Podcasts are experiencing yet another renaissance in 2017. Missing Richard Simmons and S-Town filled the Serial-shaped gap in true crime fans’ hearts, even while they stirred controversy. When it came to interviews, hosts coaxed revelations out of the likes of Kevin Durant, Alec Baldwin and Barry Jenkins. A handful of podcasts helped process the election: A New York Times journalist talked about environmental concerns with a coal miner; three women in the media reported from the Women’s March; and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson called listeners to action. Finally, debuts of new podcasts like the LGBTQ podcast Nancy and Tavi Gevinson’s much-awaited Rookie set Twitter a-tweeting. Here are the best episodes of the year so far.
The Bill Simmons Podcast, “Ep. 174: Kevin Durant”
Kevin Durant made headlines in February for this surprisingly open interview with Bill Simmons. Durant talks about why he decided to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State and why he wanted to try his hand at playing the villain, rather than the hero. It’s the kind of conversation that proves exactly why long talks over microphones can be more illuminating than other kinds of interviews.
The Daily, “March 29, 2017: The Climate Change Battle Through One Coal Miner’s Eyes”
No matter your political views, Michael Barbaro’s emotional interview with a coal miner on the New York Times podcast will strike an emotional chord. In an attempt to understand coal country (and juxtapose it with the Times’ reporting on the urgency of climate change), Barbaro speaks to a coal miner and ends up in tears as he tries to understand his plight. Just 10 minutes of radio elucidate how divided this country is.
Death, Sex & Money, “Alec Baldwin Talks Money, Family, Fame and Cocaine”
In an episode that aired on both Death, Sex & Money and Alec Baldwin’s own podcast, Here’s the Thing, host Anna Sale grills Baldwin some deeply personal moments in his life, many of which are recorded in his memoir, Nevertheless. She asks why he didn’t stop using cocaine after an overdose, his advice to friends going through nasty divorces and why money continues to motivate him when he has so much of it? And he’s surprisingly honest in his answers.
Girl Friday, “We Went to the Women’s March on Washington!”
Recorded immediately after the Women’s March, the hosts of the podcast on women in the media—Erin Gloria Ryan, Amanda Duarte and Briana Haynie—sit down at a kitchen table for a funny, cathartic chat about their experiences at the protest. A choice quote from the episode: “For the next four years it’s f— or get f—ed. And I’m here to f—.”
Missing Richard Simmons, “1: Where’s Richard?”
Dan Taberski, an ex-Daily Show writer and devotee of Richard Simmons’ workout class, tried to hunt down the ebullient fitness guru who unexpectedly retreated into his Hollywood home three years ago. The first episode introduced a compelling and addicting premise, though later entries in the series sparked controversy. For better or worse, the podcast had everyone talking — except, of course, for Richard Simmons.
Nancy, “#1 Hello, hello”
This new series from WNYC features stories from LGBTQ voices. In the very first episode, hosts Kathy Tu and Tobin Low share their very different experiences coming out, then interview their parents about those stories. The result is an impressive debut episode that will make listeners both laugh out loud and tear up.
Pod Save the People, “American Do-Over”
The Obama staffers behind Pod Save America are expanding their audio network, and the most promising of their recruits is activist DeRay Mckesson, who emerged during the Black Lives Matter movement as a leading voice on twitter. His new podcast, Pod Save the People, lays out the news of the week and guides people on how to take action themselves. In the inaugural episode, he discusses social justice issues with Senator Cory Booker.
Rookie, “The Year of Emotions, Feat. Lorde and Hilton Als”
A spinoff of Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie — a by-teens-for-teens ‘zine — the podcast is designed to inspire and educate young women while respecting their intelligence. The charming Gevinson asks her interviewees for advice on how to deal with growing pains: In the first episode she chats with her friend Lorde about her “year of emotions” and talks to theater critic Hilton Als in a segment called ‘Ask a Grown’ that solicits counsel from grown-ups.
S-Town, “Chapter 3”
In the third episode, S-Town host Brian Reed revealed that the podcast was not what it seemed. Billed as a follow-up to true crime podcast Serial, S-Town turned out to be an exploration of the life — and death — of a fascinating but troubled man named John B. McLemore. In the episode, Reed coaxes true crime fans down a different path than the one they expected — though some listeners later became uncomfortable with where that new road led.
Still Processing, “We Relive the Oscars With Barry Jenkins”
In his first long and frank interview since the Oscar night chaos, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins reflected on the experience of watching his little film about a black, gay kid growing up in the Miami projects lose and then win the best picture award during a historical snafu at the Academy Awards. Co-hosts Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham also ask about the ripple effects of his win and his next project, an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad.