Week of March 10-16

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 roundup of the podcasts we follow. 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Pee-wee got snarkier and snarkier as the years went on and I got angrier and more bitter.” —Paul Reubens, Comedy Death-Ray Radio

THE BEST
The B.S. Report: 3/11 Jackie MacMullan
ESPN NBA writer Jackie MacMullan joins Simmons for a wide-ranging interview that starts with a discussion about her career and her time off to raise children, then veers into the issue of women in the locker room. After revisiting the Lisa Olson incident—the 1990 case of a Boston Herald reporter who was sexually harassed in the New England Patriots locker room—MacMullan recounts her own experiences, both good and bad, as a female sports reporter in male locker rooms, including why hockey players are the easiest to talk to. MacMullan, a fellow Bostonian, indulges Simmons in a long discussion about Larry Bird and his personality before moving on to discuss another enigma, Shaquille O’Neal, also the subject of MacMullan’s next book. Between these topics, the two also talk about other NBA issues—PEDs, the Miami Heat, Kevin Garnett—in one of the more engaging NBA discussions (even beyond the Celtics) Simmons has had on his podcast. Given his love of the league, that’s saying something. 

Comedy Death-Ray Radio #96: Paul Reubens, Dave Foley, Thomas Lennon
Scott Aukerman—er, Hot Saucerman—almost out-Marons Marc Maron on this week’s special episode with Paul Reubens, recorded live in Austin during South By Southwest. Aukerman plays the rare role of a straight (and noticeably nervous) interviewer, and a thoughtful and candid Reubens talks about Pee-wee Herman, his new HBO special, and upcoming projects, like a Judd Apatow-helmed Pee-wee movie. During the hourlong talk, Reubens describes how rejection from Saturday Night Live, and the career panic that followed, catalyzed the creation of the Pee-wee character, then shares some funny stories about everything that followed, like the ridiculous pitches TV networks gave him. The Reubens segment ends with his giving a heartfelt speech about how much fan enthusiasm has meant to him, and afterward, a clearly elated Aukerman says, “Well, that was fantastic. I can’t believe it.” It isn’t a typical Comedy Death-Ray Radio installment, but the silliness resumes when Reubens leaves and Dave Foley takes the stage with Tom Lennon as Little Gary. Considering Little Gary’s abrasiveness, he’s a bold choice for an episode that will attract new listeners. But it’s still funny, and in the end, #96 will go down as one of CDR’s best.

Doug Loves Movies: Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Jim O’Heir, Retta, Adam Scott, and Ben Schwartz
Filling the void left by two weeks without new episodes of Parks And Recreation, friend of Doug Loves Movies Adam Scott brings his Pawnee cohorts to the UCB Theater—with the notable exceptions of Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, and Aubrey Plaza. At least Amy Poehler shows up to test her bullshitting skills in The Leonard Maltin Game. Meanwhile, we get to know a little bit more about Parks And Recreation supporting players Jim O’Heir (Jerry) and Retta (Donna)—namely that O’Heir appeared in the “little people playing a monkey playing baseball” vehicle Ed, and that Retta has an astoundingly operatic vocal range. It’s also revealed that six guests is too much for Doug Loves Movies to handle. 

Extra Hot Great: More Like Baloney Los Angeles (Nailed It)
After taking the week off—save for David Cole’s sadistic placeholder episode, a “Game Time For The Masses” involving beat-long soundtrack samples from various popular movies—Extra Hot Great returns with co-host Tara Ariano in particularly fine form. Having spent the hiatus visiting her parents in Pakistan, Ariano returns with exotic tales of watching OnDemand movies in a comfy Air Emirates business-class seat, and later spending much of the week watching bootleg movies on the couch with her mother. (We smell a travel book here.) She later leads a mind-blowing segment called “Simpsons Continuity Cop,” in which she notes some glaring inconsistencies in the Simpsons universe over the years and decries the show’s recent habit of focusing entire episodes on obscure, one-joke peripheral characters. (This week: The crazy cat-lady.) The gang also picks apart the joyless thriller Battle: Los Angeles, comparing it unfavorably to the likes of District 9 and Starship Troopers; that segment ends with an inspired Top Five list on reasons why Los Angeles is worth saving. (Their friends are an afterthought: “Reason 1b.”) They also consider an episode of Daria for “The Canon,” and come away with the consensus that the show is more of-its-time than timeless. 

Hang Up And Listen: The March Fabness Edition
The addition of two more play-in games to this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament lets more bubble teams into the Big Dance, and with a “weak bubble,” that means less controversy, right? Not so much. Josh Levin, Stefan Fatsis, and Mike Pesca talk about the selection committee’s more contentious decisions—VCU and UAB in, Virginia Tech and Harvard out—and the misplaced outrage of the sports punditocracy. Keeping with the college-basketball theme, the trio also weighs HBO’s UNLV documentary against ESPN’s Fab Five doc, and finds the latter far more compelling and revealing of the racist attitudes that were prevalent at the time. But the most compelling segment of the three is a discussion of the NHL’s lax policies on violent hits, stemming from a brutal Zdeno Chara bodycheck on Max Pacioretty into “the turnstile” that left Pacioretty with a major concussion and fractured vertebrae. In spite of pressure from fans and corporate sponsors—namely Air Canada, which threatened to pull its support of six Canadian teams—the league seems inclined to police itself lightly. This week’s “Afterball segments” are the strongest part of the show, with funny stuff from Pesca and Levin on the Providence Friars’ hyped-up media guide and a totally-real-no-kidding New Orleans Fantasy Debutante League, respectively, and Fatsis on the soaring career of Don Yaeger, a writer and motivational speaker whose 2005 Sports Illustrated piece on disgraced Alabama coach Mike Price reveals his disturbingly casual relationship to the truth. 

How Did This Get Made: Battlefield Earth 
For the first time in the podcast’s run, the bad-movie lovers over at How Did This Get Made hop inside the wayback machine for the bad-movie equivalent of a golden oldie: Battlefield Earth. Hosts Paul Scheer, June Rayfield, and Jason Mantzoukas, along with guest Rob Huebel, feast on the embarrassment of riches that is the richly embarrassing John Travolta-fueled L. Ron Hubbard adaptation Battlefield Earth, marveling at the screenplay’s deliciously purple, seemingly undeliverable dialogue, idiot plotting, egregious overacting, and ridiculous overuse of “leverage” (both the word and the concept). Battlefield Earth is so textually rich that it almost seems a shame the gang doesn’t devote a full hour to it. Otherwise, this is destined to make bad-movie lovers as happy as a baby raised on a diet of straight kerbango.

Judge John Hodgman: #16: The Potluck Problem
How should a party be orchestrated? Should the person throwing the party be responsible for the food, thus executing a consistent and unified (and possibly prohibitively expensive) vision? Or are “potluck dinners,” with their widely varied homemade and store-bought items, the better way to go, especially for a host on a budget? In other words, should dinner parties be a benevolent dictatorship, or embrace democracy in all its untidiness? Potluck-hater and amateur DJ Ben brings the case against his potluck-throwing friend Jenny, and Judge Hodgman does an admirable job of staying impartial, in spite of his stated preference for a tightly managed soirée. Though sprinkled with wit throughout—including some terrifically funny food-related pre-trial summary judgments—“The Potluck Problem” is most notable for the sincere wisdom of Hodgman’s ruling, which emphasizes the importance of staying open to communal experiences.  

The Nerdist: #69: John Oliver
Guest John Oliver and host Chris Hardwick get a lot of mileage out of the former’s Britishness on this live episode taped at South By Southwest. When Hardwick drops into a Ricky Gervais impression at one point, the stand-up and Daily Show correspondent immediately admonishes him, “Oh, don’t do that,” kicking off a riff about Oliver being a “professional British person.” They also discuss transatlantic issues like the pains of getting a visa and green card, essential British stand-ups, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the upcoming royal wedding, and inevitably, the Arthur remake. (Oliver’s take: “It seems, at best, unnecessary, at worst, ill-conceived.”) There’s also a fair amount of Daily Show behind-the-scenes talk (Oliver says the department tasked to comb hours of C-SPAN footage are “looking into the heart of darkness”) and the requisite audience Q&A, which features a round of “fuck, marry, kill” starring Oliver, Craig Ferguson, and David Tennant. Hardwick and Oliver clearly feed off the live audience’s laughter, making for a lively, good-humored discussion that makes up for the episode’s less-than-stellar audio quality. 

Pop Culture Happy Hour: This Craziness With Vampires And Foreheads
This week, the PCHH foursome leads off with a segment called On Second Thought/How Wrong I Was, touching on various things they initially disdained but later came to appreciate, from the TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Beck to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (Along the way, Linda Holmes pauses to triumphantly take sides in the Scott Tobias/Noel Murray Twitter argument about whether it’s kosher to start a TV series in the middle, and Stephen Thompson announces that anything questionable with his name on it at avclub.com was actually written by Keith Phipps.) Since the podcast will be skipping next week due to SXSW, they follow with Filling The Hole In Your Heart, a list of films, shows, and podcasts they recommend fans listen to instead of PCHH next week—including Thompson’s SXSW coverage. (Man, that Fang Island song is catchy.) Then they end in the usual manner with What’s Making Us Happy, in which Glen Weldon lists more of his punny DC Universe Online characters, including Biff Bampow, Major Bummer, White Flight, Captain Tennille, and Charles Grodin-Man, whose power is being mistaken for Charles Grodin. For PCHH fans, this installment is worth it just to hear everyone go into helpless hysterics while Weldon calmly, proudly describes these characters and their abilities, and explains how Charles Grodin-Man in particular is maybe a little more of a conceptual art piece than a functional DC Universe Online character.

Sklarbro Country: Josh Radnor, Jesse Thorn
By this point, it’s become cliché for the Sklar brothers to gush that their guests are close personal friends and some of the most talented people in the universe, but the twins are generally so sweet and sincere that it doesn’t come off as phony. That feels a little forced this time, however, as the brothers welcome How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor, who tosses in some quips when not awkwardly plugging his earnest new independent comedy-drama Happythankyoumoreplease. The episode ends with the always-welcome Jesse Thorn filling in for Chris Cox with more picks for another agreeably far-fetched fantasy league, in this case involving promising debutantes. 

WTF With Marc Maron: Live At Bell House in Brooklyn with Heather Knight, Otto & George, Liam McEneaney, Ted Alexandro and Todd Barry
Live WTFs tend to lack the intimacy of episodes taped inside the Cat Ranch, but there’s still plenty of anxiety and misplaced rage on display as Maron welcomes a motley aggregation of funny people onstage at the Bell House in Brooklyn. The presence of Otto and George, an aggressively profane ventriloquist duo, and Heather Knight, a cute lady scientist who invented a joke-telling robot, lends the evening a distinctly vaudevillian air. When Knight, the ultimate geek fantasy girl, casually mentions that she has a boyfriend, the entire audience lets out a sigh of disappointment, but the best line of the evening goes to a comedian who shares a revelatory anecdote about how sometimes being an adult means saying no to cocaine and casual sex on a Tuesday night. It isn’t just entertaining, it’s deep, too!

THE REST
The Adam Carolla Show
Bobcat Goldthwait recalls opening shows for Nirvana (Kurt was a fan) and Michael Bolton (it ended badly). Dan Band frontman Dan Finnerty and Patrick Warburton (Rules Of Engagement, Seinfeld, The Tick) let Ace do the talking. Stacy Keach is the highlight of the week, via a long conversation about acting, addiction, incarceration, and faith (but not his current gig on the FX boxing drama Lights Out). Comedian Dan Cummins and Ace discuss post-apocalyptic survival scenarios. Sports-business journalist and author Jonah Keri and Ace ruminate on sports, management, sports management, and Keri’s new Tampa Bay Rays book.

The B.S. Report
Simmons starts off the week with a visit from his buddy Adam Carolla, who helps review the new Nic Cage movie, Drive Angry. This involves typical Carolla rants, this time on 3D movies and Cage’s hair. Simmons then moves into full March Madness mode, beginning with ESPN’s NBA guru Chad Ford, who reflects on the 2010 NBA Draft and looks ahead to this year’s draft and what prospects are lurking in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Simmons takes his first look at gambling with the tournament with expert Chad Millman, who breaks down Vegas odds and who the sharps like; that episode concludes with the now-annual visit from former Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus. Simmons closes out the week, which Simmons claims is the best in the BS Report’s history, by going over various NCAA tournament prop bets and complaining about the new expanded format with Cousin Sal, followed by his traditional filling out of a bracket with buddy Joe House. Hint: bet the Big East.

Firewall & Iceberg: #64
Alan Sepinwall and Dan Fienberg answer listener mail and discuss the ongoing seasons of NBC’s Parks And Recreation and Showtime’s Shameless, and the new HBO special The Pee-wee Herman Show On Broadway—which, they concur, amounts to an overlong episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. 

Jordan Jesse Go!: Live For MaxFunDrive 2011: Jordan Morris and Jesse Thorn go live with the finale of the MaxFunDrive with a mega two-hour podcast, featuring Al Madrigal and Gene O’Neill. In addition to raising money, the crew discusses topics like space fucking, cholos hiking, and reasons why everyone likes Jesse Thorn.

The Moth Podcast: Liz Tuccillo: Unpopular In Jail
The former Sex And The City writer and co-author of He’s Just Not That Into You breathlessly tells the story of her arrest during a protest at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Her subsequent shunning by her fellow prisoners—who have little desire to hear more about Carrie and Big—makes for some funny observations, but Tuccillo’s aggressively perky, every-sentence-ending-in-a-question-mark delivery makes it far too easy to empathize with Tuccillo’s unimpressed jailhouse audience.

Never Not Funny: #816 Eddie Trunk
Regular listeners of Never Not Funny are well aware of Jimmy Pardo’s unabashed love of ’80s hard rock, and whether a whole episode spent debating Hagar vs. Roth or the merits of Kiss sounds like “the fastest hour in podcasting” should determine the casual fan’s interest level. Guest Eddie Trunk—host of XM’s Boneyard and VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show, and self-proclaimed world’s largest Kiss fan—rivals Pardo's pace with insightful insider stories (like how Mike Piazza was responsible for first leaking Chinese Democracy), but their respectful tone often gets in the way of bringing the funny that the show’s title promises.

Savage Lovecast: #230
Sometimes, episodes of the Savage Lovecast are just mega-depressing. This week, for instance, Dan Savage does his best to advise a 22-year-old married woman who is tired of sex and a woman who was abused after a BDSM scenario went wrong. He also counsels a teen on how to help his ex-gay friend. Well, every week can't be a sexy party.

The Sound of Young America: Greg Mottola
Host Jesse Thorn interviews director Greg Mottola, whose stints as a director on beloved TV series like Arrested Development and Undeclared led to acclaimed work directing films such as Adventureland and Superbad. Mottola talks about his new sweetly nostalgic comedy Paul

Sound Opinions: The Vaselines
Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot talk with The Vaselines, a Scottish indie band probably best known for writing several songs later covered by Nirvana, including “Son Of A Gun” and “Molly’s Lips.” The hosts also offer surprisingly generous takes on Lupe Fiasco’s embattled new album, Lasers. For his Desert Island Jukebox pick, DeRogatis shines a light on the great, oft-overlooked psych-blues epic “East-West” by the Butterfield Blues Band.

Stuff You Should Know:
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, ushering in one of the more shameful chapters in American military history. In "Were U.S. Citizens In Japanese Internment Camps?”, Clark and Bryant investigate this chapter, explaining how the camps were formed, the tenuous reasoning behind them, and their ultimate cost. In the much cheerier episode, "How Fossils Work," the two help give listeners a solid foundation in how dinosaur bones become monuments to the past.

Stuff You Missed In History Class:
There's drunken revelry and drunken beatings both in the last two entries of History Class. In "The Best Mardi Gras Ever," Dowdy and Chakraborty tell some of the facts behind Fat Tuesday, leading into a description of a New Orleans police strike in the late '70s which effectively cancelled the town's Mardi Gras celebrations. And in "The Riotous Life of Carvaggio,” the ladies look into the life and death of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, an Italian painter from the late 16th, early 17th century who killed a man, pissed off the Pope, and heavily influenced the Baroque school of painting. 

This American Life: #429 Will They Know Me Back Home? 
Nancy Updike takes over hosting duties once again this week, looking at the stories of those at war who have a difficult time transitioning back into their previous lives. Actors read adapted monologues from David Finkel's The Good Soldiers, and Updike interviews an Iraqi woman whose job as an interpreter for the U.S. upended her quiet life as a housewife.

WTF With Marc Maron: Kathleen Madigan
Marc Maron tends to gravitate toward the alternative side of the comedy divide, but he’s equally comfortable—or at least comfortably uncomfortable—talking to mainstream club comics like the funny, likeable Kathleen Madigan, who shares war stories from the road and tales from her stint on Last Comic Standing, but is most fascinating discussing her relationship with ex-boyfriend/soulmate/best friend Lewis Black. Maron thinks Black and Madigan’s relationship should be a reality show; by the end of the episode, most listeners will probably agree.

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