Gone are the days of explaining what a podcast is: The arrival of money to the form and a continued increase in listeners has led to another banner year and the premiere of hundreds of shows to suit any listener’s audio preferences. Whether it’s entrepreneurial advice, video game breakdowns, or candid looks at celebrities, if you know what you want, there’s likely a show that offers exactly that. Finding them, though, can be a trial-by-fire enterprise that requires serious listening hours. The following shows don’t require you to love a certain movie or have a particular sense of humor. They don’t force you to become best friends with the host or listen to five episodes before you pick up on the “in” jokes. We’ve chosen the 50 best podcasts of 2016 based on their innovation this year, consistent high quality, excellence within their genre, and of course, entertainment value.
Heavyweight explores the tricky business of redemption and estrangement by starting with the premise that to make something right, you have to first get over the idea that someone is at fault. You also have to laugh, to the point of tears, as much as possible. Each episode finds the host Jonathan Goldstein moderating a fraught moment intensified by years of distance: a time when someone broke a promise, or another person’s heart. The hurt is still there—sometimes for everyone, sometimes for just one person who can’t let something go (like the time a man named Gregor lent the then-unknown musician Moby a collection of CDs that were never returned). As Goldstein presides over these thorny divisions, he injects the narrative with a buddy-cop mania, letting the listeners laugh at how flawed his subjects (himself included) are, without ever being demeaning. Goldstein leads special-ops soul-searching missions, seeking common ground between the aggrieved and the blissfully ignorant. With him as the host, Heavyweight can’t help but try to make amends with everyone it seeks out.