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The 10 Must-Listen Podcast Episodes of 2015

By The Pajiba Staff | Podcasts | December 25, 2015 |

By The Pajiba Staff | Podcasts | December 25, 2015 |

All of the episodes below come from some of the best podcasts around. Some are good entry points into those podcasts. Some are great stand-alone episodes. Some others are the culmination of an entire season of excellence.

Limetown, “Napoleon” — This episode was disturbing, heartbreaking and deeply moving. Fairly impressive for a tale of the bond between a man and a pig. Not only do we discover the mission of the mysterious Limetown, but the devastating ramifications. If you haven’t started this spectacular series yet, I won’t spoil it. For those bothered by the voiceover artists (in their defense, totally natural Serial-style interviews are deceptively hard to replicate) this is easily the show’s most realistic performance, and it’s tremendous. Get yourself onboard with this show. - Courtney Enlow

Mystery Show, “Belt Buckle,” — On Gimlet Media’s “The Mystery Show,” Starlee Kine devotes a weekly podcast to solving mysteries that cannot be solved through any other means. “Every week I solve another mystery. Mysteries that cannot be solved online. Mysteries that you can’t solve yourself.” She’s basically turning private investigations into a series of podcast. The mysteries she’s solving are personal and the stakes are not nearly as high as in Serial, but the results — through three episodes, so far — have been intensely gratifying and life affirming. The answers to the mysteries are secondary to the journeys, although the third episode — “Belt Buckle” — will blow you away in answering the mystery. In it, a man who came upon a lost custom-made belt buckle nearly 30 years ago enrolls Kine to find the original owner of the buckle so that he can return it to him. Kine, in turn, takes us through several phone calls and trips to a few cities to find the owner. I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but it all culminates in in the sweetest, most touching reunion between a man and his belt buckle that you will ever hear. — Dustin Rowles

Bodega Boys, “Episode 6 — Black Pipes Matter” — There’s an 86 percent chance you’ll be fired from your job for listening to Bodega Boys at the office. You’ll either be laughing so hard your boss will know you’re not on task, or you’ll accidentally disconnect your headphone cable while the hosts are reminiscing about the Golden Age of Terrorism, and it’s a wrap. Whatever, it’s worth the risk. Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, formerly of Desus vs Mero, deliver rapid-fire takes on Bronx life, relationships, current events, pop culture, phone wars, the New York Knicks, K2, pumpkin spice lattes, police, politics (Mero’s Ben Carson impression is so hilariously on point you’ll start to wonder if the candidate actually stopped by the studio to record a spot), Azelea Banks, circumcision, eating butt, and whatever other random topics fall from their chaotic thought trains in a given hour. Sounds simple, but the show’s brilliance lies in the way the two longtime friends skillfully allow their largely white audience to laugh along with their scathing, hysterical dissections of racial and social issues. That’s a tough needle to thread. Desus and Mero do it better than any comic since Dave Chappelle. — Brian Byrd

Surprisingly Awesome, “Concrete” — In another new podcast from Gimlet Media, hosts Adam McKay (Will Ferrell’s writing partner and the director of the good Ferrell movies (The Other Guys, Anchorman Step Brothers) and Adam Davidson (business and economics reporter for NPR, and host of Planet Money) try and find something seemingly boring, banal, or mundane and blow each others minds by revealing fascinating facts and/or history about the topic. You’d never imagine the topic of “concrete” could be interesting, but this episode basically tied the beginnings of civilization back to concrete and tied concrete in to the political corruption and the deaths of thousands of people. It’s a mindblowing episode. — Dustin Rowles

How Did This Get Made? (“Maximum Overdrive”) When people ask me where they should start with HDTGM, I hesitate to say at the beginning. Podcasts, like sitcoms, can have trouble finding their footing at first and generally take a few episodes to really figure themselves out. HDTGM is no different. If you want to start listening to HDTGM and you want an episode that embodies all of the best it has to offer while also avoiding confusion for new listeners, I have you sorted. The one you want is #119 Maximum Overdrive Live with Andy Daly. Daly is an exceptional guest that has no problem interacting with Zooks, June, and Paul. There’s a delightful discussion concerning what makes something a machine and a palpable sense of confusion permeating the entire movie viewing experience. You also get the built-in enthusiasm of the live audience and creepy soundbites of a coked-out Stephen King. It’s the best episode this year from a podcast that routinely churns out winners. — Jodi Clager

Nerdist, “Fred Savage” — I listen to a lot of Marc Maron episode, and a lot of Nerdist episodes. I’ve probably heard 150 interviews this year, and while Paul Thomas Anderson’s story about Burt Reynolds and Boogie Nights is probably the single best anecdote I’ve heard on either podcast in 2015, Fred Savage was my favorite guest. He is not what you’d expect little Kevin Arnold to grow up and be like: He’s hilarious, and filthy, and self-deprecating, and charming as hell. Listen to him on the Nerdist for an hour, and you immediately understand why he has been such a frequent director of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes: He has the same comedic sensibility. — Dustin Rowles

The Moth, “Oreos, Heaven, and America’s Most Wanted” — The Moth is a podcast that ebbs and flows. Every week presents around two to four true stories being told by folks with varying degrees of storytelling abilities. Sometimes the story teller makes up for an OK story. Sometimes the story makes up for an OK story teller. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. But then sometimes, everything just clicks and you get magic, like the bookend stories on The Moth’s “Oreos, Heaven, and America’s Most Wanted” episode. The middle two stories are fine, but they don’t stick with you. The final story, is a numerous telling of a rental property manager’s accidental involvement in the arrest of one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, Whitey Bulger. And it’s the perfect way to end the episode, which starts with a mother intimately sharing the fears that come with learning that her daughter has down’s syndrome. It’s sad, and sweet, and raw. It’s a gut-punching beautiful tale, and they way it’s shared shows you exactly why the art of oral storytelling will never die. — Seth Freilich

Radiolab, “Montreal Screwjob” — The concept of Radiolab — a podcast largely devoted science — and the subject matter of this episode (wrestling) are basically antithetical to my interests. However, the Radiolab guys are such strong storytellers, and the “Montreal Screwjob” — a wrestling match where Vince McMahon and WWF employees secretly manipulated the pre-determined outcome to screw over a former employee — is such an intriguing story, that the surface-level subject matter didn’t matter. Even if you hate wrestling, for the length of one podcast episode, it will be the most fascinating subject of your week. — Dustin Rowles

Welcome to Night Vale, “Best Of” — Night Vale has this incredible ability to make you forget how chilling it can be. It’s funny, bizarre and one of the best romances on any medium, but at its core, it’s the story of a place that makes no sense, and that is sometimes quite frightening for a show that had you laughing just moments before. And this episode hits every note perfectly. Ironically not hosted by our dear Cecil (the end reveal gave me goosebumps) but definitely Cecil-tastic, we get a history of our host’s time on Night Vale radio. A really, really, REALLY long time. - Courtney Enlow

This American Life, “The Problem We All Live With” — The two-part This American Life series focuses primarily on the fall-out from a forced integration in the 2000s in St. Louis, and as well as a recent voluntary integration in Hartford, CT. We know the integration works, and the podcast explores why we aren’t integrating, and it asks why we’re facing the exact same problems today as we did 30 years ago when government-mandated integration briefly closed the achievement gap between black and white students. It’s a heartbreaking and eye-opening episode that might make you wonder how much your own issues with race are affecting the education decisions you make for your own children. — Dustin Rowles

Honorable Mentions: I Was There, Too, “Stephen Tobolowksy/Groundhog Day”; James Bonding, “Live and Let Die with Paul F. Tompkins”; Marc Maron, “Ian McKellan”; You Must Remember This from the Charles Manson series; and the Empire spoiler special with Chris McQuarrie.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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