Week of June 9-15

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I was reminded of Linda’s metric of how hot it has to be outside before you would go to see a movie just for the air conditioning. And with Mr. Popper’s Penguins, I was trying to compute at what temperature your innards would boil, ’cause it would be 2 degrees lower.” —A.V. Club founder Stephen Thompson, Pop Culture Happy Hour

Julie from Cincinnati: “There’s this thing called a ‘Chocolate Break.’ It’s Kool-Aid and brownies and a candy bar kind of mushed-up. I wrote the recipe down if you want it.” 
Tom Scharpling: “I think you just told me the recipe. It sounds like the kind of thing you can make in your car outside a convenience store.”
Julie from Cincinnati: “It’s a syrup. Kind of like a danish.”
Tom: “What are you, David Chang?” —Tom Scharpling and Julie from Cincinnati, The Best Show On WFMU

 “I think humans have a sacrificial impulse that is far more intense than we realize. It’s always about throwing them in the volcano. It’s always ‘Let’s gather, let’s chant, let’s sit, let’s watch, let’s stare, let’s tear their hearts out, throw them down the steps.’” —Dr. Drew on The Adam Carolla Show, on the fascination with homicidal mothers

“Tracy Morgan has said things in the past that were misogynistic. He’s said things that were dumb as hell… Tracy Morgan has always had a reputation for saying things that were stupid and vaguely offensive, so if he sort of shifted from stupid and vaguely offensive to stupid and 100 percent offensive and dangerous, that is a frog-and-scorpion thing… At a certain point, Tracy Morgan being Tracy Morgan becomes offensive.” —Dan Fienberg, Firewall & Iceberg

“If nothing else, [The Shins] have completely revolutionized the way bands pose in photos.” —Linus from South South Newbridge, Best Show Gems

THE BEST

The Best Show On WFMU
For Best Show listeners who enjoy the radio-call-in aspect of the podcast, it can be frustrating to listen for three hours each week only to have the premise wasted on the most walleyed cretins available. It’s a risky concept, even if host Tom Scharpling will deconstruct and terrify the failures to comedic affect. But this week, despite the lack of a celebrity guest (call-in or otherwise), Scharpling hits a lucky streak with callers early on, giddily riffing off of the Great LeBron Failure, F is for Fake, and a rankings list of charming celebrities. Regular listeners may be most charmed by the return of Julie from Cincinnati, a longtime Quality Caller (Scharpling’s designation for fans he actually has patience for) who makes her first real call since she was sentenced to a brief stint in prison. While she shies away from discussing the reasons behind her imprisonment, her rapport with Scharpling leads to a disturbing and hilarious list of recipes Julie accumulated in prison. Apparently everything is made of mashed-up junk foods that have nothing in common, such as the “Dope Fiend Sandwich.”

Best Show Gems: A Call From Linus, A Blogger From South South Newbridge
Whether he’s taking aim at podcasts, Pitchfork, or, as in this Gem, The Bloggy Awards, Tom Scharpling always acquits himself well in curmudgeon mode. This episode gets a long windup, but eventually Linus the blogger from South South Newbridge outs himself as a James Frey-like fraud. Worse still, he hides his personal life behind a smokescreen of lies, but doesn’t think twice about revealing secrets about friends and family. Best Show likes to bundle its targets together, so Linus also doubles as a disturbingly prolific message-board poster whose post count has already “rolled over” twice. It’s a surprisingly brisk episode for all the setup, and like the best Scharpling & Wurster bits, it ends with a none-too-subtle threat on Tom’s life. “Get ready for the white belt...”

Comedy Bang Bang #108: Pussy CPR: Rob Corddry, Erinn Hayes, James Adomian
Rob Corddry and Erinn Hayes are on hand to promote Childrens Hospital, but episode 108 is really about embattled American Apparel founder Dov Charney, whom James Adomian (Jesse Ventura, Huell Howser, Paul Giamatti) plays with blunt, over-the-top sleaziness. The more aggressive the character, the better it suits Adomian, and Charvey’s rape-y hyper-sexuality perfectly suits his improvisational skills, like his ridiculous-yet-believable names for American Apparel clothes (Slim Slack Half Sock, Plastic Back Thongs, Cotton Summer Sorry, Popcorn Dick Casket—well, not that last one). Corddry and Hayes are game, and their back-and-forth with Adomian and Scott Aukerman is funny. The unkillable Jukebox Jury returns and, against all odds, plays an entire song by one of the bands. (Congrats, The Most Best.) 

Culture Gabfest: “I’m Doing The World A Favor” Edition
An endearing quirk of Culture Gabfest is that it’s at once the most sophisticated and high-minded pop-culture podcast and one of the most gleefully profane. This week, the show earns its “explicit” label with discussions over the adults-only children’s book phenomenon Go The F**k To Sleep, which inspires some illuminating thoughts about Gen-X parenthood, and a throwdown over the latest volley in the battle over urban bike lanes. An obnoxious viral video made by a cyclist ticketed for riding outside a bike lane brings an amusingly apoplectic response from Stephen Metcalf, whose recent encounter with an errant cyclist led him to mutter, “Move to fucking Denmark and claim a little bit more of the road, you fucking twerp.” That said, all three hosts are sympathetic to the idea of accommodating bicycles, just so long as their riders play by the rules. In the endorsements, Julia Turner would like you to know that Bill Carter’s book The War For Late Night is “a fucking page turner.” 

Firewall & Iceberg: #78: Falling Skies, Tracy Morgan & more
Hitfix.com critics Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall consider the moral complications of enjoying certain TV actors and shows when they take viewer mail about Tracy Morgan. (His batshit rants, they say, are only news if you haven’t been paying attention). They also discuss onscreen statutory romance in genre shows, when fictional teenagers date guys who are 50 years old or, if they’re vampires, 400. One of the new shows discussed, ABC Family’s The Nine Lives of Chloe King, is based on the young-adult novels about a girl who wakes up with catlike properties and powers, and they like it better than MTV’s Teen Wolf. Comedy Central’s Jon Benjamin Has A Van is either a sketch show or a parody of investigative news programs—even the pros can’t tell. But the must-see summer TV is TNT’s Falling Skies, a strong, “Spielbergian” alien-invasion drama and revolutionary war parable starring a bearded Noah Wyle as a history teacher turned resistance leader. And compared to last week, the Twin Peaks re-watch is more analysis than recap. Expect two Firewall & Icebergs next week, to accommodate imminent finales. 

Hang Up And Listen: The Couldn’t Stand The Heat Edition
Josh Levin, Stefan Fatsis, and Mike Pesca spend the first two segments doing a post-mortem on the Dallas Mavericks’ stunning NBA Championship victory over the Miami Heat and the ongoing (at the time, now finished) Stanley Cup matchup between the Boston Bruins and the villainous Vancouver Canucks. But the juiciest discussion is reserved for the launch of Grantland, the ambitious new sports and culture website headed by popular ESPN columnist and B.S. Report host Bill Simmons. The consensus: The murderer’s row of big-name authors—Chuck Klosterman, Dave Eggers, and Malcolm Gladwell among them—and the site’s commitment to long-form essays show promise, but too many of the early articles revealed a weakness for indulgent first-person that has long plagued Simmons’ work. Fatsis’ withering contempt for Simmons seems to color his opinion more darkly than the others’, but all are heartened by great pieces like Charles P. Pierce’s article on The National and Klosterman’s reconstruction of the greatest basketball game he ever saw—at least after all the unnecessary throat-clearing is out of the way.  

How Was Your Week #14: Our Congressman In His Underpants
Julie Klausner’s podcast this week is a charming look back to a time when we all figured this silly Anthony Weiner scandal was a nonstarter and would go away any day now. In it, she speaks with comedian Eugene Mirman about his own fairly moderate political beliefs, his Russian parents, his now-infamous open letter to Time Warner, and what it’s like to bomb and watch your friends do likewise onstage. Perhaps more guiltily pleasurable, though, is her chat with Best Week Ever’s Michelle Collins about the best and worst renditions of the National Anthem as sung by celebrities, i.e. who loves America (Whitney Houston, Kelly Clarkson) and who hates it (Demi Lovato). You may get goosebumps and/or vomit. HWYW also includes a special minisode (which is actually “regular-sized” for most podcasts) on the Tonys that includes a chat with New York Magazine theater critic Scott Brown on the awards show that Klausner considers “my Superbowl.” Klausner herself recommends that if you’re not into the Tonys, you may like this week’s WTF instead.

Judge John Hodgman #28 The Battle Of The Baton 
Surely the Judge John Hodgman podcast was founded in hope that one day, a couple would come forward to resolve a heated dispute over something as atrociously dorky as air-conducting. Hodgman is as in his element as he’s ever been, interrogating husband Jake and his wife Erica, a classical-music expert, on Jake’s habit of “conducting” whenever classical music comes on. “This is a dumb, hipster-y thing to do, like rock-paper-scissors at a bar, to avoid developing an actual skill,” an unsympathetic Hodgman tells Jake. Erica contends that her husband needs to at least air-conduct like he knows what he’s doing, not just break out in floppy-wristed reverie. Erica also catches some heat for her last name, Shirts: “Your name sounds like it was made up by a 5-year-old coming up with a name for an imaginary friend while looking at a closet.”

Mental Illness Happy Hour #12: Jen Kirkman
Podcast denizens will know comedian and writer Jen Kirkman as a woman who unleashes her good pal Paul F. Tompkins’ glorious laugh more often than just about anyone else in the world on the Pod F. Tompkast. Kirkman engenders a different, more uncomfortable kind of laughter when she visits Paul Gilmartin to discuss her history with panic disorder, her personal experience of 9/11, and her parents’ sweetly misguided attempts to show they care. As is often the case on Mental Illness Happy Hour, the conversation sometimes veers into gallows humor and eviscerating observation, but the sometimes bracingly grim subject matter invariably feels cathartic, real, and appropriate, especially during another session where Gilmartin and his guest rattle off a rapid-fire list of their worst fears. Mental Illness Happy Hour is still finding its voice, but Gilmartin’s willingness, even eagerness, to take big risks lends the show a refreshing air of unpredictability. 

Never Not Funny #902: Al Madrigal
Jimmy Pardo is under the weather during #902, suffering from the third iteration of the cold he and his wife continue to recycle. This forces him to use quick, focused bursts of dialogue, resigning most of the nearly two hours to lengthy stories from comedian and Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal. Fortunately, Madrigal is up to the task. Though his voice dips into a sleepy, sometimes-mumbly cadence, it’s hard not to hang on his every word as he details the consequences of satirizing Latino culture as a half-Mexican comedian who doesn’t particularly look the part, or taking well-argued digs at celebrity comedians whose success has obscured their ability to be polite, normal human beings. Madrigal’s genial and modest nature grounds his stories, which could otherwise come off as bitter. Plus, most of his targets (Andrew Dice Clay, Jay Leno) have it coming.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: X-Men, Dark Fiction, And Trailer Madness
With all four Pop Culture Happy Hour regulars back from vacation, this week’s show is an enthusiastic, high-energy reunion, and an appropriately great installment. It launches with a review of X-Men: First Class (Glen Weldon says he’d gladly watch a four-film spin-off series called Hot Magneto, Nazi Hunter), then veers into an exasperated rundown of upcoming cinema, as illustrated by the terrible trailers that played before the film, from Real Steel to Transformers: Dark Of The Moon to Mr. Popper’s Penguins. It’s awfully cheap and facile to dismiss a film based on a three-minute trailer, but the group gets some convincing mileage both out of their malicious riffing and out of thoughts on what actually makes a good trailer. In the remaining segments, Linda Holmes has the other podcasters play a game where they try to identify elimination reality shows by their kiss-off catchphrases; a Wall Street Journal article asking whether young-adult fiction has become too dark provides a launching point for an intelligent, insightful discussion; and the weekly What’s Making Us Happy segment gives flattering props to Josh Modell’s Clem Snide/Journey covers project and to The A.V. Club’s Dan Harmon interviews. Thanks, guys, we love you too.

RadioLab: Talking To Machines  
“Talking To Machines,” the first episode of RadioLab’s 10th season, just might be one of the best episodes the show’s ever done, particularly in the online version (which runs six minutes longer than what was on the radio). Fascinatingly, the episode focuses less on actually making machines intelligent enough to talk to humans and more on the ways humans ascribe intelligence to machines that are solely programmed to mimic certain aspects of intelligence. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich talk to experts in the field of artificial intelligence, but also track down a simple program named Eliza, meant to mimic a therapist. In just 100 lines of code, Eliza simply repeats what you say back to you as a question, but she’s often inspired those chatting with her to go on lengthy discussions of just what’s wrong with their lives. Same with online denizen Cleverbot, which takes the things people say to it and gradually learns where to insert them in conversation, even if it has no idea what they mean. Jad and Robert similarly discover just how the programmer of the Furby invented a way to make it seem “alive” (and the ways in which its seeming intelligence helped one woman's grandmother, an Alzheimer’s patient, cope with the last days of her life), then take a trip to visit what’s widely thought of as the world’s best conversationalist robot, even if she has trouble figuring out British accents and seems to believe she had a brother who went nuts after being sent to fight in Vietnam. Jad and Robert conclude the hour wondering if the drive to create true artificial intelligence is ultimately unstoppable, simply because humanity needs someone to talk to.

Sklarbro Country #46: Stephen Tobolowsky, Chip Pope
Talking is the Sklar Brothers’ super-power. They are champion gabbers whose wit is so quick and devastating that it can be exhausting just keeping up with them. So it takes a very special guest to quiet Jason and Randy Sklar for the better part of 90 minutes. Bon vivant, master storyteller, podcast favorite, and ubiquitous character actor Stephen Tobolowsky is just such an individual. Tobolowsky, who worked with the brothers on Wild Hogs, unleashes a series of very involved narratives that are tangentially related to sports and indie rock at best and both demand and reward close attention. Podcasts are normally ideal listenting for when you’re doing something else, but this podcast requires more attention than most. The brothers defer to their guest as he tells spooky stories involving the thin line separating the living and the dead and recalls turning down the opportunity to be one of the centerpieces of U2’s Rattle & Hum. Then Chip Pope pops by as ’80s never-was R.O. Mance to pimp his new sideline gig writing stadium jams. This is a Sklarbro Country unlike any other; that’s not at all a bad thing. 

The Sound of Young America: Rudolph Herzog
Jesse Thorn interviews director Rudolph Herzog (son of recent interviewee Werner) about his new documentary Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany, which examines the unlikely topic of how Germans (both bad guys and good guys) used humor during Hitler’s rule, seemingly an especially unfunny time. It’s a little odd to imagine Nazis, who never came across as an especially hilarious bunch, cracking jokes. (No surprise, anti-Semitism factors in at times.) The period jokes told by Jews are predictably deadpan, funny, and slightly heartbreaking. This interview will be an interesting companion piece for anyone who’s read or plans on reading Erik Larson’s bestseller In The Garden Of Beasts.

WTF With Marc Maron #183: Amy Poehler 
Consummate trouper and Parks & Recreation star Amy Poehler sashays into the Cat Ranch in a fancy hat, jazz hands flying and hoofing up a storm for a delightful conversation with Marc Maron. Maron affectionately posits Poehler early in the conversation as one of the few relatively well-adjusted, functional people in comedy. Thankfully, sane does not translate into boring. Many of the funniest and most unexpectedly touching moments of the interview hearken back to Maron’s curious, generally condescending relationship with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade back in the day, when they were the scrappy new kids on the block and Maron was the established crank who didn’t quite get what they were doing. When Poehler talks wistfully of a magical night in the mid-’90s when the UCB got the entire audience high and a writer named Cynthia True semi-infamously strutted down the street naked as a highly exhibitionist means of paying her rent for the month, it’s easy to get a little choked up with nostalgia for a long-gone but much-missed comedy era. Poehler and Maron have great chemistry; it’s especially refreshing hearing her call him on his sometimes condescending attitude toward funny women. Hopefully, Poehler and her funny hats will pay a repeat visit to the garage sometime soon.  


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
This week’s Ace show is sprinkled with some interesting big-picture musing about media and free speech. Dr. Drew returns for a Loveline reunion. But the nugget here is Carolla’s insightful rant about talk-show producers. S#*% My Dad Says/Mad TV co-star Nicole Sullivan is a footnote in the episode: Adam was on The Talk and didn’t like it, but the keeper is a good monologue about why gay men assume everybody should be into the stuff they like—change “gay guys” to “everybody,” and he’d have a great point. The crew also discuss Christopher Titus’ recent Carolla Show comment that if Sarah Palin were elected president, he’d set up on a grassy knoll, the ensuing semi-controversy, and his apology—which sets up a well-reasoned argument about taking comedians’ comments in context. Former Loveline co-host and Californication/NUMB3RS actress Diane Farr recalls the old days. Stefanie Wilder Taylor, author and co-host of Ace Broadcasting’s marriage-parenting podcast The Parenting Experiment, goes behind the scenes into Ace’s marriage (deeper than the daily dose). And Adam gives his testimony about being born again as a Clean, Organized Person. Lance Henriksen, the actor best known as the android Bishop from the Alien movies, has the most on-topic guest appearance ever. The details aren’t deep, but he teases his autobiography, Not Bad For A Human.

The Apple Sisters #3: Operation
Although it’s titled “Operation,” episode three of The Apple Sisters is (loosely) centered on operators, i.e. the nice ladies who used to connect your phone calls back in the olden days. (Seedy: “I would just like to say a very special hello to the Big Operator in the sky: my boyfriend, God. You can cross my lines any day, God.” Cora: “I don’t know how you could cross your lines with someone that doesn’t exist.”) There’s also a gross, funny bit with Apple Sisters regular Ptolemy Slocum as show sponsor Tippity Tappity The Tapeworm, a tap-dancing tapeworm that can help ladies stay slim. 

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons
After taking a 12-day break, presumably due to the launch of Grantland, Simmons returns with a pair of podcasts that break down the Dallas Mavericks’ NBA Finals victory over the Miami Heat. First up is Miami Herald columnist/radio host Dan Le Batard, who helps dissect exactly what went wrong with the Miami Experiment, specifically LeBron James’ peculiar flameout. With the Heat loss now in the rearview mirror and the vitriol toward him fading, the tone almost turns sympathetic. Almost. Le Batard always provides spirited discussion for Simmons, and fans of Simmons’ NBA coverage will dig this episode more than others. The NBA is also at the forefront of the week’s other episode, which features TNT analyst and former coach Mike Fratello. The first 15 minutes are mainly a rehash of the Finals that Simmons already discussed with Le Batard, but the remainder of the episode is much more entertaining and informative as the pair delve into Fratello’s time as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Memphis Grizzlies, and his perspective on what’s next for LeBron.

Doug Loves Movies: Round 2 Of The Tournament Of Championships! Scott Aukerman, Kate Micucci, And Sean Jordan 
In the lead up to a high-stakes (but still relatively low-stakes) edition of the Leonard Maltin Game, most of the humor exists in the margins, particularly the silly, rapid-fire asides from Scott Aukerman and Sean Jordan. (“I’m named after a boot,” says an audience member named Justin. “Oh, hello Dr. Marten,” replies Aukerman.) The game itself is anticlimactic, as a three-way tie is stealthily broken by Aukerman in the show’s final minutes. With Paul F. Tompkins taking round one, at least that guarantees a final round full of quick wit and faux exasperation.  

Extra Hot Great #35: Pieces Of Lens Flare
Mark Graham joins the gang for a discussion of Super 8 and submits a Twin Peaks episode (David Lynch’s “Zen, Or The Skill To Catch A Killer”) for Canon consideration, but the most entertaining segment is on The Unhateables, those actors (like Super 8’s Kyle Chandler) who inspire so much goodwill that they can survive any dire project that comes their way. 

The Moth: Bill Burr: A Doll’s House
Comedian Bill Burr makes for an odd Moth guest: His profanity-laden, cynical style of humor clashes somewhat with the sincerity that usually typifies the series. As a result, his story about taking a girlfriend to meet his distant, difficult father comes off exceedingly bitter and occasionally difficult to listen to—Burr verges on tears at one point—and ends with a bit of a whimper, trailing off with a halfhearted “…and that’s my story.”

The Nerdist #97: Zooey Deschanel
The Nerdist continues its recent run of female guests with Manic Pixie Dream Girl extraordinaire Zooey Deschanel, who quickly settles into a comfortable, mildly flirtatious rapport with Chris Hardwick and Co. The topics covered—record collections, gluten-free diets, going to high school in L.A., the musical genius of M. Ward—are pretty much what you’d expect of a conversation with Deschanel, and the hosts eat it up with the sycophantic fervor of nerds in the presence of a pretty, much cooler girl. (But props to Jonah for calling Deschanel on her weird comment about wanting to get into improv, but feeling that as a professional actor, she shouldn’t have to start at the beginner level; though using Jerry O’Connell as an example of someone who’s willing to go through the improv trenches backfires somewhat.) 

Sound Opinions: Happy Father’s Day
Doing a show devoted to positive songs about fathers is a lot harder than it might seem, but Greg and Jim are up to the task, coming up with an entertaining playlist covering the obvious (Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter”) and obscure (the delightfully dumb “Father’s Name Was Dad” by British psych-rockers Fire). The listeners come up with some good choices as well, including Lou Reed’s weirdly jazzy “Beginning Of A Great Adventure.”

This American Life #411: First Contact
First aired in June 2010, this week’s episode of This American Life pulls together several excellent stories with considerable range. Hung loosely around the theme of first-time contact, each segment is worth a listen—Ira talks to a deaf man who was able to hear for a brief time as a kid thanks to a cochlear implant, Mike Birbiglia tells the hilarious story of his first kiss, and Sara Blaisdell details her husband’s long-distance relationship with an Iraqi family. The only act to skip might be the last, an airy look at the sometimes-stupid messages people try to send to aliens.

WTF With Marc Maron #182: Ahmed Ahmed 
Maron kibitzes with Ahmed Ahmed, the director/star of the new documentary Just Like Us. The Egyptian-born stand-up has an interesting background and perspective, but though he comes off affable, he’s not a particularly compelling interview subject.  

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