Since the iPod debuted in 2001, it has gone from portable music player to a medium in itself: Podcasts, like blogs, have indelibly shaped the media landscape in less than a decade. The A.V. Club listens to a lot of them, so this week we introduce Podmass, our weekly round-up of the podcasts we follow.
Here’s how it will work: Each week, we’ll recommend the best of those we listened to, as well as quick write-ups of everything else. Because of the deadlines required to post on Friday, our coverage week goes Thursday through Wednesday. Every few weeks we’ll visit a fringe podcast, get a recommendation from a podcaster we like, as well as listen to something completely new to us. (If you have podcast suggestions, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“No, I literally wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener—because at least the roasting would be done after a while, and I’d get eaten up and shit out by the world!” —James Adomian as Paul Giamatti on Comedy Death-Ray Radio
The BS Report With Bill Simmons: Feb. 17, Jimmy Kimmel
Bill Simmons’ podcasts have evolved into a place where pop culture and sports often collide, unsurprising considering he moved to L.A. in 2002 to work as a writer on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show. The stint didn’t last long, and Simmons returned to ESPN full-time. But he and Kimmel have remained friends, and that’s evident when Kimmel spars with Simmons over their assigned rosters as coaches for the NBA All-Star Celebrity game (Kimmel has Justin Bieber, Simmons has Secretary Of Education Arne Duncan) and talk about the early days of Kimmel’s show, when everyone except Kimmel thought it would be cancelled quickly. In the first post-All-Star-game podcast, Simmons covers a wide range of topics with Jason Sudeikis, including getting recognized by LeBron James, seeing himself in Hollywood tabloids, and, yes, lots of SNL talk (Simmons, an unabashed SNL fan, goes over the same territory he covered with Seth Meyers). At more than 83 minutes, it’s a bit too long, but there’s still plenty to enjoy, including the discussion over the greatest SNL cast member ever (Will Ferrell or Phil Hartman?) and a bit of Sudeikis’ history with the show, from writer to performer.
Comedy Death-Ray Radio #93: Reggie Watts, James Adomian
Nearly every week, after host Scott Aukerman reveals another catchphrase candidate, he thanks Reggie Watts for coming in to perform the show’s theme song. He’s never there, of course, only this time he actually is. Watts is Aukerman’s guest for the entire hour, but the real star is frequent show-stealer James Adomian. The comedian behind a few other CDR characters—Jesse Ventura, Huell Howser—has found his Bob Ducca in Paul “Bald Fuck” Giamatti. In Adomian’s hands, the respected actor (“Hollywood’s designated fat fuck,” he moans) is a bitter, fantastically broken-down sad-sack who constantly shouts. Adomian debuted Giamatti via an amazing cameo in episode 72, but he sticks around for most of this episode. As usual, Aukerman has to rein Adomian in after a while—the part where Adomian tries to create a song like Reggie Watts grates—but the hilarious moments make up for it.
Culture Gabfest: #127 My Eyeballs Feel Like Boiled Eggs Edition
The merry three of Slate’s Culture Gabfest always do well to branch out from group-reviewing a particular work and into the kind of twisty-yet-specific story angles that Slate editors’ brains seem made for. It isn’t that they lack for worthwhile opinions on a given TV show, film, or art exhibit, but the less standard the subject, the funnier and less mannered the talk. This week’s segment on the FX show Justified doesn’t really get interesting until Stephen Metcalf mentions how he’s “overwhelmed by grade-B-or-better television.” Then he, Julia Turner, and Dana Stevens begin to roughly sketch out what they love about Elmore Leonard. This is stuff that, in a proper review, would seem like too much preamble or big-picture theorizing, but it’s what turns this loosely formatted podcast from conversational to compelling. The discussion of margin-scribbling—and whether e-books will render it obsolete—features Metcalf calling “half-bullshit on [Julia’s] bullshit,” and then Turner calling bullshit on her own bullshit, but also thoughtful tales of the correspondence between rival economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek. Highbrow topics and a little casual swearing—that’s the sweet spot for this podcast.
Hang Up And Listen: The Blatter Infection Edition
Down a Mike Pesca, Josh Levin and Stefan Fatsis take advantage by booking interviews in two of the three segments. After a discussion of the Knicks’ blockbuster trade for Carmelo Anthony—without committing to a verdict on it, which is so very not-talk-radio of them—the show brings in Arizona Cardinals kicker and player rep Jay Feely for a terrific discussion of NFL labor talks. Feely can’t speak to the specifics of the ongoing negotiations, but he does talk generally about a range of issues troubling the league, and the challenge of ensuring the financial and physical health of athletes who aren’t in the league very long and aren’t given to planning ahead. Finally, Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl comes on to discuss his half-joking campaign to run against the comically corrupt Sepp Blatter, who’s currently unopposed in his bid for a fourth term as president of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. (You know, the one that just gave the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a tiny country with no soccer tradition, no stadiums, brutal weather in the summer, and dire human-rights and journalistic-freedom records.) Wahl’s stunt doesn’t seem particularly well thought-out—and Levin and Fatsis rightfully question the journalistic ethics behind it—but it could make for a good story.
The Nerdist #63: Wil Wheaton
Former child actor and current professional nerd/actor (and former A.V. Club contributor) Wil Wheaton is a natural choice to join Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, and Jonah Ray in their weekly ramblings through Star Wars and Doctor Who jokes. But his appearance on this week’s Nerdist is even more pertinent thanks to Wheaton and Hardwick’s history: The two are former college roommates and close friends with lots of dirt on each other, such as when Hardwick “fucked the snake out of its cage” while house-sitting for Wheaton, or when he tortured Wheaton by playing “Stand By Me” on a loop at a restaurant. Their back-and-forth is genial, funny, and peppered with Star Trek: The Next Generation impressions, but Wheaton is also frank and forthcoming about his career as a teen actor and later blossoming into a paragon of nerd culture. It’s one of The Nerdist’s extra-long live episodes, and while 100 minutes seems like a long time to spend with a podcast, Wheaton and Hardwick’s energy and camaraderie keeps it light and listenable.
Pop Culture Happy Hour: Kangaroo-On-Schoolgirl Violence Erupts On Game Day
This week’s show is light on the banter, but covers a wider range of topics in more depth than usual. Linda Holmes and (former A.V. Club editor) Stephen Thompson briefly discus their “heroic” live-blogging of the Grammys (Thompson on his favorite part: “The end. Not necessarily the part where Arcade Fire won Album Of The Year, but the part where I got to stop live-blogging.”), which quickly devolves into an essay on the popularity of Merge Records and the importance of awards shows to small labels and artists. All four participants—mostly non-gamers—then talk about a field trip they took to Glen Weldon’s house to sample a wide range of videogames, which they pore over with a mixture of intellectual analysis and childish glee. They analyze the rhythms and joys of Portlandia, then end with the usual round of “What’s Making Us Happy,” including the Newsies stage musical, Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, and Criterion films on Hulu Plus. This is one of the least goofy and giddy episodes to date, but unlike the episode where Holmes, Thompson, and Trey Graham gamely try to read a comic book at Glen’s behest, it’s comfortable, thoughtful, and not too serious.
Sound Opinions: The legacy of The Monkees
As the hosts of “the world’s only rock ’n’ roll talk show,” Chicago music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot routinely interview rising stars and old favorites along with covering the latest music news and reviewing new releases. But Sound Opinions will also regularly do special episodes that take stock of rock history, including this illuminating installment that devotes much of the hour to examining much-maligned bubblegum band The Monkees. During a chat with ardent Monkees fan and author Eric Lefcowitz—whose 2010 book Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band appears to be the “timely” hook for the discussion—DeRogatis and Kot make a convincing case for The Monkees being one of the most influential groups in rock history. In Lefcowitz’s words, it’s “the machine that put them across” that’s paramount here, a talented team of songwriters, record producers, and visionary businessmen that pioneered the selling of music across multiple media platforms. Lest younger folks lose interest, DeRogatis and Kot make sure to connect the dots to contemporary phenomena like American Idol and Glee as the latest spawn of Davy, Mickey, Michael, and Pete.
Talking TV With Ryan And Ryan: Talking TV Criticism
Conflict of Interest Alert: The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray and Myles McNutt guest on this week’s episode, but we can’t help it if they’re just that good. On this week’s show, Mo Ryan and (A.V. Club contributor) Ryan McGee host Murray and McNutt (also of Cultural Learnings) to discuss Josh Levin's Slate piece questioning whether super-fans can be effective critics, especially in the Internet era. Long story short—which in no way excuses you from listening—they conclude that you don’t necessarily have to be a fanboy to review a full season of Lost, Fringe, Mad Men, or Sons Of Anarchy. But it helps.
WTF With Marc Maron 151: Carl Labove
Marc Maron will probably never have the ghost of Sam Kinison travel to his homemade recording studio to finally, conclusively explain why Kinison was such a raging asshole to him in the ’80s, when Maron served as a combination protégé/sidekick/younger brother/verbal punching bag to the shouting enthusiast and his outlaw posse. So Maron’s characteristically intense interview with Carl LaBove, Kinison’s best friend, opening act, and partner in crime real and figurative, is the closest he’ll come to achieving closure. LaBove doesn’t open up about his relationship with Kinison so much as slice open a deep spiritual vein and let Maron suck hungrily at it as he discusses Kinison’s demonic magnetism and gradual descent from righteous truth-teller to bloated self-parody. LaBove movingly describes Kinison literally dying in his arms before things get really intense when he talks about learning that the woman he thought was his daughter was actually Kinison’s secret love child. The only thing that keeps #151 from being one of the all-time great WTF podcasts is LaBove’s measured delivery; WTF thrives on raw-nerve spontaneity, but LaBove, a gifted actor who does some funny bits, has transformed even the most agonizing memory into a polished anecdote, which makes the experience a little less brutally intense. In the world of WTF, brutally intense is always a good thing.
The Adam Carolla Show
It’s a for-fans-only week at The Adam Carolla Show, which kicks off with its 501st episode. The guys from SchmoesKnow.com talk about the Oscars; Fred Armisen drops by and somehow doesn’t discuss Portlandia; there’s a reunion with Dr. Drew and Jeffrey Ross; Meet The Fockers’ Alanna Ubach shows off her voice skills; and comedy hero Dana Gould explains the debacle that was his Sigmund And The Sea Monsters script.
All Songs Considered: So, the ’90s are back, or whatever
The gang welcomes new contributor Ann Powers, who crowds the show a bit and pushes the running time past the 90-minute mark. It’s an entertaining but too-long listen, though ’90s nostalgists will appreciate hearing prime cuts from Nirvana and Neutral Milk Hotel. (Soundgarden fans, however, will be pissed by the casual dismissal of “Black Hole Sun.”)
Best Show Gems: Freddie Harmon Wants To Be Tom’s Personal Magician
Like so many Best Show Gems, “Freddie Harmon Wants To Be Tom’s Personal Magician” finds call-in guest Jon Wurster playing a sketchy opportunist who offers The Best Show On WFMU host Tom Sharpling an offer that’s creepy on the surface but grows more comically unsavory with each detail. In this instance, Wurster plays a would-be David Blaine who offers his services as a “personal magician” to Scharpling, though as the very funny bit proceeds, it becomes apparent that the sleight-of-hand man’s “tricks” fall less under the rubric of “magic” than “sex crimes” and “criminal offenses.”
Doug Loves Movies: Kevin Smith, Jimmy Pardo, and Rob Huebel
The ever-garrulous Kevin Smith joins a couple of DLM favorites to play the Leonard Maltin game. Unlike another film director who always brings it to DLM, Edgar Wright, Smith shows up unprepared, not knowing how to play the game, and gets stoned onstage. Unsurprisingly, his performance is less than impressive.
Filmspotting: #336 The Eagle/Top 5 Relic Movies
Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson struggled mightily to find something—anything—worth reviewing this week, and, to their mutual regret, they wound up settling on The Eagle, which leads Kempenaar to recant his inclusion of Channing Tatum in a list of up-and-coming actors. However, the film’s story about a Roman soldier’s quest to retrieve a golden eagle emblem does inspire a clever Top Five (or, um, seven): movies centered on the hunt for an object. MacGuffins, ahoy!
Judge John Hodgman: #13 The Tahitian Takeout
As two friends have dinner together at a Polynesian restaurant of dubious repute, a bag of takeout sits unclaimed atop a lottery machine. On the way out, one of them grabs the tantalizing mystery bag, leaving the other horrified at this breach of social protocol. As usual, Judge Hodgman renders a verdict that’s both unexpected and totally reasonable, even as it evokes the apocalypse.
The Moth: Alan Rabinowitz: Man & Beast
The Moth airs a repeat story this week, but at least it’s a rerun from waaaaay back—specifically, the very first Moth podcast. Alan Rabinowitz’s story—told, as always, without notes—explores the connection between his overcoming a debilitating stutter (timely for the Oscars!) and his career as a wildlife conservationist.
Never Not Funny: #813 Will Forte
Will Forte appears to offer insight on MacGruber and his years on SNL, but his reserved delivery and foggy mindset threaten to throw the brakes on Never Not Funny’s typically lightning-quick pace. He’s affable enough, and the episode comes together when he and Jimmy Pardo share their separate experiences working on That 70’s Show, but Pardo is often forced to resort to his old standbys of Kiss anecdotes and amusing pronunciations to keep things moving forward.
Radiolab: A Flock Of Two
Radiolab’s shorts—brief hits that go more in depth with various subjects from the radio show/podcast’s full-length episodes—are frequently hit or miss. “A Flock Of Two” is more hit than miss, but it’s hampered by not getting the necessary “smoking bird” on tape to back up the central story. However, this tiny story of a mentally ill man and the parrot who helps bring him back to sanity is moving nonetheless.
The Savage Love Podcast #227
A clueless caller seeks Dan Savage’s approval, or at least reassurance, after she got drunk on a second date and made out with a random dude on a dance floor in front of her actual date. Savage instead calls her a crazy bitch. Solid episode, as always, though not particularly memorable unless you're looking for some newbie advice on getting into anal.
Sklarbro Country #30: Dana Gould, James Adominian
Jason and Randy Sklar’s Sklarbro Country is the sports/independent comedy podcast for folks who don’t particularly care about sports or independent comedy. It’s an extraordinarily likeable, addictive riff-fest that finds the blindingly quick, clever hosts trading rapid-fire quips on the wonderfully surreal world of sports with folks like the equally fast Dana Gould, whose chemistry with the brothers rivals their chemistry with each other. Funny stuff even for non-jocks.
Stuff You Missed In History Class: Philip V, Reluctant King
In this episode, the dulcet-voiced duo of Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty provide a brief lesson on Philip V, the Frenchman who ruled Spain from 1700 to 1746. In this enjoyable look at a historical footnote, the ladies describe Philip’s propensity for manic depression, which may have led to his brief six-month abdication in 1724.
Stuff You Should Know: How Crime Scene Photography Works
The affably insightful Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant provide a rundown of the invention of crime-scene photography, its methods, and why a more aesthetically pleasing shot is actually a bad idea. Fun as always, although a little scattershot, and not quite as surprising/informative as the ’cast at its best.
This American Life #401: Parent Trap
Originally aired Feb. 19, 2010, this episode’s stories hang loosely on its theme, the sometimes ill-advised decisions parents make for their children. Skip the first two segments and head directly to Act Two, around the 25-minute mark. In a remarkable exploration of what it is to be human, Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich look at a couple that tries to raise a chimpanzee as their human daughter in the ’70s, only to have to set her free years later into a world she no longer views as her own.