Week of June 30-July 6

Week of June 30-July 6

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“You watch all these goddamned kid shows, and it’s all about ‘We’ve got to raise their self esteem!’ No you don’t. Bring it down a goddamned notch… Every time we turn on one of these [kids’ show songs], it’s like, ‘Nobody’s like you/You’re better than everyone/Nobody’s as good as you/You can do anything you want.’ No you can’t.” —Adam Carolla, The Adam Carolla Show

“It’s some kind of false construct. One bad event and the whole thing falls apart. It’s not sustainable. It’s what Atlantis must have felt like.” Tom Scharpling on the city of Portland, The Best Show on WFMU

“The thing that’s really galling about [the show Paranormal Challenge] is the pseudo-science. These oscilloscopes. They make a big thing of how much evidence they’re collecting, ‘This is really good evidence.’ Where are you gonna publish this crap? What are you doing with this? Is there a journal called It’s Slightly Chillier Over Here, Michael? The journal would have to be called Nope, My Bad, Just A Raccoon.” —Glen Weldon, Pop Culture Happy Hour

“I’m not Pauline Kael. I’m not even Pauly Shore.” —Julie Klausner, How Was Your Week

“Early on, [Lightning] McQueen is disgusted to be passed on the highway by a van with a mattress tied to its roof. Okay, by this time we’ve already established that this in a parallel universe with no humans in it, so who the fuck’s going to be sleeping on that mattress, anyway?” —Jeff Alexander on one of the many logistical problems in Pixar’s Cars, Extra Hot Great


THE BEST

The Apple Sisters #6: Independence Day
After we mentioned in our review last week that the format of The Apple Sisters’ podcast was starting to feel a little stale, the trio nicely mixes it up this week. Of course there’s the usual setup at the beginning that introduces Cora, Candy, and Seedy, but this week’s July 4th theme leads to an amusing “radio play” where the sisters re-enact Ben Franklin, John Adams, and “Tom” Jefferson writing the Declaration Of Independence (with a cameo from a randy John Hancock). Only Jefferson is portrayed with profane glee as George Jefferson, Sherman Hemsley’s character from The Jeffersons. They follow that up with a giddy song about the greatness of war to wrap up the strongest episode in weeks.

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons
It’s an intriguing episode when entertainment reporter Chris Connelly makes one of his frequent visits to tussle with Simmons over the concept of the “movie star” in the wake of a column Simmons wrote last week that had the haters out in force. Connelly disagrees with many of the assertions Simmons makes in the column, and while he doesn’t exactly take Simmons to task, he does course-correct a few misnomers from Simmons. Much of the discussion revolves around the career choices made by actors like Will Smith, Tom Cruise, and Charlize Theron, with Connelly asserting that one can learn about stars from the projects they agree to and how those projects are metaphors for the actors’ career and life. There’s also talk about Jennifer Aniston, discussion of potential players for the impending Casey Anthony movie, and plenty of sports references—Simmons calls Sandra Bullock “the Nolan Ryan of rom-coms,” to which Connelly replies that Drew Barrymore is then the Cy Young of rom-coms. 

The Best Show On WFMU
Host Tom Scharpling gives regular caller “Spike” a progressively longer introduction every time he calls. This week the intro goes on for nearly five minutes and gets particularly nightmarish and insulting. That Spike then takes his turn by demurely calling Scharpling “Lovey” is even more disturbing, which perfectly segues into a dark audio montage sent in by a listener of Spike cackles and failures, scored by The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” It also sets the table for the first call-in appearance by Jon Wurster character Philly Boy Roy in months, with the Newbridge legend recalling his traditional 4th of July activities, such as battery skipping and eating helmets full of ice cream. It climaxes with the Zeigler Family Family Water Show (“water” pronounced “wooder”). The entire Ziegler clan (even little Royda) promises to pull up to a street corner and do “synchronized wooder dancin’ to the sounds of Philly’s greatest music.” Roy promises it will be the greatest thing to happen to Philly since Bruno San Martino made Haystacks Calhoun eat his own overalls.

Comedy Bang Bang #111: Hi, How Are You? Harris Wittels, Brett Gelman, David Guy Levy
Comedy Bang Bang dropped a bonus episode at the end of last week co-hosted by David Guy Levy, who paid $2,000 for the privilege during Comedy Bang Bang’s annual holiday fundraiser for the LA Food Bank. Levy also got to pick the guests, inviting comedian and Parks And Recreation writer Harris Wittels, who’s generally ambivalently received by the CBB audience. How ambivalently? Well, 150 listeners voted in a CBB poll that he should never return to the show—which provides a running joke here. Levy also booked a surprise second guest—so secret that Aukerman ostensibly didn’t know who it was—which turns out to be comedian Brett Gelman, whose filthy “iBrain” essay in episode 35 supposedly upset Aukerman. Did it really? Probably not, but the irony is so thick on CBB that it can be hard to tell. Gelman reads another essay and unravels a Machiavellian plot to get his own podcast on Earwolf, but it’s all pretty entertaining.

Culture Gabfest: Real Men Cheat On Their Wives Edition
The quality of individual Culture Gabfest episodes often relies on the quality of the topics under discussion, and by that measure, this week’s episode is stronger than most. First up is a look at a controversial profile of sex columnist and gay activist Dan Savage in which Savage rejects the conventional notions of monogamy being important in stabilizing a marriage. All three Gabfesters are quick to register “not for me” votes on Savage’s endorsement of infidelity and believe there are destabilizing emotional consequences to having a sex life outside a marriage. But they’re equally quick to express admiration for Savage and the intellectual rigor of his argument. The second segment deals with the Twitter-fueled dust-up between Ashton Kutcher and the Village Voice over human trafficking numbers: The Voice asserts that Kutcher and other cause-mongers are inflating the figures outrageously, while Kutcher has attacked the Voice for running sex-for-hire ads that exacerbate the problem. The hosts find both sides deplorable, and have fun cracking wise about a weird advocacy ad featuring Sean Penn ironing a grilled cheese sandwich. Slate’s Michael Agger turns up for the last part, a fascinating overview of 4Chan’s notorious /b/ discussion board. 

Doug Loves Movies: Tom Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, and Samm Levine
As members of The State, co-creators of Viva Variety and Reno 911!, and screenwriters of critic-proof blockbusters like Night At The Museum and The Pacifier, Robert Ben Garant and Tom Lennon always bring hard-won filmmaking knowledge and winning anecdotes to Doug Loves Movies. They’ve channeled both into the very funny book Writing Movies For Fun And Profit, whose press tour makes a stop at this in-studio installment of DLM. In line with the book’s tongue-in-cheek shamelessness, the plugs here are transparent but easy to swallow, dispersed as they are between praise for the Gisele Bündchen-Jennifer Esposito frisking scene in Taxi (which the pair is glad to report was shot exactly as they wrote it), digs at screenwriting guru Robert McKee, and the revelation that Leonard Maltin loves Viva Variety—but apparently hated Reno 911!: Miami. As evidenced by Samm “Li’l Wolverine” Levine’s failed crack at the expense of the Lennon-featuring A Guy Thing, Lennon and Garant may have a sense of humor about their film work, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously as well.

Extra Hot Great #38: You Are Not A Crackpot!
For this special episode, the EHG crew invited listeners and special guests (and themselves) to submit entries for their “I Am Not A Crackpot” segment. The result is one of the strongest episodes to date—a smart, funny, and often righteous compendium of pop-culture rants ranging from Jeff Alexander’s questions about the logical inconsistencies (and plain weirdness) of Pixar’s Cars, stirring defenses of the animated bomb Titan AE and the practice of the non-hearing-impaired using closed captioning on their televisions, and a plea to TiVo to change their flawed user ratings system on TV shows. Of the hosts, Joe Reid argues convincingly that people should limit themselves to only one show on the USA Network (his choice: White Collar) and Tara Ariano opines that Jon Stewart is the least funny performer on The Daily Show. The more obscure the rant, the better: TV shows, please put liquid in those coffee cups. It’s distracting to watch characters whip empty coffee cups around. Cougar Town, Extra Hot Great is looking at you. 

Hang Up And Listen: The War Between Fear And Exhaustion Edition
Reporting from Germany, where he and his daughter are following the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament, Stefan Fatsis is cheered by making a sports fan out of his child, but deflated by the lack the enthusiasm the event seems to be inspiring. (Only a few American journalists have made the trip overseas, compared to the throngs that covered the FIFA World Cup last year in South Africa.) But the heart of this week’s episode is a wide-ranging interview with Bill James, the legendary baseball “sabermatrician” whose work on statistical analysis has profoundly transformed the game. It turns out that James’ passions extend beyond baseball: His new book, Popular Crimes, turns his obsession with true-crime stories into a sweeping analysis of how those stories figure into the American landscape. James relays a couple of those tales, including one about Mary Rogers, whose mysterious death in the 19th century was used, deceptively, to force New York lawmakers to enact a ban on abortion in the state. 

How Was Your Week? #17: “Cat Bride”: Michael Rapaport, Larry Murphy
Julie Klausner shifts gears a little bit this week, interviewing subjects who should appeal to animation/comedy nerds and hip-hop enthusiasts. She chats with Bob’s Burgers and Home Movies voice actor Larry Murphy about his terrifying experience dog-sitting for Brendon Small’s Weimaraner (the same dog in this now-famous photo). Jon Benjamin’s gets dropped, as does a Game Of Thrones spoiler that doesn’t really sound like a spoiler. Then, Klausner speaks with Michael Rapaport about his acting career and his new documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest, trying out the comparison of Q-Tip as the groups’ Mick Jagger and Phife as the Keith Richards.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #15: Jimmy Dore
The Mental Illness Happy Hour thrives on intimacy. To help engender that sense of candor and directness, Paul Gilmartin has had many of his friends on the show to discuss their experiences with mental illness and depression. Gilmartin’s friendship with Comedy And Everything Else host Jimmy Dore goes back to their days in Chicago’s working-class South Side. Gilmartin and Dore discuss the relationship between spirituality and depression—a common theme on Mental Illness Happy Hour—and Dore’s persistent unhappiness despite his professional and personal success. The most charged exchange of the podcast concerns Gilmartin’s pointed questions on the connection between Dore’s experiences with depression and anxiety and his reputation as a fairly high-profile stoner. The clean and sober Gilmartin comes off as concerned and engaged rather than judgmental or self-righteous, and the chemistry between these two helps make this a fascinating and at times charged exploration of the relationship between depression and mental illness. 

The Moth: Charlene Strong: It Wasn’t Enough
This week’s Moth gets the “do not listen to in public unless you’re okay with strangers watching you cry” disclaimer. This one’s a heart-wrencher, and while the episode’s one-sentence iTunes summary—“Tragedy causes a woman to reevaluate her life”—is factually accurate, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the story, which is the sweetly depicted romance between storyteller Charlene Strong and her partner of 10 years. The tragedy at the story’s center wouldn’t be the crushing blow it is without Strong’s tender, frank recollections, nor would the story’s conclusion, focusing on her subsequent advocacy for domestic-partnership rights, have the same human impact. While the pain is brutally evident in Strong’s voice, particularly toward the end, she powers through with the poise of an experienced activist who has told this story many times on her mission to honor her lover’s memory. 

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Pixar, The Fourth Of July, And A World Of Chocolate
This week’s PCHH is one of the best to date, for no reason except an extra-high level of giddiness and hilarity. The opening conversation about Cars 2 is particularly smart: Host Linda Holmes and A.V. Club founder Stephen Thompson praise it tepidly, but leave plenty of room for a discussion of Pixar’s themes, fawning Pixar media coverage, and Pixar-related expectations. (Holmes: “When you hold something to a higher standard, it doesn’t mean that if they don’t meet it, then you hate them… The fact that you can look at them and say, ‘Yes, if I were ranking them from 1 to whatever, this would be near the bottom,’ so what? Something’s always going to be near the bottom.”) Then a round of Regrettable Television Pop Quiz leads Glen Weldon on a rant about why Paranormal Challenge on the Travel Channel (“the challenge being that nothing paranormal happens”) is essentially a pretentious adult version of a kids’ slumber party where the kids try to freak each other out by chanting “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary” and staring into a mirror. The discussion on “What July Fourth Means To Me” is brief—they acknowledge that it’s mostly about ’splodey films and food, and Trey Graham sums it up by concluding “the founding holiday of our democracy is best experienced from among the plutocracy,” i.e. on a yacht or a high balcony somewhere. The weekly What’s Making Us Happy round is also particularly one-linery, as the group discusses why Dippin’ Dots are no longer billed as “the ice cream of the future”—which clearly means they’re now “the ice cream of now”—and why the silos at Hershey Park, Pennsylvania are now filled with spent nuclear fuel. Basically, this week’s podcast is 47 minutes of thoroughly enjoyable randomness, and proof that inherently funny people can be funny about nearly anything. (Thompson: “You win this round, literacy!”)

Sklarbro Country #49: The Sprint Panda: Brian Unger, Ugly Duckling
Musical guests have been an intermittent but very welcome part of Sklarbro Country, but they seldom play as big a role in the podcast as Ugly Duckling does on the podcast it shares with Brian Unger, formerly of The Daily Show and currently the host of the History Channel’s How The States Got Their Shapes. The podcast begins with the Long Beach throwback group performing a Sklar-themed freestyle that’s half-awesome, half-embarrassing, though nowhere near as embarrassing as a podcast-ending freestyle cipher with the brothers Sklar jumping into the fray. The amiable chaps in Ugly Duckling chip in with some acerbic observations, as does Brian Unger, who discusses the early days of The Daily Show and how he left after being promised the anchor chair following Craig Kilborn’s departure, only to have Jon Stewart slip into the plum position. The closing Tiger Woods bit with Chris Cox as the eternally cautious Woods is a bit of a disappointment, but it’d be selfish to demand wall-to-wall laughs from a show with killer jokes like the Sklars’ riff on how Charlie Sheen—who falls into the brothers’ purview due to his recent admission that he used real steroids to make pretend he was a baseball player in Major League—is now like MySpace: They seemed interesting and novel at first until it became apparent they’re just “a bunch of whores tying to sell you stuff.”

Superego: Episode 3.5
The opening case study features Superego lynchpin Paul F. Tompkins doing his best to lead the Lavergne family in saying grace before dinner. Try as the family might, they just can’t seem to get to enjoying a hot meal because they’re too busy praying for things like a new CSI franchise. Although the sketch showcases PFT’s undeniable improv skills, there are few things more charming than hearing him break character and unsuccessfully stifle a laugh at one of his own jokes. The following case studies are also solid, especially the one featuring radio host Guillermo Lee, who dispenses rather caustic advice on questions about etiquette. This sketch features a stellar cameo by John Hodgman, playing a caller who’s trying to reconcile his severe disdain for all forms of genital mutilation with his required attendance at a bris. When Hodgman asks if it’s acceptable to reattach the foreskin to the baby, the host responds by singing the praises of “a double foreskin” before punctuating that sentiment with the wildly quotable soundbite “two-ply for the one-eye.” The cast is rounded out by some repeat appearances by Julie Klausner and Andy Daly in addition to the typically reliable performances by Matt Gourley, Mark McConville, and the rest of the Superego crew.

WTF With Marc Maron #188: Christopher Titus
As a stand-up, Christopher Titus has a reputation for candor, intensity, and emotional honesty to rival Marc Maron’s. So it’s a little surprising to hear Titus talk sheepishly about his early days as a more mainstream comedian performing an act he didn’t really believe in, even if the subject matter he addressed was largely the same as the act that would make him semi-famous. Titus eventually found himself onstage, but it was a long, involved process. Titus is equally engaging discussing his semi-autobiographical sitcom Titus and how he fucked up his television career by refusing to compromise and rejecting the casting of Faye Dunaway as his mother on the show just because she was completely insane and didn’t grasp the tone or the premise of the sitcom. Not surprisingly, this podcast is intense and intensely interesting.

WTF With Marc Maron #189: Nick Thune
In the secular world of comedy, it takes more courage to talk earnestly about your relationship with Christ than it does to riff profanely on sex or drugs. That’s expected; righteousness is a very strange quality for a professional humorist to possess. So Nick Thune deserves a lot of credit for having the courage to speak openly and honestly about his Christianity in a realm where religion is often viewed with suspicion if not outright contempt. Marc Maron takes Thune’s religion seriously, especially within the context of Thune’s teenage descent into drug addiction and faith-based recovery, even if he can’t quite resist the urge to ask his simultaneously stiff and candid guest if he ever finger-banged any girls at the Christian camp where he was a counselor and a camper. As is often the case on this show, Maron and Thune have a complicated history together. Maron can’t help but laugh when Thune reminds him of some of the more hurtful things he’s said about him and his guitar, but it’s the religious component rather than the tension between the needling host and candid-but-career-conscious guest that makes this one of the most unexpected and fascinating WTF pods in recent memory.


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
The week in Ace, in order of descending interest: Documentarian Ken Burns is the no-bullshit, full-length interview for the month, talking about The Tenth Inning, the update of his landmark baseball documentary. He and Carolla also chat about critics, steroids, and Burns’ upcoming subjects slated for the next decade (including the Vietnam War and Prohibition). After Carolla and crew discuss the Casey Anthony verdict, Ace stays on point during a conversation with ESPN alum Rich Eisen, discussing the NFL Network, Eisen’s pop-culture podcast, and assorted football topics, including the looming lockout and a lengthy meditation on Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Musical satirist Tim Minchin discusses his genre, which leads to Ace revealing his favorite musicals. (In the Minchin episode, Ace reminds listeners why they’re tuned into a podcast by reading a memo he stole during a recent radio appearance, which reveals the Top 5 Things That Make a Morning Show Compelling and Ratings-Friendly.) Comedian Tom Papa recounts his journey to the comedy stage and dishes on being buds with Jerry Seinfeld; the day’s news conversation includes Ace’s thoughts on Mark Halperin’s “Obama was a dick” statement and the culture of apology. Adam And You is a holiday-week filler episode of listener calls about timely subjects like a flat income tax and the Batman-themed “Jingle Bells” song parody.

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons
There’s reason for optimism when NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi visits with Simmons this week: It seems the NFL lockout is close to being resolved and the topic of football is the predominant subject for the first time in months. Besides assessing what teams will be able to take advantage of a shortened training camp, the pair also discusses the league’s QBs and focuses on what will probably be a hectic free-agency period as soon as the lockout is resolved. 

Firewall & Iceberg #82: Torchwood: Miracle Day, Curb Your Enthusiasm & More
Hitfix.com critics Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall go long this week, breaking down buzz shows that are returning or wrapping. Fienberg finds Starz’s ambitious sci-fi series Torchwood: Miracle Day “intriguing but clumsy.” They’re profoundly ambivalent about the second season of HBO’s Treme, but Sepinwall says HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm remains “terrific.” And listener mail inspires debates about Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s big bads and whether floundering movie actors can become TV stars. It’s worth checking out if you’re curious about Torchwood, or if you know what it means to miss New Orleans—or Sunnydale.

Judge John Hodgman #31: Garbage Man And Wife
In this week’s judicial journey into the infinitesimal, a married couple asks Judge John Hodgman to decide whether the wife should have to replace the garbage bag after the husband takes the trash out. There’s a lot of arguing to be done here about how “garbage grossness” may or may not be transferred, but perhaps not enough transcendent nerdiness to make it entertaining for 37 minutes.

The Nerdist #193: Rove McManus/Axis Of Awesome
At the end of this live episode, an audience member jokingly asks the panel, “What did we learn today?” That sets the seven assembled comedians off on a series of riffs, but the correct answer is, “Not much… maybe some stuff about Australia.” Hardwick and Co.’s chat with Aussie comedian/TV host Rove McManus is a lot of fun—McManus has the conversational fortitude to mostly subdue the digressions of Chris, Jonah, and Matt—but focuses more on mundane revelations about life down under than his career or personality, which, considering this is probably most listeners’ first exposure to him, is too bad. Musical-comedy trio Axis Of Awesome closes things out with a couple of songs and some well-rehearsed banter.

Never Not Funny #905: Rebecca Corry
Like last week, episode 905 can be summarized with a quote from producer Matt Belknap: “I’m submitting this episode for some kind of award. Probably to the Southern area of the country.” This comes after a series of faux-racist slams against intern Dan Katz, which cap off a running bit on Jimmy Pardo in the role of Pontius Pilate. But guest Rebecca Corry draws the most attention: At 4-foot-11, Corry is an inch taller than the defined height of a little person, and the years of verbal slurs and awkward romances have left her bitter. It’s a conflicting listen, as Corry’s bitterness is justified, but misdirected into disgust of little people; it’s hard to sympathize with someone who refers to them as “midgets, because that’s what they are, and if they don’t like it, they can suck it.” Her story on a volunteer trip to Ghana, which she opens with “getting off that plane was like walking into someone’s asshole,” does little to help her cause. Yes, this is a comedy podcast, some of it is funny, and listeners should know by now to forgo any moral reservations; but with an ever-growing number of comedy podcasts, Never Not Funny can’t afford to become lowbrow, even as one of the field’s pioneers.

Sound Opinions: The Best Of 2011 (So Far)
Best of the year (so far) music lists have been popping up everywhere in the last few weeks, but at least Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis aren’t totally predictable in their choices. Along with name-checking strong critical favorites like Fucked Up’s David Comes To Life and Tune-Yards’ Whokill, Kot and DeRogatis rep some less-heralded favorites like Anna Calvi’s self-titled record and Le Butcherettes’ Sin Sin Sin. Even if the critics end up talking about some of these records again in six months, there’s nothing wrong with spending an hour listening to some of the best music of the half-year. 

The Sound Of Young America: Michael Rapaport
Jesse Thorn flexes his hip-hop aficionado muscles while talking to actor/director Michael Rapaport about his A Tribe Called Quest documentary. They discuss what the group meant to Rapaport as a youngster growing up in New York, the mainstreaming of hip-hop, and the pain of watching your favorite group fight in front of you (and then piecing it together for a story). Also on TSOYA this week: standup comedy from Prescott Tolk from the show’s stop in Chicago.

This American Life #218: Act V
Originally aired in 2002, this episode is This American Life at its finest. It takes what could have been an ordinary, feel-good story—a bunch of inmates performing Hamlet—and cuts it open, looking at how the prisoners’ crimes allow them to see Hamlet differently than we do and asking difficult questions about reform and regret. Jack Hitt’s reporting pulls honest analysis from his subjects, which is particularly affecting when paired with the prisoners’ performance.

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