As I write this, NYC is a hotspot amid a global pandemic. I spend my days jumping between work, family, and too much coronavirus-related social media, almost exclusively within the confines of a one bedroom apartment in downtown Manhattan. I’m aware this level of stability is, in many ways, a privilege, but it’s nevertheless a stressful time.
I find solace in podcasts covering subject matter removed from chaotic world events: film, gaming, and technology. COVID-19 is a big enough story that some virus talk per episode is inevitable. Still, hearing it from familiar voices, especially when they share the same feelings of anxiousness and isolation I have, is comforting. Podcasts are also easy to squeeze into my day, be it going on a late-night stroll outside, taking care of chores, or unwinding before bed.
What follows are a few of my favorites, grouped by subject. I purposely prioritized podcasts with smaller followings, though I note several more popular options at the end. Subscribe in your podcast app of choice or through the links I provide below.
Hosts David Bax and Tyler Smith have a wealth of film knowledge and a natural back and forth thanks to have been best friends for over a decade. Most episodes center on a niche film subgenre (e.g., political campaign movies, fictional movie bands) or a recap from major awards show or film festival. Thankfully the hosts balance the narrow subject matter with an extended, freewheeling opening that riffs on the latest in movie news, personal experiences, and world events.
Battleship Pretension is an especially fun listen because it splits the difference between a dry, “informative” film podcast with one that’s quirky enough to suit the hosts’ tastes. The show’s rapid-fire pacing ensures most episodes cover a large number of movies, several that inevitably become choices for me to seek out later (Apple Podcasts, RSS, web).
In terms of sheer talent behind the mike, it’s hard to beat The Next Picture Show. The podcast is hosted and produced by the former editorial team behind The Dissolve, an excellent film site that shuttered several years ago. All four hosts are accomplished film critics, so to hear them go deep on a single picture for an hour plus is a treat.
The podcast has a unique format that packages back to back episodes into a double feature. One episode analyzes an older classic film, with the followup centered on a modern successor. A final “connections” segment in the latter episode compares and contrasts the two films against each other. I generally listen more to the episodes focused on the contemporary picks for smart commentary on movies I’ve recently seen. But more often than not, the double feature format helps me discover older movies I wouldn’t otherwise consider (Apple Podcasts, RSS, web).
The Rough Cut is the only consistently high quality podcast I’ve found devoted entirely to editing. For each episode, host Matt Feury interviews a guest editor — usually from a recently released movie or TV series — to talk shop. The results blend insider editing commentary with more accessible fare. Matt can land a wide variety of talent from recent movies and generates analysis that doesn’t feel overly safe, guarded, or flattering. I’m unsure if its due to the low-key profile editors often hold as filmmakers or Matt’s interviewing skills, but it makes most episodes an informative listen ( Apple Podcasts, web).
Given this podcast’s hosts are coworkers with a long work history together ensures excellent chemistry and flow throughout each episode. But that’s commonplace across many top tier gaming podcasts; what sets 8-4 Play apart is its distinctively Japanese perspective on gaming. That translated into coverage of local Japanese events, announcements, and a lot of Nintendo games. Admittedly that also means a closer look at genres that aren’t to my taste (e.g., Japanese RPG series like Final Fantasy), but thankfully every episode has timestamps by discussion topic, so I’m able to jump around.
Their gaming news coverage is especially insightful given hosts Mark MacDonald and John Ricciardi are game journalism alumni from well respected gaming sites 1up.com and EGM (Apple Podcasts, RSS, web).
I’ve treated Giant Bomb and its associated podcasts as the “gold standard” for gaming, but lately, I’ve found Kotaku Splitscreen has slowly nudged GB’s selections to second place. On the surface, Splitscreen’s format is similar to other gaming podcasts: the hosts cover what everyone is playing, industry news, and some off-topic commentary. But I like that this podcast has enough discipline to ensure the runtime isn’t too unwieldily. The hosts are talented; Jason Schreier, in particular, is about as experienced as they get around gaming industry scoops. Nor does the Splitscreen crew strain to cover every hot new release. The hosts often discuss slightly older games they enjoy like Destiny 2 that helps mix up the discussion.
Also, while not exclusive to this podcast, the banter between Kirk Hamilton, Maddy Myers, and Schreier is good-natured and breezy in tone. It’s pleasant in a way that helps me listen through discussion on gaming subjects I’d otherwise have little interest in (Apple Podcasts, RSS, web).
Late breaking news: a day before I published this post, the hosts officially ended Splitscreen, moving their talents over to a new video game podcast Triple Click. Their first full episode will debut on April 23rd. While I wouldn’t rule out some changes in format, I’d expect the same qualities that make it a must-listen for me today will carry over to the new show (Apple Podcasts, RSS, web).
A podcast that is low key, relatively new, and by sticking to a single tech topic every week (for the exception of the monthly Q&A shows), stripped down in format. The show still has significant appeal to me thanks to its two hosts, Brad Shoemaker and Will Smith. Brad is already a podcast and PC gaming veteran as a host for the popular Giant Bombcast. He’s eloquent, quick on his feet, and keeps the show on track. His counterpart Will has an encyclopedia of technical know-how, having been a co-founder of Tested (see above) and the editor-in-chief of Maximum PC. Will is prone to rants and digressions; his volatility and rapid-fire cadence form a winning balance with his comparatively to the point co-host (Apple Podcasts, web)
This is Only a Test at a glance looks similar to probably hundreds of other technology and science-related podcasts. But its intentionally diverse agenda, always leaving time for pop culture, technology, science, and VR ensures you hear more wide-ranging digressions than what I’d find on more “buttoned-up” technology podcasts from the likes of The Verge or Engadget. While MC Norman Chan sticks to a set format, he’s not afraid to let himself and co-hosts Jeremy Williams and Kishore Hari move down a single unabashedly “nerdy” topic for a significant amount of time. Passions run deep, and hearing the trio of hosts start debating in the weeds minutiae is a lot of fun (Apple Podcasts, RSS, web).