Because audio dramas are (usually) serial in their storytelling, make sure to start from the beginning if you plan on listening to any of these podcasts. The only exception on this list is The Big Loop, which is episodic.
When I think of podcasts in 2017, the first show that comes to mind is The Adventure Zone. This year, The Adventure Zone finished its first full arc, announced a graphic novel, survived some rather spirited fan debate, and landed on several best-of lists besides this one. This year, The Adventure Zone showed us what a Dungeons and Dragons actual play podcast can be, slowly evolving from a comedy show to a piece of art that left fans genuinely moved. In 2017, The Adventure Zone felt like a beacon of light in an otherwise incredibly bleak year. The shows themes of friendship, community, and the bonds that tie us together never felt cheesy or cliched; they felt so necessary. If you’re
The Bright Sessions centers on a therapist treating patients with superhuman abilities. The show is one of the audio dramas to be optioned for TV this year (and creator Lauren Shippen was named one of Forbes‘s 30 Under 30 Media Luminaries), and it’s clear why: as the show continues on, it expands its cast and its scope of plot without ever leaving behind its intimate roots. In 2017, The Bright Sessions had some of its most intense plot moments, showing the audience that it knows how to convey urgency and something bigger than the characters are prepared for. It gave listeners a new side of Dr. Joan Bright, as well as several new characters, all of whom weave seamlessly into the rest of the cast. The Bright Sessions became a landmark in the audio drama canon long ago; in 2017, it’s broken out of its structure to show the fans haven’t even heard the best of what’s to come.
3. 36 Questions
36 Questions is Two-Up’s podcast musical about a husband and wife trying to rekindle their marriage, and why it started failing in the first place. If I was listening to a podcast episode for the second, third, or fourth time this year, if it wasn’t The Adventure Zone, it was 36 Questions. As the first high-profile musical audio drama, 36 Questions showed a broad audience how much the format of an audio drama can be molded to fit a story. The show’s music is gorgeous, the characters are incredibly flawed and relatable, and the show had the perfect mix of comedy and heartbreak. One of the most underrated parts of 36 Questions, though, is the fact that it was only three episodes long. Audio dramas sometimes tend to go on for too long, like most TV shows. 36 Questions showed how much can be accomplished in just three hours.
If you frequent Podcast Problems, this pick should come as no surprise. What’s the Frequency is the Podcast Problems darling of 2017, and the attention it’s gotten here is for good reason. What’s the Frequency is a “psychedelic noir” audio drama about an alternate reality in which murders are linked to the only functioning radio frequency, which only plays a traditional radio drama. If 36 Questions was innovative for the medium, What’s the Frequency is downright revolutionary. The show abandons any idea of what an audio drama “should” sound like, trusting its audience to follow along even through its most bizarre, terrifying soundscapes.
5. Wolf 359
Wolf 359 is the seminal space opera of the audio drama medium, and in 2017, it will be releasing its final episode. As of its fourth season, Wolf 359 has gone from a small-scale comedy about people being frustrated together in space to a show with a large cast, a dire plot, and intense discussions of the perils of capitalism. Wolf 259′s cast is one of the best in the industry, and the actors only getting better when they’re given more space in their roles. As of writing this list, the final episode has not been released, but I’m sure it will leave listeners in absolute shambles and awe, the way only Wolf 359 can deliver.
2017 was a year of exciting new releases in audio dramas, and the one that has me most excited is The Ghost Radio Project. The Ghost Radio Project is a post-apocalyptic story about guerrilla radio broadcasters trying to spread news about the state of the world without the lens propaganda. What makes The Ghost Radio Project especially impressive is that the show is beautifully written, acted, and produced–and the creators still want to be better. The show’s four episodes (just shy of having enough for a First Impressions review from me) are incredible listens, but the show will be releasing a “proper” re-release in 2018. Given how stunning these episodes are, I can’t wait to hear what the new episodes will bring to the table.
I’ve written about why you should be listening to Greater Boston, and the show’s 2017 episodes were even more indicative of what makes the show stand out. Greater Boston is a strange, funny, sweet audio drama that takes places in a hyperbolic alternate-universe Boston. The show’s structure continues to be interesting and surprising, the writing remains a good mix of funny and touching, and the characters keep developing in the most intriguing ways. Boston, itself, functions as a character who evolves and changes o tell the story not just of the characters, but of the community as a whole.
The Far Meridian is a magical realism audio drama about an agoraphobic woman living in a lighthouse that changes location each day. If 2017 merited more tenderness and vulnerability, The Far Meridian was here to deliver. Between the show’s intimate writing, gorgeous production, and contemplative pacing, this podcast felt like a little audio safe haven at times while still managing to ask some big questions.
9. The Big Loop
The Big Loop is another new audio drama for this year, and while its tone is drastically different from the others on this list, it still feels like such a product of 2017. The Big Loop is essentially an auditory Black Mirror, though the pacing of each episode is much more casual, as is the tone. The show is one part science fiction, one part magical realism, one part what might be horror but what might also just be philosophy. The writing of each episode is so subtle and delicate, and the acting has yet to disappoint even a little.
The Big Loop may be auditory Black Mirror and What’s the Frequency might break boundaries, but Fall of the House of Sunshine is hands down the strangest thing I listened to this year, and maybe the strangest piece of media I’ve ever encountered–and for this, I love it. Fall of the House of Sunshine is a musical comedy podcast about teeth, puppets, Bigfoot, clowns, dogs, and . . . family? The show is hilarious and shockingly internally consistent for how strange it is. You can read my full review for the podcast here.
Which audio dramas were your favorite of 2017? Please leave a comment below! Podcast Problems will be releasing more Best of 2017 lists throughout December 2017. You can find all of the lists here. Make sure to check back throughout the month for more!