We’ve consumed a lot of podcasts this year. A lot. First, they’re affordable entertainment in a time when people are trading streaming service passwords like Pokémon cards. And they’re perfect for one of the few relatively safe activities we’re still allowed–walking alone. When you strike podcast gold, it’s easy to cruise through four or five episodes while you scrub the grout in the bathroom and reorganize your closet by mood. In all our listening this year, these are the best podcasts of 2020 that stood out from the rest.
Some podcasts appear in the top charts right when you need them. Hosts Samin Nosrat (Salt Fat Acid Heat) and Hrishikesh Hirway (Song Exploder) tackle listeners’ home cooking questions from quarantine. Episodes drop twice a month, sometimes with special guests, so it’s a short catalog to work through. If your motivation to continue cooking for yourself is waning like ours, it’s perfect listening to reinvigorate your love of making food. The listener-submitted questions somehow make you feel less alone in your kitchen, which is a blessing in a year like this one.
If you’re a fan of Heavyweight or just an anxiety-based person who obsesses over lost opportunities and missed chances in your past, you’re going to devour Dead Eyes. Created by actor/comedian Connor Ratliff, the show is half memoir, half interview. His obsession centers on his failed audition for Tom Hanks for a minor role in Band of Brothers. He didn’t get the job because, Hanks reportedly said, of his “dead eyes.” Ratliff retraces his Hollywood career through the lens of the lost part.
While we love podcasts for the escapism, some are so well crafted and relevant that they’re worth just sitting and listening. If you’re looking for the best podcasts of 2020, this eight-part series reported by Vann R. Newkirk II takes a long, unwavering look at what went wrong in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The parallels to 2020 America are bone-chilling. Listening won’t fix the ways the government lets down Black citizens following disasters, but it’s essential to know the graphic details of how it happens in one of the top podcasts of 2020.
The big takeaway for white America from 2020 is that we don’t have a handle on our history. 1619, reported by Nikole Hannah-Jones for The New York Times, sets out to rectify our collective ignorance by reframing the birth of the country through slavery. It’s sparked controversy among prominent historians, proving how hard it is to see ourselves clearly, four centuries later.
Reply All is a perennial podcast favorite. This brief side project from hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman has them at their best–affectionately bickering while cutting to the heart of an issue. In this case, it’s horror movies and why some people love them and others hate them. Vogt tries to convert Goldman, an avowed scaredy-cat, into loving horror movies. It’s a five-episode romp that will make you feel considerably less alone in the world.
Cities have two identities. One is the cultural identity, cherished, and fussed over by the nation. The other is how it feels to live there and deal with the daily aggravations and disappointments. Welcome to LA wanders around in the overlap between these two identities collecting stories from LA residents.
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There are podcasts out there that do genre-defining reporting. This is not them, and we love it for that. Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey (real-life best friends), stars of the nine-season show The Office, do a “deep dive” on every episode. It’s corny, sincere, and somehow the hour-long episodes fly by as they talk to their co-stars, directors, and editors from the show.
While this podcast has been around for a while, it’s taken on fresh energy and become one of the best podcasts of 2020. The hosts Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes investigate significant moments in pop culture and explain, with wit and charm, why what you think about the past is wrong. It’s a delight listening to a reframing of histories told by predominantly white men.
If you’re addicted to Phoebe Judge’s voice on Criminal and having trouble sleeping these days, then get ready to find your favorite podcast of 2020. In each episode, Judge reads a chapter from a whodunnit novel. Set your sleep timer and treat yourself to a better bedtime.
There are few things more perfectly indulgent for the pop culture obsessed than digging in for a critical analysis of the moments that have stuck with us through the years. Hosts Tracy Clayton and Josh Gwynn are no strangers to the format. They hook listeners with their companionable discussion of past events. Back Issue hits that perfect balance of relieving and turning a critical eye on the significant moments of our cultural past.
Featured Image Credit: Ryan Quintal on Unsplash
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