As with all of Podcast Problems’s Best of 2017 posts, links will only be provided for episodes that can be listened to outside of the context of the shows as a whole; audio dramas, for instance, will only have links if the episode mentioned was their first episode. For more thoughts on this year in podcasts, make sure to subscribe to the Podcast Problems newsletter!
For this list, I’m choosing the episodes I loved the most from 2017. These are the episodes that I listened to the most, the ones that made me laugh, cry, or think the hardest. This list is anything but objective, so please be sure to share yours in the comments below!
Listen. Of all of my Best of 2017 lists, this is supposed to be the one where I get to be more laid back and emotional and less trying to sound smart. This is supposed to be my fun Best of 2017 episode. And that’s why I’m not choosing a specific episode of The Adventure Zone. I know it’s cheating. I’m aware. 2017 has been terrible. Give me this one thing.
The Adventure Zone is a Dungeons and Dragons actual play podcast, meaning it’s people playing D&D together–but it’s so much more than that. It’s a story about community and love and the power of empathy. It’s a rumination on memory and what comprises our identities. It’s a show that is hilarious, that is heartbreaking, that is inspirational, that is innovative in the genre. I couldn’t pick an episode because The Adventure Zone really is just that good. If you want a list of some of my favorite moments from the Balance Arc, though, you can read my discussion here, but only if you’ve listened to the podcast as a whole.
2. Song Exploder, “Episode 105: Perfume Genius”
Perfume Genius’s No Shape was one of my favorite albums of 2017. Each song is so sprawling and lush and beautiful and unabashed. Of course, then, I expected to love this episode . . . but not nearly as much as I did. I listened to this episode three times in a row when it came out, and then subsequently played it for just about anyone who would listen. I fought back tears each time. This episode isn’t just about a pretty song; it’s about a love that still thrives even when the world wants to crush it. It’s about deciding to shout when the world tells you to be silent. It’s also about really weird recording methods that is absolute ear-candy for audio nerds. It also resulted in one of my favorite Twitter interactions of the year:
3. Rough Translation, “American Surrogates”
Well, speaking of episodes that made me cry. This episode of Rough Translation centers on the story of a Chinese woman hiring an American woman to be a surrogate. The episode is so much more, though–it’s this story of an almost forbidden friendship between two women from opposite sides of the world. It’s a story about culture and the expectations placed on women. It has all the trappings of short fiction, but it’s a journalistic piece. It’s just gorgeous, and moving, and it left me in shambles.
4. What’s the Frequency, “1. Static”
Listen. I don’t care if Podcast Problems could have “A What’s the Frequency Fan Blog” as a subtitle at this point. This show is good–good enough to merit three different posts about what makes it so great. This episode is a perfect first episode for the podcast. It blew me away. Listen to this podcast.
5. The Bright Sessions, “43 – Former Patient (#11-A-7)”
I love any episode of The Bright Sessions with a focus on Caleb, but the combination of Caleb and a more humanized Joan made “43 – Former Patient (#11-A-7)” one of my favorite episodes to date. Briggon Snow is fantastic always, but especially here, as Caleb, and Julia Morizawa adds such a wonderful softness to Dr. Bright in this episode. The writing is delicately paced and loaded with feelings, and I loved every second of it.
6. 99% Invisible, “The Modern Necropolis”
I’ve already given myself up as a once-was wannabe goth, right? Like, we’re all aware that behind my cupcake veneer I like that spooky biz, right? This episode of 99% Invisible was everything that makes 99% Invisible great, plus cemeteries! In this episode, there’s a city that’s just one big graveyard. A city that’s a graveyard! People live there–but most don’t! Wow. Of course, the episode also had the research that always makes this show great and a nice dose of dark humor, but really, this just satiated that crux between my fascination with interesting places and my love for all things spooky.
7. 36 Questions
If I had to choose an episode of 36 Questions to be my favorite, it’d probably be the second–but doing so for a three-episode podcast seems silly. This audio drama musical is a gorgeous discussion of love and identity and the idea of an objective truth. It’s also a musical with music that is catchy as hell. I’ll have that piano hook on the broken record stuck in my head forever, probably, and I’ll also belt “Hear Me Out” at absolutely any opportunity. I also absolutely have a crush on both Jace and Judith, but also I don’t want to be anywhere near either of them.
8. ars PARADOXICA, “Curses”
ars PARADOXICA is a complicated, interwoven, suspenseful, dramatic audio drama about time travel. It’s also an audio drama in which the main character teaches her friends how to say bad words, and for that, I love it immensely. This episode is incredibly silly and fun, and it was written by some of the minds behind Greater Boston, making it one of the best examples of how incredible the audio drama community is. Mostly, though, the writing in this episode is just hilarious. It’s a tonal departure from most of ars PARADOXICA, but it still feels completely natural within the narrative. Also, Sally Grissom, modern-day scientist, teaches her friends from the past how to say bad words.
9. The McElroy Brothers Will Be In Trolls 2, “Chapter 1”
I have a confession. Before this year, I just did not understand the content made by The McElroys (except episodes of Griffin’s Amiibo Corner, which I did not realize was made by a McElroy brother until months and months later, and loved immediately). My Brother, My Brother and Me seemed like the worst kind of “funny people being funny” podcast that I absolutely detest. This all changed when I listened to the first episode of The McElroy Brother Will Be In Trolls 2, and I am so, so grateful. In this episode of a rarely-updated, hyper-niche podcast, the McElroy brothers get really high during a Portland live show of My Brother, My Brother and Me and hatch their plan to be in the sequel to 2016’s Trolls, an adequate film for children. The podcast is told like a serious documentary a la Serial and had me laughing harder than anything else this year.
10. Greater Boston, “Halloween Special: Spirits of Greater Boston”
This episode of Greater Boston is an in-universe episode of Spirits–a podcast about mythology and drinking. The hosts of Spirits riff about local folklore with a character from Greater Boston, but it sounds completely natural and believable. Julia and Amanda don’t miss a beat, treating the fictionalized mythology with the exact same level of seriousness and questioning as the mythology they discuss on Spirits proper. The episode is also filled with tidbits about other podcasts within the Greater Boston universe, and my god, what I would give for a Wolf 359 or ars PARADOXICA show.
Which podcast episodes were your favorite of 2017? Please leave a comment below! You can find all of Podcast Problems’s Best of 2017 lists here.