Week of Aug. 18-24 

QUOTES

“Is everyone’s natural protection mechanism in an emergency to make French toast? Why do people constantly buy milk, eggs, and bread?” —Tom Scharpling, The Best Show On WFMU

“I love helping people! And I love to laugh, and I just enjoy frailty.” —Andy Daly as nurse Andi Callahan, Comedy Bang Bang

“I am out so many times over. You had me at ‘Hater,’ you had me at ‘H-8-R.’ You had me at ‘Mario Lopez,” you had me at ‘celebrity,’ you had me at ‘Internet hater,’ and you had me at ‘celebrity self-aggrandizement.’”
“Let me tell you a couple more things about it. The pilot episode, the unfairly maligned celebrity is Snooki.”
“Ohhhhhh. And the hater is me.” —Stephen Thompson and Linda Holmes discussing the new CW show H8ER, Pop Culture Happy Hour

“Ugh! No thanks! No. Fourth wall. Stay on your side.” —Paul F. Tompkins on actors interacting with audience members in plays, How Was Your Week?

“You have to go and kiss the Hobbit ring… Something happened with the nerds where we, instead of abusing them like God intended us to do, had to go over there and start brown-nosing.” —Adam Carolla on Comic-Con, The Adam Carolla Show

“I too saw Yentl, then I went on the Yentl ride at Universal.”—Nick Swardson on the last movie he saw, Doug Loves Movies

“I love Jersey Shore. It’s the best written hour on TV.” —Howard Kremer, Who Charted?

“When are you gonna get fat?” —Janet Varney to Danny Pudi, The Sound Of Young America

“Yep, that’s as far as your improv skills went with that one: ‘Kitty Cat.’” —Danielle Koenig on Jimmy Pardo’s adopted stray cat, Never Not Funny

NEW (TO US)

We’re Alive: The Zombie Story Of Survival
Radio dramas are the hallmark of the pre-television age, but they didn’t stop when TV replaced the radio as the go-to entertainment source. All these years later, people are still pushing the limits of audio dramas, like KC Wayland and Shane Salk, creators of We’re Alive. The scripted podcast, which recently wrapped its second season, follows a handful of survivors in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles overrun by zombies with super-human strength and stamina. Using music, sound effects, and of course the imagination of the listener, We’re Alive effectively maintains action and suspense during episodes that last around 20 minutes. They’re grouped into three-part chapters that drop every week, with longer breaks between chapters. 

Two years after the show first started, Wayland finally makes a great leap forward in the story with the season two finale, “Chapter 24: The Harder They Fall.” With two helicopters secured and a plan to escape, the survivors prepare to leave their broken tower for safety. But when another group of survivors attacks, any plans to leave in peace are destroyed. This episode hits all the notes zombie fans love: explosions, deaths of beloved characters, humans turning out to be the real monsters, man, etc. Genre fans will appreciate another long-term story about living in a zombie wasteland, and We’re Alive nicely fills those long months between Walking Dead seasons.


THE BEST

The Apple Sisters #13: Boat Queen Week 1 Of 6
It took fewer than 10 episodes for the format of the Apple Sisters’ podcast to lose its luster, as each episode’s bright spots struggled to overcome the show’s general repetitiveness. Last week’s episode, for example, scored more from the unhinged charm of the cast losing its composure than the material. That’s why it’s heartening this week to see The Apple Sisters try something new, beginning a six-part series on the girls’ competing in a pageant on a cruise ship. The serialized approach has a lot of possibility, and the small touches are nice: The girls’ usual gag when they introduce themselves is worked into the theme song, which helps the episode feel less repetitive. Nothing has topped the podcast’s first episode, which featured Paul F. Tompkins as FDR, so it’s also promising to hear him return as an announcer for #13, which also features the Sklar brothers as conmen and Baron Vaughn as a police officer. It bodes well for a podcast that started strong but faded quickly.

Comedy Bang Bang #119: Andi Callahan RN
Last week’s Podmass speculated only a Paul F. Tompkins/Andy Daly partnership could match a Patton Oswalt/Eddie Pepitone appearance as a sure winner for Comedy Bang Bang, and Daly shows why he’s so reliable on this episode opposite Community’s Gillian Jacobs. As Andi Callahan, he’s a nurse ostensibly on the program to promote a book he’s written about the wacky things that happen in his ward. Of course, “wacky” to Callahan is actually horribly disturbing, like when one senior woman’s constant wailing forced the staff to put her in an empty room where they couldn’t hear her—only to have her die there because her call button was broken. “It’s broken—that’s why the room is vacant. We were in hysterics!” Callahan says, cackling. As dark as that is, it can’t top Jacobs, who tells a horrible story about visiting her Alzheimer’s-suffering grandmother in a facility where the patients literally chanted, “Put us to bed, we don’t want to live, we wanna die!” Episode 119 may be the darkest Comedy Bang Bang yet—especially when Callahan reveals his serial-killing predilection—but it’s also one of the funniest. Scott Aukerman has been criticized for meddling too much in the show’s comic rhythm, but he pulls off a nice “Yes, and” moment toward the end when he changes the bit by revealing Callahan doesn’t have a “book” at all. It works well because the unflappable Daly is game for everything, no matter how dark or twisted—this is at least his second suicidal character—and Jacobs doesn’t miss a beat, either. 

Culture Gabfest: “The Three-Quarter Hour” Edition
Earthquake! If they’re ever asked where they were when the Great Unsettling of ’11 struck the East Coast, the Gabfesters can play back this edition of the show, which is interrupted early by tremors. But the gang recovers and tackles the less earth-shaking (though still compelling) likes of BBC’s The Hour, a thin but addicting and well-acted British answer to Mad Men. The last two segments are better: Stephen Metcalf and Dana Stevens talk to Dennis Riordan, attorney for the recently released West Memphis Three defendant Damien Echols, about the peculiar arrangement that had the trio pleading guilty in exchange for freedom after nearly two decades behind bars. Then Slate music critic Jody Rosen stops by for a detailed discussion of the songwriting legacies of Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford, both of whom made significant contributions to American pop music. And as an endorsement, Julia Turner would like you to know that there’s a book out there called Freedom by Jonathan Franzen that’s totally worth checking out.

Doug Loves Movies: Zach Galifianakis, Nick Swardson, Marc Maron and Matt Mira
The lineup alone makes this a can’t-miss DLM, and the episode is predictably rife with absurdities (from Swardson), faux-aloof asides (from Galifianakis), neurotic venting (from Maron), and Matt Mira (from Matt Mira). Swardson in particular brings an eccentric yet appealing energy to the episode that’s more focused than some of his previous, more lackadaisical appearances on the show. The Len Maltin game itself is short and fairly rote, but the conversation leading up to it is tons of fun, featuring several hilarious riffs on subjects like Yentl and “apps.”

Hang Up And Listen: The Takin’ It To The Streets Edition
Big disagreements among the Hang Up And Listen crew are rare—and, okay, never really all that heated—but a discussion of a devastating Yahoo! Sports investigative report on outrageous violations within the University Of Miami football program exposes philosophical differences on the journalism that revealed it. In one corner, Mike Pesca admires the oft-salacious detail of Yahoo! writer Charles Robinson’s piece—and the site’s commitment to long-form investigative work in general—but Stefan Fatsis and Josh Levin are more dubious. By focusing on individual excesses, Levin fears that the players will bear the responsibility for the NCAA’s institutional corruption. The other two segments are less lively, but still strong, including a look at the exciting, defense-optional streetball enjoyed by NBA players over the summer and a tentative understanding of the bench-clearing brawl between China’s army team and the visiting Georgetown Hoyas. 

How Was Your Week? #24: “Half A Face”: Paul F. Tompkins & Jamie Denbo
While we await the return of The Pod F. Tompkast next month, comedian Paul F. Tompkins joins Julie Klausner to chat about a variety of topics, from their mutual ambivalence toward Boardwalk Empire to his experiences meeting the people he impersonates and more. It’s one of those podcasts that makes you wish you were there to participate. Later, Klausner asks actress Jamie Denbo (of Terriers and the Ronna & Beverly podcast) about her favorite musicals, eliciting a surprisingly violent reaction with the suggestion that “A Whole New World” and “Somewhere That’s Green” are actually the same song. 

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #22: Stephen Mancuso 
Paul Gilmartin recorded episode 22 of The Mental Illness Happy Hour an hour after the final taping of Dinner And A Movie, the television show he has co-hosted for 16 years. That was understandably his mind, though his conversation with Stephen Mancuso has less to do with their work together than Mancuso’s rocky coming of age as a gay man. Mancuso describes a hellish upbringing in which he endured sexual abuse at the hands of a series of mentors and the complicated, contradictory feelings the abuse engendered. A rich vein of dark comedy enlivens many installments of The Mental Illness Happy Hour, which helps make the podcast not just palatable but entertaining, but this episode delivers its brutal truths largely uncut by comedy. (An extended misunderstanding involving the musical Hair doesn’t count.) It’s tough, compelling, and uncompromising. 

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #31: Tato Skins
This week’s MATES has a charmingly surreal bent. It opens with a lengthy explanation of how Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh did a great episode on a “one-of-a-kind snack,” featuring a drop-in from Ted Danson, which it turned out their producer didn’t record. After comparing the lost segment to the diamond necklace dropped in the water in Titanic, the two review Tato Skins. The pair’s shrill, English-accented re-enactment of the creation of Tato Skins as gruel for “the masses” helps to make up, albeit in a strange way, for that lost diamond. 

The Moth: Fab Morvan: A Voice Of My Own
Don’t scoff at the idea of hearing a Moth performance from the surviving half of Milli Vanilli: Fab Morvan’s telling is the opposite of the self-pitying tantrum you might expect from a disgraced musician. Morvan recounts his early friendship with Rob Pilatus, and how their label and producer got them to lip-synch over songs other people made. Even when he gets around to the band’s eventual public ruination and Pilatus’ death, Morvan speaks with the gentleness of a man who’s learned well from the shame and hurt. He does make himself and Pilatus out to be victims of circumstance and music-industry sleaze, but not to the point that it turns into a defensive rationalization. 

Nerdist #117: Tom Lennon and Ben Garant
If there’s any book that deserves to have its press tour last the entire summer, it’s Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant’s Writing Movies For Fun And Profit, which gets what’s likely to be its final plug on the podcast circuit in this live Nerdist episode. Having a crowd to play to (as opposed to just Samm Levine, as was the case with the pair’s contemporaneously recorded appearance on Doug Loves Movies) leads to a lot of character-work digressions and a ton of jokes at Maggie Gyllenhaal’s expense (Quotes Chris Hardwick: “That’s ‘A.V. Club comment thread’ mean”) but Lennon and Garant stay on point long enough to adequately explain their book and their reasons for writing it. If, for some reason, you can’t be bothered to read the thing (though you really should), this episode does a good job of summarizing Writing Movies For Fun And Profit in 90 minutes—with the bonus of hearing why Billy Crystal is a dick. 

Never Not Funny #912: Danielle Koenig
The Pardo household must be a pretty fun place. It’s no surprise that Jimmy has an easy rapport with his wife, Danielle Koenig, but her ability to riff comfortably with the rest of the crew makes for some of the funniest moments of #912. (Or perhaps Matt Belknap, Elliot Hochberg, and Dan Katz brought their A-game for their boss’ wife.) Koenig and Belknap take up much of the first half with stories from a recent playdate with their children, keeping it light and fun without becoming too self-indulgent. Then comes the riffing: The three leap from bit to bit with ease, touching on Breaking Bad’s art design, David Fincher’s filmography, Project Runway rejects, and The Gap’s bewildering foray into food trucks (“Who wouldn’t like the nice surprise of two tacos [in each pocket] when putting on your jeans?Belknap says.) They pause intermittently to brainstorm a Never Not Funny app, featuring Pardo’s many catchphrases and “Cast Of A Thousand Half-Assed Characters.” Koenig closes by describing her job as a writer for the rejuvenated Joan Rivers, and comments on episode #908’s takedown of tired, ironic attempts at clever pet names.

Pop Culture Happy HourUnsung Heroes, New Television, And More Blind Spots
Regular host Linda Holmes finally returns to take PCHH back in hand, resulting in a strong conversation largely about unsung heroes, like Quentin Tarantino’s longtime editor, Sally Menke, and the Washington Generals, the team that makes the Harlem Globetrotters look good by being the butt of the jokes. (Producer Mike Katzif, standing in for vacationing Trey Graham, says the team’s career record of 13,000 losses, and 13,000 games of having to play oblivious and surprised while they get tricked and pantsed, “sounds like my middle-school experience. Only it was 14,000.”) It’s a funny talk, but what makes it work is the depth of the discussion rather than the obscurity of the picks. Other segments include another “identify the TV-related lie” game, another round of discussing the participants’ pop-culture blind spots, and the usual round of What’s Making Us Happy. It’s a meat-and-potatoes episode, but meat and potatoes are deeply satisfying, and so are the show’s old vibe and old length. Don’t ever leave us again, Linda.

Radiolab: Games
Radiolab returns after a brief hiatus with one of the best episodes it’s done in a long while, a lengthy (80 minutes!), fascinating ramble through the world of sports and games, in an attempt to figure out just why they intrigue us so much. The episode begins with hosts Jad Abrumad and Robert Krulwich stopping in with Freakonomics Radio host Stephen Dubner to talk about a childhood love of Franco Harris that reverberated into adulthood. Psychology professor Alison Gopnik follows, discussing how a shift that occurs between the ages of 3 and 6 affects which games and sports we prefer. Then some chess experts theorize how the game contains more possible outcomes than there are atoms in the universe, and scientists examine why we’re psychologically primed to root for underdogs. The episode closes with Sports Illustrated writer Thomas Lake describing a high school basketball game that ended in incredible, improbable fashion. The show’s stock-in-trade has always been mixing pop science with great storytelling, and the stories of a Bobby Fischer chess match and that basketball game are compelling stuff. It’s impressive that “Games” runs 20 minutes longer than the typical Radiolab episode, but is as involving as the best shows the program has ever released.

Sklarbro Country #56: Wheaties Box: Rob Delaney, Jason Nash
Introduced as one of the sharpest wits on Twitter, Rob Delaney lives up to the billing as he trades quips with the Sklar brothers and shares the tale of his strange career path: acting student to Sir Lancelot in the touring production of Hamlet to Myspace big shot (vice president of business development) to comedy writer/Twitter superstar. Delaney discusses the permutations of Twitter stardom and how writing clever tweets led to jobs writing comedy. Then Jason Nash returns as the hilariously emasculated Bruce Jenner to talk up daughter-in-law Kim Kardashian’s nuptials. With a running time that stretches past the 100-minute mark, this is one of the longest installments of Sklarbro Country, but it never feels that way, thanks to the brothers and Delaney’s wit and infectious enthusiasm. 

The Sound Of Young America: Danny Pudi 
Talking to fill-in host Janet Varney, Danny Pudi comes off as friendly and relatable as his Community character Abed is Aspergian. Varney kicks the interview off by asking Pudi how many times he’s played a character named Sanjay (answer: a lot), and he goes on to talk about his very traditional-sounding childhood, which consisted of much altar-serving and Polish folk dancing. (Pudi’s mom is Polish, his dad Indian.) Pudi also discusses how one receives Marquette University’s Chris Farley Scholarship and pays homage to Second City, Monty Python, and co-star Donald Glover. 

The Sound Of Young America: Bruce Campbell
It’s hard not to be charmed by actor/director/writer Bruce Campbell, who is at once crabby and magnanimous when discussing a career that went from making amateur childhood Super-8 films with friends to working, in various capacities, on projects like Evil Dead, Bubba Ho-Tep, and Burn Notice. Campbell is (justifiably) cynical about the studio-film world, but he talks at length about his career, his most obnoxious fans, colleague and childhood friend Sam Raimi, and gives an update about the possible Evil Dead remake. Also this week on TSOYA, Damian Kulash, singer of OK Go (they of the neato videos), talks about how Herbie Hancock’s song “Rockit” changed his life. It’s a tiny installment of the podcast, but a charming tale of how Kulash’s father helped push the singer toward a career in music.

Sound Opinions #299: Buried Treasures
Every year, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis devote an episode to albums released throughout the year that aren’t getting attention from other outlets. Some of their choices this time around don’t seem exactly “buried”—the great Washed Out album that DeRogatis loves was covered extensively by pretty much every major entertainment publication earlier this summer—but why quibble when most of their choices here are worth further investigation? Listeners will want to pay extra attention to Milwaukee funk band Kings Go Forth, whose fine 2010 full-length debut, The Outsiders Are Back, was appreciated early on in some quarters

Walking The Room #65: Jimmy Pardo Drags Dave And Greg Out Of The Closet
Never Not Funny host Jimmy Pardo jumps in alongside Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony this week, ensuring an episode that’s extra-prone to interruptions and topical lurches. Pardo only amplifies the who’s-talking-and-who’s-cracking-up rhythm of Walking The Room, and at one point compares the WTR hosts to Walter Matthau and Tony Randall. “He’s TV Felix, you’re movie Oscar,” Pardo says, though it’s not clear who is which. It’s one thing to for Pardo to pick up on Behrendt and Anthony’s screwy chemistry, downright admirable to keep up with their riffs about, say, being cuckolded by Gavin Rossdale.

WTF With Marc Maron #202: Jimmy Shubert
If a What The Fucker were to transcribe Marc Maron’s interviews with Carl LaBove and now Jimmy Shubert, they’d have a bang-up oral history of the Sam Kinison-led pack of outlaws who ruled The Comedy Store in the late ’80s with their swaggering motto, “Never confirm, never deny.” Like Maron, Jimmy Shubert used to be a doorman at The Comedy Store during the Reagan era, and though Maron initially posits Shubert as part of Andrew “Dice” Clay’s crew, the two spend much of the time talking about Sam Kinison and the formative role he played in their careers. As in the podcast with LaBove, Maron spends part of the podcast shadow-boxing the ghost of Kinison and part of the time waxing nostalgic for a debauched comedy utopia lost to the ages, a badass realm of cocaine, guns, and groupies who came in through the bedroom window and would fuck whatever comic was around. Shubert goes a long way toward puncturing Kinison’s outlaw persona, dismissing him at one point as just another douchebag, but the affection both men feel toward the late comic is palpable, as is Maron and Shubert’s affection for one another as battle-tested comedy survivors. 


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
Carolla is at his best when he’s on vacation. For his end-of-summer break, Ace banked a string of all-interview episodes with no news or supporting crew. In order of descending interest: Carolla loves Kings Of Leon and the band documentary Talihina Sky, so director Stephen Mitchell gets the most on-topic episode ever. Jordan Morris and Jesse Thorn, hosts of Maximum Fun podcast Jordan, Jesse, Go!, have a free-form chat with Carolla about whether kids—or anybody—really need to witness natural childbirth, the moral challenges of hosting Fox’s Teen Choice Awards, faux-nerds (or, as Carolla calls them, “retroactive nerds”), and kid-party gift bags. Exploiting My Baby author, blogger, and mom Teresa Strasser talks shop with Ace, who gives an update on his forthcoming second book. Leftover News is a filler episode with color gal Alison Rosen and regular Larry Miller, discussing topics they never got around to (for a good reason): deep-soil worms, foreign cruel-and-unusual punishment, and listener feedback on Rosen’s “Zip it, cunt!” sign-off. And in the traditional daily Ace format: Azita Ghanizada of SyFy’s super-powers drama Alphas doesn’t say much about her show, but brings sociological tidbits about the military history and male-dominated culture of her native Afghanistan.

Best Show Gems: A Call From Paul ‘Golf Nuts’ Shwartzendruber
It’s hard to fault inadvertent YouTube celebs for cashing in on their infamy, but Paul “Golf Nuts” Shwartzendruber’s hucksterism is more sad than savvy. How else can you describe leveraging a viral video of a man being struck by a golf ball into movies, self-help books, and maybe even a theme park? This episode starts a little sluggish (it’s seven minutes before the first laugh), but Shwartzendruber’s cartoonish kiss-off makes it worth the wait. 

The Best Show On WFMU
As “regular caller ban” continues, the door is open for some dreadful callers. Topic of the night: who made the most with the least and who did the least with the most. The best answer is Scharpling, for doing the best he could with lousy callers. Blaze Monroe calls in as a Newsweek reporter to get Scharpling’s opinion on comedy podcasts, but quickly reveals his true identity, letting Scharpling know he “just got Blazed.” Coincidentally, so did the listeners sitting through an otherwise average show. It might be time to lift the ban on regulars.

Doug Loves Movies: Morgan Spurlock, Craig Bierko, Matt Besser, James Adomian and Garfunkel & Oates
The usually time-obsessed Doug Benson gets a reprieve in the form of an extra half-hour during this episode recorded at the Del Close Marathon at UCB New York, which leads to an epic round of Build-A-Title, following a leisurely Len Maltin Game. Aside from the half-drunk Matt Besser, the guests don’t bring a ton of laughs to the episode, though Spurlock’s presence does lead to an amusing riff on Doug’s propensity for jacking Spurlock’s movie titles for his own films. This extra-long episode has a second half comprising an episode of The Benson Interruption also recorded at Del Close. 

Firewall & Iceberg, #90: Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad & More 
Hitfix.com critics Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall will be on vacation next week, so this lively episode delivers one of TV’s more devoted cults Christmas in August: Sons Of Anarchy fans get an early, non-spoilery evaluation of the first three episodes of season four. Other topics include a glowing weekly recap of AMC’s Breaking Bad, a look at MTV’s blasé Brooklyn hipster comedy I Just Want My Pants Back, and listener mail about whether “growing a beard” can be considered the opposite of “jumping the shark.”

Judge John Hodgman: #33: Hors D’Oeuvres In The Court
The podcast returns from a month-long hiatus with an amuse-bouche of an episode about hors d’oeuvres that’s weakened somewhat by the inevitability of Hodgman’s ruling. Basically, a father agrees to pay his three finicky sons $5 apiece if they try bacon-wrapped scallops at a party. The boys try it, love it, and gobble up an entire serving plate full of them, but dad refuses to pay up because their enjoyment and “life experience” is enough. Nice try, pops. 

Nerdist #116: Aisha Tyler
Last week’s “New To Us” noted that Aisha Tyler’s Girl On Guy podcast exists in “the middle ground of WTF With Marc Maron and Nerdist”—and that’s exactly where Tyler’s appearance on Nerdist lands. There’s some in-depth discussion of the Archer star’s time in the San Francisco stand-up scene and her days as the host of Talk Soup, after which Chris Hardwick and company plug directly into Tyler’s geek receptors with talk of The Walking Dead, Apple products, and beer. It’s hard to imagine an episode of Girl On Guy with the Nerdist crew would produce different results—at the very least, it’d skip the part where the host has to slip another CD-R into the recorder. 

Uhh Yeah Dude #285
UYD finds Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette in particularly distracted form this week, the conversation ranging from NSync’s Lance Bass’ coming out to the death of Corey Haim. Much of it’s just not as playful as UYD is capable of being, except for an opening bit on whether or not the hosts could take on a judo master who’s also a 98-year-old woman.

Who Charted? #38: The Return Of Suit McGoo
It should come as no surprise that Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack were hit with an avalanche of Internet comments chastising them for failing to explain math rock properly on last week’s episode. Vilaysack kicks off the show by reading a particular scathing one from a frustrated listener who provides a passive-aggressive tutorial on the genre. Fortunately, repeat guest Paul F. Tompkins is on hand to point out the inherent ridiculousness of the expectation that a bunch of comedians should be well-versed in what most people would consider an obscure musical genre.

WTF With Marc Maron #203: Carol Leifer
Comedy lifer Carol Leifer doesn’t bring a lot of baggage to the Cat Ranch, and while that makes for less-than-engrossing WTF listening, it’s a welcome relief to get some regret- and bitterness-free perspective on the ’80s stand-up boom. It sounds as though Leifer’s demons have all been exorcised on stage or on the page—though she’s none too keen to talk about being the alleged inspiration for Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes. Neurosis emerges during a story about coming out to her older, Jewish parents, but her father’s reaction—overjoyed at the news that his daughter had dumped her shagatz ex-husband—proves that, at this point in her life, Leifer doesn’t have much to worry about.