Divining Pod: Top 10 Podcasts of 2016

Justin Hernandez

As Podcasts continue to work their way into the mainstream and gain attention outside of their many devoted fanbases, I take a look back at the top ten Podcast episodes of 2016 that stood out from the masses.

10. Better Call Saul Insider Podcast – Episode 209

While I admit this one may not be the most interesting to those not familiar with the source show Better Call Saul, this podcast is an example of show specific podcasts done right. There is undoubtedly a wide selections of quality podcasts by fans for fans of shows like Saul, there is something to be said for the specific chemistry that exists between Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad and co-creator of Better Call Saul), Peter Gould (co-creator of Better Call Saul), longtime Bad and Saul editor and host of the Podcast Kelley Dixon, and actor Jonathan Banks.

As a devoted listener to the Breaking Bad Insider Podcast, it has been a delight to be along for the ride through the episode-for-episode look at the series via the podcast. Now, as the creators and a few of the actors from that series have moved on to Saul, this new series of podcasts serves as a comprehensive look both backwards and forwards at characters, plots, and the entire creative process behind two of television’s most classic series.

This specific episode touches on everything from the behind-the-scenes machinations done to keep the reveal of certain spoilerific characters hidden to insight on the costumes of Bad and Saul as well as the personal immigration story of Jamaican-born costume designer Bryan. By the time the podcast reaches the discussion on the episode itself, you’ve already heard enough fun factoids and hilarious grumbling from Banks to fill a commentary track.

The Better Call Saul Insider Podcast is available to stream and download on your favorite Podcasting app. New episodes are usually released the week of/after new episodes of Better Call Saul air on AMC.

9. Ronna and Beverly – Episode 145.5, “Bonus Episode: Matt McConkey”

The post-election episode of this continually underrated and undercovered podcast was a marvelous example of the immediacy of podcasting as well as the connection between fan and host. Ronna and Beverly stars Ronna Glickman and Beverly Ginsberg, America’s favorite fifty-something Jewish mothers who also happen to be characters portrayed respectively by actors/comedians/writers Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo. In any case, Chaffin and Denbo have imbued their characters with vivid personalities and backstories that lend themselves not only to the hilarious and freewheeling conversational improv of the podcast, but also to creating the show’s unique inclusive, supportive, and maternal comedic environment.

As such, when many in their fanbase looked to them for hope and inspiration after the election, the two responded by rushing out an episode full of absurdity, honesty, and love. Without breaking character or sacrificing an ounce of hilarity, Denbo and Chaffin spoke directly to those that needed to hear their voices most just when they most needed to hear them. By directly responding to the social media call for their take on the events of the week so quickly and personally, Denbo and Chaffin have shown the power and ability of new media and entertainment to respond swiftly not only to the big events of our day, but also to the needs of their fans.

New episodes of Ronna and Beverly air every other Friday and are available to stream or download on Earwolf.com and your favorite Podcasting app.

8. The Best Show with Tom Scharpling – Episode 76: Best Candy Bar Ever! Ray Ray Hutchins! Sound Collage!

The idea of podcasting as support animal is again on display in this gem from podcast and broadcasting legend Tom Scharpling. Only two days removed from the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL, Scharpling put together a moving and poignant episode that was ostensibly premised on talking about everyone’s favorite candy bars. As the episode wound on and after another classic call from Scharpling’s partner in comedy Jon Wurster, it became clear that there was more to the discussion than simply nougat and chocolate.

With a bed of “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” by Lesley Gore cheerily blaring underneath him, Scharpling’s focus begins to wander. Is there room for candy in a world filled with violence, tragedy, and fear? Scharpling doesn’t so much offer an answer as he declares his conviction to soldier on as a source of joy and goodness in the face of whatever may come.

The Best Show with Tom Scharpling airs every Tuesday on www.TheBestShow.com. You can download or stream The Best Show at www.TheBestShow.net or on your favorite Podcasting app. You can also head over to apmike.bandcamp.com for a fine assortment of products.

7. The Complete Woman? – Episodes 1-6

While it may seem unfair to group an entire series’ worth of episodes into one entry, the entire run of Amanda Lund’s podcast clocks in right around only an hour and a half. And, to be honest, any one of these quarter hour episodes could have earned a spot on this list due to the amount of talent and production involved. Nevertheless, to truly appreciate the concept and fun of the show, I’d suggest listening to all six episodes in one sitting, standing, driving, walking, or however you take your podcasts.

A charming spoof on the self-help meets perfect housewife and family fantasies of 1960s pop culture, The Complete Woman? balances the improvisational with the scripted in a seamless way that makes the arc of the show’s characters engaging and hilarious. As comedy podcasts continue to move towards radioplay formats, The Complete Woman? stands as an excellent example of the format done in a new and exciting way while still relying on scripted and produced moments.

The Complete Woman? is available to stream or download with a Howl.fm subscription.

6. Comedy Bang! Bang!  – Best of Australia Tour/Best of UK Tour

As the groundbreaking television program Comedy Bang! Bang! aired its final episode this year, host and creator Scott Aukerman cruised along with his groundbreaking podcast of the same name. While the Comedy Bang! Bang! multi-media franchise has a Universe of characters with enough continuity to give the big U’s (both Marvel and DC) a run for their money, it is Aukerman and the gang as themselves that really stood out

It’s no surprise that Scott as Scott can be charming and entertaining as all get out (one need only look to the modern classics U Talking U2 to Me? or Analyze Phish or the yearly “Best of” episodes of CBB for proof), but the recollections of the tour by Aukerman, Lauren Lapkus, Jon Gabrus, Paul F. Thompkins, and Mike Hanford give a fun insight into an experience shared in different capacities by the cast and the audience. For those of us that followed along on social media or the widow Howl App, we now heard the full stories behind the photos and episodes told hilariously among friends.

New episodes of Comedy Bang! Bang! are released every Monday (and some b-b-bonus Thursdays) and are available to stream or download on Earwolf.com or your favorite Podcasting app. You can get exclusive access to the Comedy Bang! Bang! Archives and Tour episodes on Howl.fm.

5. Hard Nation with the Hard Bros. – Episode 27: Debate 2016: Defeating the Cyber

For a podcast that premiered in 2016, Hard Nation has already put together an impressive catalogue of episodes. Perhaps this year’s particularly intense political climate deserves some credit for supplying Mike Still and Paul Welsh with material for their characters, brothers Mark and Pete Hard, to lambast and cover on their show. But this is no normal political or political humor show.

While there is always a cursory discussion of the actual issues of the week, things often dissolve into madcap surrealism before the episode is through. Still and Welsh both display a good knowledge of the political topics of the day, but for a show that finds them interviewing FDR and Abraham Lincoln, it is their ability to keep things hilarious no matter the subject, political party, or year that has made them an instant addition to my weekly listening schedule.

You can download or stream episodes of Hard Nation on Earwolf.com or your favorite Pocasting app.

4. Hollywood Handbook – Episode 134: Far East Movement, Our Favorite Band

While some may say this isn’t the best episode for new listeners to get into Hollywood Handbook, they would be wrong. That is because, in my opinion, any episode is the best episode to break into HH because the most important thing to do is to just start listening. Sure, starting from the beginning would allow one to trace the threads of various running jokes like some Sufi weaver, but then one might as well go further back to the first episode of HH’s predecessor, the Reality Show Show to truly see the origin of the current show.

Which, now that I think about it, one should absolutely do. But since this list is about podcasts that came out in 2016 and not those that cover seemingly decades old seasons of The Bachelor (Sean Lowe? What is this, the Forties?), one could do worse than this episode featuring the aforementioned Tom Scharpling and star of Hulu’s Difficult People, Julie Klausner.

The culmination of several episodes worth of history between hosts of Hollywood Handbook Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements and Scharpling and Klausner, this episode is a hilarious look at the entertainment industry and the sky high ambitions of the fictional Scharpling that exists within the confines of HH. This specific reality is one where almost anything is possible (as Klausner’s spot on Davenport impersonation can attest) and one that I look forward to returning to every Tuesday morning.

Hollywood Handbook is available to download or stream on Earwolf.com, your favorite podcasting app, or Howl.fm. It’s also a WolfCool Production.  

3. Doughboys with Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell – Episode 76: Rocklobsterfest: Red Lobster 4 with Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport

After taking the podcast scene by storm in 2015, the Doughboys have continued their hot streak through the entirety of 2016 with a year’s worth of episodes discussing the finer points of Star Wars, Nintendo, their mutual hatred for one another, and, of course, chain restaurants. While chain restaurants are the easy access point for many new listeners, it is the dynamic between the two hosts, Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell, that keeps many coming back week after week. So when you add another pair of hosts with an incomparably entertaining dynamic between them, the result is as precious as kyber crystals.

The appearance of the Hollywood Handbook hosts was one many had been anticipating since the earliest days of Doughboys. As members of the Burger Brigade and Spoon Nation carefully monitored Twitter exchanges between the hosts,  buzz of a crossover appearance increased throughout the year until finally it came to pass. The resulting episode is all four hosts at their best as they talk candidly about everything from the podcast biz to marriage proposals resulting in an episode as addictive as crack, or more fittingly, Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay biscuits.

Doughboys is available to stream or download on FeralAudio.com as well as your favorite podcasting app.

2. High and Mighty – Episode 26: Being Fat w/ Nick Mundy & Mike “Mitch” Mitchell/Episode 66: Being Fat w/ Nicole Byer

High and Mighty is a weekly podcast from host Jon Gabrus on which he explores an area of his expertise or obsession that he shares with his guest of the week. Some topics, such as Taco Bell or 80’s-era action movies, span multiple episodes while others, like Newspaper Comics or Summer (Summah), are covered in one episode. The topic of “Being Fat” spread across two episodes and as such both are included as one entry on this list.

Gabrus gives a candid and unflinching look at weight and body image in each of these two episodes while his guests bring their own specific viewpoints to the topic. It isn’t often those in show business so openly discuss their personal battles with the bulge and perhaps that is why these specific stories stood out. As Gabrus joyfully navigates the topic in all its detail, he exhibits the same confidence and courageousness that is a trademark of his comedy while his guests gamely expose their issues within the entertainment industry as well as the industry’s issues with those that may not fit the norm with regards to size and shape.

For a Podcast that opens each week with it’s host gleefully proclaiming himself the “Number one Fuckboy!”, this type of topic may seem to be treading into deep waters. Yet Gabrus has proven himself more than up to the task of tackling serious issues with levity and aplomb and, as always, I look forward to whatever topic he discusses next.

High and Mighty is available to stream or download on Headgum.com or on your favorite Podcasting app.

1. The Best Show with Tom Scharpling – Episode 97: Classic Best Show from 2006! Darren from work! The world ends! More!

If you’re wondering why a show from 2006 could top the list of podcasts from 2016, you clearly haven’t listened to The Best Show. Constantly living up to its name, The Best Show with Tom Scharpling has defined and redefined the format and artform of podcasting before we even had the word “podcast”. Yet he still manages to push limits and envelopes and buttons and in 2016 he took his listeners on a whirlwind adventure through time.

Without spoiling the episode for anyone, I’ll only say that Scharpling plays with the conventions of his show and the medium in a way that winks at his audience in the most sincerest of ways. After crafting an entire town and its inhabitants from only his imagination and that of his partner Jon Wurster, it should be no surprise that Scharpling has the power to traverse space and time to bring his devoted audience a podcast. With this episode, Scharpling demonstrated complete mastery of the form with a podcast that was hilarious, frightening, moving, surprising, and, ultimately, transcendent. Certainly the world would be better if we were all friends and perhaps our first step in that direction could be if we were all Friends of Tom.

The Best Show with Tom Scharpling airs every Tuesday on www.TheBestShow.com. You can download or stream The Best Show at www.TheBestShow.net or on your favorite Podcasting app. You can also head over to apmike.bandcamp.com for a fine assortment of products.

 

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