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This American Life hits the beach, and Nerdist talks to the new RoboCop

Podmass comments and suggestions for future coverage can be directed to podmass@avclub.com 


“Tarotsmith.” “Well done, Tig.” —Tig Notaro and Aaron Burrell, Professor Blastoff

“I’m coining ‘hasbeened’ for some guy you divorced. He’s not your husband anymore, he’s your hasbeened.”
“Why are your hands up like you’re being arrested? None of us are fighting you.”—Kyle Dunnigan and Tig Notaro, Professor Blastoff

“Did you Google me? You Googled me! I’ve finally made it… Seven hits!” —Joel Kinnaman, being self-deprecating on Nerdist

“He listens to wax records. I don’t think he has Twitter.” —Julian McCullough, on R. Crumb, The Fogelnest Files

“Paul interrupted to nominate ‘the Conch Sucker’. Amy’s suggestion had the word ‘seamen’ in it, and Gretchen’s was even dirtier.”—The Sedaris family, devising names for David’s beach house, This American Life

“I can’t even imagine what an emotional fucking disaster I was.”
[Pause.] “Yeah… I can.” —Marc Maron and Morgan Murphy on their messy, month-long romantic relationship, WTF

“That song smells like an elliptical machine.” —Andy Daly, upon hearing Maroon 5, Who Charted?

“That’s what cinema really is, right? It’s all about your passion and whatever perspective you’re bringing to it.” —Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting

“What is everybody doing? Is everyone on hormones? Johnny Depp looks 30. Robert Downey Jr. looks 30. Sandra Bullock looks 30.” —Natasha Leggero, Sklarbro Country

“Dad was gone... but we saw him on Sunday mornings to take us to church. He was like God. He was kind of around but not really. I was supposed to be afraid of him. He loved me unconditionally, but never called.” —Jim O’Brien on his alcoholic father, The Mental Illness Happy Hour


Faculty Of Horror
Poltergeists, phantoms, and paranormal activities all converge on Faculty Of Horror. Led by horror enthusiasts and part-time academics Alexandra West and Andrea Subissati, the Toronto-based podcast deconstructs the fascinating politics, plots, and tropes that underlie classic horror films, and aims to answer the question of fear itself: Why do we get scared? The duo centers on a broad topic each week, from social constructions in Carrie to the implications of sinister roles children often perform in horror film plots. In the process, the two weave in theoretical texts and methodology against entertaining sound splices from the films they’re referencing. The podcast ranges from 40 minutes to over an hour—perhaps intentionally resembling the length of a college undergraduate class.

Fittingly, the academic-leaning podcast plays like a compelling conference lecture. In the very first episode, West and Subissati pin John Carpenter’s Halloween against Black Christmas and attempt to get at the heart of what constitutes the classic “slasher” film. Listeners learn the difference between “splatter” and “slasher,” and are comforted with the fact that the hosts themselves still get kind of freaked out by the Candyman while saying “bloody Mary” in the mirror during the “Urban Legends” episode. The series also does an excellent job of analyzing how horror films are often reflections of larger socio-cultural issues as well—most vividly in the “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” episode, which focuses on sexuality, gender, and power. Occasionally the episodes linger on a bit, but West and Subissati’s wry sense of humor and camaraderie will keep any serious horror enthusiast entertained. The series is refreshingly unpretentious, knowledgeable, and will leave you thinking long after you curl up on one of these frigid nights on your couch and watch Evil Dead. [PM]


Bonnie And Maude #18: Frozen
This week’s episode focuses on Frozen, and the hosts’ relationship with Disney overall. Using the new film as a stepping stone to talk about cartoon princesses (and villains) in general, Kseniya Yarosh and Eleanor Kagan dig into just how rote Disney movies have been in portraying women. Both hosts think Frozen is a refreshing change of pace, where the old romantic tropes of films like The Little Mermaid are skewered effectively. Notably, Jennifer Lee is the first female director of a Disney film, but the hosts rightfully point out that the Frozen still suffers from some of Disney’s more glaring inequalities—eye size anyone? And as Kagan notes, Disney’s ad campaign for the movie doesn’t highlight any of its pro-woman aspects. Even as it steps forward, The Mouse still manages to take steps back. [NC]

The Bugle #259: Sochi Special
With their not-so-subtle tinges of corruption and bigotry, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi seem almost custom made for a good buglin’. And indeed, skewering the event’s homophobic overtones and deplorable facilities is like taking candy from a baby, as John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman run circles around the Sochi mayor’s ludicrous statements that no gay people live in the city. To really push this episode over the edge into greatness, though, it takes the added bonus that Queen Elizabeth’s cash reserves have dipped below £1 million—a fact Oliver uses to craft one of his best jokes yet about the queen’s clandestine recreational activities. With so much choice material, this week’s a no-brainer. [ABe]

Comedy Bang! Bang! #269: Smaug’s Kickstarter: Doug Benson, Paul Hornschemeier, Matt Besser
It’s nice when Comedy Bang! Bang! goes beyond the comedy world for guests, especially when they’re as game as acclaimed cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier (who did the opening credits for the CBB TV show and the set paintings). He joins Doug Benson for a lively episode that really gets going once Matt Besser shows up as Smaug the dragon from the Hobbit movies. Besser brings along a guitar to play the occasional, dreadful song “parody”—their uninspired nature makes them even funnier, particularly to Scott Aukerman—but spends most of his time complaining about how he’s unfairly characterized as the villain in the movies. A great Would You Rather? rounds out solid episode from start to finish. [KR]

Doug Loves Movies Wil Anderson, “Mark Wahlberg,” And Rory Scovel
This is another successful example of a character inhabiting the Doug Loves Movies panel. In this case, it’s movie star Mark Wahlberg as portrayed by Sklarbro County’s Daniel Van Kirk. His Wahlberg character is usually restricted to just a prerecorded answering machine message at the end of the occasional episode of Sklarbro County, so it was nice to hear Van Kirk have some fun with his megalomaniacal and slightly exasperated take on the actor. Van Kirk even does a decent job weathering Doug Benson’s bizarre question asking the character how he is dealing with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Van Kirk takes what would otherwise be a complete comedy killer and deflects it into a great bit about Teri Hatcher and the show Lois & Clark. [MS]

Filmspotting #476: Life Itself / Top 5 Movies About Fame
The podcast studio gets a little misty as Adam Kempenaar, Josh Larsen, and Michael Phillips remember the life, career, and humanity of Roger Ebert while reviewing Life Itself, Steve James’ documentary portrait of the late film criticism icon. Listeners may find themselves grieving his passing all over again as the three men recount the impressive influence Ebert had upon the way we consume and discuss media. Luckily, they decided to hold most of the Philip Seymour Hoffman talk for a dedicated episode next week, or the show might have collapsed under the weight of its own melancholy. As it is, it felt just right. And the second half’s discussion of the best films about the joys and dangers of fame offered a welcome reprieve. [DD]

The Fogelnest Files #76: Threshold Into Manhood: Julian McCullough
The “non-thematic” episodes of The Fogelnest Files (those in which Jake Fogelnest chats with someone from the comedy world using a curated list of random videos) tend to be less engaging and less interesting than the ones in which he talks to someone who’s a resident expert from a given field. This week’s show with Julian McCullough, however, is a rare exception because Fogelnest avoids the usual pitfalls of those aimless shows. The video playlist is solid from top to bottom, ranging from discomforting fetish videos to strangely hilarious children. But more importantly, Fogelnest keeps the pace up—something he routinely doesn’t do well when dealing with explicitly comedic guests. The bits are tight; McCullough’s a pro. So while the two don’t talk about much, it’s supremely entertaining. [ABe]

Freakonomics What You Don’t Know About Online Dating
This episode goes down the rabbit hole of online dating, beginning with a woman who created an intentionally repugnant profile, only to find that it got more interactions than her real profile ever did. Interviewing a recently single economist who realized that the online dating market is much like the job market, Freakonomics looks at how sites like OkCupid and Match.com could be improved, notably by having the expert give a guest advice on how best to tweak his profile to become more attractive. Going through the guest’s profile is a hilarious segment, but also provides some nifty pointers on how to improve one’s online dating life. [NC]

Harmontown #88: My Whole Life Is A Smile
Recorded on the day that news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death broke, Dan Harmon and Comptroller Jeff Davis spend the first segment of the show discussing the actor’s addiction and impact. They then pivot into discussing the ignorance of crippling violence required to enjoy the Super Bowl, also occurring the night of recording. But the best part of the episode is Davis launching into an extended series of memories with Harmon from their early days in Hollywood. Davis has a few fantastic stories from working as an improv performer at Disneyland, which forms the high point of the episode. [KM]

Improv4Humans #119: Coward Of The County: Joe Wengert, Paul Rust, Mary Holland
Matt Besser understands the beauty of the cold open better than most. They sometimes air on Improv4Humans when a warm-up conversation leads to something particularly inspiring, but this week sees Besser going all out. He belts an unbelievably ham-fisted rendition of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” apropos of nothing. Eventually, it comes out that he was involved in a Twitter fight with Charlie Daniels, who wrote the song. First, Besser improvises with Joe Wengert, Mary Holland, and Paul Rust, who pulls scenes in stupidly hilarious directions. Wengert and Holland are solid additions who work great together. The stories are great, especially Rust’s telling of a terrifying panic attack, leading to memorable scenes, like the therapy session for men diagnosed with “Big Babyism.” Unfortunately a “Case Closed” debate about Daniels gets sabotaged by a no-show, but the episode manages to stick its landing. [MK]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #153: Jim O’Brien
A show about emotional trauma can be a difficult sell, but many of The Mental Illness Happy Hour’s finest conversations could be better described as master storytelling exercises. While the overarching theme of the story Jim O’Brien tells Paul Gilmartin is tragic, the comedian’s storytelling ability makes for a listen that’s equally moving and entertaining. Gilmartin does an excellent job keeping the dialogue going as the raspy-voiced O’Brien talks about his absent father, sick mother, and his own crippling depression. There’s also a vivid story about an involuntary visit to an Illinois mental health center, where he encountered heartbreaking and hopeful circumstances as part of a seven-day stay after threatening suicide. The extended conversation with a curious Gilmartin is one of the best MIHH episodes in some time and would be a nice introduction for those who have kept the heavy program at arm’s length. [TC]

Nerdist #475: Joel Kinnaman
If the upcoming RoboCop remake is looking for a marketing strategy it need look no further than its Swedish-American star, Joel Kinnaman. He proves a one-man charm offensive, whether waxing poetic about the difference between Sweden and the United States or joking about pooping in his RoboCop suit. Although he starred on The Killing, Kinnaman is still relatively unknown in the United Sates and his chat with Chris Hardwick is a great introduction for those looking to know more about the actor. And fans of the original RoboCop will be reassured both by Hardwick’s enthusiasm for the project and by Kinnaman’s discussion of the filmmaking process. Director José Padilha scheduled two weeks of rehearsal before filming began to help finalize the script and create an ensemble of actors—a rarity among big action films. [CS]

Never Not Funny #1402: Adam Scott
As his appearances on Comedy Bang! Bang!’s “Farts & Procreation” franchise attest, Adam Scott has a deadpan sensibility, and his dry sense of humor can make for riffs that don’t sound like riffs, which makes them even funnier. In his latest appearance on Never Not Funny, he describes at length what a DVR is to Jimmy Pardo and has Matt Belknap explain a joke in almost painful detail. That’s all pretty meta, but the rest of the episode is a funny, enjoyable chat that only stalls out when Pardo and Scott interminably discuss where they lived while attending the Academy Of Performing Arts. [KR]

Sklarbro Country #185: That Ottoman’s Moving!: Natasha Leggero, David Huntsberger
Everything insightful about the Seahawks’ Super Bowl blowout has already been voiced ad nauseam, which is good, because guest Natasha Leggero makes it clear early on that she’s not well-versed or interested in sports. Randy and Jason Sklar try anyway, but instead, the hilarious and riff-heavy episode mostly covers Leggero’s experience performing internationally, her bias against cities without modern-art museums, and the servants on Downton Abbey. When the otherwise exhausted conversation surrounding disadvantages women face in comedy rears its head, Leggero and the brothers make some thoughtful, lesser-discussed points about the freedom fathers enjoy as road comics that are seldom enjoyed by moms, making it one of the more keen comedy-centered episodes. [DJ]

Stuff You Missed In History Class Rosa Parks And The Montgomery Bus Boycott, Pt. 1
Rosa Parks’ story requires quite a bit of context, and hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey spend the better part of this episode explaining the horror of the racism that Parks grew up enduring. As a young person Parks set the table for her infamous bus ride by developing a reputation for her willingness to stand up to bullies despite the constant threat of bombings and lynching. But it was Parks’ involvement in the NAACP and other social-movement organizations that truly inspired her famous act of civil disobedience. Far from just a defiant commuter, she worked extensively with hate crime victims and motivating black people in the South to register to vote. The episode ends with the degrading description of Parks’ experience with the Montgomery bus system. It is easy to imagine Parks’ anger when it is revealed she had a 12-year history with the driver. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know Will Computers Replace Doctors?
One in five diagnoses in the United States are incorrect or incomplete, and hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant are determined to find a better way. In their examination of whether the medical industry should include more artificial doctors, both hosts take a surprisingly staunch pro-robot stance. And the statistics appear to be in their favor—doctors don’t update their medical research nearly as often as one would hope, and the diagnosis of a well-programmed computer (like IBM’s Watson) can be as accurate as 90 percent. Though more low-end solutions like Web MD are glossed over, the episode makes for a compelling listen. Clark and Bryant admit they will always want a human doctor nearby to stop robot doctors from inflicting injury, but they present a highly persuasive argument that people often crave objectivity more than a human eye. [DT]

This American Life #517: Day At The Beach
Fed up with the endless winter weather, This American Life escapes to the beach this week. An essay by David Sedaris about a trip his family took to the beach in the aftermath of his sister’s suicide in the program’s final act is a clear standout. Originally published in The New Yorker, the piece alternates between light-hearted—the Sedaris clan is nothing if not an entertaining cast of characters—and heart-rending. It’s a touching, honest portrait of a family struggling to make sense of tragedy. Among the best stories penned by Sedaris to be featured on the show, the piece caps off and brings together an all-around strong episode. [DF]

Welcome To Night Vale #40: The Deft Bowman
Decades ago, Night Vale exchanged pen pal letters with a sister village in Russia named Nulogorsk. But as time progressed, it became clear that the village was stuck in time. “By 1997, it became apparent that Nulogorsk would never stop existing in 1983. And without being able to openly discuss the complexities of Michael Jackson’s career arc, Night Vale stopped corresponding.” Which makes the appearance of a Russian submarine in the desert town all the more suspicious. The first young Junior Secret Detective to enter the sub’s hatch re-emerges with long gray hair and withered skin. It’s a fascinating mystery involving a nuclear attack, an altered newspaper headline, and tracing a call to a phone booth behind the Taco Bell. [KM]

Who Charted? #166: Runnin’ Down Dreams
In addition to being a hilarious and accomplished comic actor and prominent Earwolf personality, guest Andy Daly is also an affable dad who is painfully unaware of pop music. Daly is a cultural blank slate when presented with the top five songs occupying the Adult Contemporary chart, which as it turns out, were just songs that occupied the Billboard Hot 100 a few months previously. Still, it’s legitimately entertaining to listen to Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack explain who Lorde is to Daly. Still, it’s doubtful anyone can fault him for being blissfully unaware of the latest Maroon 5 offerings. In fact, that might even inspire some envy. [MS]

WTF #467: Morgan Murphy
Especially compared to some of Marc Maron’s more troubled guests, Morgan Murphy’s story is so straightforward as to be almost anticlimactic—in fact one source of mental anguish early in her career was that she had more or less achieved her goal of being a professional comedy writer so quickly that she wasn’t sure where to go from there—but there is more than enough psychological nuance at play to keep it interesting. Also of note: After hearing so much about Maron’s tumultuous relationships from his own view, Murphy provides some perspective from the other side, as the two dated for a brief, stormy span a while back. As it turns out, a freshly divorced, Scotland-stranded Marc Maron does not a supportive boyfriend make. [CG]

You Made It Weird #193: Mark Normand
Not surprisingly, this week’s episode excels when Pete Holmes is able to steer clear of his pet recurring topics: religion, monogamy, and the spiritual component of comedy. While it’s clear these are areas of unending fascination for Holmes, he and his guests have also dissected them ad infinitum. Like Randy Liedtke last week, Mark Normand rejects the overall (and recently, slightly stultifying) YMIW philosophy that everything is worthy of discussion. So the “God talk” is a non-starter. Instead, Holmes and Normand spend a deeply interesting chunk of the interview talking about lying for no reason—a topic that seems trivial but is actually a welcome break from the gravity of Holmes’ usual dish. [ABe]


99 Percent Invisible #100: Higher And Higher
The first episode in the radio show’s new, Kickstarter-funded season, “Higher And Higher” examines the two-man 1928 battle to build what was then New York’s tallest building. The winner was the now-revered Chrysler Building, though its construction essentially ruined architect William Van Alen, who never received a major commission again. [ME]

Book Fight! #53: Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped
The hosts seem pretty lukewarm on Jesmyn Ward’s memoir about growing up in Mississippi, Men We Reaped. It takes 20 minutes for them to get their throat-clearing and generalizations about the South out of the way and begin discussing the work itself. Once they do, though, the conversation picks up as they ponder the appropriate amount of nostalgia for a memoir. [ABa]

Hang Up And Listen The All Hail Our Neon-Green Overlords Edition
The Super Bowl was such a boring beat-down for anyone not rooting for the Seahawks that spending 30 minutes talking about it—and the other 30 talking about retiring NBA Commissioner David Stern (a.k.a. Emperor Palpatine)—makes for an underwhelming week. [KM]

How Was Your Week #153: Strings And Levees And Pulleys: Nicole Buyer
The monologue is long and the conversation doesn’t heat up until deep into the fourth quarter. [NJ]

Judge John Hodgman Command Quit
Quin’s dad thinks his son spends too much time playing videogames, and the dad is probably right. Coming from guys who make Dig Dug references and a father who cites concerns like “opportunity cost,” the hearing between two active archetypes is admirably objective, but dry. [DXF]

The Moth: Live On Martha's Vinyard
This week’s fish-out-of-water-themed full-hour show lacks the impact of other recent non-compilation episodes, but Jenny Allen’s digital snooping story hits all the right notes. [DJ]

Nerdist #474: B.J. Novak
This interview with B.J. Novak falls into the common Nerdist trap of being too inside the process of writing and performing comedy to be of much interest to anyone outside the profession. [MS]

Nerdist #476: Robert Kirkman Returns
The hosts seem to have a great time catching up with comic book writer Robert Kirkman, but unfortunately that doesn’t translate to an enjoyable listening experience. Walking Dead fans can skip to the 50-minute mark for a short but interesting discussion about the show’s writers’ room. [CS]

Professor Blastoff #141: Tarot: Suzi Barrett
Listening to the hosts and producer Aaron Burrell have their tarot cards read is endearing, but the missing visual component and a failure to speak any more broadly about the topic holds the program down. [NJ]

Sound Opinions #428: Musical Couples
Aside from more discussion on Against Me! excellent new record, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, this Valentine’s Day episode isn’t up to snuff with previous years’ lists. [KM]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Rosa Parks And The Montgomery Bus Boycott, Pt. 2
The effects of Rosa Parks’ arrest made an intense difference, but this second episode offers less lively discussion and is more of a list of legal aftershocks listeners may already be familiar with. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How Sign Language Works
This episode provides an essential history and terminology for sign language, but the inherently visual nature of sign language makes it an occasionally frustrating listen. [DT]

WTF #468: Langhorne Slim
Marc Maron always sounds fascinated when he talks to musicians, and he digs for more personal backstory than the in-studio performance episodes of Sound Opinions. But that’s not enough to make this interview with singer-songwriter Langhorne Slim a must-listen. [KM]