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Pop Rocket talks Selma and American Sniper, while Dan Savage promotes pot

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.

Attitude Era
King Of The Ring 2000

At the time, King of the Ring 2000 was just another hit-or-miss pay-per-view for the WWE. In retrospect, however, it seems like a turning point. During a “Hardcore Evening Gown Match” (yes, seriously) between 60-year-old-industry-legends-turned-buffoons Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, Patterson pulls out a soiled sanitary napkin—“brown and red,” describes Attitude Era co-host Billy Keable—and shoves it down Brisco’s throat. “I have never heard an entire stadium of wrestling fans collectively groan,” Keable says of the moment, prompting the gang to ponder if perhaps this marks when the Attitude Era broke the envelope it had been pushing the past two years. That the match was for the Hardcore Title—once revered, now a joke—provides further evidence that shock was beginning to trump awe and a sea change was more than necessary. There’s still plenty of fun to be had, however, and hosts Keable, Kefin Mahon, and Adam Bibilo have a great time expounding on their love for Crash Holly, hatred for Val Venis, and amusement at Vince McMahon’s desire to be “Joe Cool.” Complementing the madness onscreen is Mahon, whose incredulity is particularly off the charts in this episode. Every cry of “FUCKING hell!” is more emphatic than the last, making the episode an especially rowdy entry in this assessment of one of wrestling’s most notorious eras.

The Dead Authors Podcast
Appendix H: Hunter S. Thompson, Philip K. Dick, Featuring James Adomian, Matt Besser

It’s the Holy Trinity of comedy podcast guests when Paul F. Tompkins, as H. G Wells, gathers James Adomian and Matt Besser as Hunter S. Thompson and Philip K. Dick. And as “Wells” says, it is indeed a “veritable initial party up in this piece.” Often this show succeeds because of the guests’ lack of knowledge about the author they are portraying—we’re looking at you, Ben Schwartz as Roald Dahl. But here it’s the abundance of knowledge that makes it work. Adomian and Besser are in complete control of their characters, giving them the space to improvise to the top of their intelligence, and maybe even teach the audience a thing or two about these prolific and completely insane authors. Tompkins as Wells serves as a perfect straight man, as he lets Dick wax poetic about conspiracy theories, his influence on all modern ideas, and his hatred of robots. But as always, Adomian steals the show with a near-perfect Thompson and his psychotic ramblings. Add him to the impression canon, Adomian!

The Dew Over

In the Modern Superior network’s The Dew Over, host Jamie Dew and a panel of fellow friendly Canadians revisit Oscar ceremonies of the past, then decide if the right film won Best Picture or not. As alluring as that concept is, the panel’s final verdict welcomingly feels like an afterthought when compared to the discussion leading up to it. Take last week’s episode, “1998,” for instance. It’s almost universally agreed that Shakespeare In Love should not have won Best Picture that year, which makes the arguments for the merits and flaws of the other nominees—all of which had to do with either World War II or Elizabethan England—all the more fascinating. The analytical highlight comes during the gang’s dissection of Saving Private Ryan, with one panelist viewing the screenplay as a meditation on whether you should or shouldn’t take orders in your life. He argues that supporting characters Private Reiben (Edward Burns) and Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies)—not Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller or Matt Damon’s Private Ryan—both represent a different side of this coin, an argument that will make you rethink how you watch the film from here on out.

Do You Need A Ride?
Drennon Davis

In the podcast with quite possibly the catchiest theme song in the world (vs With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus), hosts Chris Fairbanks and Karen Kilgariff pick up their comedian friends and give them a ride either to or from the airport. Podcasts are already an innately intimate medium, but the structure of this reaches new levels of familiarity; it feels like you’re really in the car with your friends. Past episodes shine because of outbursts of road rage— more often than not from a hilariously flustered Fairbanks—but this episode stands out for its absurdity. On their way to LAX, Kilgariff, Fairbanks, and their guest Drennon Davis encounter a crowd of Bible thumpers, then a crowd of Hare Krishnas, then realize the roads are taken over by just crowds of people. They assume with a genuine fear that the apocalypse is looming (either that or everyone is waiting for the bus), and consummate performers that they are, create a song on the spot that is so delightful one can only pray they choose to record it before the world does end.

The Dollop
Smollop - Michael Malloy

If fucking around is ever to be considered an art, then The Dollop co-hosts Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds deserve to be in a museum. The premise of their show is so simple, yet the results so astonishingly funny, that it comes off like Ricky Jay doing sleight-of-hand magic; you know what you just experienced, but how? This week’s episode tells the short, tragic tale of Irishman Michael Malloy, a part-time street cleaner and coffin-polisher in Prohibition-era New York who took his payments in the form of bootleg whiskey. Malloy, also known as Iron Mike or Mike The Durable, unwittingly became the target of a Bronx speakeasy proprietor’s life insurance murder plot. But despite a ridiculous crescendo of schemes, as Anthony details, Malloy proved virtually un-killable. What makes the format so fresh is Reynolds’ complete lack of awareness of the story that Anthony tells. The banter flows forth, thick with gallows humor, comical Irish accents, stereotypes, and most of all infectious laughter. Though this particular episode is a Smollop it doesn’t lack for entertainment, if anything it’s a concentrated version of the show, twice the laughs in half the time.

Gilmore Guys
“A-Tisket, A-Tasket”

You can easily binge through this podcast almost faster than you binged through Gilmore Girls itself and get caught up to this week just as the Gilmore Guys find their stride. This week’s guest, Julieanne Smolinski (aka @BoobsRadley on Twitter) is an actual fan of the show, which is always welcome in a world surprisingly full of Gilmore haters, and the breakdown discusses the excellent episode “A Tisket, A-Tasket.” Is there anything better than a good old-fashioned Dean bashing? He’s the worst, especially in this episode that highlights his immaturity and lifelessness. But really, every man on the show pales in comparison to the charm that hosts Kevin T. Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe bring to the table. They’ve nailed down signature bits (like every time they introduce a new segment with their live, on-the-spot theme songs), and despite a “Gilmore goof” or two, they’ve proven to really know their stuff. After fumbling through the first chunk of episodes, these guys finally know who they are and what they want their show to be, just in time for them to get into some of Gilmore Girls’ best episodes.

I Was There Too
Speed With The Passengers Of Bus 2525

This week’s episode features the most guests Matt Gourley’s ever hosted, which makes for one of the most comprehensive and entertaining episodes of this podcast so far. At certain points the filming of Speed sounds even more terrifying than actually being on bus 2525, as these people spent months trapped on a bus together and did their own stunts. Some things are not entirely revelatory (Sandra “Sandy” Bullock is super nice and down to earth, we get it), but the stories of the casting and rewrite process and the “where-are-they-now”s are fascinating. Who would have thought that Bus Passenger One would turn out to be an artist who paints cats as pin-up girls? And the pacing of the show really benefits from multiple guests. While these might not have been the first people on Gourley’s list when he started the podcast, these are exactly the kinds of guests he should continue hosting.

Pop Rocket
Looking, American Sniper, #Cism

Guy Branum and his panel of co-hosts—Wynter Mitchell, Oliver Wang, and Margaret Wappler—make up one of the more diverse casts on a pop-culture discussion podcast. But it is precisely this array of perspectives that helps separate the show from being just another entrant in an already crowded room. The crew tackles discussions like how the battle between two current films—Selma and American Sniper—is being framed as a discussion of institutionalized racism. Mitchell claims that Selma simply suffers from being a predictable historical biopic, which Wang counters by stating that the same can be said of American Sniper. The panel turn their sights to HBO’s Looking, judging it as an also-ran on account of its fear of being funny, lest it be seen as marginalizing or worse, campy. Later, Maximum Fun’s Jesse Thorn drops by to kick off a new segment called “That ’Cism,” where he showcases racially insensitive issues in pop culture. Given the show’s proximity to MLK Day, Thorne chooses to highlight the cringeworthy efforts of brands in recognizing the holiday, including a Star Wars calendar, the Seattle Seahawks, and a ridiculous Fat Burger salute to the man himself.

Savage Lovecast
Savage Love Episode 430

Every sexually repressed woman in America would be smoking pot if Dan Savage had his way. After addressing the new TLC reality show My Husband’s Not Gay (“a creepy fucking advertisement for the ex-gay community”), Savage takes a call from a 24-year-old straight woman who has never had an orgasm. He suggests books by Dr. Debby Herbenic; he suggests that her body may change and she may start climaxing later in life; and he suggests a little grass and masturbation to reduce tension and self-consciousness. The next two callers—married straight men with willing partners who don’t orgasm and don’t initiate sex, respectively—receive advice to chill out and maybe offer their gals a little marijuana. Or a lot. Lastly, Dan brings on sexuality writer Amy Luna Manderino to talk about the recent French study that had the internet abuzz earlier this month with headlines like “Squirting Is Just Peeing, Say Scientists.” Manderino offers a well-reasoned rebuttal to the way the study’s conclusions were presented and the press around it. Ever-careful not to leave anyone out, Savage gives multiple shout-outs to all the “piss freaks” who are into that kind of thing.

True Murder
Bath Massacre

This grimy, lo-fi true-crime podcast sounds like a rain-damaged paperback feels. Against howling wind and choral moans, the show’s pulpy opening narration name-drops Dahmer, Gacy, and Bundy before giving way to host Dan Zupansky’s stony tenor, made all the more ominous by the tinny, gramophone-esque playback. In each episode, Zupansky bats nary a lash as he interviews true-crime authors about the world’s “most shocking killers,” asking questions that tease not only the heart of the mystery, but also the case’s most cringeworthy details. Arnie Bernstein, author of Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing, is a particularly game guest in this episode, both articulate and engaged as he discusses a 1927 school bombing in Bath, Michigan, that took the lives of 38 children and six adults, including the killer himself. That killer? Andrew Kehoe, a school trustee whose mild eccentricities could never have foreseen the extent of his actions. Bernstein’s recount of the event is intriguingly cinematic, and his analysis thorough; he draws several connections between Bath and the massacres at Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech, with some especially thoughtful musings on the media’s role in how tragedy is remembered. It’s an intense listen, but a satisfying one for those with the stomach for it.

You Must Remember This
Star Wars Episode III: Hedy Lamarr

When we consider today’s crop of actors, few appear to have more talents at play beneath the surface. There are outliers, of course; Ethan Hawke writes novels, Nick Offerman is a skilled woodworker, several others have a faculty for playing music. But one movie star from Hollywood’s golden age revolutionized an entire industry through invention, and this true story is beyond surprising. With the tale of actress/inventor Hedy Lamarr, You Must Remember This host Karina Longworth has once again found a story of early 20th century Hollywood that simply must be heard to be believed. Lamarr, a Viennese actress married to an unscrupulous half-Jewish munitions manufacturer in pre-war Austria, flees her prison of a home disguised as her own maid, only to meet Louis B. Mayer in Paris and arrive in America as a contract player at MGM. This already-great tale gets better from there. There is a real sense of “in every cloud, a silver lining” to the episode, especially when the line is drawn from sexist remarks about Lamarr’s smaller bosom to the development of frequency-hopping technology that made cell phones, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth possible.

We see what you said there

“I don’t like any of it. I don’t like his new music, I don’t like his new girlfriend, I don’t like his new tights. He’s stupid. I want the old Val Venis.”—Adam Bibilo on Val Venis’ new heel persona, Attitude Era

“When you eat kale you have to wash it, bleach it, put it in alcohol, put it in a pickle jar for a week before you eat it, because that’s the only thing that’ll kill all the bugs on it.”—Horatio Sanz as Shelly Driftwood giving advice, Comedy Bang! Bang!

“Anything with more than one level of reality, my idea! Sex And The City 2, my idea!”—Matt Besser as Philip K. Dick, The Dead Authors Podcast

“Ain’t I got a thirst!”—Gareth Reynolds, on Irishman Iron Mike Malloy’s taste for drinking poison, The Dollop

“Somebody was fucking angling for a gig directing ONE episode of Game Of Thrones.”—Chris Cabin on how Dracula Untold is just director Gary Shore’s reel for better work, We Hate Movies