By Molly K. Lichtner, 4/21/17
Some people pride themselves on their knowledge of fine wine or Cuban cigars. Some people have extensive book collections or meticulously manicured gardens that they are obsessed with.
Me though? I am a podcast connoisseur.
I save my favorite podcasts for the long drive I have to work or my parents’ house. I’ve also been hoarding a few for the 14 and a half hour drive I have to take in two weeks because I know I’ll need every bit of auditory entertainment I can get. Below I’ve outlined some of my favorites that are worth a listen, even if you’re new to the podcast game.
1. Hello From The Magic Tavern
Hello From The Magic Tavern is a completely true, nonfiction podcast that takes place in a tavern called The Vermillion Minotaur, in the magical land of Foon. About two years ago Arnie Niekamp, the host, fell through a dimensional portal behind a Burger King into Foon. Luckily, he still had his podcasting equipment with him and he’s still getting a slight Wi-Fi signal from the Burger King so he uploads the podcast every week. He has two cohosts—absolute fan favorites—Chunt the shapeshifter, who usually takes the form of a badger, and Usidore the Blue, a wizard with an infinite number of names. Yes, it’s ridiculous, and yes, you should listen to all 100+ episodes.
2. The Adventure Zone
This is a podcast where every other week 3 brothers and their dad play Dungeons & Dragons—I know, just wait though—and it’s good. It’s full of jokes and honesty and is more inclusive than most mainstream television shows and movies. I’m serious; in the most recent episode it was confirmed that an important character is trans. The most amazing part of this character is the fact that their gender identity was not a major part of their personal development in terms of the story; it is a part of who they are, but it does not define them. They are more than their gender identity, which is great representation.
Anyway, the current campaign is focused on 3 adventurers, played by 2 of the brothers and the dad: Taako the Wizard that used to be on T.V., Merle Highchurch, a nature-loving cleric, and Magnus Burnsides, a very strong human with a heart of gold. The third brother is the Dungeon Master. In the beginning of the podcasts, the campaign he used was straight from the book, but since then he’s started creating his own worlds, characters, and background music. The first arc, Here There Be Gerblins, is a little shaky at first because they’re still learning, but the second arc, Murder On The Rockport Limited, is pure gold.
3. Dead Pilot Society
I downloaded this one on a whim just because it’s on the same podcast network as The Adventure Zone, and it was brand new. The concept is simple; the hosts Andrew Feich (of Friends fame) and Ben Blacker invite television show writers to come and talk about failed pilots that never quite made it to production. There’s an interview with the writer about their background and how they came up with the concept for the show, followed by a table reading, featuring lots of well-known actors and actresses, such as Sarah Chalke and Ben Schwartz.
My favorite episode so far has been John Hodgman’s failed pilot, “Only Child.” It centers around Hodgman’s life when he was about 13, and Hodgman plays himself as a teenager. Keep in mind, Hodgeman is like 45 which makes the dramatized reading that much funnier.
4. Improvised Star Trek
Improv isn’t easy, but you wouldn’t know that if you listened to Improvised Star Trek. The podcast takes place on the USS Sisyphus, an outdated starship that pales in comparison to the Enterprise. The captain, Julius Valentine Baxter, is a caricature of Captain Kirk and runs his ship with an iron fist (incidentally, Captain Baxter and Usidore from Hello From The Magic Tavern are both played by improve extraordinaire, Matt Young). The most amazing part of this podcast is how the cast plays off of each other; a throwaway joke at the beginning of the episode can turn out to be the punchline in the end. It’s absurd, it’s irreverent, and it’s fun.
I’m currently working on a separate blog about this podcast, but there was no way I could leave it off of this list. This one is different from the other podcasts I’ve talked about because it’s investigative journalism. It starts off focusing on a covered up murder in Woodstock, Alabama, but then it becomes so much more than that. It’s an emotional minefield. It’s genre-changing. It’s real.