Week of April 14-20

Since the iPod debuted in 2001, it has gone from portable music player to a medium in itself: Podcasts, like blogs, indelibly shaped the media landscape in less than a decade. The A.V. Club listens to a lot of them, and Podmass is our weekly round-up of the podcasts we follow. 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I’ve never told another soul that, but I’m saying it now: I hate [The Golden Girls]. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! I hate the fact that I’m expected to like it because of the gay thing, and I also hate—oh, what’s the word—it. I hate it.” —Glen Weldon on indefensible opinions, Pop Culture Happy Hour

“My reel looks unbelievable—if I just had lines. I’m just standing next to all these awesome actors.” —Bill Burr on his role in Date Night, Doug Loves Movies

“I’m a bad driver and caused a lot of accidents—I hit an old lady once. California is the only place where an accident has happened to me instead.” —Danny Katz, Never Not Funny

“Shirley MacLaine: what an asshole.” —Julie Klausner, How Was Your Week

“It’s really troubling how, in Star Wars, one thing is a really finely crafted, amazing puppet or CGI creation. And then something else is Salacious Crumb, that’s just this piece of shit thing that looks like it should be on The Muppet Show, not a realistic movie like Return Of The Jedi. —Doug Benson, Doug Loves Movies

“You might as well go lay down in a coffin and wait.” —Andy Richter to the grooming-averse Matt Belknap, Never Not Funny

THE BEST
Extra Hot Great #27: Underground Railroad Of Perverts
The EHG trio brings in special guest Stephen Falk, a writer and producer on Showtime’s Weeds, for a discussion of Scream 4 and other issues. No one can work up much enthusiasm either way for Scream 4 itself, but things get explosive over Hayden Panettiere’s insane bobby-pinned hairdo. The strongest segment, called “Is This Worse Than Jazz?,” discusses the particular psychosis of fans of NBC’s Chuck, whose passion may have helped save the show from cancellation but has also resulted in a persnickety attitude about where the show can go. Falk’s submission for Canon status, The Larry Sanders Show’s “Hank’s Sex Tape,” is a gimme, bolstered by Jeffrey Tambor as “Hey Now” Hank Kingsley, who frets over dong-related footage that could keep him from an orange juice endorsement deal. The episode ends on a surprisingly difficult Game Time segment that asks panelists to match special weapons with the movies in which they’re featured. 

Firewall & Iceberg #69
Sepinwall and Fienberg spend most of their time discussing HBO this week: Performances trump the script in the proto-reality-TV meta-movie Cinema Verite; the A-list comedians’ roundtable Talking Funny is a must for fans of comedy; and the glacially paced Treme gets going eventually. The listener-mail segment brings out the hosts’ more conservative sides, as they discuss the necessity of the ample boobage in HBO’s “very naked very often” shows. The network gets more attention via this week’s TV controversy: Ginia Bellafante’s dunderheaded New York Times review of Game Of Thrones, which suggests the show’s sexual content is probably eye candy for the poor, bewildered female viewers who couldn’t possibly be interested in the fantasy drama. “I don’t remember the last time I read a review that pissed me off as much as this one,” Fienberg says. 

Hang Up And Listen: The Crying In Football Edition
With Stefan Fatsis out tutoring young word freaks this week, the Hang Up And Listen crew gets a terrific replacement in Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski, one of the best sportswriters around. Jumping off Posnanski’s conversation with sabermetrics guru Bill James on his own nascent podcast (The Sports Poscast), the gang considers the unlikely upsets in the first weekend of the NBA Playoffs, which statistically have the fewest upsets of any major tournament. They also have a good laugh at ESPN’s documentary The Brady 6, which looks at the quarterbacks drafted ahead of superstar Tom Brady, who fell all the way back to the sixth round and still gets choked up about it, despite being a Super Bowl winner with a supermodel girlfriend. They also talk about the appalling likelihood of the Sacramento Kings leaving the city for Anaheim, and the changing ways that baseball is handling players with depression and social anxiety. Some great stuff in the “afterball” segment, too, with Mike Pesca on the luxurious 420-seat arena for D-League basketball’s Bakersfield Jam, Josh Levin on the worst-played holes in PGA history, and Posnanski on the aggravating timing of renewed Pete Rose Hall Of Fame discussions. 

How Did This Get Made? #8: Chelsea Peretti/Sucker Punch
One moment well summarizes this animated chat about Zack Snyder’s crazed rape fantasy/feminist empowerment opus Sucker Punch. Commenting upon the sad fate of the film’s scantily clad coterie of sex slaves/dancers/mental patients, Jason Mantzoukas observes, “When you’re an orphan in a rape dungeon, you take what you can get.” The word “rape” repeatedly comes up, and while it may seem strange, or even offensive, in the context with such ostensibly lighthearted fare, it’s invoked to highlight the ridiculousness of making an $80 million PG-13 fantasy film that focuses on rape only slightly less obsessively or creepily than tentacle porn. Just as Sucker Punch is hailed/derided as “Inception with 100 percent more rape,” this is a terrific How Did This Get Made? with 800 percent more references to rape. 

How Was Your Week #6:  “Polar Bears On Moonbeams”
Julie Klausner makes no attempt to hide her Patton Oswalt adoration, and as a super-fan, she avoids typical questions (no mention of Ratatouille here) to discuss their shared love of midnight movies and the writing process. To be honest, the best part of the conversation is when Klausner interrupts the discussion to talk about Zsa Zsa Gabor, whom Oswalt claims is dying “a pirate’s death.” There’s also a giggly discussion with Bob’s Burgers writer Holly Schlesinger about what’s in her TiVo, and an “only in New York” kind of story in which Klausner insults the transgendered. Warning: contains multiple abbreviations of the word “documentaries” to “docs.” 

Radiolab: Desperately Seeking Symmetry
A new hourlong episode, much of which was culled from hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich’s national tour of “Radiolab Live” shows, “Desperately Seeking Symmetry” doesn’t have any segments that punch the gut like the best Radiolab installments, but that’s not for lack of trying. Krulwich opens the hour with a lovely reading from Aristophanes about the nature of soulmates, then Abumrad travels to Princeton to meet a woman researching what makes two people click. (Krulwich, ever the curmudgeon, travels to Columbia to throw water on Abumrad’s excitement.) That segment can get a little tiresome, particularly as Abumrad quickly realizes that the woman’s study isn’t as earth-shattering as he might like. But the other two are very good: The first examines what happens when you reverse the spiral of a DNA double helix (often, bad things) and also what it means to switch from parting your hair on the left to parting it on the right (or vice versa); the second digs deep into the formation of the universe, and just how matter beat out anti-matter so that all of us can exist. It takes a while to get going, but “Symmetry” has some intriguing ideas nonetheless.

Risk! #214: Education
Host Kevin Allison is never shy about mentioning his work as a member of The State, nor is he ever reticent to bring his former castmates on the show. This episode closes out with Michael Ian Black’s hilarious story about going to Amsterdam for his honeymoon—“We went for the whores—they’re there—and the Anne Frank house”—and trying pot for the first time. It also touches on Black’s conservative social mores, flying first class, marriage, and parenthood, with numerous references to Deak Nabers’ preceding story about becoming a father. Nabers didn’t become a parent until his forties, and even then it wasn’t out of some burning desire—in fact, he had nothing but contempt for kids, which lasts even through the delivery of his child. Nabers’ fellow Brown faculty member Connie Crawford starts the episode with an obscenity-laden story of her high-school experience, which was spread over two schools and one “school.”

WTF With Marc Maron #167: Bobcat Goldthwait
On a characteristically deep and funny episode of WTF, an older, wiser, and notably sedate Bobcat Goldthwait retraces his often bizarre evolution from the screaming guy in the Police Academy movies to a Sundance-sanctioned independent filmmaker. Goldthwait and Maron fall into an easy, natural rhythm as Goldthwait takes a bemused look back at some of the more surreal stunts of his early career, from bombing at Comic Relief with a Jesus-as-magician act to the night he promenaded publicly as naked Baby New Year yet wore a hat to hide his bald pate. This episode confirms what fans of Goldthwait have long known: He’s a smart, serious, and gifted writer, director, and stand-up comedian whose offstage persona bears only the faintest resemblance to the manic shtick that made him both a popular stand-up comedian and a walking punchline. Like so many WTFs, this explores the dual nature of fame and how the decisions we make have consequences that last for decades. It also has the warm, deeply satisfying feeling of a nice chat between old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while. 


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
Once again, Adam Carolla shows why The Adam Carolla Show is iTunes’ most popular podcast: He’s the audience’s avatar to the entertainment world. When comedian Natasha Leggero stops by, it’s Lifestyles Of The Friends Of The Rich And Famous. Ace has a report from hobnobbing at Jimmy Kimmel’s party for Howard Stern, then hanging with Jay Leno at his vintage auto shop. Leggero muses on marriage, parents following your Twitter feed, and why comedians become comedians. Documentarian Morgan Spurlock co-hosts Carolla’s weekly how-to-make-it-in-Hollywood session. Plugging his new movie about product placement, Spurlock weighs in on the practice, his favorite movies, and how low-paying jobs can create opportunities. Unfunny is the order of the day for Ace and Demetri Martin, the former Comedy Central host and author of the new This Is A Book. They talk about creative work they don’t like, don’t get, or don’t respect, including “edgy” tampon commercials, massively popular comic strips like Peanuts, and the all-star comedy Grown Ups. Explains Ace, “I am interested in the creative process of creative people who do shitty work.” (Martin also gets the weekly recap of how Carolla met Jimmy Kimmel.) Ace and Last Comic Standing alum Amy Schumer talk shop and TV, and when landlord/comedy veteran Jon Lovitz guests, listeners get a day in the life of Carolla: his thoughts on driving in L.A., french fries, pizza, TMZ, and how hard it is to look good in a candid photo. 

The B.S. Report
Simmons opens up the week with a two-part “mega-playoff” podcast focusing on the first round of the NBA playoffs. In part one, Simmons talks with ESPN writers J.A. Adande and John Hollinger, TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott, and closes with another ESPN scribe, Marc Stein. Stein stays over for part two, when ESPN’s Ric Bucher joins them and, later, oddsmaker Chad Millman and Simmons’ buddy Joe House. After two and a half hours of exhaustive NBA talk, the consensus settles on a likely Finals match-up of the Chicago Bulls versus the Los Angeles Lakers, though both the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are mentioned as favorites as well. Next, Simmons hosts a pair of pop-culture guests: the “Czar of Reality Television” Dave Jacoby discusses the new seasons of The Real World, The Real World/Road Rules Challenge (and which “frenemy” team might win), Jersey Shore, Survivor, and The Killing, then Dan Silver shares his thoughts on Scream 4 (hates it) before the conversation delves into an amusing discussion of bad and bungled sequels. (Weekend At Bernie’s 2, anyone?) To close out a busy week, Simmons has yet another multiple guest podcast and is forced to face his beloved Red Sox’s awful open to the MLB season with ESPN baseball writer Buster Olney and Simmons’ Yankees-loving buddy JackO, who also revisits his anti-UConn rant from a few weeks back. 

Best Show Gems: Call From A Foo Fighters Fan
Scharpling & Wurster concepts don’t come much skimpier than the paper-thin conceit of “Call From A Foo Fighters fan.” The duo gleans some mild amusement from the incongruity of a band like Foo Fighters (and, more pointedly, Hinder) inciting outsized devotion, but there’s barely enough material here to fill a podcast that doesn’t hit the 20-minute mark. 

Comedy Death-Ray Radio #101: Joe Lo Truglio, Casey Wilson, Matt Besser
If nothing else, episode #101 sets a new record for use of the word “faggot” (and variations thereof), thanks to Matt Besser’s portrayal of Fred Phelps, the leader of the widely reviled Westboro Baptist Church. In Besser’s hands, Phelps is a closet case who uses his penis for gaydar and hates the letter “o” because it looks like an anus. There’s some pretty funny stuff, particularly when Besser wrecks the improv games with his paranoid homophobia. Joe Lo Truglio (The State) and Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) are game and funny, especially when sharing stories of terrible auditions.

Culture Gabfest #135: Daddy Can I Keep This Direwolf? Edition
The Gabfest crew, along with guests Nina Shen Rastogi and John Swansburg, make a typically intriguing case for the documentary Bill Cunningham New York, about a New York Times fashion photographer who lives the lifestyle of a monk. The rest of the episode comprises an appraisal of Will Ferrell’s new role on The Office, and a lengthy discussion of HBO’s new Game Of Thrones, which is helpful if you want a little fantasy background for your viewing of the series.

Doug Loves Movies: Bill Burr, Alison Rosen, and Bryan Bishop
There are big laughs peppered throughout Doug Benson’s discussion with this podcast-centric panel (Monday Morning Podcast host/stand-up Bill Burr with Adam Carolla Show sidekicks Alison Rosen and “Bald” Bryan Bishop), but the fact that most of them are generated by Burr illustrates some troubling holes in Doug Loves Movies’ updated format: Not as acerbic as a solo interview with Burr could be, nor as electric as a hypothetical all-Carolla dais, the episode doesn’t find a middle ground between the two that doesn’t rate as “just okay.”

Jordan, Jesse, Go! #171: Gene Buttman, Live In Ann Arbor
Taped live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this episode is a bit more scripted than usual. Jordan and Jesse discuss local lore and rivalries, then play games like the Mispronunciation Contest and punch up the lives of audience members. (Much of the material will be familiar to Chicagoans who attended the Second City show.) The biggest question remaining from this episode: Why does Jesse Thorn, a San Franciscan, seem to question whether he should be proud of Huey Lewis? We should all be proud of Huey Lewis, as a representative of the human race. 

Judge John Hodgman: An Appeel-ate Decision Case
Downshifting from last week’s difficult and consequential decision against a middle-aged family man who wanted to run the Ironman Triathlon—a judgment that brought a little wrath from the hoi polloi—Judge Hodgman determines the proper way to peel a banana. One Canadian barrister peels it from the stem, the other peels it from the nub, and sorting it out is an atheist’s nightmare

The Moth: Sheri Holman: Rescue Mission
Sheri Holman’s story this week could be the plot of a lazy indie dramedy or movie-of-the-week: Girl moves to big city to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress, girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a crackhead living in a halfway home, girl thinks she can change him, ends up changing herself. There’s a lot of potential for drama that never really materializes, and Holman wraps the whole thing up in a prettily poignant bow that doesn’t really feel earned, but she tells her story with the charisma and skill of a seasoned actor. 

The Nerdist #79: Andy Samberg
This week’s episode is a bit of an anomaly in the Nerdist canon, as it doesn’t include either of Chris Hardwick’s usual co-hosts, Matt Mira and Jonah Ray, and is essentially the raw audio of Hardwick’s chat with Andy Samberg of SNL/The Lonely Island for this month’s Wired. The print version covers the major points—lots of Wired-friendly talk about the Internet’s role in comedy and the evolution of SNL’s digital shorts—but the audio goes more in-depth on topics like Samberg’s SNL audition and Lonely Island’s touring plans. (Spoiler: There aren’t any.) Samberg and Hardwick seem to be in Professional Interview Mode more than the Friendly Banter Mode from which the podcast usually derives its charm, so their chat comes off a bit stiffer than the usual Nerdist free-for-all, but it’s informative and pleasant nonetheless.

Never Not Funny: Stupid Questions 2011
Once a weekly segment, Stupid Questions now gets just one Never Not Funny episode per season. Most of the listener-submitted questions are stupid, like “Who gets more action, Spider-Man or Steve Perry?,” and the pacing suffers at first due to poor planning. But the questions become more open-ended and provocative—“Would you rather forget your own life, or every friend you’ve ever had?”—which prompts the normal, opinionated arguments and tale-telling that makes the show so enjoyable.

Never Not Funny #821: Andy Richter
A Conan employee appears on Never Not Funny for the third time this season—four, counting Andy Richter’s assistant, who’s along to look after his sick son while his wife and daughter spend the afternoon at Disneyland. After the previous guests, there’s little insight needed (this episode was recorded before Jimmy Pardo’s new role as Richter’s sycophantic sidekick), so Richter and the NNF crew keep the banter light and breezy, imitating morning-zoo DJs, debating the proper “down-there” hair maintenance, and the modern relevance of Shakespeare “gibberish.” This episode counts among “the rest” not as a slight against Richter, who’s hilarious as always, but because of NNF’s stellar run this season.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Indefensible Positions, Stunt Casting And Cowboy Roy
Will Ferrell’s stint on The Office prompts the PCHH crew to discuss the pros and cons of celebrity stunt-casting, from Martin Short on Arrested Development to Helen Mirren in just about everything. They also play a game called “Drink Or Duke,” where Linda Holmes challenges the other participants to guess whether names like “Banana Pete” and “Cowboy Roy” refer to John Wayne characters or cocktails. And What’s Making Us Happy this week largely focuses on Glen Weldon’s Twitter jokes under the “during the government shutdown” hashtag. It’s a solid but unremarkable meat-and-potatoes episode, but there is some big fun during a segment on indefensible opinions, when Weldon disses The Golden Girls, and all the air in the recording studio is sucked into his co-hosts’ lungs in one collective, horrified gasp—and then exhaled in the form of mockery.

Savage Lovecast #235
After last week’s “one-minute wonder show,” the Savage Lovecast returns to its regular format this week. As he did in his print column, Savage unloads both barrels on the National Organization For Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher, who criticized Savage’s upcoming MTV show Savage U because a gay man wouldn’t know what women “are like.” He might have been cranky this week, because he sounded like an exasperated mom: Don’t drink too much, your problem is not really a problem, take some responsibility for yourself, you shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place, and for God’s sake, avoid choke play. There’s also a guy calling in to clarify the importance of a sippy cup in age play, which doesn’t help make age play seem less weird.

Sklarbro Country: #38: Scott Aukerman, Chris Cox
It’s Earwolf cross-promotion week over at Sklarbro Country, as the Brothers Sklar join forces with Earwolf overlord Scott Aukerman to discuss the latest developments in the Jose/Ozzie Canseco saga and everything else that’s ridiculous about sports. As is often the case, the episode peaks at the end, with more amusingly antiquated, bigoted bile from Chris Cox’s Racist Vin Scully character. 

The Sound Of Young America: The A.V. Club’s Picks For April 2011
We’ll recuse ourselves from this one. Scott Tobias and Keith Phipps discuss Meek’s Cutoff, Certified Copy, Inferno, and the new album from Kurt Vile.

Sound Opinions #281: Butch Vig
While this interview with legendary producer Butch Vig is timed with the new Foo Fighters album he produced, Wasting Light, it actually dates back to 2008, which means the focus stays on well-worn stories about Vig’s work with Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. Even more disconcerting, Greg and Jim end up trashing Wasting Light in their review, stopping just short of calling Dave Grohl a hack. It’s an unnecessarily harsh close to an overall disappointing episode. 

This American Life #433: Fine Print 2011
“Fine Print” begins the way any fine radio program does: with a discussion of Van Halen. Ira Glass picks apart the infamous clause in the band’s rider that required a bowl of M&M’s backstage, but without any brown ones. It’s a quick and fun exploration of why this wasn’t actually the work of a diva, but the episode’s downhill from there. Two 2009 stories from Nancy Updike and Planet Money’s Chana Joffe-Walt share the hour with two (thankfully) short essays from David Rakoff and Susan Burton. 

WTF With Marc Maron #166: Laura Kightlinger
WTFs are almost inherently uncomfortably intimate, so listeners know what they’re in for when guest Laura Kightlinger tells Maron that, by not drinking, he’s missing out on lots of great drunken sex with strangers. This leads to, inevitably, more banter about drunken sex with strangers and, less inevitably, praise for jalapeño poppers. Maron introduces Kightlinger as a colorful character coming into her own as an eccentric. Kightlinger does not disappoint in a flirtatious conversation about getting fan letters from inmates with come-ons like “I’ll be out in May” and her colorful flings with everyone from Jon Stewart to a series of drunk, heavy, angry Irish guys. Maron and Kightlinger merrily traipse through decades of fucked-up relationships and bad break-ups, deriving bitter laughter over faded pain.

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