The 10 Best Podcasts of 2018

Best Podcasts of 2018

It’s that time of year again — the end — when people like to see their favorite bits of culture listed and ranked. Podcast Review isn’t immune to this desire: we actually relish it. Voted on by a panel of 15 contributors, here are the best podcasts of 2018.

 


 


10. Everything Is Alive

Everything is Alive will change the way you view the world: the way your mind and heart experience, for example, looking at a lamp post. Host Ian Chillag interviews inanimate objects, ranging from a can of soda to a subway seat, eliciting earnest commentary on their routine thoughts and existential crises. Each dialogue is interrupted with a call to an expert related to the item at the heart of the episode, leading to random and sometimes quite touching encounters. The play between traditional interview and magical realism keeps things exciting and unpredictable. It’s as bizarre as it sounds and just as wonderful, too. — Aaron Yost

 


 


9. The Daily

Each weekday morning, Michael Barbaro illuminates the day’s news with the help of the Times’ best employees: its reporters. I can imagine a world without The Daily — there are surely enough news podcasts if you need a replacement — but I don’t like the thought of it. Simply put, none of The Daily’s competitors make the world’s hot-button issues as easy to understand or as exhilarating to learn about. This year saw great one-off episodes such as Kevin Roose’s investigation into a right-wing clickbait farm, incisive two-parters like The Battle for Missouri and What the West Got Wrong About China, and the week-long documentary Charm City. The Daily isn’t afraid to pursue innovation alongside its astonishing reliability. — Jack Conway

 


 


8. The Shadows

As Episode 1 of The Shadows ended, I was standing in the rain, unable to press pause. I was in the brain and body of someone falling in love. It was exhilarating, dreamlike, and razor-sharp real. The newest project from The Heart’s Kaitlin Prest, The Shadows sweeps us into the messy and uncertain inner world of a relationship. It’s a sound design masterpiece, expertly diving into different minds and story arcs and fantasies. On top of that, it’s a challenging meditation on sex, intimacy, and the grayer areas of monogamy. It’s rare to hear a show that pushes into new artistic terrain and has the power to spark vulnerable real-life conversations. The Shadows does both. — Rebecca Seidel

 


 


7. You Must Remember This

Now on its fourth year, Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This remains dynamic and fresh, exploring stories from the hidden and forgotten histories of Hollywood. This year’s season, titled “Hollywood Babylon,” focuses on a book by Kenneth Anger that was controversial for airing Hollywood’s dirty laundry. This is fertile ground for Longworth to unearth the history of what really happened — and sometimes, more importantly, what didn’t. She also focuses a few episodes on material from her recently published book, Seduction, which explores the many loves of Howard Hughes and how he exploited his power. Longworth is at the top of her game, showing us how much we have in common with the culture of yesteryear, while imbuing empathy into the people that flicker across history’s screens. — Elliot Morris

 


 


6. Reply All

Gimlet’s Reply All is nominally a show about the internet, but the podcast’s wide-ranging format means that practically anything can be investigated so long as it intersects with technology. The result is hosts Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt work within a limitless expanse of possibilities. And although Reply All is not a new show, it’s only gotten better and better. This year’s exploration of the always hilarious Yes, Yes, No format and further development of two-part investigative stories make the show a mainstay while daring to innovate. — Lars Odland

 


 


5. In the Dark

In the Dark’s second season tells the story of Curtis Flowers, a black man convicted of the Tardy Furniture store murders by Doug Evans, the white district attorney. Reporter Madeleine Baran and her team moved to Winona, Mississippi, and lived there for over a year to investigate the case brought against Flowers. This hard work paid off, and the show is a model of how to produce narrative journalism in partnership with a community. The power of In the Dark’s reporting may soon become tangible, as new evidence uncovered by Baran and company could change the course of Flowers’ next trial. Ana Diaz

 


 


4
. Serial

This season of Serial draws listeners in close to the U.S. criminal justice system. It’s a system that is integral to modern society but difficult to articulate, and as hosts Sarah Koenig and Emmanuel Dzotsi make clear, it’s in dire need of reconsideration. Each episode reveals different tactics, personalities, and circumstances that make the justice system feel all but just. On their own, these stories feel like bizarre one-offs, but together they paint a more devastating picture of dysfunction. By the end, Koenig’s plea that Americans acknowledge something has gone wrong with our current system feels incontestable. — Nic Dobija-Nootens

 


 


3. Caliphate

If you haven’t listened to Caliphate yet, then I suggest you begin as soon as possible — with fair warning that the show is compulsive. In ten episodes, New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi brings a microphone into her world: the life of covering ISIS. She straps on a helmet before running into a bombed ISIS headquarters. She interviews former ISIS members about what it feels like to behead a person. Yet there are touches of humor, like when Callimachi tells us that ISIS terrorists pathetically resort to fat-shaming her on social media to get under her skin. Caliphate is at times a fast-paced mystery and at others a reflection on the moral dilemmas of war reporting. Evocative and visceral, this podcast is not simply informative but also perspective-changing. It will enrich every article about ISIS that you read thereafter. — Nikki Lohr

 


 


2. Heavyweight

Jonathan Goldstein continues to do it again. The course of Heavyweight’s three seasons has led Goldstein further and further away from the inner circle he drew upon to make season one a hit. The 2018 edition linked Goldstein with studio comedy stalwarts like Rob Corddry and regretful jurors like Sven. On Heavyweight, there is no injury too small or large for repair. The freshness of the show remains with Goldstein’s willingness to tackle a cruel middle school prank and a capital punishment trial in consecutive episodes with appropriate compassion and perspective. Bugging people in the direction of catharsis makes Heavyweight the world’s most pleasant narrative podcast. — Jake Greenberg

 


 


1. Slow Burn

The second season of Slate’s political history podcast Slow Burn tells the story of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Eschewing both the hagiography and demonization that so often trail the Clintons, host Leon Neyfakh walks listeners through the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals, painting a nuanced and far-reaching portrait of 1990s political culture. This season includes episodes on the politics of Evangelical Christianity, feminist reactions to the Lewinsky scandal, and an ear-popping interview with Linda Tripp, the “friend” who gave Lewinsky over to the FBI in 1998. The story of the Clinton years is riveting—full of sex, betrayal, conspiracy, and rabid partisanship. It can also be eerily familiar, raising timely questions about special counsel probes, White House ethics, impeachment, and sexual misconduct. In a year of sensationalized true crime and bitter fights over the legacies of the once-powerful, Slow Burn stands out for its rigorous reporting, for tackling white-hot controversy without falling into polemics, and (perhaps most of all) for its storytelling. Nowhere else can you get such a heady melodrama, a factual narrative that is tense, informative, and ripe with piquant detail, while building to a conclusion that is bound to unsettle listeners of all political stripes. — Sylvie McNamara