The 5 best podcast episodes of 2018


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Podcasting is growing into a powerful medium. These episodes are as profound and compelling as any articles I read this year.

Some caveats in decreasing level of obviousness:

  1. I have not heard every podcast episode that came out this year.
  2. This is my selection and therefore inherently subjective.
  3. For both of the above reasons, podcasts about current affairs will probably be overrepresented whilst comedy, fiction, sport and many other genres are probably shortchanged.
  4. I am a politically restricted public servant these days, so have not chosen any episodes, which rules out me recommending any partisan podcasts
  5. I am judging individual episodes rather than a show as a whole. So there are many podcasts I love that have been great this year but didn’t have (what seemed to me like) stand out episodes, like By the Book, the Weeds, Talking Politics, Dear Prudence, Slate Money, Longform, Analysis, Beyond Today, Sinica and Susan Calman’s Mrs Brightside.
  6. I’m not ranking these episodes relative to each other. They are listed in order of their publication date.

Five Women (This American Life) 2nd March

This episode juxtaposes the stories of multiple women who worked for (and were sexually harassed) by the same man. It attempts to seriously answer questions that are usually used to dismiss accusations, such as ‘why didn’t they say something’ or ‘if it was that bad, why did they working for him?’

I first heard about Five Women on an episode of Longform that explores the inspiration for and craft behind this episode.

Star Wars: the Music (the Soundtrack Show) 9th May

A bit of a cheat because I am treating a three part series as one episode, but my goodness it’s brilliant. The original trilogy arguably has the most iconic score in film history and presenter/author David W. Collins has done audio work on numerous Star Wars projects ranging from computer games to the Last Jedi. That makes him an ideal person to pay tribute to John Williams’s genius as a composer. More surprisingly, he also rehabilitates George Lucas. I cannot think of another example of a fandom treating the creator of their beloved property with the kind of contempt that Star Wars fans display towards Lucas. He is (rightly) blamed for the terrible prequels. And even his initial success seems to have been achieved in spite of himself. However, through the prism of the music, Collins is able to show that without Lucas’ peculiar combination of nostalgia and forward thinking, Star Wars (and consequently much of contemporary cinema) is unimaginable.

INVCEL (Reply All) 10th May

How did a community born of kindness and solidarity morph into one defined by bitterness and ultimately violence?

Robert B. Talisse on Overdoing Democracy (Philosophy Bites) 23rd July

A warmly stated but sharply argued case for a counter-intuitive idea: As the stakes of political conflicts rise, they need to be kept more firmly in their place.

The Science of Being Transgender (Science Vs) 18th December

The Science Vs keeps its head when all about it are losing theirs on this topic. Somehow manages to be both fair and clear, wide ranging but to the point, and to take its subject matter seriously while retaining a light touch. A good demonstration of how being objective and reaching a conclusion are not mutually exclusive.