Now that the latest Supreme Court appointment is official, some of the suspense has been taken out of this episode looking at the shortlist of potential replacements for the vacant SCOTUS seat. But in taking a close look at the other justice options (should Gorsuch fail to be confirmed or should another justice leave their post) this conversation becomes an illustrative look at how the atmosphere of the Court might be changing. In balancing the theoretical with the impending, host Dahlia Lithwick and her guests offer thoughtful insight into the country’s judicial future as it lies just beyond the horizon.
Fans waited four long weeks for the next installment in the Providence/Buddy Cianci saga. But as this show has done so many times already in its short lifespan, “Power Street” perfectly balances the small-scale and the macro crime stories, giving an air of specificity amidst a sea of potential mob stereotypes. It’s a sordid chapter in the slow-motion collapse that is the “Crimetown” story, but it also strengthens the existing web of characters on either side of the law and cuts through the city’s mythology to show some real-world consequences.
Baron Vaughn is January’s podcast MVP. While he had quality guest spots on Reality Bytes and The Hilarious World of Depression (more on that show next), his best work might have been for the Denzealots. With Vaughn as the guide, regular co-hosts W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery are also able to dive into the relative differences between the screen and stage versions of August Wilson’s seminal play. Listen for one particular insight on the main difference between Washington and James Earl Jones’ portrayals. (Hint: It has to do with audience laughter.)
In a perfect world, the legendary Dick Cavett would have his own show, sharing stories from his time as one of the kings of TV. Still, his conversation with former “Wits” host John Moe is the standout installment of the newest show that looks at the intersection of entertainers and depression. Taking on the stigma and suppression of talk around the disease (the introductory episode with “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” host Peter Sagal is indicative of the frankness with with Moe’s subjects talk about their experiences), it follows the twin assertions that no one is impervious to depression, but that no one has to face it alone.
With the finale of their first season, “Memory Motel” threads together a web of intrigue that never lost sight of the individual stories that power the show from episode to episode. Taking on the tried-and-true mystery of a seaborn bottle with written treasure inside, this takes a multi-pronged look at the unlikely aftermath of a miraculous discovery. Like “A Little Bit of Grace,” their standout episode from last year, “Message in a Bottle” doesn’t shy away from showing just how these personal anecdotes leave room for uncertainty. Memories are slippery things and, even when those memories power our understanding of the world, those tiny gaps still remain.
Fans of “StartUp” that miss the early, Season 1 jargon and the chase of investment funds would do well to pick up this cross-country podcast (if they haven’t gobbled up the previous 50 episodes already). With a “Shark Tank”-style group of distinct “angel” investor personalities, this show looks at tech ideas in a way that dips deep below the superficial and into the specifics of entrepreneurship. Even when these would-be businesses only exist in the abstract, listening to these partnerships come to life is an endless source of narrative and real-world drama.
As the final week of the Obama presidency wound down, this White House exit interview took on a few different emotional levels. Part wistful farewell, part acknowledgment of what was left unfinished, it’s a keen insight into one man’s look at his own legacy. Told with the help of three individuals who helped shape it, the interview helped close the “Keepin’ It 1600” chapter and launch the next step for one of the most significant voices in politics podcasting. With Tommy Vietor’s “Pod Save the World” now underway, there’s the chance for more in-depth global policy talks. But on the domestic front, this will always be a memorable kickoff for a new venture.
Let’s face it: Hall of Fame talk usually leads to some of the most tedious arguments in sports. But this annual review of the Hall of Fame ballot is the only one led by sportswriter Joe Posnanski and comedy showrunner extraordinaire Michael Schur. Together, in poring over this year’s list of eligible players, they manage to give a helpful overview of an entire generation of recent baseball history while skewering the very pillars of sports punditry. Even for folks apathetic towards baseball, listen for Schur’s delightfully contrarian takes (and then go check out the duo’s absurdist masterpiece, last year’s Alphabet Draft).
From the title on down, this show is a delight primarily because Will Hines and the rotating cast of co-hosts have an overarching sense of self-awareness. “SIWJGTATB” (your new favorite acronym) is a comprehensive, track-by-track look at the entire band’s discography, delivered with a perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek commentary and knowledgable musical analysis. And with four hosts at a time, there’s plenty of room for playful disagreement about any album or song’s relative merits. It’s the ideal middle ground between casual fan and haughty obsessive, done from the perspective of comedians who know just how to keep the whole thing rolling along.
Interviews with composers can be hit-or-miss. Some stick to the vagueries of film discussions and speak generally about character or the vision of the film’s director. But there’s something about Hrishikesh Hirway’s talks that can get to the heart of a film score in a way that few others can. In detailing the inspirations behind his heartbreaking score for the critical juggernaut “Moonlight,” Nicholas Britell’s describes just how the music underneath each of the three sections of the film connect to each other. One particular reveal about one particular string instrument’s role in all three is as jaw-droppingly satisfying as anything the show’s ever done.
The uninterrupted storytelling style of “This is Actually Happening” has the effect of stumbling on someone holding court at a bar, regaling friends and strangers alike of their life’s most memorable moment. Even though the subject of this episode, with a background in journalism, has a knack for carefully weaving a yarn like this, this show routinely shows how traumatic events can turn us into master storytellers, even as they shake us to the core. It’s a tale of mistaken identity and narrow escapes that’s as vivid as it would be on any-sized screen.
Written by Casper Kelly (he of “Too Many Cooks” fame), this scripted two-hander is a similar deep dive into time-warped artifice, with plenty of cruel twists along the way. Seesawing back and forth between a straightforward store transaction and a life-or-death spiral into a different dimension, it carries the same production hallmarks that makes “The Truth” one of the podcast world’s preeminent sources of audio fiction. Lauren Adams and Peter Grosz prove that, in addition to being invaluable parts of two of TV’s best comedies (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Veep,” respectively), they can anchor something even more eerie and sinister.
Andrea Silenzi’s weekly exploration into the dating world is quickly taking on an unexpected life of its own. One of the show’s surprise secondary characters took center stage this month as ex-ad man Randy featured prominently in back-to-back episodes. What “Why Oh Why” does best is give its subjects a chance to prove themselves, to operate under the initial assumption that, overall, people’s intentions are generally (and hopefully) sincere. What Randy does with that opportunity is the best example of why dating/strangers/life represents such a unique challenge (and why this show continues to surprise in the best of ways).