My Favorite Podcasts of 2020
I listened to a lot of podcasts this year. Part of this was for professional research as I attempted to reverse engineer what makes a successful fiction podcast, but mostly it was because I did a lot of walking. Seriously, a lot. I walked a little under 1,000 miles between March through this past weekend. Sometimes this walking was done on a treadmill, but more often it was me trudging along that same five-mile stretch of Houston's Heights neighborhood. All the while, listening to podcasts.
Here are my favorite podcasts that I listened to this year:
Hosted by Stephen Scarlata and Josh Miller, this podcast, as the title suggests, explores movies that were never made. I dug the breezy but informative interviews Scarlata and Miller had with their guests, particularly the gleefully cantankerous Chip Proser, the illuminating self-dissection of Eduardo Sanchez' career, and the multi-episode series dedicated to the making of SUPER MARIO BROS: THE MOVIE that included a glimpse at an alternate reality where the film starred Dustin Hoffman. Scarlata and Miller walk that tight-rope between conversational banter and well-researched content better than any other movie podcast I listened to.
This deep-dive horror podcast from hosts Dr. Rebekah McKendry and Elric Kane is relatively new (though I enjoyed McKendry's NIGHTMARE UNIVERSITY that preceded it in its podcast feed). I watch a lot of horror movies and sometimes it's easy to feel like I've seen it all already but every episode of COLORS OF THE DARK features a ton of amazing recommendations for films both new and classic. It's great to listen to people who really know what they are talking about gush about something they love. I can't wait for COLORS OF THE DARK to continue to grow into its new identity throughout 2021.
Technically this is from 2019, I know, but I didn't listen to DOLLY PARTON'S AMERICA until this past fall. Jad Abrumrad's deep dive into the life and times of Dolly Parton was a fantastic journey - covering both the performer's history and career while also frequently going on some wildly interesting tangents. I knew next to nothing about Dolly Parton before listening to this podcast but I am now, 100 percent, a fan.
I listened to a lot of fiction podcasts this year as research into the creation of my own. One of my favorites was THE VAULT OF HORROR, a podcast from Pocket Universe Productions that adapted classic EC Comics stories into audio dramas. With Kevin Grevioux as the pun-loving narrator, each episode took a couple of different comic book stories and found a way to tell them without the macabre illustrations they are best known for - instead having to rely on fun vocal performances and heaps of rich sound production.
My favorite overall podcast of 2020, FINDING DESPERADO is a new series from Alexei Toliopoulous and Cameron James, the team behind FINDING DRAGO. In it, the two comedians dive deep into a mysterious movie called LEX THE WONDER DOG that, at one point, held the Guinness World Record for a movie made by the youngest filmmaker. Who is Lord Sydney and what secrets does his filmography hold? A wild, hilarious journey - this podcast represents the full potential of the medium, with an addictive story told through excellent production value and impeccable craft. I will listen to whatever these guys do next.
My other favorite fiction podcast of the year was HANK THE COWDOG. Written and directed by Texas filmmaker Jeff Nichols, the podcast featured an amazing cast of performers including Matthew McConaughey, Jesse Plemons, Cynthia Erivo, Kirsten Dunst, Michael Shannon, and more. With more musical numbers than I expected, a fantastic blend of narration and dialogue, and an approach to the writing designed for a very specific audience, HANK THE COWDOG sets a gold standard for how fiction podcasts should sound like.
Duh. This show will probably remain one of my favorite podcasts of any year in which new episodes are being made. Hosts PJ Vogt, Alex Goldman, and Emmanuel Dzotsi took one weird-ass year and examined it through a spectrum of perspectives. I could go on and on about my favorite episodes from this year but I'll just name a few: "The Case of the Missing Hit," in which a man tries to remember a forgotten pop song; "Brian vs. Brian," in which a musician tries to uncover how his DIY Christmas carol wound up playing in a supermarket; and "The Least You Could Do," which explored the weird phenomenon in which white people started Venmoing money to their black friends this summer. If you are not listening to this show, you need to get on that ASAP.
This is probably the podcast I listened to the most this year, due to the fact that I made my way through almost the entire back catalog over the summer. Host Karina Longworth provides deep researched and extremely well-written histories of classic Hollywood artists, often doing deep dive series into a specific performer or filmmaker. There are sooooo many podcasts about movies in which hosts (usually dudes) talk about films they watched but few podcasts come close to the level of context Longworth provides for the films she discusses. Listening to YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS is an immersive experience in which you leave an episode having a much better appreciation for the subject than when you went in. Case in point, Longworth's epic dissection into the career of Polly Platt: "The Invisible Woman." Longworth's approach to film podcasting has pretty much ruined me for any other type of cinema podcast.