Top Podcasts I Listened to in 2023

This year, I had less podcast listening time than in previous years, so please take my opinions here with a grain of salt.

In my 2022 roundup, I did note that the quality of series style podcasts are struggling. I really believe that the sheer number of bad true crime and “actors watch their 20 year old and talk about funny things that happened” shows are taking up so much space and resources, so even if there are good podcasts out there, they are harder to find.

Despite this, I did find some podcasts I loved this year!

Threads by ABC Listen

Threads was brilliant. We know all this stuff, we’ve heard it all before, but this was such a snappy, scathing, and somehow, practical look at the absolute garbage world of fast fashion. It’s a good reminder for us to do better, and try our hardest to keep fast fashion out of our closets.

If Books Could Kill by Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri

Joining us in the early days of 2023, If Books Could Kill puts those terrible airport books that everyone is reading in their crosshairs. And it’s been a fantastic year of excoriating books lacking in factuality, high in misinterpretation, or both!

With a good-natured but unwavering look at the big picture flaws of the books we take at face value without question, this podcast makes listeners reconsider what we assume to be correct, and how we can think bigger.

Maintenance Phase by Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes

Another year, another list with Maintenance Phase! Maybe we should just consider this a standing item here. Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes have such an amazing rapport as co-hosts and always ask the next question. And them laughing cracks me up every time!

A little note from me: Both Maintenance Phase and If Books Could Kill are currently on a lighter posting schedule as some of the hosts are working through health concerns and/or are involved with other projects. There’s still a great back catalogue!

The Redemption of Jar Jar Binks by TED

This podcast doesn’t try to convince listeners that the prequel series is good or bad, but instead tells the story of actor Ahmed Best. Without knowing anything about the series, you probably know that the internet pile on was a level of cruelty bordering on frenetic. And while the series focuses on what happened to Best, this series asks salient questions about the vicious nature of fans and fandoms. Really worth the deep dive – there’s a hell of a story here.

Gay Girl Gone by CBC Podcasts

CBC has been producing really exceptional podcasts, and this short form was a really excellent investigation into the lesbian blogger Amina (Gay Girl in Syria). This story rang a bell in the back of my memory, but this is a much more fulsome look at this tangled story and the key actors involved. Absolutely worth a listen, I eagerly awaited each installment for all six weeks!

Frontburner by CBC Podcasts

Returning again this year is Frontburner – which I maintain is the best Canadian news podcast being produced today. Thoughtful discussions that go beyond the headline, the host asks empathetic and humane questions, but doesn’t let the first answer fly without pressure.

Dear Alana, by Tenderfoot/iHeart Radio

This podcast is classified as true crime, and if it truly is a true crime, it is the best of what is out there. This deep dive looks into the death by suicide of young Alana Chen. The host, Simon Kent Fung beautifully weaves his own story alongside Alana’s in a way that acknowledges his own expertise in the subject matter but doesn’t make apologies for it. He is unbiased and unflinching, and incredibly honest on how his relationship with the family developed and his care for Alana, even though he never met her.

I appreciate, too, the nuanced look at the role Catholicism played in this story. While it is easy enough to hone in on the harms that the church can cause, the host wisely investigates the pernicious ways in which Alana’s Catholicism was used by members of the church to put distance between her and her family – at a time in her life when a close family support network was so desperately needed.

Resurrection by Dane Stewart

Resurrection is a beautifully told story, part eulogy, part love story, part passionate callout for the arts.

I absolutely adored where this story went – it’s a lot, there is so much to this story and I’m glad so many aspects were explored. I learned a lot, I cried, I signed up for their patreon, and I hope someone with a theatre company takes up the call at the end of the series!

The New Gurus by the BBC

This series looks into those people who have all the answers – and what they’re selling along with that. The third season of The Dream tackles a similar set of ideas, but I feel like the structure and depth of reporting in the BBC podcast tipped me in it’s favour (although they’re both excellent, honestly).

Gurus may believe what they’re selling, and they may not, but either way they’re planting the seeds of doubt in order to sell you something – and there’s a guru for every aspect of our lives.

Kuper Island By CBC Podcasts

Kuper Island is heartbreaking. It’s the story of three children who attended the Kuper Island residential school, and one did not survive. Where documents are available, the hosts find them, and where they are not, he relies on the lived testimony of survivors. I hope this story reminds us of indigenous resilience and strength in the face of insurmountable loss.

The 13th Step by NHPR and Document

In the addictions field, there are people who are supposed to help the most vulnerable. But this story unravels what can happen when unfettered power over people in recovery meets the opportunity for power and financial abuse.

This is some really excellent boots on the ground reporting, and I commend Lauren Chooljian and the entire team on this project!

Honorable Mentions!

The Retrievals by Serial and The New York Times

While I think this was a very good series, I think there were a lot more avenues and rabbit holes the team needed to research and explore. For a series about women’s pain in medicine and addictions in the healthcare field, and the lack of appropriate safeguards, five episodes almost seems like a trailer to what should have been (in my opinion) a longer series.

Excellent and empathetic reporting, and such an important story to talk about – I just wanted more!

Within the Wires by Night Vale Presents

Seasons 1-3 were exceptional storytelling – utterly unique, totally compelling, and touching in their own weird way.

I’m on season 4 and some of the magic is gone, but I definitely recommend 1-3, and I imagine some of the later seasons will be something to look at too!

Conspirituality by Glassbox

I only recently “got” Conspirituality. I didn’t understand the host’s presentation style and I thought they were a bit dull. Instead, I gave them another chance and I’m really starting to enjoy how they talk about the interconnected web of gurus, wellness, and spirituality for sale.

I expect to see them on the list next year too!

And finally, a lament for a cancelled podcast:

Body Stuff with Dr. Gunter by TED

I’m a Dr. Gunter fan. We have her books and I get her substack (albeit, the free version). Body Stuff was cancelled, despite it being awesome. I had been holding out hope she was just spending a lot of time researching her next season, but she confirmed Body Stuff was cancelled when she guested on Fake Doctors, Real Friends

So that’s another year in podcasting – let me know if I missed anything you loved, or you think I’m totally wrong in any if the above suggestions! I love to hear what you’ve been into!

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