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Week of February 24-March 2

The best podcasts of the week

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. 


“Finally my friend came with the shoes that were too big for me. I wear a 9 and these were like an 11, and I shuffled in ridiculously. They asked me to whisper the password to the owl that opens the secret door that lets you go into the Magic Castle. And you know what I whispered? ‘Are you happy now, you stupid owl? I don’t look like a magician. I look like a well-dressed clown.’” —John Hodgman, Judge John Hodgman

The BS Report With Bill Simmons: Chuck Klosterman
Bill Simmons takes on a big week for pop culture by hosting a two-part episode with one of his most entertaining regular guests, writer Chuck Klosterman. (Part two posted after The A.V. Club’s deadline.) The guys address the realness of Charlie Sheen’s mischief and how it retroactively affects the way people view his work. They also briefly touch on a rock ’n’ roll fantasy draft (for which Chuck has a few rules, including in ineligibility of Jimi Hendrix) and who would be the first vocalist drafted: Mick Jagger or Michael Jackson. Finally, part one wraps with a discussion over labor issues, particularly the NBA and the mutiny of the Detroit Pistons, but also Sheen’s salary for Two And A Half Men and the ongoing protests in Wisconsin. 

Culture Gabfest #128: Adonis DNA Edition 
You can almost hear the haz-mat suits zip up this week as Slate’s three Gabfest hosts prepare to “tuck in” with Charlie Sheen and two other basically lowbrow topics, the Oscar telecast and Justin Bieber. Don’t be deceived: Their initial discomfort quickly gives way to delight as Julia Turner dissects Sheen’s new body of megalomaniac rants. “He has a particular way with language that is incredibly mesmerizing,” Turner says—cut to a clip of Sheen talking about “strafing runs in my underwear”—and she adds, “He has a way with a euphemism, that’s for sure.” (Oh, and bless them for also taking a few shots at the goateed-porcupine-looking dude who interviewed Sheen for TMZ.) Like anyone else taking about the Oscars in recent memory, the hosts seem rather tired of the whole affair, though they do a great job describing the seeming imbalance between hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway—“Poor Anne, who was clearly the star of her sixth-grade play,” as Stephen Metcalf puts it. Then they traipse off to see Justin Bieber: Never Say Never—Director’s Fan Cut. “The movie is just pure fan service,” Dana Stevens says, and all three attempt to suss out Bieber’s “dog-whistle pre-teen sex signals.”

Doug Loves Movies: Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jeff Garlin, Dave Foley
It’s rare for a Doug Loves Movies panel to gel as well as this week’s does, and it probably has to do with how the guests—Christopher “He’s been in a bunch of other movies, so you can stop calling him ‘McLovin’” Mintz-Plasse, Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin, and Dave Foley of The Kids In The Hall—travel in separate comedy circles, which practically nullifies the potential for ego-clash. Each plays heavily to his previously established comedic persona—Mintz-Plasse, the wide-eyed innocent; Garlin, the lovable prick; Foley, the consummate straight main—and react to one another with hilarious effect, as when Garlin and Mintz-Plasse debate the “wonderfully terrible” merits of the recent Mechanic remake. Garlin is particularly funny here, and his snickering causticity revives DLM following last week’s flat Kevin Smith appearance. (Although he does muscle Foley off the mic a couple times—an unfortunate result of the show’s freewheeling format.) If Doug Benson were to accept Garlin’s facetious request to be on the show every week, we’d have no objection.

How Did This Get Made? #5: Drive Angry/Curtis Gwinn
On How Did This Get Made?, Paul Scheer of Human Giant and The League and co-hosts Jason Mantzoukas (The League) and June Diane Raphael (Players, Party Down) take a simultaneously affectionate and bemused look at the dregs of contemporary American cinema. Though still in its infancy, the podcast has now covered two Nicolas Cage films, first Season Of The Witch and now Drive Angry 3-D, a deranged B-movie custom-made to be dissected, ridiculed, and praised by the team and guest Curtis Gwinn. Drive Angry offers them an embarrassment of riches and a decade’s worth of plot holes and inconsistencies. An hour barely gives the gang enough time to unpack even a fraction of the film’s gleeful idiocies, but the episode nevertheless gives a good sense of the film’s drive-in awesomeness; if you’re not onboard with either How Did This Get Made? or Drive Angry 3-D, there’s a good chance you will be after this episode. 

Judge John Hodgman: #14 Snob Vs. Slob
This week’s case settles a conflict between a soon-to-be married couple. The complainant, a tech nerd who works at a company with a “relaxed” dress code, is tired of fielding complaints from his fiancée about the awful clothes he wears to work. She thinks he should dress for the job he wants—something in management perhaps—but he feels his dryer-scorched wardrobe of T-shirts, ratty jeans, and cargo shorts brings him in line with his co-workers (and in some cases, outclasses them). This is not a good argument to bring before Judge Hodgman, one of our nation’s best-dressed minor celebrities, who advises the complainant to burn those cargo shorts. (And they should burn quickly, Hodgman suggests, since they’re probably from Old Navy.) But as usual, Hodgman’s ruling is more nuanced than you’d expect, opening with a hilarious story about his own shame at being turned away from L.A.’s Magic Castle for wearing tennis shoes with a suit and continuing with some wisdom about why it’s always preferable to dress better than required. 

Never Not Funny: Live From San Francisco Sketchfest & #814 Graham Elwood
While Jimmy Pardo is worthy of a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of podcast hosts, the unsung hero of Never Not Funny has always been “entrepreneur” Matt Belknap. In the first of two of the dirtiest episodes in a while (which includes a lengthy discussion on placenta and an inspired parody of “All That Jazz” that shouldn’t require explanation), David Koechner (The Office’s Todd Packer) shares a story on taking the surrogate mother of his newborn to Chili’s, teeing up a homer for Belknap: “Did she want her baby back, baby back, baby back?” The episodes include a number of other great Belknap moments (hats off for the only correct Oscar pick), and frequent guests Pat Francis and Graham Elwood set the standard tone for any given episode of Never Not Funny by being both knowledgeable and belligerent. (“You’re being very unfair to Pat Sajak,” says Pardo.) Oh, and apparently Elwood used to jerk off from his Chicago high-rise onto the street below. He’s not scheduled in Chicago anytime soon, but still, consider yourself warned, Belmont Avenue.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Why We Keep Our Friends In A Freezer In The Garage
This week, the foursome play Celebrity Twitter Trivia, list a bunch of People We’re Rooting For, and finish with the usual round of Things That Are Making Us Happy, including “Weird Al” Yankovic’s children’s book When I Grow Up and Glen Weldon’s glee over getting to create his own ridiculous superheroes and supervillains in the DC Universe Online MMO. (For instance, the disease-spreading, staff-wielding villain Staph Infection. Ugh.) But the highlight of the show is a lengthy segment on Technological Blind Spots, which starts as a discussion of technology the participants have refused to or been unable to embrace, and becomes a freewheeling mockery-fest and discussion of the use of Facebook as “cold storage for friends” (or a meat locker for friends’ bodies, or an unnecessary luxury for those who prefer to burn their friends for fuel) and Twitter as a source of finely crafted linguistic and comedic entertainment. Weldon, on the difference between them: “Twitter is about language, and Facebook is about people. And I know which of those I prefer.” 

Risk! #210: Under The Influence
Throughout its first year, Risk!—hosted by The State’s Kevin Allison—struggled with its hit-to-miss ratio. The “true tales boldly told” format is undoubtedly derived from The Moth, but Risk! stories have frequently lacked the focus of their Moth counterparts. This episode finds the podcast maturing, with a nice funny-sad-funny-sad progression of stories about drug use. Jon Daly kicks it off with “Them Purple Shits,” a hilarious tale about a mushroom trip in Manhattan gone terribly awry, perhaps scoring the episode’s best line when he tells an annoyed cab driver “We’re all on hallucinogenic mushrooms, and I don’t know what money is!” In these kinds of stories, rarely does drug use lead to an actual psychological epiphany, as in the case of second contributor Anne Powell. Risk! gets lighter before its final act with Allison’s funny story about attempting to trick a drug test. (It involves a sandwich bag of clean urine he carries under his scrotum.) Comedian Blaine Kneece barely makes it through the episode’s final act, a really brutal story about his sister’s struggle with (and subsequent death from) drug abuse. The well-balanced episode shows Risk! is starting to hit its stride.

Sklarbro Country #31: Patton Oswalt
Patton Oswalt is famously a big fan of science fiction and comic books, but more than that he’s an inveterate enthusiast with an infectious passion for the art and trash he loves. Despite his revelatory performance in Big Fan, he’s not a big sports fan in general, but he is a super-fan of Sklarbro Country, as shown on this raucous, lively, and sometimes overly in-jokey episode. The highlight of the podcast, and Sklarbro Country as a whole, comes when Oswalt favors listeners with some particularly choice excerpts from Monday Night Jihad, retired place-kicker Jason Elam’s football-themed thriller about a linebacker battling terrorists. (Even Elam wouldn’t be ballsy enough to posit a mere place-kicker as the hero of an adventure novel.) The Brothers Sklar and their first repeat guest then generously afford Elam an opportunity to return the favor by reading excerpts from Oswalt’s brilliant Zombie Spaceship Wasteland on the podcast. Make it so, Elam! Do it for your country! Also, resident impressionist Chris Cox stops by with a dead-on take on Owen Wilson. 

The Sound Of Young America: Weird Al” Yankovic
Every now and then Jesse Thorn lands an interview that’s a guaranteed slam-dunk, and “Weird Al” Yankovic is one of them. Comedy nerd Thorn finds a kindred spirit in Yankovic, who discusses his career, kick-started by parents who encouraged their son’s offbeat sense of humor and talent rather than urge their early-sprouter (Yankovic graduated high school at 16) to conform. Yankovic’s fans may already be familiar with the tale of his beginnings on the Dr. Demento radio show, but he’s so friendly and engaging, it’s pleasant to retrace the start of his career. Thorn also discusses the bittersweet themes in Yankovic’s music as well as his influences. (It’s somehow not surprising that he and Kurt Cobain were mutual fans.) The interview is packed with clips of Yankovic songs, including early tunes like “Belvedere Cruisin’” and “Another One Rides The Bus” as well as polka medley “Alternative Polka” and original tune “Skipper Dan.” Current fans of Yankovic will remain convinced that he’s one of the nicest guys in showbiz, and new listeners will likely realize that there’s more to Yankovic than just being that weird-looking dude who writes silly music. Warning: This podcast contains Max Fun Drive pledge pitches.

Stuff You Should Know: What Is Stagflation?
Worried about the U.S. economy? Curious as to how thoroughly everyone is screwed? In their latest episode, Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant take on stagflation, a ridiculous word with horrible real world consequences. In clear, easy-to-follow language, Clark and Bryant describe the very real threat of rising inflation combined with poor economic growth, explaining how government overseers in the ’70s first recognized the problem and combated it, and the very real possibility that similar conditions could arise today. It’s a fascinating, funny, and deeply unsettling glimpse into a possible economic catastrophe. 

WTF With Marc Maron #153: Paul Krassner
Marc Maron makes a spiritual exodus to the desert to soak in ancient wisdom at the feet of gnomic counterculture icon Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist and Lenny Bruce’s biography, and a key transitional figure linking the beats to the hippies and then the Yippies. Maron inhabits the role of eager student as he asks Krassner about his friendship with Lenny Bruce, why Krassner chooses to lead a hermit-like but apparently peaceful existence in the desert, and the way the legacy of the ’60s counterculture has been twisted and corrupted over time. Maron’s affection and reverence for his interviewee is palpable; together, they make a fine case for social activism fueled by playfulness and joy rather than rage. 

The Adam Carolla Show
Comedians and boxers rule this week’s Adam Carolla Show, which kicks off its third year with Amir Khan, the 24-1 English-Pakistani WBA junior-welterweight champ. Doug Benson, comedian and host of The Benson Interruption and Doug Loves Movies podcasts, weighs in on the addictive properties of pizza vs. those of McMuffins. Tonight Show regular Alonzo Bodden participates in a well-informed discussion of military aircraft after Dr. Bruce joins on the Charlie Sheen pigpile, offering his perspective as an addiction specialist. Jim Florentine, formerly of Crank Yankers and currently of VH1’s That Metal Show, dishes on dating Robin Quivers. And Holt McCallany, who’s even more likable than his title character in FX boxing drama Lights Out, trades friendly jabs with Ace. (Carolla didn’t address the abrupt cancellation of the much-loved Daves Of Thunder podcast, Ace Broadcasting’s No. 2 show, which had had conspiracy-mined fans in an uproar all week.)

All Songs Considered: Radiohead, Panda Bear, The Dodos, And More
Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton finally get around to discussing Radiohead’s The King Of Limbs (they love it) and preview a decent-ish song from the new Panda Bear album. The guys also check out songs from The Dodos, Alexi Murdoch, and James Vincent McMorrow. 

The BS Report With Bill Simmons
Simmons talks Oscars and Charlie Sheen with Chris Connelly, who tosses out the idea of replacing Sheen on Two And A Half Men with Rob Lowe. The Oscars also come up when famed screenwriter William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Misery, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid) makes a return visit, but he and Simmons also talk about Carmelo Anthony and Goldman’s beloved Knicks. (Dan Silver also stopped by in this episode to talk about movies.) Simmons starts the week with one of his “buddy” podcasts with Joe House, who talks NBA trades, and JackO, who discusses his two favorite topics: the Yankees and Jersey Shore.

Comedy Death-Ray Radio #94: Ben Schwartz, Andy Daly
Near the beginning of episode #94, Scott Aukerman tells Ben Schwartz (Parks And Recreation, Undercovers) he has no plans for the episode, and it shows—#94 sounds like it came together minutes before recording. But Andy Daly—appearing here as Hot Dog, a racist wannabe member of Sha Na Na—is always hilarious. Aukerman proclaims for the seemingly 1,000th time that Jukebox Jury is dead—“I don’t know why any of you send this shit in”—but we’ll see if that sticks.

Filmspotting: #337 Army Of Shadows/ Top 5 Revolution Movies
Rather than sample the current dregs of the multiplex, Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson lead with a proper appreciation of Listener’s Choice selection Army Of Shadows, Jean-Pierre Melville’s bleak, uncompromising depiction of life in the French Resistance. As the hosts note, this is a movie about real sacrifice—not gung-ho heroism, not even martyrdom, but people willing to give themselves over to a cause. 

Hang Up And Listen: The Battle Of Detroit Edition
After an episode off, Mike Pesca rejoins Stefan Fatsis and Josh Levin for a survey of the latest violations of big-time NCAA basketball coaches like Bruce Pearl and Jim Calhoun, the Rip Hamilton-led revolt against Detroit Pistons coach John Kuester, and the baffling reports coming out of the NFL scouting combine, where potential draft picks are switching places almost arbitrarily. The “Afterball” segment is most essential, however, with Fatsis offering a history of the beaver as a college mascot and Levin doing a hilarious dissection of the “best shape of my life” cliché. 

The Moth: Matteson Perry & Jeff Simmermon—GrandSLAM Stories
It’s a twofer on The Moth this week, with two slight-but-funny animal tales. Both Matteson Perry’s story about running with the bulls in Spain and Jeff Simmermon’s account of his time spent dealing with Outback pests and an obnoxiously rugged boss lack the sentiment/insight/emotion of some of the best Moth stories; but they’re both funny and to-the-point, with the polished delivery expected of Moth regulars like Perry and Simmermon. 

The Nerdist #63: Nathan Fillion
Nerd hero Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly) is surprisingly reticent in the first 10 minutes or so of this week’s episode—or perhaps his Canadian politeness is just preventing him from interrupting the typical excited jabbering from Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, and Jonah Ray. But Fillion eventually opens up and talks about the fan cause to help him raise $300 million to buy the rights to Firefly (spoiler: He thinks the money could be better used elsewhere), his one and only attempt to write a TV pilot, and his desire to star in a Greatest American Hero update.

Savage Love #228 
This week, Savage doles out advice to both a dude whose long-distance girlfriend won’t let him watch porn (dump her) and a woman who can’t find any femme-friendly porn to her liking (check out Lady Porn Day). Savage also announced that his It Gets Better book, inspired by the video project of the same name, will be out March 22 and is available for pre-order now.

Stuff You Missed In History Class
This week, Sarah Dowdy and Deblina Chakraborty deal with some of the more obscure corners of Black History. In “How The Stono Rebellion Worked,” they look into one of the earliest American slave revolts, and how it changed the American approach to slavery. In “Who Was America’s First Black Millionairess?” they detail the ups and downs in the life of Sarah Rector. Both episodes are interesting, but may be a little too obscure for the casual listener. 

Stuff You Should Know: How Tickling Works 
The answer: No one knows. Clark and Bryant get the most they can out of the topic, and the ’cast performs one of SYSK’s key duties by making listeners question what most people take for granted. But they can’t quite get past the lack of definitive answers in this enjoyable, but slight, entry.

This American Life #282: DIY
This episode originally aired Feb. 11, 2005, but it’s a great one—so much so that it figures on the series’ favorites list. Carl King’s friend is convicted of murdering a man he’s never even met, so King sets out to prove his innocence. After 20 years of DIY investigating, he succeeds where the legal system failed.

Sound Opinions: Gang Of Four
A lengthy interview with Andy Gill and Jon King of legendary post-punk band Gang Of Four leads to a surprisingly reverent discussion about Chicago blues, prompting Greg Kot’s “desert island jukebox” pick of Hound Dog Taylor And The Housebreakers’ classic 1971 debut. 

WTF With Marc Maron #152: Comedy Film Nerds
Maron foregoes psychodrama and brutal introspection as he welcomes the Comedy Film Nerds over for an uncharacteristically breezy, trauma-free Oscar-themed conversation about movies, celebrities, and why Ricky Gervais is kind of a douche. Think of it as a light digestif following the heavy meal that was Maron’s showdown with Carl LaBove last week.