Oooh boy, 2017 has been quite a year. Donald Trump was inaugurated as the United States' 45th president, devastating hurricanes hit Texas and Puerto Rico, and there's been a massive uprising around sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
For anyone looking to take a break from the news, podcasts offered a lot of options. Listeners binged on the lush Southern gothic S-Town, as well as on one man's quest to uncover the mystery of his workout guru's withdrawal from the world in Missing Richard Simmons. (Though you won't find either of those podcasts on this list.) 2017 also brought us prestige series like Dirty John, Heaven's Gate and Mogul.
It was an embarrassment of riches, to be honest. So many new shows dropped that it's hard to even think about summing up my favorites. But as the host of The Big Listen, a broadcast about podcasts, I'm going to try. Lord knows there's no shortage of podcast listicles populating your social media feeds this time of year (there's even a listicle of podcast listicles!) but this best-of is a little different.
Here are my picks (in no particular order) for the nine best new podcasts of 2017 that we covered on The Big Listen. (We're distributed by NPR, so to avoid a conflict of interest, you won't see any NPR podcasts on this list.) Happy listening!
This slick, fictional series about Chicago's mostly-black Bronzeville neighborhood in the 1940s flew largely under the radar this year. But it's certainly worth a listen, and not just because legendary actor Laurence Fishburne is in it. It follows the lives of Bronzeville's illegal lottery players, but also chronicles the neighborhood's self-sustainability. In addition to Fishburne, the series features Omari Hardwick, Tracee Ellis Ross and Larenz Tate, who also serves as co-producer. Bronzeville is a very modern take on the radio dramas of yore.
Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about Columbine? How about the Oklahoma City bombing, or the car crash that took Princess Diana's life? Have you ever stopped to consider what other things were happening on these important days in history? KUOW's How's Your Day? explores the life that was happening while our collective attention was focused elsewhere. It's poignant and ambitious and will make you think.
When the writer Alex Kotlowitz was asked to teach a creative writing class at a correctional facility outside of Chicago, he wanted to make sure that his inmate students didn't just write about how they were wrongly accused or how terrible prison was. So he gave them a prompt: Write about your cell. The resulting short stories were then read by voice actors and turned into a podcast from WBEZ. Like its cousin Ear Hustle, it's an intimate look at life behind bars that will likely change the way you think about incarceration.
Walk into the self-help section of any bookstore and you'll be overwhelmed with the selection. There are countless books dedicated to fixing our broken lives. Kristen Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg decided to see if any of them actually worked, so the pair read books like French Women Don't Get Fat and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and lived by the books' tenets for two weeks at a time. Naturally, hilarity ensues in this series from Panoply, but the show is also a commentary on the self-help industrial complex.