Last year I listed my favorite overall podcasts of the year – something that was easy to do because I’d never done it before. So instead of replicating that list for you this year, I’ve decided to just list a few of my favorite episodes of 2011 from my two favorite podcasts – NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and NPR’s This American Life.
PCHH: People talking about things I like
Pop Culture Happy Hour: Set Apart From A Sentence By An Exclamation Point (3/4/2011)
In this episode, the PCHH gang talked about pop culture things they think kids should encounter in their childhoods. From Weird Al to The Muppets, it’s great to listen to if you have kids or if you want to be the “Weird Uncle” (or Aunt, or family friend, or whatever) who introduces funny and intelligent things to someone else’s kids.
Pop Culture Happy Hour: Two, Four, Six, Eight … You Know The Rest (7/15/2011)
What I liked best about this episode was a segment called “Right Place at the Right Time” – pop culture related things that have come into your life at exactly the right time. From gay rodeos to Fame, it’s the kind of discussion that makes you think about what you appreciate in pop culture. For me it’s this blog, Gilmore Girls and being introduced to The Mary Tyler Moore Show as a kid.
Pop Culture Happy Hour: Poseurs, Plate-Spinners, And Six Bucks In Pennies (7/22/2011)
The opposite of genuine appreciation, the following week the gang talked about being pop culture poseurs. EVERYONE can relate to this – at one point or another, you’re going to find yourself on the outside of a major pop culture trend. You can loudly declare your distaste for the Big Popular Thing, you can try and jump on the bandwagon, or you can pretend like you’re in the know. Have you ever just heartily agreed that The Wire is amazing and then quickly changed the subject because you didn’t want to admit you haven’t seen it? For me, this happens with music a lot. It also happens with classic movies – I have seen nothing, and it’s embarrassing. The gang talked about the little white lies we’ve all said, like saying “Oh I read that classic book, but a long time ago” or “I’ve seen most of that critically acclaimed movie, but not all the way through.”
Pop Culture Happy Hour: Unsung Heroes, New Television, And More Blind Spots (8/19/2011)
Unsung heroes was one of my favorite segments PCHH has done. Did you know there’s a dude who makes sure all the science on The Big Bang Theory is accurate? Have you ever thought about how hard the Washington Generals must have to work? Did you know that Quentin Tarantino always worked with the same editor? (Sally Menke, who died in 2010.) It was a fun discussion that shone a spotlight of appreciation on people who don’t always get it.
Pop Culture Happy Hour: We Regret Our Own Underestimations, Etcetera (11/4/2011)
This was another discussion I could really relate to – pop culture things you underestimated. My list is sadly long – Friday Night Lights, Parks and Recreation and Revenge are all TV shows that I originally wrote off either based on one episode or an uninformed idea of what the show was. One suggestion thrown out by Steven Thompson was Russell Brand, following Brand’s well-written and thoughtful eulogy for Amy Winehouse. I’ve always thought that Russell Brand is smarter than he’s given credit for, and it was interesting to hear the PCHH folks discuss that.
Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Guilty Pleasure Problem And The Holiday Tune (12/9/2011)
I hate the term “guilty pleasure”, yet I use it because it’s such a common part of pop culture vernacular. It’s used to describe anything you like that tends to be deemed cheesy, fluffy or low-brow by your peers – whether it be pop music, reality TV or mainstream books. But why should you feel guilty about liking something? In this episode, Linda and the gang debated whether there actually is such a thing as a guilty pleasure. I take the side that there isn’t. You either genuinely like something (the way I like pop music, even though my peers may belittle me for it) or you consume something from an ironic distance, the way I choose to watch shows like The Bachelor or anything with a Kardashian in it. That discussion was followed up with a conversation about holiday music, and I highly recommend you check out this episode since it’s still the Christmas season!
This American Life: Enlightening me during bus rides all year round
I’m not going to list descriptions of these episodes because you can find them on the NPR website, and instead I just want to strongly encourage you to go download them. They’re free! They’re fascinating! They’ll keep your mind occupied for an hour while you exercise, travel, clean, or lay in bed with insomnia.
#423: The Invention of Money
#427: Original Recipe
#430: Very Tough Love
#435: How To Create a Job
#436: The Psychopath Test
#445: Ten Years In
#447: The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms
#451: Back to Penn State
#452: Poultry Slam 2011