podcast equivalent of a beach read, in the best way. The series is an easy listen, highly entertaining, and jam packed with many pleasant surprises. 

- Kelsey 


Tenfold More Wicked: The Body Snatcher 

(Exactly Right)

The second season of Tenfold More Wicked tells the captivating and gruesome story of William Burke and William Hare, a pair of serial killers who prowled the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1820s. The story is brought to life with a haunting score and subtle but evocative sound design. It's not for the squeamish, but nearly two hundred years after their crimes took place, it's a bit easier to stomach the story of Burke and Hare than it might be otherwise. And for fans of horror, history and true crime, this is one worth hearing. 

- Julian


The Backbench

(CANADALAND)

2021 will absolutely not be remembered for the world's most boring Canadian election that changed nothing. But a good podcast that takes Canadian politics seriously will always be helpful, and I found it particularly so this year to have a new show like The Backbench. Their playful House of Commons-inspired format allows for fun debate and banter. Their rotating panelists are super smart and represent different viewpoints without it ever getting toxic or hard to listen to. And I love journalist Fatima Syed as its funny, no-B.S., puts-it-in-layman's-terms host. I need my politics podcasts with a side of fun, and this one had my back. 

- Elena 


365 Stories I Want To Tell You Before We Both Die

(Caveh Zahedi)

How's that for a title? 365 Stories is a storytelling podcast hosted by Caveh Zahedi where every day of 2021 he tells a story from his life. Episodes span 1-8 minutes, and stories range from life changing moments to everyday occurrences. To give you an idea, some episode titles include: Why I Married Suzanne, Visiting Suzanne's Apartment After We Broke Up, Sibling Rivalry, Getting Arrested For Shoplifting, Film About a Stick, Wiggling My Toes…What you get each day is truly a surprise, but just the fact that Zahedi cares to document his oral history and most candid thoughts is pretty cool. The sheer commitment it takes to record and release an episode every day is so impressive, and that alone makes it worthy of this list. I'll be curious to see if the podcast will continue into 2022. 

- Kelsey 


Highly Legal

(Audible)

Hosted by actor Jay Baruchel, this podcast shares the history and impacts of cannabis legalization in Canada. I'll be honest: I'm not a weed aficionado. But I was so happy to see a series that was dedicated to weed legalization here at home. Even though I don't partake, I'm super curious about the impacts of legalization. This was the only podcast that I know of doing a deep dive into the topic, and it's very thorough and well done. Jay has an amazing voice for podcasting. Just as distinctive as his buddy Seth's.

- Kate

(Only available through Audible subscription)


Limited Capacity

(CBC Podcasts)

I've always been a fan of horror movies and thrillers, and that love translates to podcasts too. Limited Capacity describes itself as "Black Mirror for your ears." The stories explore the twisted ways we interact with the internet, and each other. It's a show that's not afraid to dig into our fears surrounding the internet and the deepest, darkest parts of the human psyche—and it manages to do so in ways that are both unsettling and hilarious.

For a while I've felt that CBC Podcasts has been lacking in the audio thriller department, so I'm happy they took that leap. I'm also really excited about the team behind the show. We've got the CBC's Personal Best duo: Rob Norman who created Limited Capacity, and Andrew Norton working the mix. Other names I was excited to see credited are James Kim (MOONFACE) and Mary Knauf (Dustlight Productions), both whose work continues to excite me. 

- Kelsey 


The Candyman

(Big Big Big)

The Candyman is a fictional true crime podcast that investigates the harrowing events of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And I mean, it makes total sense. Five young kids win a grand tour of Willy Wonka's famous chocolate factory, and only one of them comes out unscathed? Seems suspicious, and worth investigating. 

The series is performed by Melbourne-based comedy trio Big Big Big, whose own interpersonal dramas unfold as they investigate the events at Wonka's factory. Their shenanigans add to the hilarity of the main plot.

This podcast actually came across my radar after our interview with The Allusionist host Helen Zaltzman! It was a hilarious, easy-to-binge series chock full of witty pop culture references, and I enjoyed this comedic, chaotic twist on the classic true crime genre. 

- Kelsey 


Past Favourites We Kept Coming Back To in 2021:

You're Wrong About

(Michael Hobbes & Sarah Marshall)

Since creating You're Wrong About in 2018, Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall have dissected the past together, looking at people, events and phenomena that have been miscast by the public imagination. I admittedly didn't get into many new podcasts this year mainly because I was working my way through the back catalogue of YWA. It was hands down my comfort show this year—as it seems it has been for many others during the pandemic. Their typology "What do we not need evidence to believe?" is one that I feel is so important in our age of misinformation. We had the pleasure of featuring YWA on our show this past spring, and that's when my love for their show really began. Sadly, Michael has left the show since then to pursue other projects, but you can still hear him on another great podcast that pulls a lot from the YWA typology, Maintenance Phase, which he co-hosts with Aubrey Gordon. Meanwhile, Sarah is still doing a wonderful job holding down the fort with a lineup of amazing guest hosts.

- Kelsey


Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster

(Plosive Productions)

This is a food-adjacent podcast with comedians Ed Gamble and James Acaster. They bring in a guest, usually a comedian, and James Acaster pretends to be a genie who can fulfil any desire they have for food. They go through each course and pick what would be their dream meal. There's also a secret ingredient that, if the guest says it, they instantly get kicked off the call. The first question is always James Acaster yelling "Papadums or bread?!" It's a very strict format, but a super weird take on it. I also like that it's super confrontational in the most unnecessary way. 

- Josh 


Keep It!

(Crooked Media)

This is a show that just gets better and better. Recently, hosts Ira Madison III and Louis Virtel have had a cast of temporary guest hosts. I loved Aida Osman and Kara Brown. But having the guest hosts has been super fun! I like the surprise of not knowing what the dynamic will be like each week. Plus, Ira and Louis have such a deep vault of pop culture knowledge. You'll hear a reference to a soap opera story line from the 1990s, followed by shade thrown at a TikTok trend, followed by the deepest analysis of Natalie Wood's career you've ever heard. I listen as I do my skincare routine at night and I think it's helping!

- Kate


The Steve Dangle Podcast

(sdpn)

You may know Steve Dangle as that guy who's famous for yelling about the Toronto Maple Leafs on the internet. His podcast has plenty of that—and so much more. In their coverage of the hockey world as a whole, Steve and his co-hosts Jesse Blake and Adam Wylde never shy away from the difficult conversations that don't get enough airtime. When news broke of a former Chicago Blackhawks player alleging he was sexually assaulted by the team's then video coach, and of the Blackhawks organization's serious mishandling of the allegations (to put it mildly), these guys covered the story early and stuck with it as it developed. Their exceptional work this year helped keep this and other issues in focus. And when things are more lighthearted, this show is an absolute hoot. It's definitely for total hockey nerds, but with more references to The Wiggles and the Toronto Zoo than you'd expect. This once-indie podcast has spawned its own network this year and I couldn't be happier for them.

- Elena 


SmartLess 

(Amazon Music & Wondery)

This podcast hosted by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes is always a good time. The central gimmick of the show is simple but brilliant: each episode, one of the hosts brings on a guest, and the other two don't find out who it is until they're recording. It makes for a conversation that sounds genuinely unscripted and natural every time—plus, listening to famous people be starstruck by other famous people is weirdly entertaining. The comedic chemistry between the hosts is undeniable, and with consistently big-name guests, they always leave you wanting more.  

- Julian


Pop Chat

(CBC Podcasts)

Pop Chat really found its legs and solidified its format this year. Each week it dives deep into whatever the pop culture phenomenon of the moment is (#FreeBritney? Squid Game? T-Swift's Red re-release? You name it.) The panel then uses their Groupchat segment to recommend the best new content (or sometimes...get angry at shoes?). I can pinpoint a number of times where I heard about the Next Big Thing on this show before anywhere else. I owe the panel the nudges I needed to finally watch Squid Game and Succession (much appreciated). This is not the first time I've recommended an Elamin Abdelmahmoud show on our yearly list—call me biased (he's our former interim host) but I think we all need a little Elamin in our lives! I aspire to his unabashed love of the things he loves, among other things. 

- Elena

Listen to Elamin's top podcast picks here.


Today, Explained

(Vox)

I continued my love affair with daily news podcasts this year, and this one is consistently the most fun and creative. It's the little things like their clever use of sound effects and stings that sets them apart. But it's also what they cover. This year they told the story of a young Ontario man who during lockdowns taught an AI to roleplay as his dead fiancée—straight out of Black Mirror. They painted a picture of what life in a futuristic climate change-proof city would look like, bringing real research to life with voice acting and soundscapes. Even their run-of-the-mill episodes give an easy-to-understand big picture look at current events. I love host Sean Rameswaram and can't wait to see what new second host Noel King brings to the show in 2022. 

- Elena 

Check out Sean Rameswaram's top podcasts, as told to Podcast Playlist, here.


The Best of CBC Podcasts in 2021:

Our colleagues at CBC Podcasts made so many compelling shows this year (far too many to include in our list). We are so proud of their work. Here are some more incredible podcasts we recommend you add to your rotation.

Unlocking: The Fountain - A show that asks, if there were a pill that could add decades to your life, would you take it?

Tai Asks Why Season 3 - Tai Poole is trying to find answers to life's biggest questions. What happens after we die? What is love? How can we fix climate change? He may not solve them all, but give him a break ... as a teen he can't know all the answers. 

Life Jolt - "Life Jolt — prison slang for a life sentence — examines the lives of women navigating Canada's correctional system. Our team gained unprecedented access to the Grand Valley Institution prison — the federal pen for women in Ontario — for a full year."

Other People's Problems Season 4 - "Real people. Real problems. Real talk. Normally, therapy sessions are totally confidential — but this podcast opens the doors. Hillary McBride and her clients want to help demystify mental health."

The Village Season 2 - "Transgender women — and trans sex workers in particular — know what it means to be marginalized, overpoliced, and underprotected. In season two of The Village, host Justin Ling investigates the stories of two women, Alloura Wells and Cassandra Do, whose deaths remain unexplained, and whose cases expose the systems that failed them."

The Flamethrowers - "The Flamethrowers captures the punch-you-in-the-mouth energy and sound of right-wing talk radio. Host Justin Ling takes us from the fringe preachers and conspiracy peddlers of the 1920s to the political firestorm that rages today."

Carrie Low VS - "Carrie Low trusted police when she reported her horrific rape. But she says they failed to investigate properly, and only succeeded in traumatizing her further. Now she's setting out on a mission to hold these institutions to account. This all-new investigation is hosted by award-winning investigative journalist Maggie Rahr."

White Hot Hate - This six-part series follows journalist Ryan Thorpe as he infiltrates Manitobe white supremacist  group The Base. We hear his perspective as an infiltrator - while host Michelle Shephard, a veteran national security journalist, explores the rise of white supremacist accelerationism.

Stuff the British Stole - "Throughout its reign, the British Empire stole a lot of stuff. Today those objects are housed in genteel institutions across the U.K. and the world. They usually come with polite plaques. This is a series about the not-so-polite history behind those objects. Hosted by Marc Fennell."

Boys Like Me - This five-part series examines how socially-isolated young men can vanish into an online world of nihilism and despair that radicalizes them into angry — potentially deadly — misogynists. Hosted by Ellen Chloë Bateman and produced by Daemon Fairless (Hunting Warhead).

Tony Ho - "Award-winning sketch troupe Tony Ho brings their uniquely disturbing brand of sketch comedy straight to your ears. The third season of their acclaimed podcast continues to mine big laughs from the sinister, the sad and the absurd. Funny strange. Featuring Miguel Rivas, Roger Bainbridge and Adam Niebergall."

The Next Call: The Case of Melanie Ethier, The Case of Terrie Dauphinais.

Inappropriate Questions Season 3 - Have you ever been curious to know the answer to a question that might be intrusive or too personal for other people? Cohosts Elena Hudgins Lyle and Harvinder Wadhwa make a space for curiosity where guests can unpack the tricky questions they get asked and learn stories about them. Whether they ask if polyamorous people cope with jealousy in relationships, if Indigenous people are "full Native," or brave the dreaded "have you lost weight" assumption.

PlayMe: Winners and Losers by James Long and Marcus Youssef, Other Side of the Game by Amanda ParrisBetween the Sheets by Jordi Mand, This is How We Got Here by Keith Barker, Bed and Breakfast by Mark Crawford.


What do you think was the best podcast of 2021? Tell us your top podcasts of the year! Email us at podcastplaylist@cbc.ca. Tweet us @PodcastPlaylist. Or find us on Facebook.

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