Top spots are always tough but there was no lingering over the dredges this week.
10. (NO CHANGE) Stuff You Should Know
Episode Ranked: Road Rage
Stuff You Should Know has no structure. Jad and Chosh unceremoniously launch into their subject without prompting and meander from point to point on the power of whimsy. Their aimless conversations require dogged attention to follow, but offer no compensation fro all the work. It’s like following a drunken man who’s got a general idea of how to get to his cabin in the woods only he doesn’t follow any trails and when you arrive – after taking a detour through a swamp and an angry bramble thicket – you only a two-by-four leaned against a tree with a shower curtain draped over it and the drunken woodsman already asleep on the ground.
The only thing worst than the podcast itself is the interminable rambling it inspires me to conjure up for the Power Rankings. I didn’t anticipate despising any top-ten podcast the way I despise SYSK so I didn’t come into this with a plan to jettison my excess hate fuel, but I’m working on a fix.
According to the Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! what’s hotter than jokes about Kim Kardashian’s world-breaking ass?
Jokes about Donald Trump!
8. (NO CHANGE) The TED Radio Hour
Episode Ranked: Tranformations
I feel a bit guilty when I don’t like the show because usually the people featured have stories worth listening to. However, I don’t think TED Radio Hour does a great job presenting those stories. So.
It was fine. The second story was memorable and leads nicely into…
7. (Re-Entry) Fresh Air
Episode Ranked: Jake Gyllenhall/ Tangerine Filmmakers
…a joyful interview with Tangerine director Sean Baker and its star Mia Taylor. I didn’t know anything about the movie before the interview but Baker and Taylor’s adoration for the project moved it into “gotta see” territory – despite Terry Gross not exactly knowing how to talk to former-sex-worker Taylor.
Jake Gyllenhall was, no surprise, utterly charming and interesting. If Mystery Show has taught anything it’s that Gyllenhall is always game. Well, probably, anyway. What can we ever know about him?
6. (-3) This American Life
Episode Ranked: Amusement Parks
Worlds of Fun! I’ve been there! It’s like Cedar Point but hotter and not as large. But anyway, the main story about the world’s best amusement park games manager had all the juicy insider bits I like best in This American Life, but also a weird ending where Ira Glass just wanted said manager to admit how sad his life was.
5. (-4) Freakonomics
Episode Ranked: Aziz Ansari Needs a New Toothbrush
This felt like a weird fit for Freakonomics but Ansari’s focused work on his new book provided a good entry point for an easy, insightful conversation.
4. (Re-Entry) The Nerdist
Episode Ranked: Sir Ian McKellen
Sir sounded as cool in this interview as he looks in this picture:
Just look at it. Savor it. Learn from it.
3. (-1) WTF? with Marc Maron
Episode Ranked: Wyatt Cenac
In addition to Cenac’s surprising story about his relationship with John Stewart during his time working for the Daily Show, there’s plenty else from his life to warrant a listen. Maron often gets flack for trying to make interviews about himself but he listens intently and leads the conversation with a deft touch.
2. (NEW ENTRY!) The Late Show Podcast with Stephen Colbert
Episode Ranked: Abba-Dabba Doo
I rolled my eyes when I first heard about The Late Show Podcast, thinking it would be an outlet for the occasional sketch or a place to dump rejected material (even after writing a review). But after listening to the show, I don’t think Colbert works that way. While TLSP isn’t breaking new ground in podcasting but it is surprisingly candid.
This episode featured Colbert and his new band leader Jon Baptiste. I haven’t cared about late night television in – well, I don’t know that I ever have, but I am genuinely excited to see what these two create together.
1. (Re-Entry) The Moth
Episode Ranked: Kate Braestrup and Pilar Sinan
There’s nothing I can add to Braestrup’s stunning, beautiful story.
Note: Due to an error in accounting at the podcast bursar, entry number six has been lost. We apologize for the inconvenience.
10. (NO CHANGE) Stuff You Should Know
Episode Ranked: Brickfilm
Stuff You Should Know: the Nickelback of podcasts.
Nothing in the Age of Information is more useful to the inquiring mind than a healthy dose of doubt and skepticism. When sweeping, life-changing pronouncements from favored media outlets come as easily traffic reports and obituaries, I sometimes feel as if the side-eye I’m casting will be permanently stuck in that position. Yes, humans are doing mind-meltingly cool things and learning more about our world at the same time – but how can we tell the difference between scientific fact and bloviated aspiration or fear-mongering?
10. (NO CHANGE) Stuff You Should Know
Episode Ranked: Mosquitoes: the Worst
Never in your information-directed podcast should you say “I’ve heard that’s true but I don’t really know,” with regard to the subject about which you are informing your audience.
9. (NEW!) Note to Self
Episode Ranked: What Divorce by Algorithm Means for Marriage
It’s still a bit mind-boggling to me that there’s a podcast that’s popular enough to be at the top of the charts, from a widely-known podcast network, in my range of interest, and that I had never heard of before I took a look at the charts.
As far as the actual podcast is concerned… it was fine, if not a bit breathless with regards to the potential of startups. Using algorithms to help facilitate divorce is interesting and the podcast handled it fine, but I never felt like I knew what they were really trying to say. I’ve said time and again: a podcast’s most valuable asset is its unique perspective. This episode, at least, didn’t have it. Still, I won’t dread listening if it pops up again.
It’s Monday. Time for Power Rankings.
And this week, an extra dose of exclamation marks!
10. (NO CHANGE) Stuff You Should Know
Episode Ranked: Are You My Mother?: How Animal Imprinting Works
I’ve begun approaching this show like an eating challenge. I imagine myself as a sort of Kobayashi, except instead of eating as many hot dogs as I can I try to see how long I can listen to this show before I completely tune out. I made it to minute nineteen of this episode before I gave and and marked it as listened to.
For context, I was listening to this episode while I was doing a menial but necessary task at work. It’s literally mindless. That means that I would rather be alone with my own thoughts rather than have to listen to this podcast.
And this is their job! This is what these guys do for their life. I don’t understand.
I’m not bitter. I’m not angry. I just want to know: why do you all like this show?
9. (-7) Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
Episode Ranked: Mindy Kaling
I wish I’d done the Power Rankings for the week of 6/8 so I could have covered the Kim Kardashian episode because it probably would have been at least a little bit interesting. I don’t know because I don’t want to waste any more time on this show than is absolutely necessary for writing this feature which, besides the shows that perpetually reside at the bottom, I generally enjoy.
This week I figured out why WWDTM is so grating: the artifice. Host Peter Sagal’s jokes are predictable and unfunny but that’s fine. It’s inoffensive in and of itself. But it doesn’t end there. He delivers his still-birth of comedy and suddenly the panel erupts into guffaws like he’s the Second Coming of Richard Pryor or something. Never go full guffaw when a polite chuckle would suffice. That’s like, etiquette 101.
8. (+1) TED Radio Hour
Episode Ranked: Shifting Time
[Paraphrase of an actual conversation]
Host: Why are humans so bad at predicting what they’ll be like in ten years?
Guest: Well, isn’t it funny – but humans can’t actually see into the future!
Host: Wait – you mean people can predict future events based on past events?
Guest: No – it’s almost as if they ALL experience time as a linear phenomena!
7. (Re-Entry) Radiolab
Episode Ranked: Eye in the Sky
I actually really liked this episode while it was focused on the story. But sweet mother of jump cuts they really need to lay off the overlapping speech effect. I know the guys at RL kind of pioneered the technique but we don’t need every segment to be dialectical ping pong.
6. (+2) Freakonomics
Episode Ranked: Make Me a Match
I am not a smart man but I knew where this was going way before Dubner and guest arrived at their actual conclusion. You see this groundbreaking method for connecting people to kidneys has been around in boardgaming circles for quite a while, and was probably used among different hobbyists before that. It’s called a math trade.
Everyone makes a list of games they want and games they have to trade. Then you run it through a script and it makes connections with people and games that are rarely one-to-one trades and is usually a convoluted string that ends up with me getting something cool in exchange for something crappy I had lying around.
Why we haven’t been applying this to body parts before now is befuddling.
5. (-2) Fresh Air
Episode Ranked: Best of – Judd Apatow, Inside Out Reviewed, Comedian Kumail Nanjiani
Boy was that a weird interview with Najiani or was it just me? The interviewer plays a clip of Nanjiani’s standup and says “remember when you said that?” and he has to scramble to do the interviewers job of coming up with an actual question. The interview was good despite the strangeness of the conversation, not because of any deftness by the interviewer.
4. (NO CHANGE) The Moth
Episode Ranked: The Moth Radio Hour – Pizza, Polar Bears, and Rock Stars
Sled dogs! Polar bears! Acts of deity-defiance expressed through melted cheese and cured meats!
This episode had everything.
3. (+2) This American Life
Episode Ranked: #323 – The Super
My love for Alex Blumberg is well documented by cheesy crisps that second segment pissed me off. Get your shaggy-dog stories out of here, Blumberg!
2. (NEW!) Lore
Episode Ranked: The Castle
I really like Lore, but I like it best when there’s supernatural ambiguity afoot. This was a good episode but wow, all the dead children were a real bummer.
1. (NO CHANGE) Mystery Show
Episode Ranked: Case #5 Source Code
Gimlet are on fire.
Last week’s episode of Startup was an emotional payoff for a rocky second season.
Reply All left me in shambles with #28 Shipped to Timbuktu.
Case #3 of Mystery Show was one of the best podcast episodes I’ve ever heard. Though this episode doesn’t quite reach those heights it is still so much fun. There’s no emotional-wrecking ball by way of a one-off conversation with a Jake Gyllenhall fan club president as I’ve come to expect from Kine’s conversations with assorted tertiary characters. But I laughed out loud several times and was delighted and charmed by the conclusion.
Sometimes I don’t want to write reviews or recommendations.
Sometimes I just want to write out my listening log.
7:20AM: Trends Like These – Monday Minisode 5 Rachel Dolezal
My listening habits are guided by my emotional state much more than a duty to follow any particular show. Lately I’ve been feeling like I just want to be entertained and Trends Like These fills that need nicely. Not all the McElroy offshoots work for me but there’s an lightness to TLT that makes it easy for my attention to drift in and out without feeling at a loss.
I’m not sure how I feel about two white dudes talking about Rachel Dolezal, however, it seems like Travis and Brett handled the topic as well as can be expected.