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The ladies of Wild Horses rile up Improv4Humans

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 Canon
Evil Dead II: Joe Lynch

When he’s passionate about something, Devin Faraci might be the most persuasive guy on the internet. And, boy howdy, is he passionate about Evil Dead II, calling the 1987 horror movie one of the “greatest films ever made,” as well as “the purest expression” of director Sam Raimi. This week’s guest, genre filmmaker Joe Lynch, is equally passionate, essentially crediting Evil Dead II for his love and pursuit of film. This level of reverence might sink another podcast, as there’s the danger for the conversation to devolve into masturbatory adulation. But Faraci, Lynch, and co-host Amy Nicholson are too smart for that, and much of the conversation centers around the film’s numerous curiosities, from its use of silence and debt to slapstick to the curious way it retcons its predecessor. There’s also some fascinating tidbits of trivia—Stephen King’s involvement, for one—as well as a moment of genuine discovery when Nicholson draws a thread between one of the film’s more memorable shots and the style of filmmaker Brian De Palma. In the end, a doomed, but necessarily combative Nicholson argues in favor of the original Evil Dead, but she doesn’t stand a chance. When it comes to Evil Dead II, there’s just no arguing with Faraci.

Guys We Fucked
She Caught You Jerking Off Her Son?: Tim Dillon

Guys We Fucked has existed long enough now that not every guest is a guy that hosts Krystyna Hutchinson and Corinne Fisher have actually fucked. That’s obviously true of gay comedian Tim Dillon, whose somewhat conservative beliefs separate him from most of the folks who have appeared on the show—gay, straight, or otherwise. There’s still plenty of giddy grossness and frank sex talk to go around, of course, but we also get some insights and questions not usually heard on the podcast. For example, the conversation posits that a small dose of shame could lead to a more exciting love life, and that maybe it’s not healthy to always talk about sex. As Hutchinson and Fisher share with Dillon, hosting a series where they’re constantly being so open about what goes on in the bedroom can often strip away the mystery and allure of the whole thing. It’s a side we don’t usually get from the best sex-positive podcast, and one that makes Guys We Fucked’s future topics even more intriguing.

Hello, From The Magic Tavern

There is so much to discuss surrounding the latest episode of Hello, From The Magic Tavern, the inventive, often hilarious podcast about host Arnie Niekamp’s adventures while trapped in a parallel dimension. What begins under the pretense of just another entry from the magical realm of Foon quickly swings to another pole, opening the show up to entirely different realms of possibility. Niekamp, struggling with a bout of homesickness, retreats to his room at the eponymous tavern, The Vermillion Minotaur, and as the podcast cuts to what should be a mid-roll ad, the fabric of the show’s reality stretches in an entirely different and exciting direction. To describe exactly what happens would be an unfair gesture here, but it finally sheds light on the mysterious man (excellently voiced by Tim Sniffen) who serves as the show’s announcer, as well as his continued exhortations that the show is entirely a product of fiction. The depth of world-building has been among the strongest elements of Hello, From The Magic Tavern, and “Homesick” shows that it is just getting started. At only 10 episodes, it is not too late to jump on what has the potential to become the next Welcome To Night Vale.

Wild Horses III: Gossipy Elephants: Lauren Lapkus, Stephanie Allynne, Mary Holland, Erin Whitehead

Stephanie Allynne, Mary Holland, Lauren Lapkus, and Erin Whitehead of the long-form, L.A.-based improv team Wild Horses return to Matt Besser’s Improv4Humans for the third time, and the hour-plus of hilarity proves why these ladies are one of the best teams in the game. They settle into their characters—which include a girl with a nervous honk, a woman whose bread and butter is her tiny clit, and the gossipy elephant bitches from Dumbo—almost instantly. No matter how ridiculous, each has a clear and consistent point of view that strengthens the scenes even as they spiral into absurdity. Each scene builds steadily, taking off once the ladies find games to heighten things, the best being the increasingly nonsensical and overly detailed metaphors thrown out during a battle of neighbors. Wild Horses are masterful at taking simple setups laid out by their suggestions and finding the exact point to intensify, and the jokes come pouring out. And no one guest stands out over any other, which isn’t usually the case for Improv4Humans, making it clear this is a real team that can carry a 20-minute monoscene with ease, so the more dynamic structure of Improv4Humans is a piece of cake.

Killer POV
Live From Texas Frightmare 2015!: AJ Bowen, Aaron Warwick Dries

When many podcasts hit the 100th episode, the hosts load up the airtime with guest stars, music, and other bells and whistles. The Killer POV gang, however, keeps things low-key and humble by setting up shop at the Texas Frightmare Weekend, then later interacting with their fan base, going as far to invite one all the way from Australia to be a guest. Fan Q&As are often a slog, but the show’s listeners know as much about movies as the panel, making for a cerebral yet entertaining roundtable that covers everything from financing an indie horror film (courtesy of mumblegore veteran AJ Bowen) to reconciling the differences between Jaws the novel and Jaws the film. Earlier on, the hosts geek out about the various screenings they’ve attended at the festival, which may inspire re-watches of under-appreciated gems like Sleepwalkers and even the House Of Wax remake. It’s this kind of genre specificity that makes you feel like you’re hanging out at a movie theater with everyone at Texas Frightmare, and, given their emphasis on fan interaction, Killer POV wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jenny: Is My Boyfriend Gay?

When Jenny was in high school, she was a weird kid. Her favorite accessory was a pair of cat-eye contact lens—which she rocked in the class photo that serves as this episode’s cover art. Jenny takes to the Mortified stage to read entries from her teenage diary about her high school boyfriend Jimmy, who is clearly working through his sexual identity. Jenny laughs along with the audience as younger Jenny shares the highlights of her relationship with Jimmy: his reluctance to go in for a kiss, his habit of carrying around and showing off his collection of gay porn, and her attempt to find solace in a straight spouse support website. Throughout, teenage Jenny comes off as supportive; her denial of the situation comes not from a place of judgment. Instead, it’s driven by her own insecurities and confusion, both of which only leave her ever more determined to make an impossible relationship work. When the reality of becomes too obvious to ignore, things end not with heartbreak but rather with a touching coming-of-age moment as both Jenny and Jimmy accept the obvious reality, even if that means they have to put their break-up song on the stereo.

Open Run
The Fellowship Of The Rim Vol. 1 And 2: Dave Hartley

While the continued longevity of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy is a bit of a curiosity to many pop culture observers, it is a boon to listeners of Open Run, as the 2015 broadcast network upfront presentations provides the backdrop for what are easily the standout episodes in the show’s nascent existence. This two-parter sees hosts Jesse Williams and Stefan Marolachakis hanging out in the Trump International Hotel in New York City along with all-star podcast sixth man, Dave Hartley of the band The War On Drugs. The trio engage in one extra-long hang session, drinking beers, shooting the shit, and covering a wide range of topics in continually hilarious fashion. The real treat of these episodes comes from how well they succeed in conveying to listeners the atmosphere of being in the room; few podcasts find such a balance between access and accessibility. The conversation flows naturally from serious basketball discussions, to Mr. Show and Naked Gun references, to a very in-depth and astute dissection of sports fandom, artistry, and personal identity. Hartley brings some absolutely crazy nickname game, and the show hands out its own end-of-season awards. With the NBA season drawing to a close, it will be interesting to see what comes next for the show.

Reply All
Exit & Return Part II

In 1996, a Hasidic Jew named Shulem Deen bought a computer. Using the PC was permitted under the rules of Deen’s ultra-Orthodox New Jersey community, but using the included AOL floppy disk was not. Deen’s story makes up the first half of this riveting two-part series by producer Sruthi Pinnamaneni. The peek into the secular world facilitated by AOL made Deen question and ultimately leave his religious order, along with his wife and five children. In Part II, we learn that not all Hasidim stay off the internet—Pinnamaneni even visits a Hasidic internet cafe located in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. The pages accessed here are highly filtered with blocked websites and images, but there’s also a “kosher corner” of the web where Hasidim share news and information. Now long-estranged from his home community, Deen visits a Hasidic web forum to feel connected with people who share his background, although it’s a far cry from the bond with his children that he longs for. “Exit & Return” is a poignant account of technology tearing a man from his community while helping him hold on to fragments of it from afar.

The Right Reasons

A live episode is a curious choice for The Right Reasons, as the Grantland podcast has always felt like a private gab session between friends, replete with inside jokes and lots of shade. But this is a special event, one hosts Juliet Litman and David Jacoby look forward to every year: The Bachelorette has released the photos and bios of this upcoming season’s lovestruck bros. They go through the contestants one by one, making hilarious and gutting snap judgments about each based on their biggest first-date fears and favorite movies (spoiler: half of them say Dumb And Dumber). Call it petty, but shows like The Bachelorette exist so audiences can alternately mock and become deeply invested in the lives of attractive strangers. Litman and Jacoby understand this, and it’s a delight to hear how their opinions of reality TV characters (and they are characters) evolve from utter disdain to empathetic over the course of a season. Thankfully, aside from a little awkwardness at the outset, the rowdy live audience doesn’t hinder the duo’s breezy rapport, nor does it have an effect on the audio, which is as crisp as it would be in studio. Whether you watch reality TV or not, this podcast is a must-listen.

Roderick On The Line
West Coast Noncommittal

As a godfather of podcasting, Merlin Mann is no stranger to honestly listening to other people. John Roderick has made his career, as the frontman of famed indie rock band The Long Winters, through economy of speech and specificity in his language. In that sense, it’s surprising that Roderick and Mann have recorded so many conversations without connecting those aspects of their careers. Mann takes the lead this week for an extended spiel about the difference between hearing and listening—listening requires empathy, he says—before teeing up Roderick to help relate the concept to pop culture and politics. Mann conjures Star Trek: The Next Generation’s groundbreaking empath character Commander Deanna Troi to make scathing denouncements of Gamergate in particular and stoic nerd culture as a whole. Roderick’s upcoming bid for Seattle City Council, as well, yet again proves to be a great frame for these weekly midmorning chats—it’s not surprising, after all, that a progressive and ex-homeless musician like Roderick might wonder “Why the holy Jesus fuck don’t we have money for schools in America?”

We see what you said there

“I like guys who are gay, but know it’s wrong. Because that’s when the best sex is going to happen.”—Tim Dillon, Guys We Fucked

“It’s The Bicycle Thief with the Los Angeles homeless population.”—Rebekah McKendry praising They Live, Killer POV

“Every time Jimmy comes over, he and Matt download gay porn on the computer. Which is a little sucky because then it’s on my computer.”—Jenny on spending time with her high school boyfriend Jimmy, Mortified

“I find Ben Z. more attractive than Ben H.”—David Jacoby on this season’s crop of The Bachelorette contestants, The Right Reasons

“Listening means that you pay attention to something for more than content. When you listen to someone, you’re looking to go way beyond what they think they’re saying, what you think they’re saying, to learn more about who they are and what they think and the context for why they are saying what they’re saying, you know? God damnit, you fucking Gamergate douchebags, it means more than just trying to contradict the facts of what someone says. It means trying to hear what they’re saying and then listen to why they’re saying it you that you can understand the context for more than—they’re not looking for a note from you about what they’re saying or how they said it, they’re looking for some empathy that sometimes means not talking.”—Merlin Mann, Roderick On The Line