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Elizabeth Olsen humanizes celebrity on Happy Sad Confused

In Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends 10–15 of the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at podmass@avclub.com.

The Black List Table Reads
Balls Out Pt. 4: Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Lauren Lapkus, Matt Walsh, Eugene Cordero, Casey Wilson, Chris Cox, Joe Wengert, Craig Mazin

If you start on this week’s episode of the The Black List Table Reads host Franklin Leonard will kindly ask you to stop and head to episode one. That’s because you’re listening to an entire un-produced movie script being read from start to finish—and you wouldn’t want to miss a beat. Leonard is the founder of The Black List, a comprehensive look at the best un-produced screenplays from Hollywood. Now he’s bringing them to life with table reads, starting with Balls Out by Malcolm Spellman and Tim Talbott, which tells the story of Bill Simmers, an insurance salesmen who loses control of his life. The script is hilarious, oftentimes because of Spellman and Talbott’s choice words for the screen direction, and the cast reading can’t help but let out laughter throughout, which makes it all the more entertaining. Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Lauren Lapkus, Matt Walsh, and more bring the characters to life with such vivid reads that you almost forget you’re not actually watching them act; it harkens back to radio plays while giving deserving, talented writers a chance to have their work appreciated. This episode airs the epic conclusion to Balls Out and announces the next script to be read, this time a drama: The Other Side by Stacey Maltin. Let’s hope there are plenty more where that came from.

BuzzFeed's Internet Explorer
“Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams” And RedTube Commenters

Like the internet itself, conversations between hosts Ryan Broderick and Katie Notopoulos seem to take place in a realm that doesn’t exist anywhere on Earth, but rather in a bubble of references and inside jokes that unite closet-dwelling weirdos in unexpectedly profound ways. The big topics of this week’s episode include ironic 9/11 “truther” memes popularized by teens and community features of popular porn sites. Both challenge the boundaries of taste, yet Broderick and Notopoulos draw out the culturally astute questions about each phenomenon. On the trend of kids juxtaposing stock images with 9/11 conspiracy clichés, the hosts admit to not entirely understanding what it’s all about. Are they making fun of truthers, or the idea of a 9/11 meme itself? Broderick and Notopoulos do their best to unpack the humor in phrases like “4/20 was an inside job,” while also letting a good dumb joke remain just that. Likewise, they marvel over the fact that free porn websites are integrating more interactive features, such as RedTube’s friendly female concierge. Isn’t porn supposed to be the most private, shameful part of the internet? Their openness to the idea that the online world is a constantly evolving thing, a zone that no one person can ever fully grasp, makes this show compelling and relevant.

Comedy Bang! Bang!
6th Anniv: Paul F. Tompkins, Lauren Lapkus, Thomas Middleditch, Neil Campbell, Mike Hanford, Joe Wengert, Paul Scheer, Erin Whitehead

In what’s become tradition, Scott Aukerman marks another anniversary of Comedy Bang! Bang! with a jam-packed episode that makes ample use of the show’s open door policy.The two-hour plus celebration flies by as Aukerman welcomes a bevy of guests—with favorites Cake Boss (Paul F. Tompkins) and the demented elf Ho Ho (Lauren Lapkus) in the co-host seats—armed with catchphrases galore (some better than others, all cast off liberally). Mike Hanford reprises his John Lennon character while Joe Wengert returns as Brad Hammerstone, the duck-turned-man. Listening along as Aukerman slowly figures out Hammerstone’s back story is just one of the episode’s many high points. And while all of the new characters are memorable—The Timekeeper captures Neil Campbell at his non-sequitur best, while Chad and Ho Ho’s sparring is elevated by the finely-tuned rapport between Erin Whitehead and Lapkus—it’s Thomas Middleditch who once again steals the show. Middleditch drops in early on as Klaus, Aukerman’s German friend, to talk walking boys for the Fürher. It’s a performance that all but secures Middleditch his spot as Comedy Bang! Bang!’s 2015 Rookie Of The Year. Here’s hoping that a meeting between Klaus and August Lindt is not too far off.

Happy Sad Confused
Elizabeth Olsen

Josh Horowitz usually keeps his conversations on Happy Sad Confused limited to his guests’ work and the industry, but despite all the shoptalk, every once in a while, he’ll have a guest who brings a level of emotion and insight to the way they talk about the nebulous world of Hollywood. Elizabeth Olsen, who most recently played the scene-stealing Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, is one of those special guests who can talk about celebrity and the movie industry in an accessible and human way. Despite having been around the entertainment industry for her whole life thanks to her very famous twin sisters, Olsen, who likes to simply go by Lizzy, didn’t become a part of the business herself until about five years ago. She speaks very openly throughout the podcast and comes off as relaxed with even a hint of vulnerability. In other words, it sounds like Horowitz is speaking with Lizzy Olsen and not Elizabeth Olsen, star of Avengers: Age Of Ultron. She does speak briefly about Mary-Kate and Ashley, praising their work ethic and explaining how they influenced the way she sees fame. But for the majority of the conversation, she sticks to her own life and career and doesn’t hesitate to geek out a little bit about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars (the new trailer almost made her cry). She’s funny and infectious, and by the end, you might just have a new favorite Olsen sister.

Hound Tall
History of Hip-Hop: Jeff Chang, W. Kamau Bell, Kaseem Bentley, Natasha Leggero

If the title of this episode seems like a big topic to cover in less than two hours, you’d be right. Though the show only ends up scratching the surface of hip-hop’s storied history, it does so in such an excellent and hilarious fashion that it seemingly positions itself perfectly as just the first part of an ongoing series. It helps that Hound Tall host Moshe Kasher is a dyed-in-the-wool hip-hop head, evidenced by some of the deep-cut references that he drops offhandedly throughout. Some unfortunate recording issues lead to an odd opening for the show, but stick with it, as Kasher invites author Jeff Chang and comedians W. Kamau Bell, Kaseem Bentley, and Natasha Leggero on to discuss the story of the genre from its earliest days through the mid-’90s. The show is frequently funny, with the varied panel delighting in taking spirited shots at one another, or in Leggero’s continual attempts to steer the conversation toward the culture of sexism that came to pervade within the music. The show ripples with intelligence and wit, even when it is fixated on hot dogs and the lamentably named Duke Bootee.

Imaginary Worlds
True Vampires Of New Haven: Trudy Manetti, Frances O’Connor

The public radio podcast Imaginary Worlds explores the intersection of sci-fi, fantasy, and the real world. This episode is radio drama about real life, ordinary people who tried to live off of human blood under police supervision, but now have to live with their families or friends as refugees after the program was discontinued. The strength of the episode lies in one’s ability to hear something extra between the lines. Most episodes of Imaginary Worlds focus on topics like how Game Of Thrones intersects with contemporary politics, so it stands to reason that the real point of this episode is to listen for analogies for modern healthcare or even the fracturing class structure of the United States. So while the vampire mythology here might show some weakness (there is some dismissed tension about where all of these displaced vampires really end up), there is much fun to be had in the interview with fictional vampire Trudy Manetti and her former classmate, the aging Frances O’Connor. It’s worth listening all the way through, as it is a short podcast, and there is an especially fun post-credits chunk where it’s revealed that, though Manetti is immortal, her broad understanding of time and culture doesn’t allow her to comprehend how the internet works.

Women Of Science: Raychelle Burks, Rachel Swaby, Vivian Underhill

There is a question posed at the beginning of Bitch Magazine’s feminism and pop-culture podcast Popaganda that really lands hard. Host Sarah Mirk asks about the number of female scientists that listeners can name and, as the question hangs heavily in the air, Mirk goes on to detail how a recent survey discovered that 65 percent of respondents in the U.S. couldn’t name a single female scientist. The issue isn’t just one of the presence and visibility of women in STEM fields, but also that of their experiences. Popaganda takes time to look at several situations that relate to the sojourn of women in science. The show opens with Mirk conversing with analytical chemist Raychelle Burks about the depiction of women in science in pop culture. The findings are unsurprisingly sparse, though not without hope, as they are seeing an increase in representation of late. Additionally, the show covers the predominantly female science of veterinary medicine; journalist Rachel Swaby and her book Headstrong, about the lives of 52 female scientists whose contributions have gone largely unheralded; and an interview with Vivian Underhill on the issues facing LGBTQ people in the sciences. The show’s topic may seem heavy, but the conversation is lively, interesting, and very necessary.

The Projection Booth
The Other Side Of The Wind: Josh Karp, Joseph McBride, Andrew Rausch

If you have the time (episodes tend to range from two to three hours), it’s worth listening to The Projection Booth for “Maudit May,” where Rob St. Mary and Mike White (and sometimes a guest host) will spend the entire month covering “maudit”—a.k.a. under-appreciated—films. They start by focusing on a movie that was never actually released: Orson Welles’ troubled Hollywood satire, The Other Side Of The Wind. The hosts give a comprehensive, if sometimes dense, look at why the work never came to fruition by interviewing journalist/film scholar Josh Karp and critic Joseph McBride (who also had a supporting role in the film). But the episode is most compelling when examining Welles’ magnetic yet difficult personality. Early on, there’s a good chunk of time devoted to his frenemy relationship with Ernest Hemingway, the inspiration for the fading machismo of John Huston’s film-director protagonist. There’s a certain kind of excitement in hearing about these two conflicted titans simultaneously envying, loving, and hating each other, an excitement that quickly gives way to guilt when you consider how both of their lives turned out. Welles would have turned 100 this week, and while there’s currently a crowdfunding campaign to finally release the film, The Projection Booth already gives you a good idea of what to expect.

Quality Control
Bloodborne: Mike McWhertor

Justin McElroy’s Quality Control is a Polygon-produced podcast that focuses on a game that one of the Polygon writers has reviewed in the past, with this episode highlighting Bloodborne—one of the Souls series that include the legendarily difficult Dark Souls and Demon Souls games. Other common themes in the games include tattered, medieval landscapes ravaged by unchecked demons and strange interpretations of un-death. So merely learning what the game Bloodborne is about from two experienced minds should be fun enough. This, however, shows what might be the greatest challenge of the podcast: It could use a format adjustment. It starts with inside references that boldly lean on the idea that this is a podcast exclusively for people who have already experienced a game, beginning with banter that assumes listeners know the material, and then it segues into listeners’ questions (received via email). Yet those questions add all of the context a listener could have craved just minutes earlier, dissolving the pretense just experienced. It’s a dense and intriguing game and McElroy is an engaging host, making this episode fun for those who have never heard of the Bloodborne or the Souls games. This should then be a great listen for anyone who has but a passing interest in why dark and near-impossible RPGs are so popular.

Casual Sex?: Kate Willett, Sandra Elliot, Shannon Cason

Casual sex is often anything but casual. It can lead to panic, transcendence, or danger, all of which are represented in this diverse trio of stories. The first, from stand-up comedian Kate Willett, chronicles a Burning Man hook-up that leads to disgust, regret, and a frantic search for the morning-after pill. For storyteller Sandra Elliot, however, a casual encounter leads to marriage and a whole mess of complications. Both are lively and entertaining, but it’s Detroit storyteller Shannon Cason’s tale of infidelity in the Big Apple that makes the biggest impact. His unflinching approach to commitment and sexual appetite is refreshing, but what truly resonates is Cason’s willingness to paint himself as the villain in his own story. He’s not self-deprecating, necessarily—in fact, he recounts his numerous flings with wit and wistfulness—but he never downplays the emotional toll, nor his hypocritical reaction when he finds out he’s not the only one up to no good. As with Elliot’s story, there’s no easy conclusion to Cason’s tale. No matter how casual it may seem at the time, sex inevitably complicates.

Should I Worry About This?
Should I Worry About... Getting Sick And Going Bankrupt?

With each successive listen to the frequently excellent Should I Worry About This? one begins to feel that the answer to the rhetorical question posed in the title is always an unqualified “Yes.” This week’s dissection is no different, as hosts Cat Oddy and Eden Robins discuss the shocking statistics about American health care-related debt. This discussion is mainly brought on by Oddy’s recent expatriation to London and a conversation that she had regarding the cost of healthcare in America. Robins’ findings are staggering, with results of a survey from 2007 showing some 70 million Americans were affected by medical debt, that two-thirds of all bankruptcy filings were related to medical bills, and that up to 2 million people were facing illness and bankruptcy at the same time. Perhaps one of the more interesting pieces of information to come out of the show is the surprisingly antiquated link between employer-offered health care benefits and World War II. The passing of the Affordable Care Act has helped increase the rates of insured people in America, but the issue goes beyond just being insured. It is tied to the relaxed legislation of the marketing of credit cards to consumers, leading to a rather vicious cycle that is sure to give listeners nightmares.

We see what you said there

“No one ever made fun of Hemingway. But I did.”—Orson Welles on his relationship with Ernest Hemingway, The Projection Booth

“He’s fucking me like he doesn’t know I’m a stand-up comedian.”—Kate Willett, RISK!