Week of July 14-20

 QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“It’s not so much that you’re not a gracious winner—you’re not a gracious player”—Paul F. Tompkins on Samm Levine’s approach to the Leonard Maltin Game, Doug Loves Movies

“Once you get to the double-backslash, it costs you twice as much.” —Michael Ian Black on the economics of podcast development, Mike And Tom Eat Snacks.

“Why would a 94-year-old man just drop dead? It doesn’t add up.” Julie Klausner on the death of Sherwood Schwartz, How Was Your Week

“Eventually, we will be rid of either Presidents’ Day and/or Columbus Day, both of which can cram it. Those are both, like, Why-Is-The-Bank-Closed Day. And so we’re gonna replace one of them with Appreciation Day!” —Stephen Thompson on his new Twitter-fueled holiday, Pop Culture Happy Hour

“It is so hard to get people to do an intervention on you when they don’t think you have a problem”—Maria Bamford, Never Not Funny

“Every guy on that channel looks like a vice principal.”Tom Scharpling on Fox News, The Best Show on WFMU

THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
The centerpiece of this episode is Tom Scharpling’s “A Tale Of Two Boardwalks.” If you’ve been waiting for a pillar of alternative comedy who lives in New Jersey to depict the Jersey Shore’s Seaside Heights in all of its sweat-smacked, bilious glory, then here is your chance. Scharpling gives the abundant racism and alcoholism his seething treatment, and while he’s predictably displeased with the phenomenon, his childhood love of the boardwalks combined with his long-form storytelling makes it a far better blow than some might expect. This splinters into some excellent secondary call-in topics such as violently taunting T-shirts and the debate over Captain America’s true origin: Trailers for the movie include a humblebrag from Steve Rogers that he’s “just a kid from Brooklyn,” but Scharpling notes that Cap is actually from Lower East Side Manhattan, which breeds a deconstruction of exactly how much of a smug degenerate the hero secretly is. Cue Captain Williamsburg, wielding a garbage-can lid and flesh-eating cocaine. 

Culture Gabfest: “Vulture Epaulets” Edition
The release of the final Harry Potter movie brings resident Hogwarts expert Dan Kois into a miasma of opinions on the subject: Dana Stevens admires the movies enough to want to seek out the books; Julia Turner admires the books enough to where the movies have mostly bored her; and Stephen Metcalf is a self-declared Muggle who nonetheless found himself swept up in the final film’s big payoffs. The second segment examines the new Google social network Google +, which opens up a compelling line of discussion on what kind of information we feel comfortable sharing and with whom. Google + allows users greater control than Facebook over who sees what, but the corporate entities still see all. The final (and strongest) segment follows the group on an after-hours visit to the new Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. An attempt to record the hot exhibit-gawking action live doesn’t work, but a discussion afterwards with fashion expert Simon Doonan offers an illuminating primer on the great enfant terrible

Doug Loves Movies: Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman, And Samm Levine Compete
After 108 minutes, one fake Edgar Wright, two spilled beers, two renditions of Paul F. Tompkins and Scott Aukerman’s improvised “four-star movie” theme, and several back-and-forth battles over the rules and regulations of The Leonard Maltin Game, Doug Benson drops this inadvertently astute comment on the Tournament Of Championships’ final round: “All the banter makes me forget what’s happening.” It doesn’t help that there’s a ton of information and tomfoolery packed into the two-hour long epic, most of which is the type of giddy, insular comedy gold that makes these things worthwhile listening. The second edition of Benson’s movie-trivia gauntlet (a paid episode) receives an appropriately dramatic climax, with the tournament’s sometimes caustic, sometimes adorable antihero—Samm “The Ma’am” Levine, a.k.a. Li’l Wolverine—going up against worthy challengers Aukerman and Tompkins, who gleefully poke and prod the drunk, starving, and prickly Levine at every available turn. The entire episode eventually hinges on a single decision made by Tompkins—though, to deflate any sense of real-life consequences, he does take his sweet, humorous time getting there.

Extra Hot Great #40: The Misfishness Of Breaking Bad
After two weeks of canned special shows—one of which, a compilation of “I Am Not A Crackpot” rants, was actually special—the Extra Hot Great gang returns with a back-to-basics episode that plays to their talent for unpacking great television. The tense première of Breaking Bad’s fourth season has them all reaching for superlatives, and their appreciation extends deep into the supporting characters, whom they praise for being as well-conceived and performed as the leads. Poor David T. Cole, searching for the cloud in the silver lining, expresses the hope that Breaking Bad will end before its inevitable decline, thus preserving the beautiful corpse of one of his all-time favorite TV shows. From there, the gang considers the Seinfeld episode “The Hamptons” for the Canon—a slam-dunk choice if there ever was one—prompting discussion of “shrinkage,” “you gotta see the baby,” and other eminently quotable moments.   

How Was Your Week #19: “She’s A Cold Soup”: Rob Delaney & Michelle McNamara
HWYW takes a delightfully dark turn this week as Julie Klausner interviews real crime blogger Michelle McNamara (who happens to be married to a little-known performer named Patton Oswalt). McNamara loves murder mysteries the way Klausner loves Real Housewives and musical theater, so it’s entertaining and creepy to hear McNamara discussing her favorite cases and theories.  Klausner also provides the scoop on an upcoming phenomenon known as “dry bar,” and speaks with comedian Rob Delaney about his most shameful crushes, which includes a cartoon celebrity—and probably not any of the ones you would guess.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour: Lee And Jesse Thorn
Paul Gilmartin likes to joke that at some point in every Mental Illness Happy Hour he says something inappropriate to bring the momentum of the conversation to a halt. That’s largely a product of the show’s bifurcated mission. Gilmartin wants to provide a safe place for guests to discuses their journey with mental illness, but he also wants to get laughs and can’t quite resist the comedian’s need to go for the joke or pop-culture reference. To his credit, Gilmartin largely eschews the need to entertain during a frank and fascinating discussion with bon vivant, radio host, friend of The A.V Club, and podcast impresario Jesse Thorn and his Vietnam veteran father Lee, about Lee’s battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The tone on The Mental Illness Happy Hour is often loose and irreverent while still respectful, but Lee brings to the show tremendous gravity as he talks matter-of-factly about the way Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has affected his life and the lives of his family and friends. The grimness of the situation and Lee’s stoic intensity leave little room for jokes, though Jesse and Paul lighten the mood on occasion with off-handed cracks. Jesse stays on the sidelines for most of the conversation, but chips in toward the end with a fascinating account of the time his father mistook his beef jerky for drugs (the elder Thorn has much more experience in that field than the younger) and having to “translate” PTSD for his father’s work colleagues. This is perhaps the least funny Mental Illness Happy Hour to date. It’s also one of the most riveting. 

Mike And Tom Eat Snacks #26: Toblerone
Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh’s podcast tends to balance its titular snack-reviewing with topics that seem to invade the discussion of their own accord. The hosts spend about 13 minutes on welcome riffs about messenger pigeons, the techie side of podcasting, and Mike Tyson’s role in The Hangover this week before they mention the triangular Swiss wonder known as Toblerone. Black decides that Toblerone is a bit like a pretentious friend who expects him to wear a tuxedo every day, and he and Cavanagh attempt a variety of “Swiss” accents that actually range from Chinese to Minnesotan. Their response to the snack is ambivalent, but the improvisatory stream of jokes gets more inspired as it goes, leading into Roman vomitoriums and Cavanagh’s Ralph Fiennes impression.

The Moth: Audrey Pleasant: Lil’ Mama
It’s hard to imagine this week’s Moth storyteller ever being the shy 13-year-old she describes at the beginning. Audrey Pleasant has the sort of sharp, mildly disdainful wit you can only get from people who’ve aged but stayed all-there, especially as she describes the show-off dance partner who humiliated her in her youth. Her story explains how she progressed from having just one wallflower dance move—“side-to-side shuffle, regardless of what kind of music it was”—to dancing at the Apollo Theater alongside the likes of an impressed James Brown.

Never Not Funny #907: Maria Bamford
Maria Bamford’s “real” self is largely a mystery, hidden beneath a rotating cast of onstage personas, characters, and impressions, all filtered through her neurosis and affected speech to surreal effect. It’s an enchanting spectacle, and Jimmy Pardo lets Bamford run with it by treating the episode as more of a faux-interview than the typical free-form conversational style of Never Not Funny. When asked open-ended questions on her life, romance, and comedy, a bevy of delightful non-sequiturs from Bamford follows: “[I’ve been] creating a more deep, aware relationship with my elderly dogs, and mindfully listening to the emotion behind the words of my liquor store clerk.” “I’ve started mentoring kids in my neighborhood without telling anyone.” When discussing how meditation helps her deal with hecklers and Internet trolls (like her mother) and her desire to be part of a larger community, whether geographically or in the comedy world, Bamford speaks much like the way she delivers her stand-up: Purposefully stuttering and stumbling through an emotionally bare set-up, only to race through the absurd, unexpected punchline. Pardo and Belknap are often left wondering what the hell just happened—though questioning monkeys’ love of bananas and researching the origin of the phrase “Fuck a duck” are equally strange. A delightfully bizarre episode, #907 is to season nine as Bamford is to the rest of the comedy world.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Two, Four, Six, Eight… You Know The Rest
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Pop Culture Happy Hour, the four regular hosts hold an appreciation-themed podcast, in which they talk about culture that came into their lives at the exact right time, artists and artifacts they miss, and Appreciation Day, an annual holiday A.V. Club founder Stephen Thompson wants to launch where everyone gets on Twitter and expresses enthusiastic gratitude for the people they’re thankful for. All the positivity seems to make house curmudgeon Glen Weldon uncomfortable, but it makes for an upbeat episode, albeit a fairly random-access one that touches on the participants’ appreciation for everything from Thor comics to Jerry Orbach to Jim Henson to Clem Snide to, er, line-dancing and contact lenses.

Sklarbro Country #51: Chris Cox
The 51st installment of Sklarbro Country opens with They Might Be Giants’ Undercover take on “Tubthumping” before threatening repeatedly to devolve into a full-on lovefest for The A.V. Club, especially the Undercover series, which provides all of the bumper music. Apparently the Sklars can’t tell that the positive reviews they’ve received in Podmass about how they’re so “smart” and “clever” and “funny” and how their show is so “entertaining” have been bitterly sarcastic. Those descriptors are similarly true of episode 51, a special podcast devoted solely to Chris Cox, Sklarbro Country’s affable and versatile resident impressionist and the man behind the podcast’s chats with Tiger Woods, Owen Wilson, Jerry Jones, Sam Elliott, Racist Vin Scully, and the proverbial cast of thousands. As the brothers acknowledge, this is something of a fans-only podcast. Newcomers would undoubtedly be confused as to why a podcast ostensibly about sports and indie rock is now solely concerned with the mechanics of voice acting and impressions, two areas in which Cox’s expertise is unquestionable. Sklarbro die-hards, on the other hand, are likely to find this a fascinating and amusing glimpse behind the curtain and an entertaining introduction to Cox the husband, father, writer, and man, as opposed to Cox the ace impressionist. Despite the abundance of amazing covers, this would a terrible episode for neophytes to begin with, but fans should dig it. 

The Sound of Young America: Errol Morris
When Jesse Thorn interviews documentarian Errol Morris about his new film Tabloid, Morris speaks slowly and cautiously, wryly describing himself as a “nutso journalist” and laughing at the trope of directors referring to themselves as “storytellers.” It might be heresy to say the most entertaining part of the discussion is Morris’ reflections on his Miller High Life commercials, but it’s kinda cool that the guy who made The Thin Blue Line and The Fog Of War admits, with apparently no shame, that of all his work, those ads are most likely to survive the test of time. Jesse also catches up with the The A.V. Club’s own Kyle Ryan and Tasha Robinson for their thoughts on Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon’s new book, They Might Be Giants’ new album, Bob Mould’s new autobiography, and the film Another Earth.

Walking The Room #60: Douche Fruit And The Shame Run
Comics Dave Anthony and Greg Behrendt take a moment this week to lament how little help their podcast has given their careers: “Other people who’ve achieved similar things have been lifted out of their hole… We keep getting a boot in the head.” The conversation hits the ground running without need for themes or premise, spiraling on like a long catch-up call between two dudes who make each other genuinely, helplessly crack up. Any podcast that starts with a discussion of gray food and how Shia LeBeouf is like a papaya (“the douchebag of fruits”) is worth it, but stick out the full hour to hear the pair’s podcast-ending riff about serving main-course french fries with mini-sandwiches on the side.

WTF With Marc Maron #193: Richard Lewis 
For Marc Maron, talking to Richard Lewis must be a little like talking to himself. They’re both towering, intimidating figures of infinite darkness who’ve battled their way through drug and alcohol addiction en route to self-actualization. Lewis is a generation older than Maron, however, and he brings the full weight of 41 years in the business to bear on the conversation. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most fascinating parts of this podcast involve Lewis’ addictions to booze, coke, and most dramatically and unexpectedly, crystal meth. Lewis is understandably reluctant to give the podcast over to drug stories, but his anecdotes about his stint as a user and boozer are simply too riveting to keep to himself, like an anecdote involving Lewis slurring incoherent praise to Bruce Springsteen before a big concert or hijacking an interview with Connie Chung. Maron treats Lewis the way younger stand-up comedians tend to treat him: with respect bordering on reverence. Lewis has a hell of an ego as he oscillates between self-aggrandizement and self-deprecation, but at this point he’s earned the right to be more than a little full of himself. 


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show 
The week in Carolla, in order of descending interest: Ace and call-in listeners pick pianist Ben Folds’ brain, deconstructing various aspects of rock and fandom, from lyrical clichés to why fans choose to like certain acts. After extensive riffing on classic-rock jams, Folds opens up about his career, including a rare discussion of “Brick.” If you can’t get enough of Ace’s rants, start with drama-averse ex-model Jennifer Gimenez of Celebrity Rehab, who takes you behind the scenes of the show after Carolla’s detailed account of his trip to Canada and back. The episode wraps with Ace recounting Margaret Cho offering a 12-step reconciliation, but has none of the detail of the Canada debacle. Ace’s impression of Mexicans answering the phone isn’t as funny as comedian Eddie Pepitone’s bit as the Blue Collar President of the USA (at 1:04), but lasts longer. You won’t learn anything about Breaking Bad from star Bryan Cranston’s episode: Right when his nonlinear story about discovering acting is picking up steam, Carolla embarks on a terminal rant about being a neat freak and why hot dogs have rounded ends. When Janna Robinson—host of the DIY Network’s new “lifestyles technology” show Hollywood Hi-Tech—dishes on working with Tom Arnold and Carrie Fisher, the show is uncharacteristically on-topic, but still bland.

The Apple Sisters #8: Staycation
The ladies want to get away, but with a world war going on and funds running low, they settle for sprucing up their studio and taking a “meditation vacation” to Hawaii. The meditation scene has some funny moments (and anachronistic Lost references), but nothing about this episode is particularly noteworthy.

The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons
After beginning the week’s first episode chatting with Grantland writer Chris Ryan in the wake of the nail-biting U.S. win over Brazil in the Women’s World Cup, Simmons welcomes fellow sportswriter and The Wire super-fan Jason Whitlock, who provides a rebuttal to a Chuck Klosterman column on Grantland that declares Breaking Bad the best television show of all time over The Wire. It’s fun to hear the outspoken Whitlock vent his disagreement while acknowledging the high quality of Bad, even as he’s egged on by Simmons. Later in the week, ESPN’s Rob Stone joins Simmons to follow up on soccer, bemoaning the U.S. women’s team loss to Japan in the WWC final, discussing soccer’s status in America, and, of course, the recent turn of events in the WWE’s latest pay-per-view event. The one problem with the soccer discussion is that Simmons went over very similar territory last year after the U.S. men’s team was bounced from their world cup. Simmons wraps up the week with a baseball buddy podcast as the strong-willed Dave Dameshek swings by to gloat about his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates’ surprise run to the top of the NL Central and bemoan the fact that the Brewers’ mascot no longer slides into a mug of beer following home runs. The episode concludes with a visit from B.S. Report stalwart JackO, who talks the duo’s favorite topic: Red Sox and Yankees.

Comedy Bang Bang #114: Hats Off To Caruso: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Matt Besser
Matt Besser’s Martin Riley could very well become the most short-lived character in Comedy Bang Bang history. The entrepreneur and grandson of the man who wrote “Happy Birthday To You” never finds traction, and he spends seemingly long stretches of the episode quiet. It’s a weird episode altogether: Filmmaker Edgar Wright is always fun, but fellow filmmaker Joe Cornish (director of the new Attack The Block) clearly feels out of place on the show. Awkwardness hangs over the whole thing, and even at a trim 61 minutes, it drags.

Doug Loves Movies: Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, and David Huntsberger
Taking a recess from the Tournament Of Championships action, Doug Benson makes good on his concurrent Professor Blastoff appearance, turning in a relatively quiet, considerably chummy chat with the podcast’s co-hosts. How chummy? The funniest bits come from a brief digression where the host and panelists impersonate one another, highlighted by Benson’s cartoonish, nebbishy take on David Huntsberger.

Hang Up And Listen: The “Did They Choke?” Edition
When a regular host—in this case, Stefan Fatsis—goes on vacation, HUAL generally takes advantage by bringing in guests and panelists with specific areas of expertise. But that approach backfires in this rare off week, especially during a second segment interview with Craig Robinson, the proprietor of the Flip Flop Fly Ball website and new book of the same name. Robinson’s delightfully whimsical infographics on baseball—including, adorably, a book cover with a pie chart on the percentage of baseball books that feature a baseball on the cover—are decidedly not suggestive of the bored and reticent man who curtly mumbles his way through the interview. 

Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, #84: The 2011 Emmy Nominations
Hitfix.com critics Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall debate the merits of every major Emmy nomination, which prompts occasional big-picture discussions such as whether Emmy voters prefer scene-chewing or subtlety, and whether actor nods are the result of individual work or their show. If you’re up for a mid-length chat about the merits of Modern Family’s supporting cast in season 2, check it out. If you want eight minutes on Friday Night Lights, skip to 1:08. 

Nerdist #108: Zachary Levi
If you can get past the many bro-ish tangents in this episode—including a discussion of “cum diapers,” comically engorged testicles, and a lisping, mincing appreciation of Ryan Reynolds—Zachary Levi makes for a fun listen, talking about his show Chuck’s second and third lives, his early attempts at stand-up, and surviving Comic Con. There’s also a lot of plugging for Levi’s new project, Nerd Machine, but hey, the podcast is called Nerdist, what do you expect?

Sound Opinions: Tune-Yards
Like a lot of music critics, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis are over the moon for Whokill, the latest record by the Afro-pop group Tune-Yards. It helps to be a similarly big fan of the group to get into this episode; the performances might win converts, but the uninitiated or uninterested might have trouble following the in-depth discussions of frontwoman Merrill Garbus’ musical upbringing and her use of looping technology.

This American Life #339: Break-Up
This American Life reaches back into its archives this week for “Break-Up,” a 2007 episode that captures the sometimes-ridiculous melodrama that couples experience when splitting up. The centerpiece features writer Starlee Kine, who purposefully wallows in break-up songs, including those of sap-master Phil Collins, whom she ends up interviewing.

Uhh Yeah Dude #280 
Humor often seems less the main creative goal on UYD than a way to grease free-form conversation about unusual news stories, but hosts Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli still make it funny in their meandering-insomniac way. This week they accuse Eddie Murphy of murdering a transsexual prostitute with “his tranny-loving bare hands” and ponder how new studies about the life-changing effects of psilocybin might help them enjoy Boardwalk Empire more.

Who Charted?: “Dresser Shopping With Marc”
Who Charted? is one of those podcasts that hinges almost entirely on the quality of the guest.  Frankly, there are few guests of a higher caliber than podcast pioneer Marc Maron.  That’s why it’s such a shame that this installment isn’t quite the slam dunk it could have been. That could be blamed on the show’s generally light and fun format: Inflicting the top five charting country songs on a guy seems like a bit of a waste of time when he has an amazing rant about having his Graceland comb stolen by a woman who may or may not have been a prostitute. 

WTF With Marc Maron #192: Paul Reiser
My Two Dads and Mad About You star Paul Reiser is one of the biggest, most successful, and most mainstream comedians to drop by the Cat Ranch. He’s also one of the dullest; Reiser stays on message throughout a listenable but undistinguished chat, which only threatens to become compelling at the end when Reiser discusses the massive failure of his eponymous recent program.