Ashley’s Happy Distractions from 2017

For me, this was the year of the podcast. Whether waiting in an airport terminal or securely seated on a train, I was happy to temporarily retreat from the world and listen to folks speak for hour-long stints on a whole host of fascinating topics. Talk about an excellent way to pass the time – especially when you’ve somehow developed an even more intense motion sickness that comes on the moment you enter any moving vehicle. Of course, there were a number of other mentionable moments in pop culture over the past 12 months, so the following is just a select smorgasbord of podcasts and other media that helped distract me from the horrors of 2017.

Going somewhere for the holidays and can’t read while in transit? Or, better yet, need an easy escape from an all-too-intense family situation upon arrival? I recommend giving some – or all – of these a shot. And, fear not! Everything below is either streamable or downloadable so all you need is the internet. (Then again, maybe you should get right on it, since who knows how long it will be before those prices inflate a la corporate whims.) Kicking this list off with a podcast (because, why not) and with no rhyme or reason to the following order, here goes!

host Cameron Esposito
musician Jenny Owens Young
musician Tegan Quin

Queery, hosted by Cameron Esposito (podcast)
The best part about this podcast is its conscientious self-awareness, coupled with Esposito’s overt willingness to listen, discuss, and always try to be better. These might sound like strange attributes on a list of “bests,” but in the current nightmare political climate, I find these qualities in people precious, admirable and alarmingly rare. Esposito sits down with everyone from queer musicians and stand-up comics, to actors and activists, for conversations that naturally unfold over the course of an hour. Guests like Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Soloway, and Tegan and Sara Quin share their intimate and ever-evolving experiences of dating, building community, and political action. Esposito in turn demonstrates how to create the most welcoming, nonjudgmental and comfortable environment possible to explore at times weighty issues.

There are moments when she clearly wrestles with how to respond and engage with the insights that her guests deliver, but she eloquently manages to slightly modify her interactions as she goes, providing personal anecdotes and admitting when she doesn’t know or needs a little help understanding something. Each episode exemplifies how we can all be a little gentler, a little more open, and just a smidge more empathetic while still stating our thoughts and opinions, lessons we can all learn and apply in our own interpersonal interactions (but, you know, some of us more than others). Listening in on these discussions is a light and enlightening breath of fresh air.

Maria Bamford, Old Baby (comedy special, Netflix)
Ok, yes, you’ve heard me rave about Maria Bamford before (most recently on episode four of Feminist Frequency Radio). And, yes, I’m about to do it again. Bamford is just so good. This isn’t your same old, same old comedy special; rather than the traditional stage setting, Bamford meanders through living rooms, front yards, book stores, and yes, eventually a stage, performing for the friends and family that often grace her jokes. She touches upon age, relationships, family, always with a modicum of relatability yet consistently preserving her distinctively zany charm. Bamford – her comedy, delivery, and everything she stands for – is a brilliant delight.

S-Town, hosted by Brian Reed (podcast)
A step-sibling of sorts to the acclaimed Serial podcast, S-Town orbits around the tiny town of Woodstock, Alabama (and who doesn’t have Alabama on their mind these days?). Unfolding over the course of seven hour-ish episodes, Reed regales listeners with his bizarre introduction to and deepening relationship with the intelligent, complex, and at times mercurial John B. McLemore, a resident of Woodstock. What begins as a curious series of email communications leads to a Pandora’s box of small town politics and poverty, tattoos and taboos, personal interactions and enmeshed family histories. When all is said and done, listeners are presented with a fascinating and tenderhearted glimpse of one rural community in the US South.

One Mississippi, Season Two (TV show)
Thank goodness for Tig Notaro. Her witty, dry demeanor is balanced by an underlying kindness, which is the perfect mix for pretty much anyone and anything. From the moment this season started, I had a grin on my face that never left. Watching the relationship between Notaro and her co-star (and real life wife) Stephanie Allynne develop on screen was without question one of the sweetest and most heartwarming pop culture moments of 2017. The show is quick to watch and easy to love, though it does seem to still be figuring out the tone it wants to strike. I value this series even more in retrospect, especially considering the Louis CK allegations and the parade of horrendous sexual harassment and assault charges that have and continue to come to light. Episode five of the show provides just a peek at how insidious the actions of these men are, and the impact on the women they’ve harmed. The women and folks coming forward to speak up are the real stars of 2017, and anything that shows how strong and courageous they are has my 1000% support.

You Must Remember This, hosted by Karina Longworth (podcast)
When I heard Anita shout out this gem in episode three of Feminist Frequency Radio, I actually yelled an enthusiastic “yes!” in agreement. Longworth’s impeccably researched and performed podcast tells spectacular real-life stories of Hollywood greats with a delivery that is not only pleasant to listen to, but also entertaining and incredibly informative. If you’re really looking to dive deep into the details, the show’s website even provides photographs and specific cited sources. My favorite seasons (blocks of episodes dedicated to a single person, event or film) are without question those that focus on Hollywood’s complicated, clever and charismatic women – the lengths they went to, who they worked with, and what they endured to earn their indisputable place in the epic history of Hollywood. This year, Longworth released Jean and Jane, which traces the lives of Jean Seberg and Jane Fonda, from their childhoods through Seberg’s death and Fonda’s ongoing personal, political and professional transformations. Another enjoyable listen is Six Degrees of Joan Crawford, which peels back the many layers of one of the most polarizing and ambitious people in the movie industry. This podcast is a must for anyone fascinated by films and the folks that produce and populate them.

Sera Cahoone, From Where I Started (album)
This is the year I fortuitously stumbled upon the music of Sera Cahoone. A slapdash decision to attend a house concert in Chicago led to not only getting to hear Cahoone play live, but the chance to meet and talk a bit with Cahoone herself. The whole experience was nothing short of magical. Her songs sound like the melancholic memoirs of someone who is thoughtful, compassionate, and incredibly talented. She released her newest album, From Where I Started, in March 2017. Start there. And then work backwards, because each album is as enchantingly mellow as the one before.

I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, hosted by Joseph Fink and featuring John Darnielle (podcast)
I first met the music of the Mountain Goats, headed up by John Darnielle, thanks to some pretty fabulous college friends way back in the day. Now, 15 years and at least a half dozen live shows later, I’m still a fan. Admittedly, my long history of listening to Darnielle’s music and seeing him perform had me invested before I even heard the first episode of this podcast. The show breaks down one of Darnielle’s best albums, All Hail West Texas, going song by song, discussing everything from the lyrics and chords, to Christianity, substance use, and the gentrification of Durham, NC. Each episode also features a cover of a song from the album, performed by a broad range of musicians, including Laura Jane Grace, Dessa, and Andrew Bird. Really, what this podcast accomplishes is highlighting Darnielle’s inquisitive wisdom, and the talents of one of the greatest musicians out there.

Feminist Frequency Radio, hosted by Anita, Caro and Ebony (podcast)
No, this isn’t cheating! The hour I spend each week listening in and laughing along with Anita, Caro and Ebony is pure, lighthearted fun. From a weekly review of pop culture news to an around the horn “What’s your deal?”, the podcast provides exactly what I need right now: matter couched in merriment. Now, nearly two months in and running, the group has gelled, conversation flows easily, but you never know where they’ll end up – and that’s part of the enjoyment. New episodes are out each week, on Wednesday mornings. Check it out!

Check out all of our 2017 year-end retrospectives!
Read about:
Carolyn’s Favorite TV of 2017
Ebony’s Comfort Blankets of 2017
Carolyn’s Favorite Films of 2017
Carolyn’s Favorite Games of 2017
Anita’s Most Memorable Media of 2017