My Favorite Podcasts of 2017 – Part 1

It seems like everyone has a podcast these days – and there are so many quality shows out there now, too. I spent a lot of hours last year listening to shows, from politics to sports to entertainment. So what stood out the most? Let’s take a look!

I fell out of regularly listening to music a while ago, and over the last couple of years I’ve used my commuting time to catch up on what’s going on in the world, or what’s funny or random stories. I spent a lot of hours listening to podcasts over the last year and a complete list of my favorites would need to spread out over a couple of days. So, much like the backlog of podcasts on my iPhone, we should get to it.

The West Wing Weekly

Running from 1999 to 2006, The West Wing is a religion for people who watched the show, an idealized world where the stewards of our democracy actually care and work for the betterment of their constituents, not themselves. Given the state of the world today, the show has probably become even more popular. So its no surprise that a podcast detailing the ins and outs of the show has also become popular among West Wing fans.

Now in its second year, each episode of The West Wing Weekly details an episode of the show, with guests who worked on the show or who work in a field related to what was going on in the episode. Getting people from the show is no surprise, as one of the co-hosts is Joshua Malina, who starred on The West Wing as Will Bailey in seasons 4-7. Even though he starred on the show, Malina isn’t all that adept at the minutia, so having devoted fan Hrishikesh Hirway as his co-host keeps the show structured and leads the discussion into interesting topics that explores the show with more modern eyes.

Exploring an episode every week means that the podcast is now into The West Wing’s fourth season, right around the time when Malina joined the cast, so the conversation on the podcast should get even more interesting as 2018 goes on. Even more interesting will be the discussions from seasons 5-7, the years after show creator Aaron Sorkin – a frequent guest on the podcast – left the show.

If you’re a fan of The West Wing, you should be listening to this show. It adds so much to the experience of the show, and it’s one of the highlights of my week.

Ask Me Another

NPR has a reputation for quirky shows broadcast on the radio, like Car Talk and the current events quiz Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me. Ask Me Another is in the same vein. A general knowledge quiz show hosted by comedian Ophira Eisenberg, Ask Me Another pits contestants against each other in themed games to see which will make the final round to compete to me an Ask Me Another Rubix Cube. The trivia competitions range from musical lyrics sung by house musician Jonathan Colton to mash-ups where contestants must pull an answer from two clues.

The best part of listening to AMA is answering the trivia questions and testing your knowledge with each episode. But it’s really a lot harder doing it on stage in front of a couple of hundred people than it is listening with headphones. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about, as I was a contestant on the show back in January. The show records at the Bellhouse, a bar in Brooklyn, and I took the plunge and… well… it didn’t go well for me. But I still had a great time and despite my embarrassment on NPR, I make sure to listen to the show in podcast form every week.

Pod Save America

One of my more recent additions to my podcast rotation, Pod Save America is a political and current events show hosted by former members of former President Barack Obama’s staff. The hosts, including Jon Favreau (not the director), Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeiffer, use the insight they gained while working inside the White House to discuss the news of the week and critique the major players.

It should come as no surprise that the conversation on the show has a liberal bent, given the hosts’ former occupations. And maybe people with more conservative ideologies should steer clear of the show lest they get annoyed with the attacks on the current administration. But for moderate and liberal listeners, the discussions are a fascinating look inside the minds of people who worked in government at the highest level, and a scathing rebuke of the way things are in the country today. The conversation is always highly insightful, and oftentimes very funny.

With the 2018 midterms just months away, Favreau, Lovett, Vietor and Pfeiffer will surely have a lot to say about contested races and major candidates, and I’m betting they’ll throw in some vitriol for those who they see as damaging the direction of the country as well.

Hollywood Babble-On

This is probably the podcast I’ve been listening to the longest, as I first discovered Hollywood Babble-On a few years back. Recorded in front of a live audience, HBO is hosted by director Kevin Smith and his pal, comedian and actor Ralph Garman. The duo spend a couple of hours discussing recent news out of Hollywood, doing impressions (Garman has more than 8 or 9, despite the jokes Smith tells) and reading mail from their fans.

The show is mostly about lewd jokes and laughs at the expense of celebrities like Justin Bieber and Lindsay Lohan (and, oddly, Lou Ferrigno, TV’s Incredible Hulk). But the friendship and camaraderie between the hosts really enhances the flow of the show, as Garman and Smith have great chemistry together and their interactions always leave me laughing hysterically. I’m sure hundreds of people have looked at me like I was a mental patient as I sat in a subway car with a big stupid grin and gaffawing while I listened to the show.

Garman, who used to work in radio in Los Angeles until he was let go in November, recently announced he would be venturing out on his own into the podcast world with a new show that debuts later this month, while continuing to co-host Hollywood Babble-On. We’ll have to see how that goes, but I’m sure I’ll be listening.

Something to Wrestle / What Happened When…

As a long-time fan of professional wrestling, who has fallen out of the current product, these shows are a great throwback to everything I used to enjoy about it. Both shows are linked by their co-host, Conrad Thompson, a mortgage guy from Alabama who used to co-host a show with wrestling legend Ric Flair.

Something To Wrestle is hosted by Bruce Prichard, who spent almost 20 years working in a senior position for the WWF/WWE. Prichard has countless stories to tell about his years working alongside Vince McMahon and behind the scenes of the biggest wrestling company in the world. While some accuse Prichard of being less-than-honest or hoping that he gets hired back by the company, the stories he does choose to tell on air are fun and he manages to give a lot of background on the creation of characters and events that otherwise haven’t fully been chronicled. Prichard’s frequent scuffles with Thompson over a variety of topics sometimes enhances the show and sometimes grinds it to a halt, though the co-hosts always manage to bring the show back to something great.

With What Happened When… former wrestling announcer Tony Schiavone – who had been out of the business for about 15 years when he started doing this show – tells stories about his time in the other major U.S. promotion, World Championship Wrestling. The show has slowly morphed from something similar to Prichard’s show to Schiavone watching old WCW events and providing new commentary along with Thompson.

That’s it for part 1. What are your favorite podcasts? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for part 2!

  • ProjectBlue

    Took me awhile to come around on Babble-On. Did a lot of the Smith podcasts and every early Babble-On just riled me up for not being Smodcast. Now that Mosier’s overseas and Smodcasts are few and far between, Babble-On’s probably the one I listen to most consistently.

    I’ve ended up cutting way back on podcasts, some just don’t put out as frequently (Nerdist), some I just got tired of (Bill Simmons).

    Pretty much Planet Money, Freakonomics, Babble-On, and TESD(Smith’s childhood friends plus Brian Quinn from Impractical Jokers) for me now