What I think about some podcasts

Listening to podcasts is a surprisingly central element in my life… I used to despise running, then I discovered podcasting, and voila, I’m into running. I used to severely despise swimming, then I discovered the underwater iPod (easily the greatest technological achievement in the modern age, just edging out the moon landing and the Manhattan Project), and voila, I’m into swimming. Chores? Podcast. Kids are playing at the playground? Podcast.

So, I thought I’d share with the world my take on every podcast I’ve given a serious listen to. Because the world needs my opinion.

Table of contents

My current rotation

Around the NFL (sports)

I discovered this in the wake of the DDFP‘s demise, and I now can’t fathom how I lived without this in seasons past. In-depth breakdowns of every game, before and after, and they don’t talk about their fantasy teams. This was made for me! From September to February, this is the most important podcast in my life. And I never thought I would listen to a football podcast in the offseason too, but this is now my offseason fix.

Small Town Murder (comedy true crime) (yes, you read that right)

Here I thought that the true crime podcast craze would never get to me, but… I never thought there would be a comedy-first take on brutal murders.

Real Time with Bill Maher (politics)

Funny and insightful, and generally lives up to its billing of allowing conservative voices to speak “in the lion’s den”. Although this isn’t exactly why I listen, I’m not sure there’s a person alive with whom I agree on more issues, especially the ones he takes the left to task on. In particular, much more than most left-leaning pundits, he’s willing to prioritize issues (yes, it’s true, climate change and the threat of nuclear armageddon are in fact more important than transgender bathroom access or whether Ann Coulter is offending someone today).

I personally like the “Overtime” portion of the show even better than the show itself, and I’m glad they found a way to work that into the podcast.

The Infinite Monkey Cage (science, but in a fun way)

Still working through the archives, but this is the first science podcast I’ve been able to stick with. Ever.

Carolla Classics (comedy)

This became indispensable because there were only like 10 hours of new Carolla every week.

Swindled (true-crime-ish)

True crime isn’t quite the right description… it’s more like “stories about people doing sometimes-illegal bad things”. His voice is intensely, deliberately, obstinately monotone, which threw me at first, but it’s grown on me. And when he says something funny, it’s super funny.

Your Stupid Opinions (comedy)

It’s bananas that no one thought of this idea sooner, but I’m glad they didn’t, because this is executed just about perfectly.

Crime in Sports (comedy true crime) (yes, you read that right again)

I admit to hand-picking episodes with athletes I’m familiar with, or at least sports I care about (read: football), but with that caveat, this is addictive.

This Week in Machine Learning and AI (computer science)

An excellent way to keep up with current trends in ML, but also just an example of how much more informative shows get when interviewers ask good questions. He consistently asks “can you give a concrete example?” at just the right time, and generally plays the role of an educated listener who wants concrete understanding, not buzzwords.

Endless Thread (long-form stories)

I’m pretty hooked on this… when you want something that’s not just entertainment, so you feel like you’re a mature adult, but you also have a limited attention span, because you’re not really a mature adult, it’s hard to beat “totally random stories about random stuff”. Skip the “snacktime” episodes.

The Adam Carolla Show (comedy)

Carolla is the sharpest comedian who has ever lived, as well as an excellent interviewer, and the production quality of the show is unparalleled. I’ve learned lately to skip the first ~20 minutes of the show when he’s just telling stories from his day, but all the recurring bits, interviews, and news (i.e., the last 60 minutes of each 80-minute show) remain hilarious and occasionally thought-provoking. He’s so sharp that you might be tempted to take him seriously and listen to his rants as engaging debate, which may cause you to dislike him and/or discontinue your enjoyment of the show. Remember: this is a comedy podcast, and IMO it’s the best of the lot. The show took a hit when the format changed at the beginning of 2023, but despite my fears that the Carollaverse was ending, now that the dust has settled, it feels like a dip from five stars to 4.5 stars, not the end of the world.

Lateral (puzzles)

Finally, a podcast I can share with my kids, since it’s (a) clean and (b) not about stuff they don’t care about! The format is great (lateral thinking puzzles presented to a group of D-list podcast celebrities), the host is great, the puzzles are great, and the guests are… hit or miss, which can make or break individual episodes. But overall I’m really into it.

Favorites that may or may not still exist or are otherwise in limbo

Godcast (comedy)

I didn’t think there was any way this could stay funny when the novelty wore off… but it has! (As of 2023, I’m not sure whether this podcast still exists.)

The Ron Burgundy Podcast (comedy)

Exactly what you think it would be, and worth every minute. It’s almost too good to be true that Will Ferrell takes the time to make a podcast. (As of 2023, I’m not sure whether this podcast still exists.)

The Ron Burgundy Podcast (post-COVID live episodes)

After COVID, this podcat came back as a series of live shows, and it was funny, but not remotely as funny as the more scripted studio version. Hoping they get back to the studio format.

Old favorites (that are static and/or no longer exist and/or stopped being good and/or I got bored despite them staying good)

We Didn’t Start the Fire

This podcast is such a clever idea that it didn’t really need to be good, and yet it’s great. It’s the “Stacey’s Mom” of podcasts. A very upbeat way to learn sometimes-very-not-upbeat postwar history.

Wild Animals (conservation)

Specifically this Wild Animals; there are several. I think you might have to be pretty into wildlife to enjoy someone talking to conservation biologists about animals, but I am, so I do.

Sustainababble (sustainability)

The only sustainability-related podcast I’ve come across that is informative but not a total bummer. Sadly, I literally discovered this amazing podcast on the day it ended. Sigh.

Brought to you by (aka Household Name) (long-form stories)

I binge-listened in 2023, great reporting without the heaviness of most long-form journalism.

Story Pirates (kids)

They must have a team of Oompa-Loompas recording music for them every week, because the music is spectacular, and the humor is somewhere between SpongeBob and 30 Rock… sets the standard for kids podcasting.

Handel on the Law (legal advice)

I can’t decide if this is actually informative or just a mind-numbing guilty pleasure, but I could listen to him provide “marginal” legal advice and mock is callers for days. Not, not I could, I do.

CrossBread (comedy)

Optimal binge-listening comedy even without the Australian accents, so like 5.5 stars when you factor in the accents.

Serial (season 1) (long-form journalism)

Very little commentary necessary, since everyone who has heard of podcasting has already listened to Serial. This is investigative journalism at its absolute best, brought to a medium that suits it. This season revolutionized the medium.

99% Invisible (long-form stories)

The online summary of this podcast talks about “design and architecture”, but – in a good way – I don’t get that from the content at all. It feels like random, interesting, not-too-heavy long-form stories.

The Coldest Case in Laramie

I’m mentally filing this as an extension of Serial, a notch below the original, but a notch above Seasons 2 and 3.

Serial (seasons 2 and 3)

As per the opinion of the rest of the universe, I found season 2 “pretty good” and season 3 “very skippable”, though I do appreciate the ambition of what the tried to do in season 3.

Limetown (season 1) (fiction)

I devoured this… easily the best fiction podcast I’ve come across, in fact it sets the standard for audio fiction. Likely an indicator of where the audiobook/podcast format will end up.

Limetown (season 2)

As per the opinion of the rest of the universe, I found season 2 a little hard to follow and generally less interesting. Hey, media universe, the science is in on whether extending dramatic sci-fi series past their logical ending is a good idea (remember the last season of Lost?).

The Dave Dameshek Football Program [retired] (sports)

This is obviously only relevant from September to February, but if you’re looking for a way to extend your NFL enjoyment from Tuesday morning until Thursday afternoon, look no further. I love technical NFL commentary, but I can’t stand dry recounting of stats or lengthy recommendations about who you should pick up for your fantasy team; the DDFP doesn’t take itself too seriously, and mixes in just the right amount of personality and in-depth analysis. Two episodes a week, a recap episode on Tuesday and a preview episode on Thursday. This is probably the only podcast on this list for which I find myself clicking “refresh” when I’m eagerly awaiting a new episode.

The Best of Mike and Mike [retired] (sports)

During football season, I couldn’t wait to finish watching the games somewhere around Wednesday (I really stretch my football out), so I could listen to the Monday episode of M&M. FWIW I’m giving this five stars on the basis of 1 episode a week for ~20 weeks a year; I had no interest in the other 95% of the show. That said, I was surprisingly emotional during the last week of the show. I wouldn’t say I “cried”, but I was definitely a little teary.

Running from Cops (long-form journalism)

A documentary about “Cops” (the show). Super-compelling, at times funny, reasonably balanced (though definitely taking a narrative stance). I would listen to this production team narrate anything. Conveniently, I’ll get to do that, since this is sort of one season of a larger show.

A Very Fatal Murder (comedy)

Most would read this as a parody of Serial, I would say it’s actually a parody of all the true crime podcasts that Serial inspired. In any case, it’s outstanding. Admittedly, it’s meant specifically for people who (a) have listened to Serial and (b) spend an exorbitant amount of time listening to and discussing other podcasts (including browsing iTunes for podcasts I’m not even going to listen to), so maybe a niche target that I’m right in the middle of, but I’m like 90% sure it’s awesome even if you meet neither criterion (a) nor criterion (b).

Dan Snow’s History Hit (history)

Dan Snow’s enthusiasm for anything related to history is infectious. I won’t say that every episode is enthralling, but the great episodes are great, and even when I’m not 100% into the material, he shows so much excitement that it’s hard to not be engaged. And among all the history podcasts I’ve tried, History Hit does the best job tying history in to current events when it’s appropriate, without plastering unnecessary historical context all over every current headline (maybe 1 in 8 episodes really addresses a current topic). Significant bent toward WWII history, which happens to be of particular interest to me. But basically he’s one of those people who could make you excited about anything.

I’m giving a 0.001 point deduction for the intro music/montage change from 2017 to 2018; the old intro got me totally fired up, and the new intro sounds like it could be the introduction to a middle-school textbook. But it still rounds up to five stars.


I consider this an extension of History Hit (some episodes are HH rebroadcasts). But instead of caring about 70% of the episodes, here I care about 100% of the episodes. All are as good as HH.

How and Why History [retired] (history)

I consider this an extension of History Hit (some episodes are HH rebroadcasts). But instead of caring about 70% of the episodes, here I care about 100% of the episodes. All are as good as HH.

Key Battles in American History

When I stopped listening to this, through no fault of the podcast, it was just a long series about the Pacific Island Campaign, which is enough for five stars from me.

30 for 30 (long-form journalism) (pre-2020)

I think the jury is in re: the quality of the “30 for 30” TV series, and whether you’re into sports or not, it’s fantastic storytelling. Yes, there’s always some link to sports, but saying you have to be “into sports” to appreciate the 30 for 30 TV series is like saying that you have to be “into monarchy” to enjoy Game of Thrones.

The podcast is clearly an appendix to the TV show, and you might think “that sounds boring if I don’t watch the TV series”, but the podcast completely stands on its own. The “core” episodes that tell a story are significantly more interesting than the “bonus” episodes that interview the storytellers and are a bit more “meta”, but since those are clearly marked in the episode titles, I see no reason to count those against the podcast.

30 for 30 (2020)

At some point ESPN started abusing this podcast feed to literally provide commentary on each episode of the 30 for 30 series, which got silly and unlistenable. Hoping they go back to the old format where the podcast is closer to a documentary unto itself.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel (kids)

Scripted thriller for kids, and I mean “thriller” in a totally kid-appropriate sense. For my now-9-and-8-year-olds, this was binge listening at its best.

History of WWII before he decided to make it a full-time gig

History of WWII after he decided to make it a full-time gig

This podcast is a serious investment, but I think of this as an effective audio adaptation of a good popular history of the war. Somewhere between textbook detail and unscripted.

At some point, he jumped back in time a bit to catch us up on the Second Sino-Japanese War, which I was on board with. But around the same time, he announced that he’s making this a full-time gig, and it clearly occurred to him that if he kept up the same pace (which, BTW, was not fast, he was on track for probably a 500-episode series), he would eventually run out, so it slowed to a painful crawl. I think I’ll pick and choose episodes going forward. If you want to spend some time immersing yourself in WWII history, I recommend the first 100 episodes.

Dark Air with Terry Carnation (comedy)

This isn’t called the “Dwight from The Office” podcast, but let’s be honest, that’s what it is, and it’s fantastic.

How to Save a Planet (sustainability)

I normally avoid sustainability-related podcasts, because I only need so much bummer, but this one has really stuck for me. Upbeat without sugar-coating.

Twenty Thousand Hz (sound engineering)

If we throw out the ~20% of episodes that basically try to convince me that “sound is important”, and focus on the other 80% that are more technical and have facts in them, this is fantastic.

Science Vs. (science)

For a while I tried a whole bunch of “how stuff works” kinds of podcasts, and felt I was neither learning something nor enjoying it, which is like eating cardboard-flavored candy.  This is the “how-stuff-works-y” podcast I’ve been waiting for.  Informative, balanced, and legitimately funny (as opposed to “funny for a science show”). And their Australian accents totally make my day.

The Ancients

I consider this an extension of History Hit, but instead of caring about 70% of the episodes, here I care about 40% of the episodes. All are as good as HH.

Fall of Civilizations

Really thorough, and oddly soothing. For a while I liked listening to this while I was falling asleep, so in practice I’ve learned a lot about the rise of ancient civilizations.

History Unplugged

Though there is some irony in this podcast self-describing as “unscripted” despite being the most scripted podcast on this list, it’s quite good. The short episodes don’t work as well for my listen-to-sleep approach, but I really like falling asleep to the 20-episode series on key battles of the Civil War, for example.

Planet Money (economics)

Less technical than EconTalk, but still informative, and bubbling with enthusiasm about all things economics and finance. Occasionally there’s a dud, almost always when they do an episode that’s not at all about economics, in which case it’s almost always about technology (see “Your cell Phone’s a Snitch”), but the other 99% of episodes are fun, painless education about macroeconomics, finance, and current events in money.

I’m not doing a separate rating for “The Indicator”, which started out as a version of Planet Money where they focus on some specific number for each episode, but they quickly realized the number things was absurd, and you could make up a number for any episode about anything (I could do a podcast about dogs and say “today’s indicator is five, which is the combined number of legs and tongues that dogs have), so they dropped that, and now it’s just mini-Planet-Money, and IMO it’s slightly worse than Planet Money (just too short to be informative), but still fun.

Impact Winter (fiction)

Compelling serial fiction with excellent production and a fantastic cast. I binge-listened. Fresh take on vampire universe rules.

American Hostage (narrative non-fiction)

Compelling serial non-fiction with excellent production and a fantastic cast. I binge-listened.

Detective Trapp (fiction)

Compelling serial fiction with excellent production. You have to be into detective-noir stuff to be into this. I binge-listened.

Hunted (fiction)

Also compelling serial fiction with excellent production. Less noir, a little faster-paced. I binge-listened.

theNewsWorthy (sic) (news)

For just a while, this was my news podcast. Not blowhardy like The Daily, not slow like everything from NPR. This is basically someone reading the AP headlines (with a few extra puff-piece headlines to keep you from getting too bummed out) in an upbeat voice. Just what I would want from news, although I no longer listen because I realized I don’t need to hear the news every day, I see why the Internet makes people go bananas.

The 36 questions (musical fiction)

Somewhere between “cute” and “excellent”. An all-around solid podcast-listening experience, and only three episodes, and musical. Worth the three episodes of your time. I’d say it’s really more like four stars on quality, but a half-point bump for originality.

The Daily Show

I don’t know if this is the funniest podcast out there, and it doesn’t offer nearly the insightful discussion that, say, Real Time does, but by definition it has the production budget of a TV show, and it’s good fluff content for exercising that makes me feel slightly more like a responsible citizen than just a pure comedy podcast would. I skip almost all the interviews, which I find blowhard-y and preach-to-the-choir-ful.

Hardcore History (history)

Dan Carlin is the recognized leader in history podcasting, and for the most part I’m on board with this assessment. He has a conversational tone and includes just the right amount of detail: never bogged down in army-group-x-moved-this-way-then-that-way, but always goes deep on the big-picture discussion. Favorite episodes: Blueprint for Armageddon (WWI), Ghosts of the Ostfront (WWII), The American Peril (Spanish-American War), Destroyer of Worlds (atomic bombs), Prophets of Doom (totally random). Half-point off because some of the episodes are insufferable, but usually you know pretty quick, so I just skip those. The one about the fall of Rome whose title I can’t remember, for example, and the one about ancient Persia whose name I can’t remember. Interesting topics, really boring coverage.

Tuner (music)

The Tuner podcast breaks down one song a week, discussing some aspect of harmony, production, genre, etc. They walk a tricky line between talking to folks who know about theory and trying to present tutorials for novices, and I think they handle it about a well as one could.

What Really Happened? (medium-form journalism)

He talks about one interesting story each episode, under the guide of uncovering “the truth”. I sort of wish he would drop the “what really happened?” bit and just call this a podcast full of interesting stories you probably forgot about, since some of them can’t plausibly be cast as “what really happened?”, e.g. the story about Britney Spears’s meltdown. It was just a good story about Britney Spears. But overall, this is good, one-story-per-episode journalism.

The Butterfly Effect (long-form journalism)

This is an excellent, in-depth, season-long look at… well, I’m pretty sure this is an excellent podcast regardless of topic, so let’s start with words like “excellent” and “in-depth”. It’s not ideal that his first season was about bizarre corners of the porn industry; it gives the podcast a bit of a “listen if you like kinky stuff” vibe, and it’s hard to say this is an “important” topic. But the quality is excellent, so I both recommend it and eagerly await season 2.

Bubble (post-apocalyptic comedy-action?)

Semi-plot-oriented comedy about… actually, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. There might be monsters and aliens. But while TV is full of satirical, odd-premise comedies, this is fairly unique for the podverse. I.e., we don’t really have podcast sitcoms, so this is a unique take on the medium.

The Horror of Dolores Roach (semi-comedic horror?)

I binged this one, and while I’m not sure I was really able to suspend disbelief as much as the writers wanted me to, it was a unique use of the medium, in that it was fairly immersive in its use of the first person, despite the narrator demonstrating some… pretty extreme behavior. Somewhat slow to get to the point, but solid.

More Perfect (educational)

A friend told me that this podcast was doing a musical season (Season 3: The More Perfect Album), in which one song would be presented to describe each of the amendments to the US Constitution. “Musical infotainment?!”, I said, “I’m in!”. It turns out the songs were terrible… like, really, really, terrible. But they didn’t get in the way of the show, which was a super-informative, highly-listenable tour through the Amendments, including one… OK two… OK almost all of them that I forgot even existed. So then I went back and took a look at the other seasons, and with a little picking-and-choosing, really enjoyed those as well. Planet-Money-esque in the “look at this little story we discovered” vibe, but those little stories here in some cases have sweeping consequences that they make clear without losing focus on the little story.

Love, Janessa (long-form journalism)

Great one-off series about bizarre cons that happen on the Internet. Really well-produced and deeply investigated.

Wow in the World (kids)

Science adventures with just the right amount of potty humor.

Everything else

Aftershock (thriller)

Normally non-fiction podcasts have to jump through some hoops to explain why you’re listening to so much expository text, or create awkward expository dialogue. This podcast did an amazing job making the dialog feel natural, with fantastic production and high-caliber acting. And the story was interesting… until it jumped a bizarre woke shark and went off the rails.

Chompers (kids)

~Four minutes of content for toothbrushing and flossing and a little left over. Nominally ages 3-7, but the novelty of listening to a podcast in the bathroom keeps even my nine-year-old interested.

Strawberry Spring (horror)

Good use of the first-person format, professionally produced. I generally don’t get Stephen King, but with that caveat, this is solid.

Mr. Ballen (true crime)

I was really into this for a while, but now I can’t remember why, it’s just a guy slowly reading a true crime story. So, four stars because I liked it for a while?

Outliers (fiction)

Compelling serial fiction with excellent production and a fantastic cast, but the monologue structure is maybe a little too ambitious, and it gets a little boring.

Golic and Wingo (sports)

Mike and Mike ended during the NFL season, so I tried to replace it immediately with Golic and Wingo, which is sort of the same show. It’s good, but it’s not the same. You can’t easily flip a switch and get the same chemistry that M&M had, but I’ll give it time.

Gaslight (fiction)

Compelling narrative, and not taking points off for the fact that it suddenly stopped after 10 episodes and is showing no signs of resuming.

Borrasca (fiction)

It’s hard to make audio fiction, and this did about as well as one could in Doing Smart Stuff with the format, creating a really interesting narrative structure to justify all the narration. They definitely ask the listener to believe some absurd character behavior, which I like a lot less than having to believe an absurd premise about the universe. For example, characters go to a party every few weeks where someone inevitably disappears and presumably dies, such that literally every kid in their high school would be dead if the listener actually did the math, but no one in the down makes a big deal of this. Nonetheless, good pod.

I Don’t Know About That (comed…ucation?)

Through all his vulgarity and generally-excellent humor, Jim Jeffries is actually a super-smart dude who asks insightful questions. This would be five stars for me if one of the following happened: (1) they cut the 30 minutes of rambling nonsense at the beginning of each episode, or (2) he upgraded the staff a bit; it feels like a bunch of college kids giggling.

History that Doesn’t Suck (history)

The best narrative history podcast I’ve encountered; I can’t wait until this gets up to the modern history I’m actually interested in. But even a great narrative podcast can’t really keep things interesting between, e.g., 1789 and 1860. Yes, America, everything in between 1789 and 1860 is really boring, even when a podcast is good.

Stories Podcast (kids)

If you have kids who are between 5 and 7, and you spend any time in the car, download every episode of this podcast. The stories are excellent, with a broad tonal variety (from fairly tale to humor to kid-action), and the songs are quite good. I used to have this at five stars, until I discovered Story Pirates and realized what a high-budget kids podcast sounds like.

Hooked on Pop (music)

The more technical episodes are fantastic, whether they’re about chord-theory stuff or production-mechanics stuff. When things get all musicology and they talk about lyrics and how one instrument is some kind of historical innuendo, I lose the thread.

EconTalk (economics)

It’s refreshing to hear a super-smart person interview other super-smart people, and even more refreshing that he disagrees with every guest no fewer than three times. It’s a fantastic dialogue, and the clear winner on this list in the “makes me smarter” category. Into 2019, I find that this show is drifting away from quantitative economics and more into philosophy, and I’m gradually reducing my rating accordingly.

Conversations with Tyler (economics)

This also falls into the “makes me smarter” category (like EconTalk), and also falls under “it’s really great to heart smart people ask thoughtful questions to other smart people”. I’d say if you like Ted talks (which I don’t, FWIW), you’ll like this, and if you skipped econ 101 in college but want to know what you would be able to understand if you took it, this is also for you. A little less accessible than EconTalk, and a little less engagement in debate between host and guest. I also definitely have to pick and choose episodes; when it gets philosophical, I tune out.

S-Town (long-form journalism)

It’s hard not to compare this to Serial, and… well, that’s how life goes. Whoever steps in when Brady retires is going to have a lot of 11-5 seasons that get called “disappointing”. The production on S-Town was great, the reporting was great, but it just never drew us in the way Serial Season 1 did, and it never felt as important as Serial Season 2.

Terms (fiction)

This is a fictional story about White-House-level political intrigue. It’s almost impossible not to listen to it as a way-too-on-the-nose telling of “what if Barack Obama decided to prevent Trump from taking office?”, but I’m placing a lot of stock in the writers’ claims that the story was written well before there was a Trump. If you can look at it as fiction, instead of weak satire, it’s quite compelling.

Pants on Fire (kids)

For my currently-eight-and-seven-year-olds, this is just the right balance of fun, educational, and interactive. Guess who is the expert on [kid-friendly topic of the day], and who is just pretending to be an expert.

Steal the Stars (fiction) (the first 13 episodes)

Steal the Stars (fiction) (the last episode)

Original narrative and excellent production; this was a solid five stars going in to the last episode, but it came apart so badly in the last 30 minutes that I wanted back the time I had invested in the whole season. Uck. Five stars for the first 90% of the season, negative one star for the last episode.

Homecoming (fiction)

Wow, this show is full of itself. A 20-minute podcast with a 10-minute weekly aftershow to go behind the scenes? But it’s good nonetheless, and the production quality possibly even exceeds that of Limetown. I can’t say I really care about the story; I wish they had channeled their energies into something a little more hard-hitting… stealing a submarine, zombies, etc. But the plot is basically an acceptable scaffold for good acting, good production, and good dialogue. Update: the Amazon Prime adaptation was IMO better than the podcast.

ML podcasts that aren’t TWiML…

Data Skeptic (computer science)

Linear Digressions (computer science)

As someone who has veered in and out of ML throughout my career, I found both of these to be a useful, very listenable terminology review.  Pretty surface-level coverage, but I think they both approach the limit of depth one could really address in a podcast. Once they ran out of core ML topics, both became a little less appealing to me.

BBC History Extra (history)

This is like five stars if you hand-pick episodes, but like three stars if you listen blind and get buried in esotera about the British monarchy.

Last Known Position

High-quality production and solid acting, but the story got comic-book-level silly pretty quickly.

Double Threat (people talking)

In a world with the Adam Carolla Podcast, I don’t need podcasts that are just slightly-less-funny people talking.

Bananas (people talking)

In a world with the Adam Carolla Podcast, I don’t need podcasts that are just slightly-less-funny people talking.

Dana Gould Hour (people talking)

In a world with the Adam Carolla Podcast, I don’t need podcasts that are just slightly-less-funny people talking.

About Last Night (people talking)

In a world with the Adam Carolla Podcast, I don’t need podcasts that are just slightly-less-funny people talking.

The Edge of Sleep (fiction)

Great production, great start, but this completely came apart when it got supernatural.

Crypto-Z (fiction)

Good production, great start, but the villains were so over the top they seemed to have teleported from a ’40s Broadway play, and at some point I stopped caring.

Blood Ties (fiction)

Exceptional production and one of the most substantial casts in the podverse, and it got off to a great start… mysterious plane crash? Yes, please. I was fully primed for international espionage, jewel heists, etc. But then the “truth” they discovered turned out to be just dull crime stuff. Wasted opportunity IMO.

Sawbones (medical non-fiction)

Lots of people recommended this to me, so maybe I just don’t get it, but this felt like it was mostly just two people talking. Somewhat prepared, but compared to the standards of modern podcast production, this was just two people talking about weird medical stories. Medium-interesting at times, but generally just two people talking.

Exeter (fiction)

As well-produced as anything in the fiction space, even Limetown. That said, I just didn’t care enough about the plot to stick with it past ~4 episodes.

Carrier (fiction)

Really well-produced, and a unique solution to the challenge of legitimizing narration in a fiction podcast (in this case, the protagonist is a truck driver and her CB is the narrative device). As well-produced as anything in the fiction space, even Limetown. That said, I just didn’t care enough about the plot to stick with it past ~4 episodes.

The Daily (medium-form journalism, news)

Firstly, I like this WordPress theme but that clearly comes out looking like “The Dally” (rhymes with “Sally”) rather than “The Daily” (rhymes with… shit… whale-y?).

But more to the point… this is about as good as daily long-form journalism could possibly be, and it’s the first thing I listen to every day. This is basically the New York Times in a tiny box, except I can read it while I walk my dog. My favorite part is hearing Barbaro quote Trump’s most insane tweets in his very calm, journalistic, almost soothing voice. But really, as left-leaning at the Times may be, this is not a leftist political podcast, of which there are plenty, a few of which I’ll slam below.

Example: just before typing this paragraph, I listened to an episode in which he interviewed Scott Pruitt. As a hippie socialist, I feel that Scott Pruitt is a demon sent to the Earth because Satan likes deserts. But during this interview, Pruitt was allowed space to make a very reasonable legal argument about the way he runs the EPA, and I came away thinking “I still despise him, but the things he said were more right than wrong.” The fact that the interview could go that way is a testament to (oh-so-rare) balanced journalism.

FWIW after he made those points he basically went on to denounce climate science. So, fuck him. But his legal arguments were sound.

Update: sometime in 2018, this really did turn into a leftist political podcast. IMO it jumped the shark somewhere around lost immigrant children, where facts were left safely behind in favor of firing up the base. I’m not really against that, we need to fire up the base, but I don’t personally need it in my podcasts.

Update: sometime in 2019, I knocked off another half-star for continuing on the same trend. This has fallen out of my daily rotation now, and has become more frustrating than informative.

The Last Days of August (long-form journalism)

His deep interest in the subject shines through, so – as is the case in “The Butterfly Effect” – you feel like you’re along for a journalistic ride. At the same time, he’s trying so hard to take a side in some places that he asks the listener to make absurd leaps of faith to support his point. I don’t need deep journalism about porn, but he does try to make a case that he’s being fair, and while I think he legitimately came into the story with an open mind, he’s basically painting some conclusions – in the interestof narrative clarity – that are not supported by the facts he shows us in some places.

The Dream (long-form journalism)

High-production-value long-form journalism; season 1 focused on multi-level marketing schemes. When it got into details, it was highly informative without being boring; the episode on the nuts and bolts of the Amway decision was outstanding. But a bit too much time was taken up talking about feelings IMO. Similarly, a reasonable allocation of blame for the MLM industry could be 95/5 industry vs. victims or their parents; this show put the blame 100.00000% on the industry, and didn’t really even dabble in the personal responsibility angle, ergo it got a little preach-y and a little tired.

Gone (history)

Tells the story of unsolved mysteries, but not in the “girl’s body found in the woods” way.  Criminals who got away, missing Nazi Gold.  All the things people like about dark crime stories, but more or less without the violence and bummerism.  Double-speeder, but good. Not to be confused with a different podcast called “Gone” that is exactly the “girl’s body found in the woods” sort of podcast.

Everything is Alive (mockumentary?)

Every episode is an extended interview with an inanimate object… Coke can, pillow, etc. I’m not sure I “enjoy” it, but as a piece of art and an interesting use of the medium, full marks. Strangely sad and poignant at points for a podcast that’s an interview with a Coke can. 4.5 stars for creativity, 3 stars for actual entertainment.

The Amelia Project (fiction)

This felt really clever for the first episode, but the clever premise was really only a single episode worth of content, not enough to carry a multi-episode podcast series. And with nothing really happening, at least within the first few episodes that I listened to, this got boring fast.

Talking Machines (computer science)

This is like five stars if you hand-pick episodes, but like three stars if you listen blind and get buried in esotera about the British monarchy. The interviews are generally very scripted, and it’s hard to tell whether the interviewer is even listening to the answers, or just working down the list. In a world where we have History Hit, I’m not sure this podcast has a place. That said, it’s still concise and sometimes-interesting history.

Caliphate (long-form journalism)

Caliphate (from the New York Times) has been a real disappointment… the first three or four episodes were fantastic (I originally put it at 4.5 stars), with a very clear and compelling narrative about a former ISIS fighter who returned to Canada to more or less lead a normal life, plus some meta-story about the life of the reporter interviewing him. Episode 5 tried to stun us with some conspiracy theory about whether he was really who he says he is, but the conspiracy theory was really hard to follow, and was clearly a weak excuse to “get the reporter to Iraq”, which I put in quotes because it’s obvious her trip to Iraq had nothing to do with the story of said ISI fighter, and I’m pretty sure it at least partially pre-dated the interview in question. Now it’s just the reporter wandering around terrible places in Iraq, with no clear narrative, and I don’t need a podcast for generic news about Iraq.

Science Friday (science)

I’m really skeptical about science podcasts… I feel like I should want to listen to more science podcasts, but I think the assumption there is that science podcasts will make me smarter. So far, in my experience, science podcasts all sit somewhere in the uncanny valley between “useful information but too technical for anyone unless you have a PhD on that particular topic” and “so high-level that no useful information is transferred, so you feel like you’re learning, but at the end of an episode, you can’t say what you learned”. I tried the Science and Nature podcasts, and they both sat around the same level of detail as Science Friday, but in comparison, they felt like slow, scripted interviews. So I’m calling this best-in-class, but I remain unconvinced that time listening to science podcasts isn’t better spent listening to comedy podcasts.

Partially Derivative (computer science)

Entertaining, though not super-focused. I’m not sure I learned anything from this, but it pleasantly passed the time in a vaguely productive way.

The Message (fiction)

Another decent docudrama sunk by the existence of Limetown. It’s OK, but the plot gets a little abstract and silly for my tastes.

Fitzdog Radio (comedy)

He’s a fantastic interviewer, but at the end of the day two funny people talking about not that much just isn’t enough to keep my attention. When he gets into someone’s life story, he has a Stern-esque ability to get people to open up, but for the most part he’s just getting comedians to open up, which is a pretty narrow slice.

The Black Tapes (fiction)

I got really into this for a while, great production, great acting, and solid scripts. But the story definitely took a turn for the silly and poorly thought out… without spoilers, it left the “interesting supernatural with rules” and ended up at “mystical nonsense”.

I do like that the Internet is intensely confused about what level the fiction starts at… is the network real? Is Alex Reagan real? Is PNWS real?

Reasonable Doubt (comedy, and sometimes law)

Really interesting when Geragos talks about cases, really boring when they do their 20-minute rants and/or motivational speeches. If they expanded this to an hour and basically made it “Adam interviews Geragos about an interesting legal case”, this would easily be five stars.

Gangster Capitalism (long-form journalism)

Well-produced, but pretty blowhardy, and makes the college admissions “scandal” seem like a way bigger deal than it is, tearing at the very fabric of society and class and yadda yadaa, which I find somewhere between dull and irresponsible.

Unwell (mystery fiction)

Well-produced and creative, but way too slow for me to get into it, dropped after 2 episodes. Three stars, or – more appropriately – 0.5 Limetowns.

The Seventh Daughter (fiction)

Over-the-top acting and dialogue straight out of 1940s radio… I tried, but after ~1.5 episodes, it felt like a terrible high school play.

Earth Break (post-apocalyptic fiction)

Well-produced and creative, but way too slow for me to get into it, dropped after 2 episodes. Three stars, or – more appropriately – 0.5 Limetowns.

Science Rules! (science)

Bill Nye is a legend, but sometimes even great entertainers just aren’t destined for podcasts. This was surprisingly lazy, with a lot of repeating of the words “Science Rules”.

Against the Rules (sports… sort of)

Really well-produced, and Michael Lewis is a fantastic writer and a great narrator, but I wish they had just done an “interesting sports stories” docuseries with lots of numbers, instead of this grandiose, loosely-held-together parable about fairness in America.

The White Vault (fiction/thriller)

I wanted to know what was going to happen, i.e. what the big secret is, but not enough to push through the cliché, cartoon-ish characters.

Deadly Manners (mystery/comedy)

Well-produced, and I like the “darkly upbeat” vibe, but I found myself just not caring who did what, and I quit early. It felt like I was listening to a particularly good high school play, but still a high school play.

Direct Current (science)

I tried a bunch of science podcasts in a flurry of science-podcast-downloading, and basically all of them fell in the uncomfortable gap between “enough detail to actually teach you something” and “enough accessibility that you don’t need a PhD to follow along”. Sadly, this podcast also fell in that gap, but I’m giving it a bump for:

  1. The idea that the US government (the DOE) made a well-produced, lively podcast
  2. A fantastic 2.5-episode piece on the history of the Manhattan Project. Five stars for those 2.5 episodes.

Atlanta Monster (long-form journalism)

It turns out that “A Very Fatal Murder” was mocking this maybe even more than Serial.  This is, in fact, a terrible clone of serial.  High production value, and a really interesting and important case that I didn’t know anything about (hence about three episodes of total engrossment), but excruciatingly long, excruciatingly self-congratulatory, and often willing to favor what people felt about the facts over the actual facts.

The Dropout (long-form journalism)

Good production, but really superficial treatment of the story, leaving really basic things unexplained in a way that made their narrative feel untrustworthy. For example, you can’t in the very same episode say that their tests don’t work well and that they run all their tests on other people’s machines. In a multi-episode podcast, there’s room for nuance and clarity there.

Penn’s Sunday School (comedy?)

Every once in a while, I search iTunes for something to supplement my comedy podcast needs, because there’s only so much Adam Carolla available.  And every time I’m reminded that there are lots of funny, smart people with podcasts, saying somewhat interesting things, but they’re just a couple of dudes talking into microphones about whatever strikes them at that instant.  I.e., there’s no show. Which in this case is super ironic, since he’s arguably the greatest showman of the last half-century.

American History Tellers (history)

This is a really nice controlled experiment… it’s a lot like Hardcore History in its topic selection, level of detail, and even in the details they choose to cover.  But it’s totally scripted, almost to the point where it feels like they’re being paced by a metronome and trying to nail the post at the end of each episode.  And, consequently, it’s super-boring.

Pod Save America (politics)

If I were really into liberals preaching to the choir, as most liberals appear to be, I think this podcast would be great. These are reasonably funny, reasonably well-connected, very intelligent dudes giving a slightly profane take on political news. That said, it just made me mad at liberals, so I’m done with it after two episodes.


I don’t understand why this is so popular, or why Obama appeared on this show instead of a zillion other podcasts. Maron is an excellent interviewer, but the monologue portion of the show is boring (like, it doesn’t seem to even be an attempt at humor, it’s just a guy talking for 10 minutes), and even when the interviews are good, it’s still just two people talking about not that much, and IMO he’s not even remotely the best interviewer on this list, much less in the entire podverse. See Fitzdog Radio and the ACS; both IMO ask more interesting questions and relate to guests more effectively. So WTF is up with its popularity?

The Walk (fiction)

Innovative, well-produced, and well-acted, but physically hard to listen to, because of its efforts to be completely immersive.  Oddly, they start it off by saying “best experienced out in the world, on a walk, etc.”, but IMO the only way I could really digest this would be in complete acoustic isolation.

Life After (fiction)

Props to them for starting a new story after The Message, but IMO this one is not as good. The whole season has the same plot as one episode of Black Mirror, and the episode of Black Mirror was better.

Machine Learning Guide (computer science)

Pretty practical walkthrough of ML concepts, but not particularly lively. Even though it’s not quite apples-to-apples, I’d recommend Linear Digressions and Data Skeptic over this.

Freakonomics Radio (economics?)

Hit or miss; avoid any episodes related to technology, avoid any episodes related to motivation or personal improvement, avoid any episodes that sound really abstract, and avoid any episodes that are just interviews with a luminary. But anything related to economics is always awesome, and freak-quently asked questions episodes are even better. I’ve rated this podcast based on the 2017 ratio of hits to misses… in 2014, it was basically 100% hit, in 2018 it was maybe 30% hit, and in ~2019 when they started interviewing luminaries instead of discussing interesting case studies in economics, 0% hit.

When Diplomacy Fails (history)

Great premise (each episode describes the diplomatic build-up in a conflict that eventually ended in war), but suuuuper boring, like a textbook being read to me.

The Grift (long-form journalism)

An interesting topic, and every time I’ve heard Maria Konnikova on other podcasts she seems like one of the most interesting people in the universe, but this podcast was super-disappointing, primarily for total lack of detail. It felt like every sentence was “and then he toooootally conned them”, sort of like watching MacGyver, except he just goes into a room with the plunger and the baking soda and then the cut to the villain saying “I just got totally MacGyver’d!”.

Talking Machines (computer science)

The interviews with ML rock stars were OK and generally not super-technical, but the half of the show that is more technical IMO went too deep, to the point where unless you already had a strong command of the material, there’s no way you could follow it in a podcast.

Norm Macdonald Live (comedy)

Second only to “Revisionist History” in the “disappointing” category. Norm Macdonald is a comedic genius with a completely unique voice, and when I heard he had a podcast, I was sure this would stand next to Carolla atop Mount Funny. But it was not to be. As of 2017, it was clearly recorded on someone’s iPhone (despite having two producers in the room… what are they actually producing?), it was crass without being clever… a letdown. The jokes at the end of each episode, very Weekend-Update-esque, are definitely a strong point; if there were a separate podcast with just those, I would be in.

Blackout (post-apocalyptic fiction)

The biggest disappointment in the 2019 podverse. Big budget, great acting, and an A-list cast, but eventually ruined by terrible, cartoon-ish dialogue and nonsensical, equally-cartoon-ish plot twists.

Klepper (not really a podcast?)

I got tricked, this isn’t really a podcast, this is a totally unnecessary behind-the-scenes for the show.

Daily Zeitgeist (politics)

See “Pod Save America”, except take Pod Save America, substitute “drugs” for “relevant political connections and insider insight”, and you’ve got the Daily Zeitgeist.

Serendipity (fiction)

Based only on the first episode, but I didn’t get it. Rambling nonsense. And why do people think it’s a good idea to have a 10-minute preamble about the episode before the episode starts?

Learning Machines (computer science)

This just felt like a recorded lecture, just one dude droning on about machine learning. Hard to focus on. Were there not other better podcasts in a completely-apples-to-apples sense, I could see some value here, but we have Linear Digressions, Data Skeptic, and TWiML, so…

Revisionist History (history?)

This was really disappointing, especially when it turned blowhard and stopped having anything to do with history. A huge name in journalism and storytelling is going to do a podcast that critically assesses a historical narrative? Sign me up! But what actually came out was a blowhard-y, uninformative, irritating outpouring of rich white male guilt.

Economic Rockstar (economics)

I started this in my fit of excitement when I discovered other economics podcasts (e.g. EconTalk, Planet Money), but this was horrible by comparison. Slow and boring, living up to every stereotype of economists talking to other economists. Ironic, given the title, no?

Darkest night (fiction)

Right out of the gate this felt like a high school play… except imagine a high school play where they had to narrate every minute detail because the audience has their eyes closed. “I’m picking up a screwdriver now”, “I’m walking through the door now”, etc.

Dealy Manners (mystery) (I think)

Felt like a play from the ’40s, dialog and acting were dismal.

The Leviathan Chronicles (fiction)

See “Edict Zero”, only it feels like more effort went into it, in a bad way.

Hey Riddle Riddle (puzzles)

A riddle podcast sounds like a great idea, but this felt like college radio. In a bad way. It’s “Lateral”, only done wrong, by unprofessional broadcasters.

The Cleansed (fiction)

See “Edict Zero”.

The Deep Vault (fiction)

Also felt very intentionally theatrical (like Edict Zero and We’re Alive), acting and dialog were rough enough that I didn’t take the time to discover the story.

Edict Zero (fiction)

Over-the-top voice acting, more like high school kids putting on a play than a professional podcast. I didn’t make it through an episode.

We’re Alive

I listened to this right after I finished Limetown, which made it seem even worse. The writing was just horrendous; I didn’t make it through one episode. As of right now, this is the worst podcast I’ve ever tried to listen to.

A few that I tried briefly…

…but don’t want to rate because IMO they were good but just not for me…

Mongabay Newscast (environment)

I’m trying out a few conservation-themed podcasts, and so far this is best-in-class. It’s somewhat biodiversity-focused, so if you want today’s pessimism about climate specifically, you may have to look elsewhere, but it’s a good mix of informative and interesting, and the way it leans within environmental news aligns well with my interests. A double-speeder; a little slow compared to, e.g., Science Vs. In the end I decided I couldn’t take any more bad news since I work in this space and spend my whole day immersed in terrible news, so I dropped this one pretty quickly. Spoiler: everything’s a mess and there’s no good news.

The Three Questions with Andy Richter

This fell into the category of “just two people talking”, which was a little disappointing, since childhood memories tell me that Andy Richter is funny. But I guess some people are into the “just two people talking” format, because for some reason Joe Rogan and Mark Maron are both really popular, so who am I to judge?

StarTalk Radio (science)

When I listened to it, I leaned toward 4.5 stars, but then at some point it felt like homework. Not because it’s about science (Science Vs. is also about science, and doesn’t feel like homework), but because it’s not quite “produced” enough for me. I.e., it felt a little too much like “just a super-smart and generally entertaining person talking about science”.

Welcome to Nightvale

Really interesting use of the medium, very smart, but not my bag.

The Truth

Had been recommended along with serial dramas like Limetown, and I’m just not into the format. Well-produced.


Excellent longform (emphasis on long) reporting on current events, but in my podverse I want reflective, less-current longform journalism / discussion (Serial, History Hit) and shorter reporting on current events (The Daily).

Up First

Good short take on the day’s news, but IMO made obsolete by The Daily.

The Wild

Really compelling narrator, and I feel like a worse person for not enjoying this, but (a) even I can’t get into an audio-based animal documentary and (b) I really can’t take any more bummer environmental news in my life.

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