It’s the end of December now, time for everyone to write their year-in-review lists. Although, I have no idea how reviewers and columnists will be comprising their typical top-whatever lists for such an atypical year: Best Albums I Won’t See Performed Live, Best Movies I Watched In My Bathrobe. In that spirit, it seemed only fitting someone should create a list of the Top Ten Podcasts That Saved Me From Myself.
When my own commute to work was shortened from an hour on a train down to the 30 second walk from my bedroom to my home office, with it went my traditional time for enjoying podcasts. As I began to adjust to my lifestyle in quarantine, what I definitely did not expect were for podcasts to fill a void, a sense of loneliness that I (nor probably anyone else) was prepared to handle. I may never be able to thank enough the hosts of the shows that got me through 2020, who went with me on my daily walks, who spoke quietly to me when the existential dread snuck in at night, who joined me for my morning coffee when I wasn’t quite ready to open a computer yet. I wish I could offer them something more than gratitude, but gratitude is all this year has left me with.
10. Reply All
The day I received word that my office was closed until further notice, I was in the car with my dog heading back to New York for a family emergency unrelated to the emergency the world was currently spiraling into. A dear friend calmly listened to me panic-pack my car and my request for something to listen to on my six-hour car ride and sent me Reply All’s episode 158, “The Case of the Missing Hit”. This mind-boggling journey to discover how a listener has been singing a 90’s song no one knows or has ever heard of for most of his life. “This is wild,” I thought on March 12th. Frankly, I had no idea HOW wild.
9. The Last Bohemians
I’d written about my unabashed love of the first series of The Last Bohemians and the brilliance of Kate Hutchinson towards the end of 2019. So I was thrilled that Series 2 carried me over into the first month of quarantine, sharing stories of extraordinary women who had overcome obstacles, including society’s expectations of them to lead the kind of wild, beautiful lifestyle I’d always dreamt of having myself. A programme like Bohemians also helped to keep my imagination running at a time when it started to feel hard to picture a world outside of the nightmare of the virus.
8. Tuesday Night Jaw
In May, I wrote about how proud I was to see my friend Matt Richards taking over for Jim Smallman on the wrestling-focused Distractions Pieces Network show. (Side note: Matt now works with Tony Jameson on something called Football Manager Therapy, which I love even though I have no earthly idea what they’re talking about.) What Matt did with the show was wonderful, and what Kirsty Bosley has done since she took over from Matt is equally delightful and so important in the wake of the #SpeakingOut movement in wrestling. While I’ve distanced myself from wrestling as a whole for personal reasons, TNJ remains a powerful program and a beacon of positivity for an industry trying desperately to find its way to rebirth after a powerful awakening this past summer.
7. The Streets Will Remember
There’s nothing I love more than a quality recommendation, and at a time when I thought “what if I never make new friends ever again because I can’t leave my house”, a coworker introduced me to Justin and Hani’s show The Streets Will Remember, discussing some of the greatest players in football history. The way they discuss a sport notorious for a fandom that can often be gatekeeper-y is so welcoming and refreshing. Tuning in every week to two friends bantering about the footballer of the week and making lists lead me to explore more of my own fandom and kept me company during some boiling late summer days.
6. Distraction Pieces
It would be really strange if I didn’t mention Scroobius Pip and his Distraction Pieces podcast. I’ve been listening to Pip’s show for years now, so it feels more like Podcast Zero for me; when I need to center myself, I know I can count on this show to deliver. Not only did Pip manage to have an insane year of guests even in lockdown, but his back catalogue is so deep even long-time fans like me still have things to discover. And his intros and outros (or his Films of the Year podcasts, which are just him speaking to his listeners) really help combat the loneliness and feel like a friend is just chatting about their life and the world.
5. Modern Love
I am a sucker for a good story – romantic, sad, surprising, haunting – I love them all. Modern Love has a great format with well-known voices reading the stories of everyday people. My favorites are the stories of redemption, of love lost and found, of people who come back together or find one another later in life. It helps to give hope, especially at a time when it’s easy to feel like there is no future because you can’t see beyond your current circumstances. There will always be an “and then”, and Modern Love is the perfect way to remind ourselves of that.
4. About Race with Reni Eddi-Lodge
Back in June, a lot of people were participating in what’s being called “performative antiracism”, posting black squares on Instagram and skipping all of the necessary education in order to rewire yourself to interact differently with the world around you and change your own awareness. While I did first experience About Race at that time, I find myself revisiting those nine episodes because they are so well-crafted as audio and the lessons within them are worth reminding ourselves of repeatedly: whether our televisions and Twitter feeds are reflecting them or not. The work continues, and it’s important to check back in from time to time.
3. David Tennant Does a Podcast With…
I’m not going to lie, I adore David Tennant. He’s a brilliant actor and the first series of his podcast was so much fun to experience. Series two was such a treat, coming toward the end of the year just as quarantine exhaustion was setting in for me. None of David’s interviews are the same, as his relationship to each guest is different and their own stories vary widely. But even the people I wasn’t expecting to connect with offered me things to think about – and he wrapped 2020 with a brilliant chat with another favorite of mine, Neil Gaiman, and there is nothing wrong with that!
2. Switched on Pop
I’ve already mentioned I love a recommendation and this one came from a friend in the music industry. I just wanted something to keep me company on my walks as the weather got colder, something to motivate me to keep moving. She noted that Vox’s pop music exploration podcast had an old episode about The Sunscreen Song which I might enjoy (being the everything-90’s enthusiast I am) and she was dead right. Every episode of this show I try (and I have gotten into the habit of trying them at random) has surprised and informed me. My walks go by so quickly because of my audio companions that I’ve now started walking even longer just to keep listening.
There was really no other choice for my number 1 podcast of 2020. GIANT has been my inspiration this year to keep making things, whether I’m writing or podcasting or helping someone else with their passion project. The quality and inventiveness of each episode of this show carries it beyond being a “football” podcast. If you love podcasts and great audio, you will love GIANT, and it will likely help you want to create wonderful things for others (or maybe just yourself!) to enjoy. And if it can do that, its value is immeasurable.