This is the third year in a row we’ve recommended podcasts to TIME readers. It’s a testament to the growth of the medium that we are able easily to fill a list with 50 new shows each year. Many of the pods on this year’s roundup try to explain our current political and social moment. Several miniseries from 2019 try to contextualize complicated news stories that have dominated headlines — the rise and fall of Silicon Valley phenom Elizabeth Holmes, the arrest and suicide football star Aaron Hernandez, the trial of sexually abusive gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
But for the most part, I tried to find podcasts that put me in a good mood when I want to escape the news cycle. There are probably a disproportionate number of pop culture podcasts on here. But what can I say? I really like watching an old movie and then listening to people talk about it for hours on end. That brings me joy. Hopefully you can find something on this list that brings you joy too.
I also encourage podcast newbies to check out our lists from 2018 and 2017. Some shows featured on those roundups remain in my weekly rotation, including news podcast The Daily, parenting podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, The FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast, movie podcast Blank Check With Griffin and David, tech podcast Reply All, queer-focused podcast Nancy and—recently—Serial‘s third (and, in my opinion, best) season.
Why You Should Listen: This year, on the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing on America’s shores, the New York Times launched the 1619 Project. The wide-ranging series, which aims to give new context and grapple with the complicated legacy of slavery in the United States, included a podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones that tells that story through narrative, archival audio and essay-like observations. Different New York Times writers offer their invaluable insights, most notably in the third episode, “The Birth of American Music,” which Pulitzer-winning critic Wesley Morris begins with a meditation on the carefree joys of yacht rock and traces the origins of that genre — and all quintessentially American sound — to its roots in black American music.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Episode 3: The Birth of American Music with Wesley Morris”
2 Black Girls, 1 Rose
Why You Should Listen: Bachelor and Bachelorette superfans Natasha Scott and Justine Kay aren’t afraid to call out the sexist and racist blunders of the often-problematic show on their podcast, 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose. Snarky weekly awards (“Becky of the Week,” “Invitation to the Cookout”) and hilarious commentary will keep anyone who tunes into America’s favorite guilty pleasure laughing. But the pair’s discussions also provide important context for a reality TV universe that encapsulates an intriguing and occasionally toxic aspect of the cultural landscape.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “It’s Hard Being a Bachelor Fan”
Why You Should Listen: Men in Blazers co-host Roger Bennett revisits the U.S. Men’s Soccer team’s catastrophic bid for the 1998 World Cup. Bennett, a British transplant who became obsessed with American soccer, brings a sense of irreverence to the travesty. Through interviews with the players, coaches and management, Bennett pieces together a story about a team crushed under great expectations. If you love soccer, this podcast will make for a fun diversion.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Episode 1: The Dream (On) Team”
Genre: News & Politics
Why You Should Listen: The Trump era has ushered in a host of excellent political podcasts, including an entire network dedicated to the #resistance. But in a landscape of increasingly polarized opinions, the New York Times makes a compelling case for listening. Opinion columnists David Leonhardt, Michelle Goldberg and Ross Douthat debate every week on a different, timely topic. Though some stances will surely infuriate listeners, everyone will learn how the other side thinks.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “The Abortion Argument”
Genre: True Crime
Why You Should Listen: Bear Brook examines a particularly disturbing cold case that dates back to 1985: Police found four unidentified bodies in barrels in New Hampshire’s Bear Brook State Park. NHPR beat reporter Jason Moon tells a thoughtful story that takes listeners across the U.S. in search of a serial killer. But what sets this true crime story apart from others is a side plot: Police eventually identified the victims using a popular genealogy site. The podcast raises intriguing ethical questions about what people are actually consenting to when they upload information about their DNA onto public databases.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “EP 1: Hide and Seek”
Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People
Why You Should Listen: The premise is simple: Comedian Chris Gethard talks on the phone to an anonymous listener for one hour. In each episode, Gethard offers a master class in empathy. He subtly encourages callers to share more details about their lives while remaining respectful of their privacy. Even within an episode the topics can span from the serious (a gay man raised in the Mormon church discusses his struggle with faith and sexuality) to the trivial (that same man talking about electric scooters littering the streets of Salt Lake City). The podcast reached a moment of transcendence last year when a survivor of a mass shooting called in to share the details of her experience. Despite not knowing any of the guests’ identities, this is definitely my favorite interview show.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “132. I Survived A Mass Shooting”
Genre: News & Politics
Why You Should Listen: A number of questions lingered even after a judge sentenced Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse. Chief among them: How did Nassar get away with hurting so many women and girls for so long? Through interviews with survivors, hosts Lindsey Smith and Kate Wells try to explain how Nassar established his reputation as a “good guy” and how the people around him ignored or even enabled his behavior. It’s not always an easy listen, but it’s an essential one as listeners are forced to examine society’s larger role in one monster’s crimes.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “The Good Guy”
The Big One
Why You Should Listen: It’s hard to understand inevitable devastation in the abstract. We know California is due for a massive earthquake that could hit any second, but we don’t like to think about the details — the buildings that will collapse, the people who will be trapped, the lives that will be lost. To confront the possibilities would only spur existential dread. But that’s exactly what the Big One aims to do, putting you in the shoes of someone in downtown Los Angeles experiencing the earthquake as it happens. The podcast isn’t entirely fiction: Host and KPCC science reporter Jacob Margolis interviews earthquake survivors, scientists and even LA’s mayor about the inevitable disaster and its consequences. Helpfully, the podcast also offers tips to California residents about how best to make it through the crisis.
Episode to Get Hooked On:
The Birth Hour
Why You Should Listen: We don’t talk enough about the reality of giving birth and what the miracle of life does to women’s bodies. Many women enter pregnancy without enough information and must educate themselves about not only bodily changes but complications and problems as they experience them. It can be strange and scary. Bryn Huntpalmer does the important work of interviewing women about the most intimate moment of their lives. Each episode presents a new birth story, told in painstaking detail, from morning sickness to the medical lingo overheard in the delivery room. This is helpful listening for mothers but should be required listening for anyone considering parenthood, any partner who wants to support their pregnant spouse and any boss setting parental leave policies.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “407 | Empowering VBAC After Fearful C-Section”
Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood
Why You Should Listen: In a world where white, straight men still dominate movie criticism, an ongoing analysis of how Hollywood handle issues of race is essential. Comedians and hosts Jonathan Braylock, Jerah Milligan and James III rank movies based on their representation of race. The discussions can trend serious, especially around the Oscars. During last year’s awards season, they published an excellent and exhaustive discussion of BlacKkKlansman and the legacy of Spike Lee, and the best analysis to date of why Best Picture-winner Green Book is problematic. But episodes about popcorn flicks like Escape Room are just plain fun.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Green Book”
Why You Should Listen: As host Allison Behringer delves into various “medical mysteries,” it becomes clear that the show’s true objective is to examine why medical professionals have failed to sufficiently study and treat women’s ailments, from debilitating menstrual cramps to trouble breastfeeding. The show begins with Berhinger’s own medical dilemma: It hurts when she has sex, and the doctors she sees dismiss her struggle. Her frank and moving discussion of her own pain sets the stage for stories that will sound familiar to women and should be mandatory listening for men.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Sex Hurts”
Caught: The Lives of Juvenile Justice
Genre: News & Politics
Why You Should Listen: While many true crime podcasts focus on wrongly convicted inmates, Caught takes a more intriguing route. The show follows a handful of underage criminals who were actually caught committing a crime and — often because of a combination of their race, their zip code and bad luck — are now serving time. Unburdened by questions about guilt or innocence, host Kai Wright takes a critical and essential look at the juvenile criminal justice system and how it helps or hurts young, impressionable teenagers. Many of the stories will pull at your heartstrings.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Episode 1: ‘I Just Want You to Come Home'”
Genre: True Crime
Why You Should Listen: The Clearing is both a true crime podcast and a critique of true crime podcasts rolled into one. That’s a good thing considering that a lot of shows in the genre indulge their hosts’ worst instincts, spending too much time on unsupported conspiracy theories or focusing on the killer over the victims. The subject of The Clearing, however, is not killer Edward Wayne Edwards, but his daughter, April Balascio. As she reached middle age, Balascio began to wonder if her father might actually be a murder and called the police with her suspicions, eventually leading to his arrest in a cold case. Reporter Josh Dean explores not just how police cracked Edwards’ case but, more importantly, how the killer’s infamy impacted his family. Balascio is an essential part of the show, conducting interviews and offering insights into her father’s strange habits, imbuing an often soulless genre with real pathos.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “1. Hunting Season”
Cocaine and Rhinestones
Why You Should Listen: Whether you are a fan of country music or not, Cocaine and Rhinestones offers a fascinating look at the genre throughout the 20th century. In one standout episode, host Tyler Mahan Coe examines why radio stations banned Loretta Lynn’s single “The Pill” but not songs performed by men about birth control and abortion. Coe is refreshingly opinionated and the episodes are meticulously researched. But his passion for the genre is what makes the show pop.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “The Pill: Why Was Loretta Lynn Banned?”
Why You Should Listen: Hosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji explore culture and society through the prism of race and ethnicity. The topics are often personal, delving into the complicated dynamics of redefining one’s ethnicity after receiving unexpected results on a DNA test or a deep exploration of how colonialism and Western values impacted beauty standards in Korea and, much later, the rise of K-beauty that is now sweeping the West. The show contextualizes current phenomena in America’s charged racial history.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Pretty Hurts”
Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
Why You Should Listen: Interview podcasts are nothing new. Plus, there’s already countless podcasts where comedians interview other comedians — each with a gimmick. Conan O’Brien’s particular schtick is that he doesn’t have any real friends (not on his payroll) and hopes to bond with his guests. Thankfully, he dispenses with this premise a few minutes into each episode and reverts back to the skills that help make him the longest-working late-night host in the U.S.: his weird vibe charms and disarms guests, along with a genuine curiosity about his subjects. The latter is no small thing: a lot of celebrity podcasts exist simply to amplify the voice of the interviewer rather than learn anything new from the interviewee.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “1. Will Ferrell”
Why You Should Listen: Slate critic Willa Paskin’s monthly podcast tackles a new pop culture mystery. So far, every episode has been completely engrossing. She began with an examination of a group of Sherlock fans convinced that John Watson (played by Martin Freeman) and Sherlock Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) would become a couple. The contingent defended the theory with passion, eventually even harassing and starting fights with Sherlock fans who disagreed with them. The Sherlock creators eventually expressed doubts about the future of the series simply because the toxicity of the fandom has become so overwhelming. Paskin examines the many factors that contributed to this controversy‚ from a genuine desire to see gay characters on TV to an evolving feeling among fans that they, not the writers, know what’s best for a character. With each case study — from a viral shark song to our obsession with “sad Jennifer Aniston” — Paskin gets closer to identifying why people cling to what may seem like arbitrary tidbits of popular culture.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “The Johnlock Conspiracy”
Dolly Parton’s America
Why You Should Listen: With this podcast, Radiolab co-creator Jad Abumrad dispels any notion that Dolly Parton is a punchline. Instead, he presents her as one of the best and most radical lyricists of our era. Pulling from 12 hours of interviews he did with the country legend, archival interviews with Parton and analysis from music journalists, Abumrad masterfully traces the arc of Parton’s career — from writing about banned topics like pregnancy, abortion and domestic abuse to her more joyful fare. He argues that analyzing her universal appeal, regardless of listeners’ background or politics, will help us understand America at this particular moment. (A hint to listeners: listen through all the credits of episode two to hear the fascinating story behind “I Will Always Love You.”)
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Sad Ass Songs”
Why You Should Listen: One in five American households is involved in a multi-level marketing company. And yet studies show that 99% of the participants in multi-level marketing companies lose money. So why do MLMs, which regulators have tried to prove are just cleverly veiled pyramid schemes, continue to thrive in the United States? Host Jane Marie returns to her Michigan hometown to investigate how these companies prey upon people — particularly women who need to flexible work options because they have children at home and can’t afford or a nanny or are military wives constantly moving around — by appealing to them using the language of modern feminism and the gig economy. If you’re not outraged by the end of this podcast, then you weren’t paying attention.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Episode 1: Wanna Swim in Cash?”
Genre: News & Politics
Why You Should Listen: Scam season never ends. There’s no better example of that than Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced Theranos founder who lied to doctors and patients about the test results for her blood testing technology and to investors about the company’s finances. With her trial set for the summer of 2020, Holmes remains an object of fascination, the subject of a bestselling book, a documentary and now a podcast. Holmes’ story lends itself to the audio format, in part because the quixotic entrepreneur had a jarringly low voice — which the podcast suggests she might have faked to be taken more seriously. Nightline’s Rebecca Jarvis brings the program’s usual rigorous reporting to this new format, including deposition tapes that have never before been heard publicly and undercut statements Holmes made previously. If you’re obsessed with her rise and fall, it’s worth a listen.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “The Downfall”
Everything Is Alive
Why You Should Listen: Everything Alive is like no podcast you’ve ever listened to before, and that’s a wonderful thing. In every episode, Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me vet Ian Chillag interviews an inanimate object — everything from a Pregnancy Test to an Elevator — played by a different improvisor. The result is a series of hilarious and surprisingly deep conversations. In an episode about a Grain of Sand, the Grain explains why he thinks of himself in the plural — one among many grains — and how if humans did the same, we would live in a more empathetic society. That Grain of Sand might be on to something.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Chioke, Grain of Sand”
Why You Should Listen: What better way to prepare for 2020 than by reliving the catastrophe that was the Bush-Gore election in 2000? Slow Burn alum Leon Neyfakh takes the same approach to his new podcast, breaking down the various factors that led to the 2000 recount — the Elián González controversy, hanging chads and a total overhaul in the way that news outlets decide to call elections — and drawing unspoken parallels between past events and our current political situation. After 2016, it might not come as a surprise that we’re very bad at predicting voter behavior. Things only become clear once the ballots are finally counted.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Homestead”
Genre: Fashion and Beauty
Why You Should Listen: I’m not a serum person, or really a makeup person, so I was skeptical starting a podcast that dedicates a fair amount of time to skincare routines. But Forever35 has a passionate following, and with good reason. Hosts Doree Shafrir and Kate Spencer emphasize they are not experts, which makes for a relatable discussion. And they are as interested in general wellness practices — meal planning, organizing your Google calendar, yoga — as they are into masks and mascara. While there’s been some debate over the recent skincare and wellness craze, Forever35 successfully argues that women need to take care of themselves mentally and physically, in whatever form that may take. And that is a valuable message.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Ep 58: To Do or Not to Do With Alison Roman”
Food 4 Thot
Why You Should Listen: A mix of queer writers host a rosé-fueled podcast about everything from identity politics to poetry to bad hookup stories. Hosts Tommy Pico, Fran Tirado, Dennis Norris II and Joe Osmundson swing from the entertaining (like when they play “Swipe Right, Swipe Left” on cultural icons and news topics) to the serious, like how to navigate the gym as a non-binary person. Sex positivity is a major theme of each episode, a topic still all-too-rare in the podcasting world.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “New Year, Same Queers”
Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness
Why You Should Listen: Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness is genuinely a great interviewer. He brings the same energy and emotional intelligence to his talks with Reese Witherspoon as he does to his interviews with, say, an expert on Latin American politics. No matter the topic, he’s eager to learn more. Episodes have catchy titles like, “How Can We Be Less Rude to Bees?” and can make overwhelming topics like mental health issues or climate change feel more accessible to the casual listener.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Who Are You, Tan? with Tan France”
Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.
Why You Should Listen: Boston Globe’s Spotlight team (yes, that Spotlight team) distills the complex story of Aaron Hernandez into six engrossing episodes. Hernandez’s arrest and subsequent suicide sparked sensational headlines about his sexuality as well as more considered and sobering ones about the effects playing football has on the brain. But the Spotlight team digs deep into his tumultuous relationship with his father, the University of Florida system that enabled players’ bad behavior and finally, a sport that decimates athletes physically and mentally. It’s a sobering portrait of the horrible effect of toxic masculinity on one person.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Hail Mary | 1”
The Horror of Dolores Roach
Why You Should Listen: The best horror is just heightened, engaging social commentary. Dolores Roach is no exception. After serving a 16-year prison sentence for pot possession, Dolores Roach returns to her old home in Washington Heights, only to find the neighborhood has gentrified. Dolores struggles to contend with the change — in fact, she descends into madness, at which point the podcast takes a Sweeney Todd-esque turn. Daphne Rubin-Vega, who played Mimi in the original Broadway production of Rent, brings true humanity to a bonkers story.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “1. All the Gory Details”
In the Dark
Genre: True Crime
Why You Should Listen: The best podcast to emerge from the true crime boom, In the Dark examined the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man tried six times for the same murder by the same white prosecutor. Host Madeleine Baran takes an admirable boots-on-the-ground approach to the material, moving to Winona, Miss., to insinuate herself in Flowers’ community and glean the sorts of information that drop-in reporters simply cannot. Baran and her team added more episodes this past spring when the Supreme Court took on Flowers’ case.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “S2 E1: July 16, 1996”
Last Days of August
Why You Should Listen: Jon Ronson, the author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, has a special interest in social media’s role in excoriating public and private figures. In his most recent podcast, he examines a particularly disturbing example of the phenomenon: A porn star named August Ames killed herself in December 2017 after being attacked online for something she tweeted. But as Ronson digs into her story, he finds other factors may have contributed to her death. Ronson, who reported on the porn industry in his podcast 2017 The Butterfly Effect, is aided in his quest to understand August by his previous reporting. He handles an emotionally fraught story with a surprisingly sensitive touch. The result is one of the most moving podcasts of the year.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Chapter 1”
Genre: News & Politics
Why You Should Listen: This long-running NPR podcast consistently puts out excellent episodes exploring Latinx culture, from an examination of Hollywood’s obsession with stories set in Mexico to the stand-off between Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó in Venezuela. One of its most effective recent episodes explored one reporter’s personal struggle to reconcile her love of Junot Diaz’s work — and its rare representation of her own life experience — with the accusations of sexual misconduct levied against the author. The nuanced episode was one of the more satisfying explorations of the fallout of #MeToo.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Junot & Me (Too)”
Left Right and Center
Genre: News & Politics
Why You Should Listen: This is another political podcast that advocates productive debate. Host Josh Barro (who represents the center and acts as moderator) endeavors to keep the discourse civilized, even as guests from opposing sides of the aisle respond to up-to-the-minute political news. Left, Right and Center offers a more newsy view on politics than many other podcasts in this genre. News junkies should add it to their queue.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Supersize Lies”
Little Gold Men
Why You Should Listen: If you care about the Oscars, you should probably be listening to Little Gold Men. Vanity Fair culture writers and critics debate what should and shouldn’t win awards and discuss the behind-the-scenes campaigns that elevate a project from critical darling to Academy Award winner. The podcast runs throughout the year, recording dispatches from film festivals and focusing on television during Emmy season. But the show really heats up around the Oscars when Richard Lawson, Katey Rich, Mike Hogan and Joanna Robinson and a rotating series of guests obsess over every snub and scandal in the lead-up to Hollywood’s biggest night.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Predicting the 2020 Oscars”
Why You Should Listen: Anyone remotely interested in the writing process should tune into this podcast. Hosts Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky and Evan Ratliff invite journalists like New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell and New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman to talk about their work, their process and, most crucially, their journey to their current position. Writers, editors and anyone who enjoys movies like Spotlight will geek out over the discussions of process — like the small aside an interviewee makes that breaks a story. But even if you’re not interested in writing, the emotional journeys will resonate with you: It turns out just about every person with a recognizable byline has experienced imposter syndrome.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “#354: Jia Tolentino”
Why You Should Listen: This lived-in story pulls sounds directly from the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, drawing the listener into the neighborhood of its protagonist Paul (voiced by Joel Kim Booster). Paul is an aspiring podcaster — and the show takes some well-deserved jabs at an industry still dominated by straight, white men — but has found himself floundering in adulthood. Despite Paul’s ability to communicate emotion on audio, he struggles with conversations in real life, particularly with his mother. She speaks primarily Korean, and he has never managed to grasp the language. The linguistic barrier creates an emotional one, and Paul admits to a new boyfriend that he has not yet come out to his mother. The story trusts non-Korean speakers to follow some Korean dialogue and, in doing so, explores how people understand each other, though language or deeds.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Chapter 1: Into The Past”
No Feeling Is Final
Why You Should Listen: Australian podcaster Honor Eastly has pulled off something rare, creating a visceral podcast about mental health. She takes listeners inside her own head and narrates her panic, anxiety and fear as she navigates getting insurance to cover her therapy sessions or her view of a balloon on the floor of a hospital during a debilitating bout of depression. Her humor and musical stylings add lightness to a heavy subject and endear her to listeners so that when she tackles more heady topics — like why she struggles with suicidal thoughts while her identical twin sister does not — we’re already hooked.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “00 | Hi, My Name Is HONOR”
Why You Should Listen: The science podcast Ologies is engrossing, funny and educational. Host Alie Ward interviews experts about all sorts of ologies — from cheloniology (sea turtles) to mixology (cocktails) to biogerontology (aging). Her basic questions for brilliant people can lead to life life-changing revelations, like when a fearologist explains how to calm your brain down when it begins to freak out for biological, but not practical, reasons.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Fearology Pts. 1 and 2 with Mary Poffenroth”
Why You Should Listen: This is easily one of the funniest podcasts on air. Each episode, hosts Rob Norman and Andrew Norton try to help people who want to improve themselves — a messy eater, a terrible flirter, an over-sleeper — with insane gambits. The messy eater is forced to keep a white shirt clean during an eating contest; the person who can’t flirt over text is made to interact with an actress playing her doppelgänger; the over-sleeper has to walk through “a haunted house of lessons.” Every quirky episode will brighten your day.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “The Doppelgänger”
Genre: News & Politics
Why You Should Listen: Nashville Public Radio dives into the lives of a group of people living in a housing project in the middle of being redeveloped. The podcast manages both to reckon with the larger problems of public housing developments — how gentrification impacts longtime residents, what a city owes to its citizens, the complicated relationship between police and the community — and with more personal stories from current and prospective tenants. One particularly compelling storyline with an unexpected turn follows an uneasy relationship between two sets of neighbors in different income brackets.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Part 1: A Change is Gonna Come”
Punch Up the Jam
Why You Should Listen: Comedians Miel Bredouw and Demi Adejuyigbe are both hysterical and excellent at songwriting. Those prove essential skills for their podcast, in which they try to “fix” popular songs like “Last Christmas,” “Africa” and “Come on Eileen” by writing parody versions. In many circumstances, that means casting songs with problematic lyrics like “It Wasn’t Me” in a new light. Adejuyigbe punctuates the absurdity of the gaslighting taking place in that song by reframing it as the story of a murder. The new tune will have you doubled over in laughter.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “It Wasn’t Me (w/ Ify Nwadiwe)
Why You Should Listen: Need a good excuse to revisit a favorite old movie? A rotating group of Ringer staffers discuss the films they rewatch the most, from The Dark Knight to Die Hard to My Best Friend’s Wedding. They analyze each film using a handful of superlatives, like calling out which actors were at the peak of their power during filming, and who wins the “they knew!” overacting award. No matter who is in the roundtable, the hosts bring a passion to their analysis that sets this podcast apart from other pop-culture focused podcasts.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “‘The Social Network’ With Bill Simmons, Sean Fennessey, and Chris Ryan”
Why You Should Listen: Inspired by a standup set he performed on 2 Dope Queens, Chris Garcia spins his quest to fulfill his father’s dying wish—to have his ashes scattered off the coast of Cuba—into a podcast about his parents’ experience as immigrants. Garcia’s father experienced traumas that he carried with him for the rest of his life after leaving Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Garcia lightens the heavy tale with jokes about starting out in America and inspirational tales of his father’s love of space. Garcia’s story, and others like it, are a crucial reminder of the bravery and tenacity of families seeking out their own American dream.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “1. Soy Andres, a Tus Pies”
Why You Should Listen: Kaitlin Prest, the masterful creator of The Heart, ventures into fiction with The Shadows. This podcast is a gorgeous and sometimes uncomfortably intimate tale about a puppeteer falling in and out of love with her partner. You’ll feel like you’re inside the bedroom where the two characters joke together, snipe at one another and even fall into bed. Though the story, based loosely on Prest’s own life, hews to certain stereotypes about millennials struggling to express their feelings out loud, it will feel familiar to anyone who has had to weigh a desire to fall in love with a fear of commitment.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Episode 1: Romantic”
Why You Should Listen: Podcasts that promise to improve your business, help you “boss up” and otherwise conquer the world are a burgeoning, if occasionally suspect, subgenre. Spectacular Failures is here to remind listeners that success isn’t so easy. Some of the most promising ideas have been brought down by hubris, family infighting and scandal, while others have been felled by bad decision-making. The podcast explores some of the most public and ridiculous business implosions in history, from brawls in the U-Haul boardroom to MoviePass’ rapid rise and fall. Perhaps the most disturbing undercurrent is the fact that so many of the founders and CEOs behind these companies — including Donald Trump, who has an episode dedicated to his Atlantic City casino fiasco — snatch up golden parachutes or simply declare bankruptcy and start over again, while workers are left without jobs. “Failing up,” it seems, has become an essential business strategy.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “MoviePass begins with plenty of drama”
Why You Should Listen: The James Beard Award-winning podcast covers all things food, from interviews with celebrity chefs to questions like whether a takeout burger is inferior to one served at a sit-down restaurant. Occasionally, the show will embark on a feature series, like excellent explorations of how we view “other people’s food” and whether chefs can cook the cuisine of a culture they weren’t born into. Last year, host Dan Pashman (also of the Cooking Channel) invited food critic and trailblazer Mimi Sheraton onto the show for a delightful series of episodes in which she answers questions on everything from how to eat alone to the culinary merit of edibles.
Episode to Get Hooked On “Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher Save Dan’s Marriage”
Switched on Pop
Why You Should Listen: If you’ve ever wondered what makes an earworm so addictive, hosts Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding have answers for you. The musicologist and the songwriter analyze how a song is made, what makes it work and why you can’t get the darn thing out of your head. Some of their best episodes also delve into what influenced a particular artist, and whether borrowed beats are meant as tribute or appropriation, from Ariana Grande’s influences to Drake’s place in the culture.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “The Deep History of ‘7 Rings'”
This Is Love
Why You Should Listen: This time around, Criminal host Phoebe Judge takes on a very different subject: Love. These aren’t romantic stories about star-crossed couples, though they do tend to be optimistic. In one episode, a former employee of Prince discusses her relationship with the famously private musician. In another, a prolific romance author discusses breaking the glass ceiling for black women in the genre. And in one of the more intriguing episodes, Judge visits a hermit and explores how to be alone. The podcast tries to decode the mystery of how our romances, obsessions and relationships drive us. Listening to it can feel like a contact high.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Episode 11: Nothing Compares to You”
Why You Should Listen: Hosts Ramtin Arablouei and Rund Abdelfatah are here to remind us that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. They illustrate how things that happened in the past led to current headline-generating moments, like how the long history of black athletes protesting at sporting events stoked the reaction to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. In another episode, they study the history of militarization at the U.S.-Mexico border that preceded Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. More than a podcast for history buffs, this is a show that will help news junkies better understand and interpret the world.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “On the Shoulders of Giants”
Why You Should Listen: This uniquely British comedy (think Fawlty Towers crossed with the British Office) from creator David K. Barnes centers on two competing funeral homes in a small village. The show, which has been airing since 2015, has managed to deepen its emotional resonance as the characters grow and change. And that’s saying something for a series that is narrated by a mouse.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Season 1 Episode 1 – The Bane of Rudyard”
Yo, Is This Racist?
Why You Should Listen: The premise of this podcast is as simple as its name: Yo, is this racist? Hosts Andrew Ti and Tawny Newsome answer listener questions, like whether you should own Tiki decor or if you ought to get a tattoo of a phrase in a language you don’t speak removed. The questions lead to refreshingly blunt conversations about everything from dog whistles to how race affects dating. Spoiler alert for potential callers: if you have to ask whether something is racist, it probably is.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “1000: We Solved Racism Special”
You’re Wrong About…
Why You Should Listen: Journalists Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall revisit major moments in history — like the Challenger space shuttle disaster or the O.J. Simpson trial — and in a conversational tone, dispel misinformation surrounding those figures and events. Each episode alternates between who does the research and who plays the layperson peppering the other host with questions. The two-part Tonya Harding series is particularly compelling: Marshall was an early advocate of revisiting Harding’s story before the movie I, Tonya came out in 2017.
Episode to Get Hooked On: “Tonya Harding, Parts 1 and 2”
Check out our lists from 2018 and 2017.
- AI Is Not an Arms Race
- The 30 Most Anticipated Movies of Summer 2023
- Here's What's in the Debt Ceiling Deal
- India’s Female Wrestlers Are Saying #MeToo
- The End of Succession
- What Erdoğan’s Victory Means for Turkey—and the World
- Why Everyone Is Having Bad Sex (Especially Young People)
- Florence Pugh Might Just Save the Movie Star From Extinction