The Nerdist formula works: High-profile A-list guest, obscureish pop-culture luminary, comedian, and finally a hostful. Then repeat. You never get tired of one specific type of episode. They all feel fresh. That’s probably why I was so surprised by Hardwick and company’s end-of-year round table, a Hostful that redefined the Hostful as we know it. It’s been almost a month since I listened to episode 460, but I can’t shake it. It was the most compelling episode they’ve ever done.

Clearly, fans of the show were equally impressed. The comment boards lit up with praise:

nerdist comment board

So what was so great about this one? Here’s how it was set up: Matt, Jonah, and Chris would discuss the highs and lows of their personal lives in 2013. Sounds formulaic right? That’s what I thought. Well, Matt started dropping bombs right out of the gate.

His year was quite the bitter pill, and they taped this one while he was still nursing some break-up wounds, so his disposition far from sunny.

Chris (I’m guessing by his own design) took the cue from Matt, and revealed how truly difficult his year had been. And it was a doozie. Though you’d never know it by his demeanor on the podcast, he lost his father, and he and his girlfriend, Chloe endured a pregnancy that had to be terminated. (Chloe also sat in on this one.)

I don’t throw the word brave around liberally. Life can suck, and we’ve all had those years that just keep coming, one bad thing after another. But, I went through a similar year over a decade ago, and it took me five to recover. I’m always impressed with someone who can just sally forth, knowing their burdens won’t necessarily lighten if they mention them at every turn, or simply shut down for an extended period of time. He’s a very tough dude.

And finally, there was Jonah. He managed to sprinkle a little sunshine on things. He had a great year. He’s happily married, and has reached an almost zen state by reconciling the stress of career and personal goals. His genuine contentedness made this episode that much sweeter.

Whether this new formula has legs is debatable. The second it starts to feel manufactured or routine, it’s bound to lose it efficacy. But this one was pretty darn perfect. Hats off, fellas.