Week of Dec. 8-14 

Programming note: Podmass is taking the next two weeks off and will return Friday, Jan. 6. But look for our best podcasts of 2011 feature on Friday, Dec. 30.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“So this is basically Lawrence Welk for people with gonorrhea.” —Patton Oswalt, on Camp Freddy, an all-star concert of ’80s and ’90s rockers, Walking The Room

“I was just so into the greasy funk those guys were laying down. I just had to get up and express myself through dancing… and singing.” —Darren From Work (Jon Wurster) explaining how he enhanced an Allen Toussaint concert, Best Show Gems

“A podcast where a bunch of creeps sit around, being creeps? I think that’s 99 percent of them.” —Dave Shumka, Stop Podcasting Yourself

“You need a new mezuzah. It makes a dandy clit ring.” —Julie Klausner on the mezuzah Woody Allen gave to Ari Graynor as a gift, How Was Your Week?

“If there’s one thing I bring to the show aside from an unbelievable amount of pedantic, opinionated bullshit and shitting on stuff people love, it’s undeniable sexual majesty.” —Greg Proops, The Smartest Man In The World

“You have the right to remain space-silent.” —An arrest scene on Mars, The Thrilling Adventure Hour

“You ever blacked it up?” —Marc Maron talking to Donald Glover about auditioning, WTF With Marc Maron

OUTLIERS

The Pageantcast 
There’s no better way to enjoy the most beautiful women in the world than with an audio podcast, as host Tim Kretschmann interviews contestants and runs down pageant news from around the world. Fans of Toddlers And Tiaras won’t find more of the world’s worst people here, just Kretschmann’s awkwardness and a lot of patient, well-trained beauty queens. His interviews always seem to start with the weather, then break for 15 minutes while the guest is on hold, then finally get to the interesting part. It’s unorthodox and annoying, but a quick fast-forward through the ’80s background music and inexplicable small talk yields insight into the beauty queens beyond what their overly polished bios usually contain. Episode 315 shows off the best of Kretschmann’s hosting skills as he skips the small talk to interview an older pageant winner from the more obscure Mrs. Classic Essence pageant, making for a unorthodox look into the pageant world. [AJ]


THE BEST

Best Show Gems: Darren From Work Shakes His Moneymaker To The Greasy Funk
Despite all his appearances on Best Show, Darren from work remains one of Newbridge’s most open-ended characters. Other than his job at Consolidated Cardboard and his abiding love for rock ’n’ roll, he’s pretty much a boorish blank slate. An extended riff on how Darren ruined an Allen Toussaint concert by “shaking his moneymaker to the greasy funk” is this Gem’s centerpiece and biggest laugh-getter. The quality varies after that, but the bits are short, and they offer some excellent glimpses of the greater Newbridge goings-on, including the creation of yet another deadly “sports” league and the revelation of Old Man Dalrymple’s “device parties.” [CW]

The Best Show On WFMU
There is no rhyme or reason to the ups and downs of Tom Scharpling’s mood from show to show. A perfect example is this week, when Scharpling finally chastises someone for the “Is this me?” line asked by nearly every caller to the show. What set this call apart from all others? After yelling at the guy, Scarpling doesn’t heave-ho him. If this were any other week, he would have cut him off in seconds. Of course, then somebody calls him up and greets him as “Tommy,” and the good vibes wear off. But it’s totally fine: Vance The Puppet shows up and hangs up on an unprepared caller, and a feud between high-school-aged callers officially begins. Everything goes as right as you can ask for from The Best Show. [JD]

The Bugle #175: Putin The Boot In  
The darkest episode of The Bugle to date finds John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman lampooning some especially depressing stories. First, there’s the allegedly rigged election in Russia, the absurdity of which is outdone only by Oliver’s preposterous Russian accent, followed by a Ferrari pileup in Japan that has the hosts wondering whether a flock of Ferraris should be called a douche of Ferraris. However, the most chilling part arrives when Zaltzman depicts a future where we choose household appliances based on their political views. There’s an annoying tangent about iPhones that forces producer Chris to intervene, but otherwise the episode does a good job mining laughs from events that could lead to the apocalypse. [AJ]

Comedy Bang Bang #135: Scavenge And The Wisemen: Erinn Hayes, Paul F. Tompkins, Dan Telfer
We’ll recuse ourselves from reviewing this one, as it features A.V. Club contributor Dan Telfer. (Why’s it in The Best? Because we’re optimists.)

Doug Loves Movies: Sarah Silverman, Brian Posehn, Edgar Wright
This installment of Doug Loves Movies gets off to a good start simply because the three guests, Sarah Silverman, Brian Posehn, and Edgar Wright, actually showed up. This may not seem like a big deal until Benson recounts how the previous week’s guest, Michael Rooker, didn’t show up until 10 minutes after the show wrapped. During the banter portion of the show, Sarah Silverman is her usual adorably crass self, telling the audience how she touched the doll she brought for the Leonard Maltin game prize bag to her asshole. In contrast to Silverman’s unbridled filth, DLM regular Edgar Wright comes off as charming and British as he has in all of his other appearances. The Leonard Maltin Game plays out seamlessly, thanks to the fact that the guests actually know how to play: Silverman and Brian Posehn played it before it became a podcast segment, and Wright is a repeat winner who plays with an almost surgical acumen. [MS]

How Was Your Week?: Twittertudes With Kristen Schaal and Ari Graynor
Take a second to appreciate the art form that is Julie Klausner’s opening monologue: Besides her impassioned defense of basset hounds (and hatred for people who dis them), has anybody previously used the term “hate-follow” to talk about Twitter accounts you pay attention out of pure spite and anger? Klausner also talks to Kristen Schaal, and Ari Graynor tries to deliver a Woody Allen impression with a voice that sounds like she may or may not have been celebrating something for two or three days straight. Another thing to note with Klausner: No matter the guest, if she’s talking to a fellow Jew or gay man, it’s probably going to be the best interview with a member of either of those minorities you will hear all week, which is sort of meta if you think about it. [JD]

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #42: Hershey Kiss
After an unexplained five-week hiatus, MATES makes its triumphant return this week, and if the “You are now entering Nerdist.com” opening tag isn’t enough explanation as to why, Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh provide a typically rambling, digressive account of their migration to the increasingly ubiquitous podcasting empire. It involves European/Europe-Ian debt, gold houses, steamships, and a couple of the guys’ characteristically dubious accents, but the hilariously long-winded point is, Black and Cavanagh have set up shop in a new, more modest MATES Worldwide Headquarters, and they brought a classic and thematically appropriate snack as their reintroduction to their viewers (we know they’re not viewers): the Hershey Kiss, or, as Black calls it, “the candy equivalent of hope.” [GK]

The MothAndrew Solomon: A Time Of Hope
It’s forgivable to sometimes forget that The Moth doesn’t always emphasize the funny. Andrew Solomon’s story this week has just a few careful, dry touches of levity, and that’s all it needs, because he really does conjure an extraordinary tale. Solomon visited Kabul as a New York Times correspondent after the fall of the Taliban, and there he tried to capture the sometimes hesitant and conflicted re-emergence of Afghanistan’s music and art. Erudite and prim in the telling, Solomon builds it up to a final scene that very much justifies the reverent hush he casts over the story. [SG]

Nerdist #149: J.J. Abrams
This episode starts off curiously with an extended conversation between Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray about serial shows like The Twilight Zone that eventually pays off when J.J. Abrams joins the pair and delves into that show’s influence on him. From there, the trio talks about Abrams’ first produced screenplay (Taking Care Of Business), his television sojourns, and working with Steven Spielberg on Super 8. The episode features some fantastic glimpses into Abrams’ thought process with each project—his fairly hands-off role in Lost, the origins of Alias (“What if Felicity was a spy?”)—and how he reaches the creative decisions behind these projects. The lone disappointment is the absence of any Cloverfield talk, but the rest of the episode more than makes up for it. [MG]

Never Not Funny #1001: Goofing Off With Harland Williams
Never Not Funny further expands its arsenal of guests as Harland Williams makes his first appearance, and given the amount of fun Jimmy Pardo has probing Williams’ oddball mind, the goofy Canadian actor would be a welcome return. It takes some time for Williams to find the right conversational rhythm for his dry, lurching voice—which does serve his one-liners well—but his confounding non-sequiturs invite Pardo and Matt Belknap into the role of smirking interviewer, attempting to connect to the dots of premises and finding enough material to yield well-placed callbacks from Belknap, ardent questioning from Pardo, and quick-minded improvising from Williams. A bit hacky at times, #1001 is carefree yet earnest, and a memorable start to season 10. [SM]

Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Guilty Pleasure Problem And The Holiday Tune
This week’s PCHH isn’t nearly as quotable as it sometimes is—possibly because Glen Weldon stays in the background somewhat after Trey Graham openly mocks him for not airing bon mots in public until he’s tried them out behind the scenes several times. “It’s called workshopping, people,” Weldon faux-huffs. But it’s doubly enjoyable, both as a thoughtful, accessible discussion of the concept of guilty pleasures, and as a close-up, personal look at what the PCHH crew does when drunk. While they generally comment that there should be no guilt in enjoying whatever culture you enjoy, they make distinctions between guilt and shame, and between what they enjoy while sober and self-controlled, and, say, the Disney musical numbers Weldon swoons over when intoxicated. The week rounds out with a look at their favorite holiday music, with some very familiar choices, but the pleasure is less in their picks and more in their joyfully unfettered descriptions of why they love these songs and what they get from them. [TR]

RadioLab: 99% Invisible
It’s fitting that Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich turn over the show to Roman Mars of architecture and design podcast 99% Invisible, because Mars often seems to be trying to make his own version of RadioLab—what with the sound collages and musical cues and frequent laugh lines. But Mars has such a good eye for a story and such a keen interest in why certain things look and feel the way they do that 99% Invisible overcomes any copycat issues and stands on its own. This short features three of Mars’ brief tales, and while the first (about the design of common sounds) is the best, all three offer interesting tidbits. [TV]

Sklarbro Country #72: That's So Selleck: Steve Rannazzisi, James Adomian
The enduring idiocy of fans and athletes alike ensures that the Sklar Brothers will never lack for material, whether the ridiculousness in question is a shark grotto or a fan’s elaborate and inaccurate tattoo of golfer Bubba Watson. As whip-smart sports enthusiasts with a keen eye for life’s absurdity, the Sklars work both sides of the high-low culture divide; what other sports podcast randomly slips in references to David Foster Wallace? Guest Steve Rannazzisi (Kevin from The League) isn’t a household name, but he has terrific, lived-in chemistry with the hosts, and he’s even able to match their energy. A typically solid episode ends with a guest appearance from James Adomian as Tim Gunn, who discusses his unlikely passion for Ultimate Fighting. [NR]

Sound Opinions #315: The Best Albums Of 2011
Music geeks have a love-hate relationship with year-end lists—they never succeed at pleasing everybody, but complaining about the choices is a big part of the fun, isn’t it? Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis don’t go for big, critical favorites like Bon Iver and PJ Harvey this year, instead favoring more idiosyncratic choices like Le Butcherettes, Van Hunt, and Bewitched Hands. Their choices are both interesting and maddening, but what really makes this episode worthwhile is the critics’ willingness to let their audience have a say. You might not agree with the points made on Sound Opinions, but the conversation is always open to everybody. [SH]

Stuff You Should Know: How Daylight Saving Time Works
Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant seek to explain the seemingly arbitrary ritual of twisting those clock knobs twice a year, but start the episode by reiterating that the topic still confuses them. That’s unlikely, given the mountain of research they are about to present, so it seems a little pandering, but the episode is worth the setup as the discussion dives deep into personal and national productivity. From lamp-use to bus-stop safety, the hosts give a whirlwind tour of this sometimes exasperating and mysterious practice. Although the final conclusion for some listeners still might be that Daylight Saving Time is pointless, America’s fight to seize the day takes on a fascinating tone. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How The Digestive System Works
You know this episode will not disappoint when Josh Clark promises, for the sake of brevity, “We actually already covered this in the sword-swallowing episode.” While details of host Chuck Bryant’s ill-fated ham-sandwich regurgitation and poop transplants might not be enjoyable listening for your lunch break, duodenum pronunciation and nutrient-digestion processes are broken down into easily digestible chunks. What’s the pancreas for? To break down those vilified carbohydrates, of course. The only real downside to the episode is that Clark has a hard time getting away from the well-written article that provides the info. But what the episode lacks in freewheeling discussion, it makes up for in completeness. Listeners will come out the other end of this episode feeling solid and compact. [DT]

Thrilling Adventure Hour #51: Sparks Nevada, Marshal On Mars: A Mind Is A Terrible Thing... In Space!
Thrilling Adventure Hour’s Wild West-meets-hokey-sci-fi serial picks up with titular cop Sparks Nevada and his Martian friend Croach The Tracker in a switched-bodies situation. This makes for some novel riffing on how it feels for Sparks to have an alien’s senses and accidentally generate an “embryonic sac,” and vice versa. (“Come on, that is my mouth you’re saying those things out of!”) In fact, that is a big chunk of the episode, but Marc Evan Jackson and Mark Gagliardi have the off-kilter rapport to pull it off, with the help of a few abrupt “squish” sound effects. As dedicated as Thrilling Adventure Hour is to old tropes, it’s also adept at taking detours for the sake of a good gag. [SG]

Uhh Yeah Dude #301
When Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette bring a discussion around to casually renaming the Immaculate Conception “The Magnificent Bonedown,” they’ve done their job. On this week’s Uhh Yeah Dude, part of that job is honoring Spiritual Literacy Month. Tackling a medical study that recommends nuns take birth-control pills for health reasons, the duo raises the specter of that becoming a celebrated cause somehow, a bit more resourceful than what you’d usually expect when nuns and sex come up in the same sentence. Admittedly, so is a later bit portraying nursing homes as “olds’ sex college.” [SG]

Walking The Room #81: Patton Oswalt And Drop Some Bass 
Although Walking The Room has had plenty of successful guest episodes, Patton Oswalt’s spot is special because he’s clearly a fan of the podcast and eager to get caught up in the hosts’ mutually antagonistic crossfire. He even tries to expand on the Walking The Room concept of the “hobotang” (see the show’s glossary), positing that the hobotang’s holiday is when Santa Ana winds blow people’s belongings all over the place. But the truly important moments are too funny to spoil, including the amazing Fred Durst story that gives the episode its titles. [SG]

WTF With Marc Maron #234: Jillian Lauren
How does a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey with bohemian aspirations end up in a harem? That’s the central question behind the WTF interview with Jillian Lauren, an author, neighbor of Maron’s, and former sex worker who has written two books (a novel and a memoir about her misadventures in the sex trade). With an intriguing mix of giggly candor and discretion, Lauren recounts her sideways stumble from interning at the legendary Wooster theater group to stripping and upscale prostitution and, ultimately, a place in a wealthy and powerful man’s harem. Lauren is particularly compelling discussing the emotional cost of selling yourself sexually, speaking openly of having to numb herself to sordid elements of her profession and its effect on her relationships with men who weren’t clients. This interview could use more focus—Lauren’s story spills out messily in weird little spurts—but it’s nevertheless an engaging look into how a naïve young woman got in over her head and ended up far from New Jersey, geographically and otherwise. [NR]

WTF With Marc Maron #235: Donald Glover 
Community’s Donald Glover has lived a bit of a charmed life when it comes to show business: After working with the NYU sketch-comedy group Derrick, he began writing for 30 Rock, received a Chris Rock internship at Comedy Central, and then began starring on NBC’s cult-favorite show. (Maron does not discuss the show’s impending hiatus with Glover, though he justifiably rants about it at the beginning of the podcast.) Glover’s roots are the more interesting topic, however, as he was raised outside Atlanta by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who took in an assortment of foster children to live among their biological children. Maron and Glover also discuss the actor’s rap career, his thoughts on Spider-Man, and chemistry with co-star Danny Pudi, but the interview is most intriguing when Glover and Maron turn to the subject of “black nerds” and what that entails. [CZ]

You Made It Weird #10: Alec Sulkin
Pete Holmes has a curiously bifurcated identity as both an acclaimed stand-up comedian and as a staff writer for one of the least-loved sitcoms in recent memory, Outsourced. (His current writing gig, for I Hate My Teenage Daughter, may fare no better—critics have panned the show.) Holmes’ worlds collide agreeably in this episode as he talks to Twitter bon vivant and Family Guy writer Alec Sulkin about the nuts and bolts of writing for a sitcom, and recounts his 7,000 or so favorite lines and bits from the show. Holmes yields to few in his Family Guy super-fandom; he seems to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the show’s history, from broad outlines to the tiniest cutaway gag, and he clearly relishes discussing the show with one of its most prominent creative voices. Holmes’ enthusiasm for Family Guy is as infectious as it is obsessive, but non-fans might want to skip to a different, less Family Guy-intensive episode. [NR]


THE REST

Firewall & Iceberg #106: Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, Luck, Boss & More
Winter break is here, and it’s time to vent. When Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall discuss Sons Of Anarchy’s season finale, spoilers, disappointment, and negative adjectives fly like a hail of bullets. By the time they get to Starz’s underwhelming Boss, they’re resigned to reduced expectations, and thus remain noncommittal for a preview of HBO’s star-studded, David Milch/Michael Mann drama Luck. Listener mail prompts a discussion of what makes for timeless TV and what the hosts really mean when they reference single-camera sitcoms. [DXF]

Hang Up And Listen: The Death Of An Enforcer Edition
The HUAL trio has never done a bad episode, but sometimes the issues of the day conspire against them, whether a story shifts after taping or the news brings them back to an overly familiar topic. This week, a segment on Chris Paul’s blocked trade to the Los Angeles Lakers caught only the front end of an evolving story—a trade to the Clippers was also blocked, then accepted—and NL MVP Ryan Braun’s positive drug test ropes them into another talk about performance-enhancing drugs. The highlight is an interview with New York Times writer John Branch, whose three-part article on the late hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard goes deep into the thorny issue of fighting in the game. [ST]

Judge John Hodgman: The Bedding Crasher
The Judge John Hodgman podcast has been plagued by non-dispute disputes lately, and though the one in “The Bedding Crasher” isn’t quite that, it’s a petty case of cheapskatery. “I like to spend my money optimally,” says the Canadian who wants to crash on the couch of his friend’s tiny Bay Area apartment rather than spring for a hotel. Judge Hodgman, always prompting adults to put away childish things, shares a funny story about his own couch-surfing days, which hit their nadir when he crashed at a friend’s place on his wedding night. [ST]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #38: Mike Eagle
L.A. rapper Mike Eagle visits Mental Illness host Paul Gilmartin with plenty of thoughts that can’t exactly be downplayed, including where his nerdy, creative side comes from, race, and feeling low on the status ladder during his childhood. Then again, the episode’s a bit light on the “brave healing” stuff that makes this podcast what it is. [SG]

Nerdist #148: Joel David Moore
Actor Joel David Moore (Dodgeball, Avatar) swings by to talk Halloween costumes, partying in West Hollywood, and, of course, his career. The conversation is freewheeling, careening through Moore’s early days working at Circuit City, including an entertaining tangent on old cell phones, his start in commercials, and his major film debut in Dodgeball. At 80 minutes, the episode is overlong, but it’s worth sticking through the second half to hear Moore describe his experience filming Avatar and Hardwick explain the plot to Howard The Duck. [MG]

RISK! #308: The Family
Stories about families have the potential to be highly relatable. They can be funny, frustrating, or even cathartic, and there’s almost always a tidbit a listener can sympathize with—which is why Kevin Allison’s latest RISK! episode leaves something to be desired. The three stories in the episode have their bright spots—especially Sara Benincasa’s—but overall they fall short of RISK!’s potential. The biggest disappointment is actress Lili Taylor’s story about her manic-depressive father. She’s been on RISK! before, telling a story so similar that this one feels like a repeat. [MM]

The Smartest Man In The World: Strikes
Comedian Greg Proops is in Atlanta for this episode, which he kicks off by memorializing Herman Cain’s presidential campaign and Alan Sues of Laugh-In fame, though to different results. He also waxes political on a recent educator strike in London, launches into another indictment of the economic discrepancy with Wall Street, and shares everything he loves about the South. It’s a fairly standard Proopcast, but there’s great fun in listening to him get flustered during the Q&A when he realizes an emailed question comes from a 13-year-old girl in Iowa. [MG]

The Sound Of Young America: Food Critic Jonathan Gold 
Jesse Thorn interviews Pulitzer-winning food writer and Counter Intelligence author Jonathan Gold in this week’s TSOYA, but the conversation is disappointingly bland for a topic so tasty. Thorn works valiantly to get Gold to talk about what it’s like to get paid to eat at restaurants, but the food writer seems strangely bored with the topic. The fact that the conversation is largely Los Angeles-centric also fails to rope in non-Angelinos. [CZ]

Stop Podcasting Yourself #194: Paul F. Tompkins
Stop Podcasting Yourself was a good show this year, so hosts Graham Clark and Dave Shumka get a visitor who’s better than Santa: podcasting king Paul F. Tompkins, who’s a big fan. Wade through the stream of conversation, and the episode has a few chestnuts: Tompkins riffing on Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne,” the hosts one-upping him with the horrors of Bryan Adams’ infamous (in Canada) Christmas single, a discussion of TV-on-DVD, winning ideas for Walking Dead episodes, and the statute of limitations for spoilers. Without much of a conversational agenda, most—but not all—of the episode’s laughs are of the you-had-to-be-there variety. [DXF]

Who Charted? #54: False Chart: Brody Stevens
On his third Who Charted? appearance, comedian Brody Stevens is affable and talkative, but the conversation doesn’t always pay off in interesting angles or great laughs. Stevens has no problem matching the hosts’ enthusiasm, but that doesn’t result in an episode that is particularly memorable. Maybe he exhausted all of his momentum on those previous guest appearances. [MS]