Quartz Casties: The best podcasts (and podcast episodes) of 2018

Quartz Casties: The best podcasts (and podcast episodes) of 2018
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Have you been holding on to a loose button that belongs to a shirt you love, but haven’t worn for six months because it’s… missing a button? Have you wanted to reorganize your closet, or bookshelf, or medicine cabinet, but keep putting it off because it’s just so boring? I have a life hack for you: the 2018 year in podcasts.

I’ve listened to podcasts on walks, on bike rides, on the train, in the car, in the shower, while trying to fall asleep, and while trying to wake up. In the process, I’ve discovered that instead of dreading menial, annoying, or mind-numbing tasks, you can be laughing aloud, getting smarter, or feeling chills down your spine. Over the past few months, I raised a wool winter coat from the dead. I scrubbed down and re-laced a pair of old sneakers so they look as fresh as they did in 2016. I cleaned and brushed every single one of my records and put them all in new plastic sleeves. It was a glorious year for podcasts. The list below covers the best of the best. 

A note on a trend, which you may have been keyed into by the illustration at the top of this article: This year, more than ever before, the true-crime/investigative genre of podcasting exploded. Given the breadth of quality podcasts that could be categorized thusly, I’ve been expansive with our definitions. In other words, we chose to put a podcast like Dr. Death, that might in other years be classified as “Investigative,” in the category of “Science.” That might not appeal to everyone’s sensibility, but it most accurately reflects what the Quartz editorial staff listened to over the past year.

With that in mind, here are the winners of the 2018 Quartz Casties, with many thanks to the Quartz journalists who contributed.

📻 Best podcast episodes, by category 📻

💸 Best business/economics episode 


Podcast: The Daily

Episode: ”What the West Got Wrong About China”

One of the most insightful podcast episodes of the year, this two-parter combines essential contemporary analysis from Philip Pan, the New York Times’ Asia editor, with archival audio from the past 40 or so years, to provide a clear and concise narrative that explains China’s economic transformation in that time frame. Combined, the two parts are under an hour long, and in that short time, Pan and Daily host Michael Barbaro make an effective argument for listeners to reconsider the conventional wisdom that democracy is the only path to achieving economic stability and development-indicator success. The Daily doesn’t cut Beijing slack for its record of humanitarian abuse, but it does skillfully raise questions about the efficacy and morality of a US democratic system driven by capitalist, corporate interests. —Elijah Wolfson

🎨 Best culture episode 


Podcast: The Nod

Episode: “An Oral History of ‘Knuck if You Buck'”

If you’re between the ages of 24 and 44, even if you’ve never been especially into rap or crunk, chances are you were at least aware of the 2004 hit “Knuck if you Buck” by Crime Mob. It’s a powerful, confidence-boosting jam that’s pretty much entirely about getting into a fight at a club. Wallace Mack, a producer of Gimlet Media’s The Nod, a show that reports stories on black culture, told Vice that at the time of the song’s release, there were conservatives who complained that it inspired violence. But it’s popularity then (and legacy now) was driven by the role it played as an anthem for young, black Americans. Crime Mob, who were teenagers themselves when the song was released, had managed to encapsulate teenage angst in a hit. “When people talk about angst, they don’t ever associate that as a thing that black kids have,” Mack says on the podcast. “I feel like if there’s any group of kids in America to have angst, it would certainly almost be us.”

Mack managed to track down the now-adult members of Crime Mob and got them to talk on the mic about how their childhoods in suburban Atlanta inspired the lyrics, handling their unexpected fame, and the deceitful management and interpersonal tension that led to the group’s demise (although there are rumors they’re working on a new album, and new song appeared on the Creed II soundtrack this year). —Katherine Ellen Foley

⌛️ Best history episode


Podcast: Uncivil

Episode: “The Fugitive

In the late 18th-century, Pennsylvania outlawed slavery through the “Gradual Abolition Act.” A slaveholder from another state could live in Pennsylvania with his slaves for six months. If those slaves were held in Pennsylvania beyond that deadline, they were free. But there was a loophole: send the slave back to another state where slavery was free before those six months were up, and the clock reset. In this episode of Uncivil, Ona Judge, an enslaved African-American woman living in Philadelphia, has a decision to make: return to Virginia as instructed by her owner—he intends to “gift” her to his granddaughter—which would trigger that loophole and keep her enslaved, or run away to find freedom.  Ona makes a break for it, running away, and, of course, her owner pursues. What may surprise listeners is that Judge’s pursuing owner is George Washington, the first president of the United States of America. This is how season two of Uncivil opens. Uncivil, a Peabody Award-winning podcast, is the brainchild of host Chenjerai Kumanyika, a researcher, journalist, and professor at Rutgers University. Each episode unfurls what we commonly get wrong about the Civil War. And—as the season opener shows—there’s still a lot left forgotten in America’s uncivil history. —Daniel Wolfe

🍻 Best interview episode 


Podcast: Longform

Episode: “Jerry Saltz

“I am making this up as I go just like everyone else is,” New York magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz tells Longform’s Aaron Lammer. “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know how to do it.” Saltz is more than just a critic; he is a champion for struggling artists everywhere, largely because he’s been there. In this interview, after Saltz shares stories of his own experience as a young and tortured artist, “eaten alive by envy” and self-doubt, Lammer asks Saltz to turn over those well-trodden memories. What was the flip side of that feeling, he asks, when Saltz still felt optimistic about his own art? “That’s a great question, because it makes me feel good again,” Saltz replies, before painting a sense-memory picture of being in the flow-state, in the studio. “I loved every second except I hated it,” he says.

Like an easygoing therapist working with few words, Lammer pushes Saltz to explore the source of the demons that forced him temporarily from the art world, and how he eventually, at 40, “found a way to speak” as a writer about art. Saltz is funny, vulnerable, and generous with his insights in an episode that inspires one to go experience the “eternal present” that can be found in art, and also to find their own voice, just as Saltz found his. A must-listen for anyone who has ever experienced a creative block, professional envy, or just plain anxiety about their own future. —Jenni Avins

⚖ Best law & institutions episode

Podcast: Reply All

Episode: ”The Crime Machine

A repeat Casties winner, Reply All is one of the most consistent and ambitious podcasts out there. This year, the show’s best episode was a two-parter that examined the unintended consequences of CompStat, a computer program used by police forces to track crime geographically and target resources. In the first part, co-host PJ Vogt goes deep into the origin story of CompStat in the 1980s, describing the good intentions of the eccentric New York City policeman Jack Maple who created the program. The second part details how the use of CompStat led to racial profiling, and highlights the whistle-blowers inside the New York City Police Department who are trying to highlight its issues. The episode is harrowing and informative, but it also succeeds as entertainment—a rare combination at which Reply All excels. —Dan Kopf

🌏🌎 Best geopolitics episode 🌍🌏

Podcast: The Cut on Tuesdays

Episode: “‘She’s Never Done Anything Halfway’: Making a Far Right Extremist”

Much of the writing and journalism on the rise of right-wing extremism in the past couple of years has focused on large-scale, institutional trends and failures. This episode, from Cut writer Anna Silman, takes a different path to the subject, exploring how one individual turned from a typically liberal Canadian private-school girl into a white nationalist, right-wing political commenter and aspiring politician. Silman went to school with Faith Goldy, and her personal investment in understanding why someone like Goldy would go down this path makes the episode all the more powerful. This is not anything like the “we went to X to meet a neo-Nazi and look how normal he is” stories that have been, rightfully, maligned; Silman is clear-eyed despite (or perhaps because of) her history with Goldy, and this emphatically is not an attempt to humanize Goldy. On the contrary, the episode shows that we should never assume that, just because someone has a veneer of “normalcy,” they are actually a good person at heart. Perhaps when someone says they are a white nationalist, we should take them at their word. —Elijah Wolfson

🔬 Best science episode 


Podcast: The Habitat

Episode: “She likes to camp alone in the Finnish winter

If we’re ever going to make it on Mars we’ll need to understand the emotional and psychological toll—the simultaneous loneliness and perpetual company—of living with a single crew in a small, isolated space for extended periods of time. Lynn Levy, the producer of The Habitat, had the crew members of the fourth iteration of the NASA-funded Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) record audio diaries over the course of a year spent together in a dome encompassing less than 1,200 square feet (111 sq m). In this particular episode, Levy explores what happens when the crew members’ relationships move beyond just being friendly coworkers. Love between crew members could be an advantage, if it led to seamless communication and unbreakable trust. But it could also be a disaster. “There are no separate ways in a confined environment,” says Pete Roma, an experimental psychologist and one of the six members of HI-SEAS #4, on the podcast. The episode considers the history of romance in space, and ponders how it might disrupt future space travel—while also trying to piece clues from the crew’s audio diaries together to figure out if any of them have coupled off. —Katherine Ellen Foley

💬 Best roundtable episode 


Podcast: The Weeds

Episode: “Imma Let You Finish”

An hour-long discussion of Kanye West may not seem like it’s for everyone. However, whatever your feelings about Kanye, it’s hard to deny his impact on the culture, public rhetoric, and even politics of the past decade, and this is one of the best explorations of those influences yet. In fact, I would argue that the episode—a conversation between Vox journalists Dara Lind, Jane Coaston, and Matthew Yglesias—uses Kanye West as a sort of pop-culture Trojan horse to discuss history of black conservative politics, Trumpism, criminal justice reform, political optics and messaging, black political activism, the role of pop culture celebrities in politics, the contemporary crises of “truth” and “facts,” and more. In other words, whether you own every Kanye album on vinyl or still have no idea what I’m talking about, this podcast is for you. —Elijah Wolfson

🏀 Best sports episode ⚽️

No winner

While there were plenty of good sports podcasts in 2018—to name a few examples, The Lowe Post, The Bill Simmons Report, and Effectively Wild, not to mention our Best Sports Podcast winner, Gladiator—there wasn’t any standout, stand-alone episode this year. So for now we’ll consider this award vacated, and we’ll see what 2019 brings. —Elijah Wolfson

🔌 Best technology episode


Podcast: Darknet Diaries

Episode: “Chartbreakers

This is a podcast episode about podcasts, which I realize is a bit irritatingly meta, but if you’ve read this far, it’s probably fair to assume you are pretty into podcasts. More specifically, this is a podcast episode about how to game Apple’s most-downloaded podcast list—one of the most powerful forces in deciding whether a podcast lives or dies. Darknet Diaries host Jack Rhysider started noticing weird, unexpected podcast titles showing up in Apple’s list: ones you’ve likely never heard of and that certainly don’t have the reputation or quality of most shows on the charts. So he began to investigate: Could you buy your way onto the list somehow? He ended up discovering a vast industry of what might be called “dark podcast marketing,” and, after a year of reporting, eventually tracked down the man who invented the system. —Elijah Wolfson

😶 Best episode on the human condition 


Podcast: Ear Hustle

Episode: “The Row

In its second season, Ear Hustle, the podcast from and about life inside California’s San Quentin prison, takes a single-episode detour to Death Row, a part of the institution that’s isolated from the “main line,” with its cellies, family visits, and annual marathons. Hosts Nigel Poor, an artist and prison volunteer, and Earlonne Woods, who is incarcerated at San Quentin (on the main line), can’t physically visit “the row,” and there’s no way to even contact residents directly. So they put an ad in a prison newspaper (residents can call them), and speak to a Jesuit priest and a rabbi who go regularly. The clergymen describe a dark place, with filthy windows, where inmates desperate for human contact shake your hand too vigorously. “Imagine a giant, five-story-tall Costco, only with nothing to buy,” says Father George. The few inmates who call, however, have developed a sense of mental liberation and an ability to enjoy small things, like the sun you can feel on your face in the few minutes you’re allowed on the row’s rooftop. It’s too easy to be melancholy, says Steve (last names were withheld). He adds: “You know, my sentence was sentenced to death. I wasn’t sentenced to be reformed. So, any acts of redemption or self-transformation that anybody makes on death row, it has to come from themselves.” Joseph talks of the rooftop, where he can see a bit of sky and the occasional bird—everything else has been covered. “Our view is very limited,” he says. The listener has to wonder about her own. —Lila MacLellan

📻 Best podcasts of 2018, by category 📻

💸 Best business/economics podcast 


Winner: Trump Inc.

This isn’t a traditional business or economics podcast in the vein of, say, Freakonomics. As noted in an April episode about Donald Trump’s role in propping up a shady casino and resort (with golf course, naturally) in rural Vietnam, Trump ran for the US presidency as a businessman. His first press conference as president-elect was effectively a stage show meant to assuage trepidation that his business dealings would compromise his ability to govern in the best interest of the people. (If anything, it further stoked those fears.) And, as WNYC and ProPublica’s Trump Inc. has noted, the president’s business dealings “are at the heart of what makes Trump vulnerable”—lawyer Michael Cohen had for years protected the Trump Organization from white-crime prosecution, and now seems one of the greatest threats to the Trump presidency. Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz are attentive journalists and generous hosts, and fantastic guides through the complicated networks of business dealings that define the Trump Organization, the Trump presidency, and, it seems, current US politics. They are also dogged, tracking down reader tips that lead them to India, Vietnam, and elsewhere, and deep into the questionable behavior of major players like Sheldon Adelson and Rudy Giuliani. This isn’t a heartening listen, but it is essential in this particular sociopolitical era. —Elijah Wolfson

🎨 Best culture podcast 


Winner: The Rewatchables

In a period of pop-culture history overwhelmingly focused on the new, The Rewatchables is refreshingly backwards-looking. The premise is simple: Each episode, a few media and culture journalists choose a film, almost all from the past 50 years, that they find particularly “rewatchable,” and talk about it. Part of what makes this—and most other “some people talking”-type podcasts—successful is the genial bander between the various contributors (a rotating cast of Ringer staff members and guests). In addition, while you can certainly dip in and out of any episode, repeated listening is rewarded, since there are some great recurring jokes and bits; the episodes are structured around categories, some of which have changed over time based on what the hosts have discovered are recurring themes in all the great rewatchable films (sample: The “Mark Ruffalo Award for Overacting,” originally derived from this scene in Spotlight—“They knew, and they let it happen!”). But the real value of The Rewatchables is that it acts as a conduit to slow down and take a break from the incessant launches and premieres of today’s “original content” creators, and reassess some of the great movies of recent history. —Elijah Wolfson

⌛️ Best history podcast 


Winner: Slow Burn

I’m 33, which means that I, like Slow Burn creator and host Leon Neyfakh, was in middle school when the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was making headlines. At that age, I was old enough to comprehend in broad strokes what was going on in DC, but too young to really understand the subtleties of how it had happened and why it mattered. Perhaps that’s why Neyfakh’s careful reconsideration of the events on this season of Slow Burn resonated so powerfully with me: It humanized and brought nuance to what have always felt like roughly drawn characters and narratives. Slow Burn brings the Bill Clinton impeachment story back to life through analysis, archival audio, and new interviews—most compellingly, with Linda Tripp, who has spent the past two decades avoiding the media, and here becomes a central fascination for Neyfakh. Some phone calls between Neyfakh and Tripp that the former surreptitiously recorded become key to the storytelling, resonating with secret recordings Tripp made in the 1990s and driving the narrative of the 2018 podcast. It’s a prime example of Slow Burn’s approach, which Neyfakh describes as “a live history”—conjuring up the ghosts of the past with an eye toward asking them to explain the present. —Elijah Wolfson

🍻 Best interview podcast 


Winner: Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness

I speak slowly, and it drives me insane when people I’m talking to try to complete my sentences before I get them out. So I was predisposed to hate the interview-based podcast hosted by Jonathan Van Ness, the grooming expert on the Netflix series Queer Eye who consistently and impatiently finishes the sentences of his guests, redirects the conversation mid-thought, and otherwise interrupts. But I admit: His curiosity does come across as genuine and enthusiastic, and it’s infectious—for both his guests and his listeners. Van Ness is unique among his interview-podcast peers in his ability to bring his interlocutors (a word he would never use) out of their shells through being supportive and positive, but without diminishing the challenges and dark aspects of the things his guests study, participate in, or have otherwise experienced. His work on Queer Eye made him famous, but his podcast is his best cultural contribution to date, offering warmth, sincerity, and skeptical positivity to a form dominated by distance and irony. —Elijah Wolfson

🔎 Best investigative podcast 🔍

Winner: Last Seen

WBUR and the Boston Globe’s podcast Last Seen delves into the famous 1990 robbery of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With 13 stolen (and never recovered) works valued at a collective $500 million, the crime remains the biggest art heist in history. In Last Seen, it’s also an endlessly compelling story, with clever detectives, colorful criminals, a museum director who seems nearly possessed by the case, and Boston accents broad enough to drive a cah through. Last Seen also lacks the discomfiting feeling that accompanies many true-crime podcasts: that the listener is consuming as entertainment another person’s tragedy. The victims in the Gardner Museum heist are us, the members of the public denied the opportunity to see these masterpieces again. Last Seen simply drives home the value of what we all lost. —Corinne Purtill

Editor’s note: We didn’t award a “best investigative episode” because investigative podcasts typically unfold over the course of a number of installments. 

⚖ Best law & institutions podcast 

Winner: Serial

Serial reinvents itself every season, and the third is a must-listen. It’s constructed around what happens in one, single building—a significant one. It houses every aspect of Cleveland, Ohio’s criminal-justice system, from the jail and police headquarters to prosecutors’ offices and the courtrooms. As host Sarah Koenig explains in the first episode, season three’s stories are not, individually, as unusual as the one about Adnan Syed, the subject of the riveting first season. But on the whole, the tales are a better representation of the US justice system. This does not make the podcast any less interesting, while perhaps also making it more important. Koenig and Emmanuel Dzotsi tell the stories of a heartbreaking homicide—and the profound effects of simple-seeming misdemeanor proceedings. You get a glimpse into youth gang violence, but also follow a case where a woman is arrested after getting into a bar fight after a man slaps her ass. Whatever they take on each episode, it’s hard to stop listening. —Hanna Kozlowska

🌏🌎 Best geopolitics podcast 🌍🌏

Winner: Caliphate

ISIS is a 21st-century force that made the internecine terrorism of the early 2000s seem uncomplicated. In the summer of 2014, when its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed the Islamic State as a caliphate, the world wondered: What’s a caliphate? Four years later, when the US’s withdrawal from the ISIS fight in Syria threatens an Islamic State resurgence, understanding their motivations is critical. “Who are they” is the guiding question of Rukimini Callimachi—foreign correspondent on ISIS for the New York Times—and it’s as important now as when we first join her during the Battle of Mosul in 2016. In a 10-part series produced by the Times, Caliphate follows Callimachi as she pieces together abandoned documents in besieged Mosul, joins clandestine recruiting chat rooms on the web, and verifies digital photos with historic satellite imagery. All this reportage serves to reveal the challenges of confirming unreliable sources. It is cliffhanger-filled coverage that attempts to make sense of what conflict looks like when it’s borderless, digital, and possibly endless. Callimachi shows us how the pursuit of truth is a thrilling and necessary journey. —Daniel Wolfe

🔬 Best science podcast 


Winner: Dr. Death

Laura Beil documents the rise and fall of the incompetent neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, who earned his nickname “Dr. Death” after 31 of the 38 surgeries he performed left patients seriously injured. Two more died on his operating table. The podcast tracks how Duntsch, despite being air-headed and forgetful, somehow made it through medical school and then became a Dallas-based surgeon who partied all night, showed up to work in dirty scrubs, and drank on the job. But he was more than that. As the podcast shows—sometimes in disturbing, graphic detail—Duntsch was a true menace who butchered his patients. Dr. Death is not a science podcast in the typical fashion, but it does reveal a serious flaw in the US medical system: Even as others in the Dallas medical community noticed and reported Duntsch’s incompetence, he was protected by bureaucracy. He preyed on desperate patients, and was rewarded (or at least not punished) by employers, all of whom believed that because of his credentials he was competent—or perhaps ignored the warning signs because they didn’t want to go through the trouble of firing him. —Katherine Ellen Foley

🏀 Best sports podcast ⚽️

Winner: Gladiator

Whether you’re a fan of American football, are deeply skeptical of the sport and its institutions, or have no idea about the topic whatsoever (I’m in this last camp), you’ll find this podcast enlightening and engrossing. Gladiator brings all the reporting chops of the Boston Globe’s legendary “Spotlight” team to bear on an audio narrative of the life, career, and death of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was convicted of first-degree murder (and suspected of others) and took his own life while in prison. We find out what made Hernandez such an exceptional football player, but at the core of the podcast are inquiries into the role of toxic masculinity and the incredible power of “Football Inc.” in America. The reporters are nuanced, shining a humane light on Hernandez without making any apologies for his actions. Gladiator raises important questions about the criminal justice system, and the effects football has on the human brain. It does not offer easy answers, but that’s because there aren’t any. —Hanna Kozlowska

🔌 Best technology podcast


WinnerReply All

Yes, it’s not a particularly novel choice, but the truth is that Reply All continues to set the standard for tech podcasting. It’s one of the few current podcasts whose new episodes I listen to immediately without hesitation. Hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman are incisive, relatable, and entertaining, and nearly every episode is insightful and/or surprising. Even those I’d put on the bottom of my favorites list are worth listening to. And those I’d put on the top—from this year, “INVCEL,” “All My Pets,” “The Crime Machine,” “The Snapchat Thief,” and “Negative Mount Pleasant”—represent some of the best audio journalism out there today. —Elijah Wolfson 


Best roundtable podcast 


WinnerNight Call

I can’t believe it’s been over four years since Girls in Hoodies aired its last episode. Molly Lambert, Tess Lynch, and Emily Yoshida’s podcast for Grantland had a biting wit and incisive approach to culture—in its broadest sense, ranging from KimYe to James Turrell, The Bachelor to the history of architecture in downtown LA—that was severely lacking in the field in the early 2010s, and now seems well ahead of its time. The trio of journalists (now dispersed across the internet) reunited this year to start a new podcast, Night Call, and it delivers the same insight and humor as their previous project, updated for this half of the decade. It’s comfortable and casual, but also razor-sharp. Listening to Night Call is sort of like listening to what you think/wish you and your friends sound like when you’re debating culture at the bar after work. —Elijah Wolfson

😶 Best podcast on the human condition 😶

Winner: Imagined Life

This is going to sound like a gimmick, but stick with me. I, too, was uninspired when I first heard the concept of this show pitched in a promo on another podcast. After a friend told me she thought I’d like it, I gave it a chance, and I’ve become convinced. There’s no way to explain this without sounding like I’m writing ad copy, so I’ll just go with it: Each episode of Imagined Life tells the life story of a well-known public figure, but in a way you’ve never heard it before. The story is told in the second person—“You’re angry, but you know you can’t say anything,” “You get the news and you are elated”—and the character’s identity is hidden, so you feel far more connected to the setbacks, grand achievements, small slights, devastations, and incremental wins of celebrities than you would in even the best-written profiles. It’s a surprisingly humanistic project. If you like solving riddles, there’s the added bonus that each episode is essentially its own puzzle box; half the fun for me is trying to figure out who each one is about. The best episodes so far, like “The Daydreamer” and “The Advocate,” are deeply emotional, and true feats of storytelling. —Elijah Wolfson

📻 Grand prizes 2018 📻

⭐️ Best episode 


Winner:  Heavyweight—Marchel

Like Heavyweight host Jonathan Goldstein, I’ve long considered Alexander Sokurov’s 2002 film Russian Ark one of the greatest works of filmmaking made in my lifetime. But, also like Goldstein, I’ve long wondered about the violinist who near the end of the 96-minute film turns to look directly into the camera. Russian Ark is shot in a single take, involving 2,000-plus actors and musicians, and filmed in the Russian State Hermitage Museum, which is otherwise never, ever closed. In other words, this one individual (Marchel, as you may have guessed) was the one blemish on what would have otherwise been a perfect execution of the nearly impossible. Goldstein is annoying in that younger-brother-who-doesn’t-get-enough-attention way, but whatever his flaws, he is exceptionally adept at cutting through norms and expectations to reveal truths about human behavior and relationships. “Marchel” interrogates regret, disappointment, and resilience in a more meaningful way than any other podcast episode with one of those buzzwords ever could, while making you simultaneously laugh and develop that pit-of-your-stomach, the-world-is-impossible feeling along the way. —Elijah Wolfson

📽 Best podcast miniseries 


Winner: 99% Invisible: “Articles of Interest”

As its name suggests, 99% Invisible is an ongoing project to decode the design aspects of everything that surrounds us—things that we ignore in our day-to-day lives, but that are essential in shaping our experience of the world. There is nothing, perhaps, so “designed” yet so taken for granted as clothing, and that’s the subject tackled by the show’s Avery Trufelman in this six-part miniseries. Trufelman says the genesis for this “concept podcast album about clothes” came a decade ago when, at an exhibit on the life and work of designer Vivienne Westwood, she realized that the punk style had actually been designed, more or less, by an individual. The result is a fascinating deep dive into why we wear what we wear, unearthing hidden histories, laying bare common misconceptions, and raising powerful questions about our relationships to clothing and fashion. Trufelman notes how essential it was for her to travel for this project, to actually feel the fabrics and see the colors and manufacturing processes, and the effort comes across: The miniseries has a physicality and weight to it that is rare in audio storytelling.—Elijah Wolfson

👶 Best new podcast 


Winner: Imagined Life

There were many amazing podcasts launched in 2018, but for this category, we wanted to consider only those whose path forward is clear. That is to say, though Dr. Death was exemplary, it’s hard currently to imagine what its second season would look like; the same goes for other serialized formats like Last Seen and Making Obama. That limited the field to mostly episodic podcasts, whose individual episodes can stand alone. Of those, it was a close call between Imagined Life, described earlier, and This Is Love, an episodic show investigating aspects of love, obviously, made by the same producers behind the popular show Criminal. I was tempted to choose This Is Love just for variety, but then I realized I could still talk about how much I enjoy it in this blurb (my favorite episodes so far: “Message in a Bottle” and “Blue”) while remaining true to my convictions that Imagined Life was 2018’s best and most fascinating rookie podcast. —Elijah Wolfson

🌟 Best podcast of 2018 


WinnerIn the Dark

It turns out that in the United States, you can be tried for the same crime six times, even if there’s no solid evidence against you. The second season of American Public Media’s In the Dark, with host Madeleine Baran at the helm, dives into the case of Curtis Flowers, an African-American man from Mississippi accused of a quadruple homicide in 1996. Investigative reporting is an incredibly methodical affair, and can be very tedious. The podcast does not shy away from showing the listener the journalists’ meticulous process—which does not make for a fast-paced, titillating narrative, but does make hearing about their discoveries that much more rewarding. And the findings are truly jaw-dropping miscarriages of justice. The reporting, which included sifting through piles and piles of decaying records in an old plastics factory, was so revelatory that it helped land the case in the US Supreme Court. In the Dark is journalism at its best: impactful and humane. —Hanna Kozlowska

This article has been updated to note that Trump Inc. is a collaboration between WNYC and ProPublica.