Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Podcasts of 2010

I am a nut when it comes to podcast.  And I kind of mean that in a bad way.  I download way too many podcasts-- I know that there's no way I could possibly listen to all of them.  Seriously.  I'm really embarrassed to admit this, but right now I have 1,687 podcast episodes that I have yet to listen to.  That is crazy.

But I've just fallen in love with the format-- and there's an infinite amount of information and entertainment out there.  If I'm not reading or listening to music on my commute here and there in Moscow, I'm listening to a podcast.  And here are my 20 favorite (and I apologize for the awful descriptions):

20.  Sound Opinions

An informative and fun podcast about music.  It's probably lower on my list because it's a recent discovery.

19.  The Ethicist

NY Times Columnist spends 4 minutes or so answering reader questions dealing with ethical dilemmas.  Interesting and thoughtful.

18.  Big Ideas

Lectures dealing with all sorts of topics-- politics, religion, culture, arts.

17.  To The Best of Our Knowledge

Somewhat similar to Big Ideas, this podcast shifts away from just a single lecture to interview people on multiple sides of the issue.

16.  Relevant Podcast

I listen to this mostly for the humor.

15.  Filmspotting

If you're a movie buff, you'll love this one.

14.  Film Riot

If you're into the production aspect of film, you'll love this one.

13.  Fresh Air

I really like Terry Gross.  Great interviews dealing with the arts and current issues.

12.  All Songs Considered

One of the ways I keep up with what's going on musically.  They do a good job of picking out some of the more interesting music.

11.  Penn Point

I just really love Penn Jillette.  Don't agree with him on everything, but I just really like the guy.

10.  Tiny Desk Concert

The title says it all -- a band performs a few songs in an office space behind a tiny desk.

9.  The Nerdist

Like Kevin Pollack or Adam Carolla, this podcast has regular interviews that are more casual and less structured.  Almost like rambling, but in a good way.  I really appreciate it that way.  It feels more real.

8.  The Moth

Individuals spend 10 to 15 minutes sharing a story from their life.  I'm a sucker for this.

7.  TED

You probably already know about this one.

6.  Engagdet

Funny and informative podcast on the technology of the day.

5.  Radiolab

I'll be honest-- I don't know how this is number five.  This is one of my all-time favorite podcasts.  It's hard to explain, but it's almost a merging of science and philosophy.  It takes the facts and then asks why.

4.  Slate Culture Gabfest

Highly interesting roundtable discussions about various topics of the day.  (My descriptions are ridiculously generic)  Very intelligent and the chemistry between the hosts is fantastic.  (Yep, still generic)  I highly recommend it.

3.  This American Life

When I was younger, I wanted to buy a video camera or some kind of audio recording device, and just set it in front of everyone I know one at a time.  And I would have them just tell about their life.  Whatever they wanted to say.  Everything they wanted to say.  I know this show isn't that at all, but it kind of embodies that idea that everybody is inherently interesting.

2.  The Christian Humanist 

This show has as much wit and intelligence that can be crammed into an hour-long podcast.  They approach compelling topics thoughtfully and informedly.  The hosts fit each other perfectly.  Anyone interested in Christianity and the humanities and the intersection of both, this podcast is a no brainer.

1.  The History of the World in 100 Objects

Like walking through a museum, this podcast takes one historical object per episode and guides you through its past significance.  Brilliant, fun, and educational.

I probably shouldn't ask this.......... but what did I miss?  What are your favorites?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Favorite Television Series of 2010

Here are ten shows that I enjoyed (if not loved) this past year. Please note that I do not consider any of these a "best of" list-- I am only commenting on the shows that I've seen over the year and my favorites from that group.

10. Chuck

I remember chatting around a lunch table about this show while working at FamilyNet. Everyone seemed to love it. I enjoyed the show too, but I expressed my fears about the show to the table. I liked it, but was afraid that looking back in the future, it would be a very, very stupid show. My fear was just that it wouldn't hold up well in the years to come. Randy, a co-worker and friend, simply looked at me and replied "So what?" And he was right in a way (although I'm still debating if that's a reasonable critique of a show-- it's "classic-ness"), and since then I've just plunged in and enjoyed it through and through. There are times where it's corny and times where you can tell they are working with a minuscule budget, but it still pulls everything off well. This season was somewhat lackluster-- to have done so much in the past season finale just to forget about most of it (Chuck hiding he's a spy once again from his sister, and so on), but the recent jumps and developments -- and Timothy Dalton's presence have helped improve things.

Favorite episode: "Chuck Vs. The First Fight"

9. The Office

While I've been a little disappointed in previous seasons, I feel like this one has slightly improved. Whether it's better because it's been tying up Michael Scott's loose ends while at the same time focusing on the supporting cast, or just had better plots overall, something about it has been more enjoyable.

Favorite episode(s): "Christening," "Classy Christmas"

8. The Walking Dead

I know I've said this before, but dystopian and/or apocalyptic themed narratives somehow manage to scare and compel me more than any other genre. There's probably some deep psychological reason for that, but for now I can't really figure out why. I was (and am) particularly intrigued with this show because of the serialized, long-form nature. Because movies are inherently limited to just a couple hours at the most, I feel like it can't really get past the fear aspect of trying to survive to get to some of the deeper emotions-- mourning the loss of loved ones-- or just mourning period, the actual debate over whether survival is worth it, and so on. I know I am excited for the scenes intended to scare, but I'm equally looking forward to downtime as well.

Favorite episode: "Days Gone By"

7. The Daily Show

I have to admit-- because Beth and I are living in Russia, this is my primary source of news. I blame Russia, but I have to say it would be just the same were we still living in the States. I know it's on Comedy Central and can be crass at times, blah blah blah, but Jon is one of the most genuine and honestly concerned [fake] newscasters out there. He cuts through the crap of all the 24 hour news stations (yes, all of them are mostly ridiculous. CNN. Fox News. MSNBC. etc. All of them.).

Favorite episode: too many to count

6. The Colbert Report

While Jon Stewart brings the news and is probably ultimately more valuable, I have never laughed out loud as much as watching Stephen Colbert (and that's saying a lot). Colbert is my hero.

Favorite episode: This one:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive

5. Dexter

I love Dexter. I'd be the first to say that this season was far from their best. But there's something about the show that I'm just drawn to. This season I found many problems -- one was a slow early half of the season (after an incredible premiere). I wasn't a fan of the villains this year. I felt like they were way too one-dimensional and were some of the absolute worst sort of criminal. You had to side with Dexter. And I was also bugged by the ending-- everything wrapped up way too easily. The show has hit a formula that they've only branched away from really at the end of Season 4.

Despite all of these shortcomings, I'm still wildly impressed by Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, and the story in general. To make you care about a serial killer is an impressive feat.

Favorite episode: "My Bad"

4. Lost

Lost was an imperfect show-- there were way too many characters, too many story lines, too many questions (that ended up being more interesting than most of the answers). The mythology was too overwhelming and daunting. But the aspect I most appreciated about the show was also what the producers cared most about-- the characters and their relationships to those around them. The redemption that was sought by every character. In that respect it was a beautiful show (although I even enjoyed the problems with the show too). If you went to the final season of the show caring more about the mythology, you were going to be undoubtedly disappointed. But if you went in it caring about the narratives of the characters, that's what the end was ultimately about. The risks that the show took were daring and bold, and because of it Lost is one of the most compelling shows with some of the best characters on television. Lost will go down as one of the best (and one of my favorite) shows of all time.

Favorite episode: "The End"

3. Community

Community is my favorite comedy on television right now. I cannot say enough good things about it. For a show that wears its heart on its sleeve just as much as it makes you laugh until your heart hurts, it pulls it off incredibly.
Favorite episode(s): "Modern Warfare," "Cooperative Calligraphy," "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"

2. Mad Men

I didn't actually start watching this show until this year-- but it didn't take long for Beth and I to get caught up. While I think my expectations were too high in the beginning (and thus finding the pilot and part of the first season somewhat underwhelming), the show continued to grow on me and just get better with every new season. This fourth season was among their best.

Favorite episode: "The Suitcase"

1. Breaking Bad

It goes for most of my favorite shows that it takes at least a few episodes for me to really like the show. It was true for Dexter, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, and so on. Breaking Bad, however, had me hooked immediately. Never have I seen a more original and intriguing show. The cast and cinematography are phenomenal, and each season just improves on the last. This is the best show on television right now.

Favorite episode(s): "One Minute," "Fly," "Half Measure," "Full Measure"

Any shows I missed?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Favorites of 2010

Over the coming days (hopefully), I want to share some of my favorite things of this past year.  Years ago I kind of had this existential crisis, freaking out over how much had happened over the years that I probably had already forgotten.  Although the crises have not stopped, I feel that looking over the past year has helped calm them.  Even though I'll be posting favorite music, movies, tv, etc. over the past year, it's all mostly for myself and a means of reflecting on the year.  I hope you enjoy it-- and feel free to comment, critique, or post some of your own.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Still In Italy

 We were supposed to be back in Moscow today.

We've been touring Italy for just about two weeks now.  It's been a fantastic vacation, and it's not ending as soon as we thought.  We can't complain-- I mean, it's Italy.  But our departure date is being pushed back a little.

One of the things we had to do while on vacation, ironically, was apply for and receive a visa for Liam to get back into Russia.  Although we sent in the application immediately when we got here (and hoped it'd arrive by now), it's taking more time than we had imagined.  Surprise surprise.

But like I said, we can't complain.  We are running a little low on our vacation funds, the trip has been incredible. We've been able to cover Rome, visit Florence, take a quick trip to see Pisa, and spend some time in Naples (where my mother's parents lived before immigrating back in the day).  We'll try to post pictures and stories soon!