Week of March 31-April 6

Week of March 31-April 6

The best podcasts of the week

Since the iPod debuted in 2001, it has gone from portable music player to a medium in itself: Podcasts, like blogs, indelibly shaped the media landscape in less than a decade. The A.V. Club listens to a lot of them, and Podmass is our weekly round-up of the podcasts we follow. 

Quotes of the Week:

“She makes Amelie look like Large Marge!” —Julie Klausner on Anthony Bourdain’s second wife

“The fact that an alien has a gastrointestinal tract exactly the same as ours—please. Where’s the verisimilitude?” —Rainn Wilson, Doug Loves Movies

“I swear, if I joined that Ethiopian tribe, the one that has those big plates in their lower lips, if I came home with a 6-inch saucer hanging out of my mouth, my mother wouldn’t even see it. She’d just dump a pile of pot roast on it.” —Eve Lederman, The Moth

THE BEST
Best Show Gems: A Call From Gene Simmons
The latest installment of Best Show Gems lacks the sustained conceptual brilliance of “Gene Simmons Toyota,” the classic Scharpling & Wurster routine where Wurster’s proudly shameless “God Of Thunder” recreates himself all too easily as a hard-sell Toyota salesman. But Wurster loves slipping inside Simmons’ leather skin, and his joy proves infectious as he lets Scharpling in on the many exciting developments in the Gene Simmons business, especially regarding his various reality shows. 

Comedy Death-Ray Radio #99: Patton Oswalt, Andy Daly
There’s a point 55 minutes into #99 that speaks to the criticism some A.V. Club commenters have levied against Scott Aukerman: Guests Patton Oswalt and Andy Daly (appearing here as sleazy children’s theater/sex-show director Don DiMelo) decide to role-play a pitch meeting for one of Daly’s creepy, sexed-up kids’ shows. That’s easy enough, and considering the company, it should be funny. But Aukerman holds it all up by asking endless questions about the setup, gleefully going into specifics that are clearly inessential. It’s a gag, of course, but it will frustrate those who complain that Aukerman tries to out-funny his guests. It’s more that Aukerman leaves no silly tangent unexplored, but that reaction is understandable—sometimes you just need to get to the fireworks factory. With Daly arriving less than nine minutes into the episode—the comics usually come later—#99 feels thrown together, but Daly is so funny that any episode of CDRR with him is almost automatically a “best.”

Culture Gabfest #133: Debonair Counterspy Edition 
All three Gabfest regulars give AMC’s new series The Killing a gushing but fascinating review, praising not only its detail as a sort of micro-procedural, but as Stephen Metcalf puts it, an “overwhelming palette of Nordic dread.” They also make quite a case, if less favorable, for Spike’s new worker-reality show Coal, framing it with George Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier and comparing this strain of reality TV to the old Life magazine photo-essay format. David Grann of The New Yorker comes in for a lengthy talk about his recent piece on the assassination of a lawyer in Guatemala. It’s worth the discussion, and a full-read, for its rabbit-hole immersion in a “parallel state” of organized crime.

Doug Loves Movies: Rainn Wilson, Simon Pegg, and James Gunn
Doug Benson may be an unapologetic stoner, but a great deal of orchestration and quick thinking goes into making Doug Loves Movies. Case in point: This “live at SXSW” episode was originally slated to feature an all-Super panel, with star Rainn Wilson and director James Gunn joined by Ellen Page. When Page took ill, Benson next turned to friend and past guest Edgar Wright, who recommended the services of Nick Frost, who got hung up on promotional obligations for Attack The Block. Frost’s Paul co-star Simon Pegg filled in, with hilarious results. Aided by Benson and Gunn, Pegg draws the typically prickly Wilson into a transcontinental comedy accord, each promising to promote the other’s movie on The Tonight Show and sharing stories about enjoyable on-set experiences for shitty movies. Note to filmmakers: The key to getting people to see a Rainn Wilson movie may very well be Simon Pegg.

Hang Up And Listen: The I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butler Edition
Josh Levin, Stefan Fatsis, and Mike Pesca examine the possible reasons behind Butler’s historically inept performance in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship—only 19 percent for field goals, including 9.2 percent from two-point range—casting at least some blame on the dome setting. Domes usually make for poor shooting, not to mention crappy seats for the majority of the 75,000-plus fans. The second segment addresses the lingering debate over paying college athletes. While Real Sports and Frontline have argued to the affirmative, the gang points out some alarming drawbacks to giving these athletes a piece of the pie. The heart of the episode is a terrific interview with baseball historian John Thorn, whose new book, Baseball In The Garden Of Eden, sheds light on the complex and fascinating series of people and events that created the game we know today—as opposed to the popular myth that Abner Doubleday created baseball by himself. The “afterball” segment has some quality rants, too, including Pesca’s exasperation over Dennis Rodman’s inclusion in the Hall Of Fame over the far more valuable Reggie Miller, and Fatsis revealing the bizarre statements made by Mohamed Bin Hammam, the only candidate challenging corrupt incumbent Sepp Blatter for president of FIFA. 

Judge John Hodgman #18: The Colbert Rapport
As a “Famous Minor Television Personality,” John Hodgman has tasted the sweet nectar of modest celebrity, and has an illuminating perspective on how the interaction between fans and public figures should go. In this episode, Britt brings a complaint against her boyfriend Andrew for stopping her from asking Stephen Colbert to pose for a photo with her at a Comedy Central party. Andrew believes it would have been invasive and tacky; Britt claims it was a publicity event—as opposed to, say, a private dinner with family—and that such interactions with Colbert are fair game. She wanted to post the picture on her Facebook page, which she estimates would earn her “a million Internet dollars.” As usual, Hodgman’s nuanced response threads a very thin needle, neither accepting the notion that celebrities don’t want attention nor approving of the kind of attention Britt wants to give them. Britt’s prizing of a Colbert photograph over lesser names irks him (“Did it occur to you that Michael Emerson is a human being and not some disappointing third-rate addition to your collection of celebrity Pokemon?”), but it’s really the entire trend of celebrity photographs that’s bothersome. Hodgman makes the seemingly obvious point that famous people are people, too, and simply engaging them in conversation is a more intimate, respectful, and edifying encounter than hassling them for pictures. 

The Pod F. Tompkast #9: Jaunty, Right Out Of The Gate!
Following the uncharacteristic bile of the Extrasode (see below), Paul F. Tompkins returns to his normal, congenial self with #9. As usual, some of the best stuff lies in Tompkins’ riffing, from the perils of gum-chewing to his goofy impression of podcast fans to his self-analysis. (“And that is a summation of my entire career, ladies and gentlemen: me yelling ‘I exist’ to the world.”) The Great Undiscovered Project segment is a quickie (Garry Marshall calling John Lithgow)—and Tompkins later says he doesn’t know what to do for the next installment—but the Tompkins Variety Show excerpt compensates, with a long, funny scene featuring Maya Rudolph and Noted Friend Of Comedians Jon Hamm. Jen Kirkman tells a funny story about her attempt to spend the night in solitary confinement for charity, with predictably bad results, which leads to a good anecdote from Tompkins about the time he was arrested for smoking on the subway. One note for Angelenos: Tompkins is recording the podcast live at Largo June 18th. Every segment will be live, from the Great Undiscovered Project to the Jen Kirkman chat. Even Anna, the sleepy voice of the Internet, will attend.

Sklarbro Country #36: Jimmy Pardo, Chris Cox 
Jimmy Pardo is sometimes hailed as the fastest mind in show business, but he has plenty of competition from the Sklar brothers, whose machine-gun banter and relentless wordplay leave most guests struggling to keep up. So when Pardo joins forces with them, the trio seems intent on setting some sort of speed record for comedy. The quips come fast and furious as Randy and Jason Sklar discuss how fantasy baseball has more in common with fantasy accounting than sports. Resident impersonator Chris Cox continues to glean big laughs out of the ever-more-ridiculous gulf between Tiger Woods’ mush-mouthed, equivocating need to communicate exclusively through labored golf metaphors and the demands of his debauched personal life. He’s especially genius while introducing a new “iPologize” app that allows users to apologize to girlfriends they’ve cheated on every bit as arbitrarily and stiffly as Woods himself. 

The Tobolowsky Files #46: The Time Machine Deconstructed
Stephen Tobolowsky usually veers toward sly and funny in his podcasts, but he’s also capable of packing an emotional wallop. The first story in this episode is a short sequel to an earlier piece, answering a mystery that had perplexed Tobolowsky and ending with a punch in the gut. The second story begins with a long monologue about taking a master class from pianist Aflred Brendel, interspersed with several thoughts on why humans are obsessed with time travel, and how music can be a sort of time machine. But it’s all a warm-up for the later story, as he reveals what happened to an old friend from Texas, Alan Winslow, whom he runs into by chance. The powerful ending ties into the time-travel theme in an unexpected way, making for a moment as emotionally satisfying as anything else the podcast has done. 

WTF With Marc Maron #163: Conan O’Brien
As he acknowledges in his introduction, Marc Maron has long enjoyed a TV friendship with Conan O’Brien, the kind that gets renewed for 12 minutes of on-air patter every couple of years but doesn’t extend much beyond that. By his own account, the two had never had a real, substantive conversation in the all the years they’ve known each other. That changes as O’Brien sits down in the Cat Ranch to give listeners an intimate glimpse into the melancholy, fundamentally serious artist and thinker behind the larger-than-life goofiness. Maron and O’Brien get deep and philosophical as they explore the emotional whirlwind that ensued when O’Brien took over, then lost, The Tonight Show and its never-ending fallout. It’s also funny, of course, never more so than when O’Brien bitterly complains that the Harvard he attended looked nothing like the sexy party school of The Social Network. When he was a student, the school was populated, in Conan’s indelible turn of phrase, by co-eds who all looked like “Emily Dickinson after a bike accident.” Conan and Maron would be wise to schedule a heart-to-heart at least once every two decades or so. 

THE REST
The Adam Carolla Show
It was a tame week with Ace. In descending order of interest: Ace gets straight down to business with millionaire/rockstar (in that order) Sammy Hagar, who recaps some of the juicy stuff from his unbelievably frank autobiography, including behind-the-scenes intrigue with Van Halen. (Eddie Van Halen is kooky; Michael Anthony is cool.) Rosa Blasi, author of dating-pro-athletes memoir Jock Itch, discusses the hows and whys of cheating in the Twitter era. Comedian-author Greg Fitzsimmons briefly mentions his new book, which sounds like an autobiography, but he and Carolla spend much more time comparing strategies for pooping during flights. Dana Gould shares some comedian shop talk, including the pros and cons of post-show meet-and-greets. Adam DeVine and Blake Anderson briefly recall parlaying their little-watched Internet sketch troupe into Comedy Central’s new, Office Space-esque sitcom Workaholics, but Carolla dominates the conversation with his complaints about cell phones. Typical.

All Songs Considered: New Mix: Low, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, More
The All Songs crew puts together a mix of new songs from Five Eight, Of Montreal, Timber Timbre, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins, Low, Paul Simon, and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. The podcast ends with LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” as a sort of send-off. Also, All Songs fans can apparently look forward to a blog post on “Sunday-morning listening.”

The BS Report With Bill Simmons
Simmons’ lone podcast this week is with writer/sparring partner Chuck Klosterman, who joins him for a discussion that centers exclusively on basketball, as they recap the dreadful UConn-Butler NCAA championship game, discuss various options for keeping college players from leaving for the NBA too early, the evolution of women’s college basketball, and how the NBA now appeals to casual fans rather than die-hards. The highlight, though, is Klosterman playing Debbie Downer to Simmons’ story about bonding with his young daughter at an L.A. Clippers game. 

Extra Hot Great #25: Yes, And… 
Two long segments take up much of this week’s episode: The first, a detailed discussion on improv with special guest Will Hines, a teacher and performer at the UCB Theater in New York; the second, a consideration of Community’s “Modern Warfare” (a.k.a. the paintball episode) for The Canon. The former goes a long way toward squashing popular assumptions that improv is what you see on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and the latter gives David T. Cole, Tara Ariano, and Joe Reid a chance to remind listeners that they weren’t always disenchanted with the show. The episode ends with a fun Game Time that asks Ariano, Reid, and Hines to recognize 25 TV theme songs for shows that start with the letter “T.” 

Firewall & Iceberg: #67
Hiftix.com's Alan Sepinwall and Daniel Fienberg rate Wondercon, Top Chef Masters, Community, Comedy Central’s sitcom Workaholics, and Breaking In, Christian Slater’s wobbly new heist comedy. The biggest segment is a spoiler-free postmortem on Lights Out, FX’s latest likable-yet-failed series. What killed the boxer comeback drama? Maybe, they conclude, a low-luster subject matter brought to life by unknown actors walking through contrived plot complications. If their spot-on analysis isn’t exactly effervescent, it’s a reflection of the show’s own shortcomings.

How Did This Get Made? #7: All About Steve 
When is a romantic comedy secretly a dispiriting melodrama about a woman wrestling with profound mental illness? When it’s the misbegotten Sandra Bullock vehicle All About Steve, a bizarre vehicle whose surreal conception of what constitutes plausible human behavior sends the hosts of How Did This Get Made? into a frenzy of disbelief. As with previous entries, the film offers such an embarrassment of riches that the hosts can barely unpack all of the lunacy involving three-legged babies, blind children stuck in wells, apple-people, Asperger Syndrome, and DJ Qualls before time is up. 

How Was Your Week #4: “I Did Fiddler!” 
This week, Klausner breaks down what’s specific to Los Angeles-area skanks and reveals which celebrities she saw while she was on the West Coast. Ronna and Beverly (Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo) stop by to discuss their favorite Holocaust movies, saying what we were all thinking about Life Is Beautiful: that it turned “6 million lemons into 6 million glasses of lemonade.” Character actor James Urbaniak stops by to talk about his heroes, and he and Klausner swap Alec Guinness stories like it’s 1955. Klausner continues her reign of terror on Anthony Bourdain, as well, which is helpful if you sense that he’s something of a dick but don’t have specific examples as to why—she fills you in. 

Jordan, Jesse, Go! #169: Provel with Dave Holmes
JJG features a laid-back, entertainment-focused installment this week with TV host Dave Holmes. It’s an unusually gay-friendly episode—you know, as opposed to JJG’s typically threatening, hyper-heterosexual machismo—with topics such as Cher, Bette Midler, the Sex And The City movies, Timothy Olyphant’s muscles, Palm Springs gays, and the definition of “gender queer,” which Holmes, who is gay, asks Thorne to explain. Holmes also provides an intriguing thumbnail version of the JT LeRoy literary scandal. JJG fans in the Midwest, make sure you mark your calendars for the upcoming tour. 

The Moth: Jack Hannibal & Eve Lederman: StorySLAM Favorites
It’s another twofer on The Moth this week, with two stories of self-improvement, one spiritual, one physical. Jack Hannibal brings a humorously cynical voice to his story of enlightenment, telling about his chance encounter and unexpected friendship with a Tibetan monk, while Eve Lederman details the fallout—or lack thereof—from some impulsive plastic surgery, and what it says about her desire to just be seen.

The Nerdist: #75: James Gunn
Critics who complain about the hosts of The Nerdist occasionally talking over their guests will find much fodder in this episode, which is marred by audio issues that amplify the voices of Chris, Matt, and Jonah way above that of their guest, Super director James Gunn, who sounds like he’s talking from across the room inside a box. It’s a shame, because Gunn gives good interview, and this live podcast, recorded at the now-weekly Nerdist/Meltdown show, offers up a handful of surprisingly good audience questions.

Never Not Funny: #819 Seán Cullen
Canadian comedian/actor Seán Cullen stops by the Never Not Funny studios while in L.A. for pilot season, or possibly to steal our health care. Cullen’s work on popular Canadian show The Debaters, a calm, radio version of Lewis Black’s Root Of All Evil, defines much of the episode, as Jimmy Pardo presents debatable topics of found-money morality, the merits of parody songs, and why exactly Kobe Bryant would give himself the nickname “Black Mamba.” For someone so irascible (even though it’s an act), Pardo remains calm throughout the episode, which is a testament to Cullen’s talent.

The Pod F. Tompkast EXTRASODE: “Fan” Mail
With the help of Weeds star Justin Kirk, Tompkins acts out an email exchange he had with a fan disgruntled by his annual Christmas show. After the man sent him a patronizing email, Tompkins responded with an apology, only to receive an even more unwittingly patronizing message from the guy. Tompkins reads a hostile reply he didn’t send, which offers a glimpse into his professional frustrations. It ends, “I don’t need fans like you. I, as a hard-working professional comedian, deserve better.” Tompkins plays the whole exchange for laughs, but at least some of them have to be nervous laughs—there’s real, slightly off-putting venom in his response. Let this be a lesson, fans: Don’t send dickish emails to people you like.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Tragic Nerd Trapped Between Beauties
It’s admittedly crass to bite the hand that’s offering us (and Nathan Rabin in particular) a mighty compliment and a lot of direct, specific praise, but this week’s PCHH could probably have used a little more planning or communication over its title-inspiring segment attempting to find a film archetype as resonant as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Everyone apparently interpreted the assignment differently, and the results are disappointingly haphazard, though entertainingly giggly. Other segments this week poll the usual four participants for their feelings on April Fool’s Day and worthwhile pranks (lap giraffes!), and get into narrow genres they love. And as usual, the podcast wraps up with What’s Making Us Happy, which this week touches on Albert Brooks’ publisher-imposed Twitter feed, and why Brooks “gets Twitter” in a way that few others do, celebrities or otherwise.

Savage Lovecast #232
The Savage Lovecast has a new episode this week, yet the subject matter feels strangely familiar. Savage criticizes Rick Santorum, a representative from the ACLU makes an appearance to discuss a high school’s antediluvian approach to prom, and once again, a married guy who used to be satisfied with his sex life but isn’t anymore calls in. (Shouldn’t Savage just record a definitive podcast for these people so they can just listen to that and not keep calling in with the same question?) There are some tender moments, though, as a closeted gay kid calls to find out how to be out and safe in college, and a lesbian calls to ask about maintaining her relationship as she nurses her dying mother.

The Sound Of Young America: Carl Newman of The New Pornographers
Those unfamiliar with supergroup The New Pornographers might not feel invested in Jesse Thorn’s brief chat with the band’s leader, Carl Newman. However, maybe the samples of the band’s excellent power-pop sprinkled throughout the interview will inspire listeners to explore the New Pornos’ catalog and revisit Newman’s discussion of the band’s history and influence. 

Sound Opinions #279: Dylan’s Folk Years
“Some of you may be groaning,” Jim DeRogatis says at the start of this special episode examining the early years of Bob Dylan, the first of three planned editions discussing the man’s career as he turns 70. Indeed, Dylan might be the most well-covered subject in all of rock history; while this episode is well-intentioned and informative for neophytes, DeRo and Greg Kot don’t cover any ground that hasn’t already been trod many times by many other rock critics. Still, the music is pretty wonderful, drawing from Dylan’s time in the early ’60s Greenwich Village folk scene through his early dabblings with the more personal, surreal style that would carry him to his greatest triumphs in the middle of the decade. Kot also takes advantage of the tangential Woody Guthrie connection of the show’s theme to rep for Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue albums in the Desert Island Jukebox segment, convincingly arguing that “One By One” is the band’s best performance ever. 

This American Life #431: See No Evil
Looking at people who ignore sometimes ugly truths, this week’s This American Life starts incredibly strong, with the heartbreaking story of three brothers whose mother was killed by one of them. When the second act leads with a woman whose husband dies slowly and painfully after Chernobyl, it seems like this is going to be one of those tear-jerker episodes, but the tone shifts. Unfortunately, it also fizzles, with the final act’s quirkiness unable to match the strength of the first two segments.

WTF With Marc Maron #162: Michael Showalter 
Marc Maron has an awful lot of intellectual insecurities for such a smart, cerebral comic, which informs his conversation with The State and Stella’s Michael Showalter. Maron delves into his beef with the Ivy League (Showalter went to Brown, the “funky” Ivy) and semiotics, subject matter not even folks as funny as Showalter and Maron can make particularly compelling. 

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