Week of May 12-18

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“It was so loud and so long I was thinking as it was going on, ‘No, that’s so much louder!’ Unbelievably loud and so long that I was stressed out during it. Like, that I could discuss the fart as having a period of time that I could be doing something else during it.” —Kathy Salerno on some inopportune gas, Risk!

“When you watch the first season, you feel like you’re Margaret Mead. And when you watch the latter seasons, with the hot tubs and the drunkenness, you feel like Jane Goodall.” —Glen Weldon on The Real World, Pop Culture Happy Hour

“George Carlin, Alec Baldwin, Ringo Starr! All in service of model-train porn.”
“Well, they had great craft service.” —Matt Belknap and Greg Behrendt on the star-studded children’s show Thomas The Tank Engine, Never Not Funny

NEW (TO US)

Poscast: Bob Costas
Sports Illustrated senior writer Joe Posnanski, the thinking man’s Bill Simmons, is just as fascinated by the intersections between sports and the culture at large as Simmons. But his particular obsessions (including Kansas City and Cleveland teams) give him more than enough time to muse on the strange stories he encounters as a sportswriter at his must-read blog, where he experiments with form as much as anything else. He’s started a smart new sports podcast that perhaps borrows a bit too much from traditional sports talk radio, but has a much more muted tone than you might find on the local AM dial. Posnanski invites in his many sportswriter friends or other writers—like Parks & Recreation co-creator Michael Schur—then asks questions about their job, their specialty, and the world of sports in general. Along the way, he’s talked with ESPN’s Ian O’Connor about the rare grace of Derek Jeter, discussed college basketball with baseball expert Bill James, examined the lack of parity in the NBA with the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro, and dissected the problems of the Red Sox with Schur.

In the latest episode, NBC’s Bob Costas, who seems to host every sporting event, tries to debunk the notion that he’s a diehard, change-averse baseball traditionalist. He also discusses the highest possible goal of TV sports: to make the viewer want to see the event in person. Both Costas and Posnanski wonder if the quality of TV sports images has gotten so good that watching the game on TV might eventually be preferable to attending it. Costas also waxes nostalgic about Strat-O-Matic Baseball, tries to explain his dislike for Mickey Mantle as a 10-year-old, and tackles a host of questions from Posnanski, including queries about the possibility of an NFL lockout and the media’s foiled desire for a Heat/Lakers NBA final. It’s not the best episode of the show, but Costas is a game guest, and both his and Posnanski’s knowledge of the many topics is deft and deep.


THE BEST

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons: Rick Welts
While it’s one of his shortest podcasts, Simmons’ discussion with Phoenix Suns CEO Rick Welts is also one of his best. Welts made headlines this week for announcing he was gay, one of the first American major sports exec to do so. He talks about dealing with the death of his partner of 17 years, maintaining “a façade” in the sports world, the thought process behind his decision, and the feedback he’s received since the announcement, expressing hope that it might inspire others facing similar situations. His announcement comes in the wake of a new NBA PSA campaign (featuring a pair of Suns players) discouraging homophobic language and an incident involving one of the league’s biggest stars, Kobe Bryant (which Welts discusses briefly). Despite Bryant, Welts believes the NBA has an openness on homosexuality that’s greater than that of other leagues, calling it more a “conspiracy of silence” than intimidation. The pair also talks for a bit about some of Welts’ highlights as an NBA exec—he’s partly responsible for bringing us All-Star Weekend and the Dream Team. It’s a brief but solid podcast touching on a subject that Simmons treats with serious respect. 

Culture Gabfest: “Tacky But Vigorous” Edition
With regular co-host Julia Turner taking the week off, frequent Gabfester June Thomas sits in with Stephen Metcalf and Dana Stevens, but much of the show yields the floor to guests. The first and strongest segment brings in Slate.fr contributor Cécile Dehesdin to discuss the differences between French and American reaction to the sexual assault charges against IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, particularly in matters of privacy and presumed innocence. Another Slate columnist, Simon Doonan, delivers some very funny bons mots in revealing the oddities of the Eurovision Song Contest, which he claims is proof that “Europeans are just as tacky as Americans.” Save for Stevens, the trio largely whiffs in its analysis of the comedy Bridesmaids, with Thomas making the particularly bizarre objection that women needn’t subject themselves to so much embarrassment in pursuit of a laugh.  

Doug Loves Movies: Paul F. Tompkins, Jen Kirkman, Tony Thaxton
The first round of Benson’s Tournament Of Championships kicks off with a Leonard Maltin Game all-star (Tompkins), a strong contender (Thaxton, drummer of the excellent Motion City Soundtrack), and a beneficiary of dumb luck (Kirkman, who’s still unsure how the game works). For fans who complain when the podcast strays too far from its movie focus, this episode is a winner, with a seriously competitive Leonard Maltin Game that Tompkins and Thaxton routinely push into negative numbers. The repartee is also cracking, with besties Tompkins and Kirkman keeping it lively and Thaxton mostly keeping up. He’s always a bit of an odd man out on DLM, but his ballsy play in the Maltin Game shows that he’s a formidable competitor. But few can defeat the mighty Tompkins, so expect to see him at the Tournament Of Championships finals.

Extra Hot Great #31: Priest Is Going To Be Legion—Wait For It—dary
The latest episode of Extra Hot Great finishes much stronger than it starts: Rather than discuss movie-of-the-moment Bridesmaids, host David T. Cole leads his fellow co-hosts down the rabbit hole of his obsession with Legion, a horror/sci-fi movie that he enjoys for its so-bad-it’s-good qualities. That means he and the other hosts—regulars Tara Ariano and Joe Reid, plus guest Adam Sternbergh—were off to see Priest, the new film from the director of Legion, which doesn’t rise (or sink) to its standard of non-greatness. The segment ends with hilariously speculative ideas to complete the “religious apocalypse thrillogy.” The highlight of the show is Sternbergh’s submission to the Canon, the fourth episode of BBC’s The Office, which gives all four panelists a chance to register insights into its distilled greatness and an excuse to run really funny clips of Ricky Gervais’ David Brent as singer-songwriter. Game Time is inspired, too, leading to an epic showdown between Ariano and Reid over who can remember the most cast members ever listed in the opening credits of Law & Order and its spinoffs. 

Firewall & Iceberg #73: Upfront Week, Part 1: NBC, FOX & ABC
Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall go long, reporting on Upfront Week, when the networks preview their fall schedules. They give a network-by-network, night-by-night breakdown of the “eleventy billion” new shows you’ll see in September, and how they look based on trailers. It’s a flood of intriguing teases: Zooey Deschanel sings in the Fox comedy The New Girl. Also on Fox: Two former geeks deal with their snotty, popular kids in I Hate My Teenage Daughter. A former Parks And Recreation writer sets up Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as new parents in NBC’s Up All Night. Also on the peacock: Party Down showrunner John Enborm returns with white-collar comedy Free Agents. And you can expect, in their professional estimation, “ripoffs” of Glee (Smash, NBC) and Mad Men (The Playboy Club, NBC, and Pan Am, ABC), with Fienberg ominously noting, “The track record for period dramas on network TV is not great. People don’t like watching stuff where men wear hats.” Their look at the other networks may arrive as early as Friday—stay tuned.

Hang Up And Listen: The Fair Enough Edition
Josh “The Machine” Levin, Stefan “Fatsy” Fatsis, and Mike “10 Toes” Pesca discuss, among other things, the decline of nicknames in sports—and the perhaps related decline in popularity of ESPN nicknamer Chris Berman. (Note: Host nicknames mostly made up.) They also dig into the NBA Playoffs, which are heading into the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. But the two standout segments find new angles into issues that have come up frequently on the show—namely, steroids in baseball and the persistence of prejudice in sports. The former spins off from the now-anomalous hitting numbers posted by Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista in a sport that appears to have reduced (if not purged) performance-enhancing drugs. The latter examines Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts’ decision to come out as gay, which the hosts praise as a step toward relieving the troubled relationship between homosexuality and professional athletics. Of the “Afterball” segments, Fatsis’ look at the floundering women’s pro soccer league, called “Pro sports’ worst-run franchise” by Soccer America, is a particular standout.

How Did This Get Made? #10: Mac & Me/Adam Pally 
There’s a moment deep in the Mac & Me episode of How Did This Get Made? that captures what makes the podcast fun: Co-host Jason Mantzoukous, while pondering the countless things about the dire E.T. knockoff Mac & Me that don’t make sense, wonders aloud where the naked alien father procured the gun he doesn’t know how to use. That question doesn’t make any more sense when placed in context, but Mantzoukous’ co-hosts nevertheless break into laughter that feels both exhausted and cathartic. The hosts and actor Adam Pally spend so energy trying to unpack the film’s endless gauntlet of ridiculous setpieces—the most ridiculous being a 10-minute song-and-dance sequence in a McDonald’s—that by the time Mantzoukous asks his question, they need the release of laughter. The hosts make every element of the film seem bizarre, disturbing, and horribly, horribly wrong (because every element of the film is bizarre, disturbing and horribly, horribly wrong), but the most memorable part is the audio of a Mac & Me commercial featuring Ronald McDonald—his laughter is the hollow, haunted laughter of the damned.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #8: Graham Elwood
The Mental Illness Happy Hour is perhaps the only place in the comedy universe where a comedian can talk about “riding the energy of the earth” without fear of ridicule. Host Paul Gilmartin isn’t averse to making jokes, but he respects his guests’ spiritual journeys enough to take them seriously. Here, Gilmartin sits down with longtime friend and alpha male Graham Elwood to discuss the long shadow of sadness that followed him after his parents’ divorce, his battles with the bottle (but not, as he explicitly states, alcoholism), and how learning how to surf helped heal some of the spiritual wounds left by his traumatic tours of warzones (as a comedian, not a soldier). Like much of Mental Illness Happy Hour, this episode thoughtfully explores some of the biggest questions of existence: How do we undo the damage done to us as children? How do we learn to love ourselves? How do we become men and forgive our parents? Gilmartin and Elwood don’t offer answers, just the comfort of knowing that others are traveling the same path and wrestling with the same issues. 

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Talking ‘Thor,’ Summer Movies, And Losing ‘Idol’
A discussion of Kenneth Branagh’s film Thor lets the PCHH foursome sharpen their one-liners: Trey Graham says it isn’t Marvel’s best movie, but it’s “a better superhero movie than The Green Hornet, and a better movie about severe weather than Twister,” while Glen Weldon says Asgard “looks like a Maxfield Parrish pipe organ, for reasons that escape me.” They also discuss the protagonist’s shirtlessness at swoony length, diverting oddly (but entertainingly—Linda Holmes suggests this could be a separate topic for a separate show, and it should be) into the question of whether it’s true that women are more erotically focused on prose than on visuals like Chris Hemsworth’s pecs. This gives way to a segment on upcoming movies, both short-term stuff they’re excited about (Kung Fu Panda 2 gets big props) and long-term stuff they aren’t. (Oh God, Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked? Seriously?) Finally, the What’s Making Us Happy sequence touches on The Book Of Mormon and Stephen Thompson’s relief at this season’s American Idol contestants being so dull and yet so overpraised that he’s finally been able to walk away from the show after nine seasons of addiction. As Parker says, he’s been “washed in the blood of the lamb—the crappy, crappy lamb.”

Sklarbro Country #42: Demetri Martin, James Adomian, Army Navy
Demetri Martin essentially is Timothy McSweeney. He is twee personified, the sentient embodiment of preciousness, but he cuts a surprisingly normal figure on Sklarbro Country as he discusses the wonderful lack of snark at the X Games and his love of the dorkiest forms of skateboarding. This isn’t WTF, so when Martin says that his second one-man show got a little personal for him, that means letting the world know that he was kind of into palindromes, but the podcast nevertheless benefits from a sort of casual intimacy. The highlight of the podcast comes from the closing celebrity comedy bit, with James Adomian—best known for his many appearances on Comedy Death-Ray Radio—absolutely destroying as Gary Busey. Adomian is doing well-worn shtick, but for some reason his never-ending roster of acronyms, each more hilariously convoluted than the last, never gets old. Indie band Army Navy supplies live music.

The Sound Of Young America: Prodigy of Mobb Deep 
Jesse Thorn’s patient yet probing interview with Prodigy reveals a life story that actually warrants a memoir (My Infamous Life, available now): grandchild of Cotton Club performers and son of a musician/karate sensei who once brought Prodigy along on a robbery. He’s lived the kind of life that leads him to say it was merely “kinda crazy” when he learned of his father’s heroin addiction. After a steady climb to success with Mobb Deep, Prodigy is now out of prison following a gun-possession charge, which is typical for your average TSOYA interviewee. 

WTF With Marc Maron #174: Sally Wade
The comedy world is a lesser place because George Carlin died before he could bare his soul on WTF. In honor of Carlin’s birthday, Maron does the next best thing: He interviews Carlin’s partner, Sally Wade, about her book, The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship Of Sally Wade. Maron is fascinated to discover the sensitive, romantic, and unexpectedly whimsical soul behind Carlin’s angry persona. Wade is on the verge of tears as she struggles to convey the depths of her relationship with Carlin and the broad parameters of the private world they shared. “This mattered more to him than his career,” Wade says of their relationship in a voice raw with emotion. She sometimes struggles to emerge from Carlin’s outsized shadow, and there’s some tension between Maron’s intense focus on Carlin and Wade’s need to assert herself as an autonomous being, but the overall tone is respectful verging on effusive, albeit more for Carlin than Wade. The world knows Carlin the provocateur, Carlin the truth-teller, and Carlin the countercultural icon, but this poignant episode introduces us to something new and special: George Carlin in love. 

WTF With Marc Maron #175: Steve Byrne 
For much of #175, Maron’s chat with journeyman stand-up Steve Byrne ranks as one of the least compelling in the show’s history. Maron is understandably skeptical of the half-Asian, half-Irish comic’s quest to stick up for what he sees as the downtrodden white man, and their conversation about race and stereotypes consists largely of the two men gingerly skipping around linguistic landmines. For a stand-up comedian, but especially for a guest to the Cat Ranch, Steve Byrne simply isn’t particularly interesting or funny. The first is forgivable, the second less so. At the 55-minute mark, however, the episode becomes one of the best WTFs of all time, when Maron gets Byrne to open up about the infamous incident in which a rising Dane Cook accused Byrne of “stealing his essence.” In Cook’s version, he emerged a wise mentor who sat a confused young comic down and gave him the tools to help him find his voice. Byrne depicts Cook as a power-mad, insecure petty tyrant who bullied a struggling young neophyte. Byrne is still boring, but he tells an awfully compelling tale. 


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show 
For a change, the guests get a few words in edge-wise on The Adam Carolla show this week. In order of descending interest: Ace diehards and historians should start with Oscar Nunez, who plays Oscar on The Office, and was Carolla’s stand-in on The Man Show. Don’t expect scoop on his sitcom; instead, Nunez gives the behind-the-scenes perspective on how The Man Show changed after Jimmy Kimmel and Carolla. Author and “sexpert” Karrine Steffans arrives after Ace’s thoughts on the Schwarzenegger scandal. They talk next-level erotica for couples, discussing techniques to maximize your fun with crotchless panties, glory holes, and role-playing. Paul Rodriguez muses on rich-people problems and Tijuana, but highlights an interview phenomenon: Sometimes having a good rapport creates a good conversation about nothing in particular. With Andrew Breitbart and James Blunt, author Breitbart talks Tea Party and taxes, and singer Blunt reveals the connections between his current career and his time in the British army. Hollywood newsmonger Jared Eng reflects on how he became “the anti-Perez Hilton” and built justjared.com. But Ace spends more time ripping his skinflint publisher—a subject that surprisingly has legs.

The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons
As predicted last week, Simmons starts this week by performing a post-mortem on the 2010-2011 Boston Celtics with Celtics play-by-play man Sean Grande. Over the course of 70 minutes, the pair talks Rondo’s injury, the Perkins-for-Green trade, and coach Doc Rivers, and add in a little hockey talk for good measure. Then ESPN NBA expert Chad Ford visits to talk about this year’s NBA draft class, which, as anyone will tell you, is awful. The week comes to a close with a visit from Simmons’ pal and grantland.com partner Chuck Klosterman. The first half is focused on the NBA and the impending NBA and NFL lockouts before transitioning to more pop-culture topics such as the Schwarzenegger scandal (and other celebrity scandals) and the Keith Richards autobiography. 

Best Show Gems: Zachary Brimstead Esq.
When callers accuse Jon Wurster’s barbershop quartet don Zachary Brimstead Esq. of being a “fake,” any heat generated by the show’s slow-burn character comedy is quickly snuffed out. There are a few good moments, like when Brimstead barbershop-ifies Foghat and Kiss, but this segment was recorded in 2000, before everyone understood The Best Show. It doesn’t help that it’s 45 minutes—punishing even by Best Show standards—but for devotees, it offers the first appearance of a long-running character. 

Comedy Bang Bang #105: Scot Armstrong, Matt Walsh, Jon Daly
Scot Armstrong, writer of The Hangover II (as well as Old School and Semi-Pro, among others) joins friend Matt Walsh (co-founder of Upright Citizens Brigade, and king of cameos) for an especially silly episode of CBB. Well, those two aren’t particularly silly; it’s Jon Daly as Sappity Tappity, The Drunken English Rollerblading Christmas Tree. Yes, he’s a sentient Christmas tree with a drinking problem and a predilection for inline skates—and racist limericks. Sappity’s tales of sex, his Studio 54 escapades, and failed auditions take up most of this skippable episode.

How Was Your Week #10: “Pico Won’t Know Our Baby”: Jen Kirkman, Andrea Rosen, John Gemberling
Ruminating in detail about Cher’s daughter’s path to becoming a son, Julie Klausner is clearly fixated by the documentary Becoming Chaz. The theme continues when comedian Jen Kirkman delivers an anecdote about meeting Cher, which will interest everyone except people who don’t give a shit about Cher (or celebrities of a similar caliber). The podcast also includes a chat with actor/comedian couple Andrea Rosen and John Gemberling, as well as more time spent dissecting Tears For Fears’ “Sewing The Seeds Of Love” than you ever thought possible. 

Judge John Hodgman #24: The Bedroom Three-Way
Testimony in this week’s dispute—over who of three roommates should get the big room in a college apartment—includes an impromptu organ performance of “The Entertainer,” and John Hodgman sharing his fond memories of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. This being college, the argument that “my futon smells less than Tyler’s” ought to be given more weight.

The Moth: Jen Lee: Targeted
The proselytizing that comes part and parcel with both evangelical Christianity and multi-level marketing programs like Mary Kay serves as the inspiration for Jen Lee’s story about her family’s “two religions.” Lee makes it out of both unscathed, but not before stalking a bunch of potential clients/victims through the aisles of the grocery store. It’s a funny, lighthearted story that dips a toe into the evangelism issue without diving too deep into those murky waters. 

Nerdist #89: Kevin Pereira
This chat with Attack Of The Show host Kevin Pereira suffers from being overlong and overly focused on porn, be it of the ASCII, flash, or modern RedTube variety. (Adult film star April O’Neal even makes a brief appearance.) Pereira’s spontaneous review of the Fleshlight masturbation sleeve and Matt Mira’s revelation that he was getting a blowjob when he heard the Osama Bin Laden had been killed up the ick factor even further, making this one of the bro-iest episodes in recent memory. In between pussy jokes, there’s a fair amount of discussion revolving around AOTS—including audience questions, as this is another live episode—and all-purpose nerd topics like net neutrality. 

Never Not Funny #825: Greg Behrendt
Perhaps aware of the knee-jerk dismissal his résumé might provoke, Greg Behrendt (co-author of He’s Just Not That Into You and script advisor for Sex And The City) coaxes listeners early with an informed knowledge of Never Not Funny’s catalog, sharing his biggest stand-up bombs and insight on why it’s necessary for comedians to defend their act and themselves. (“Anybody can talk. Everybody thinks they’re funny. So making a guy’s girlfriend laugh can be an affront to his masculinity.”) Not that coaxing is necessary; Behrendt’s a skilled conversationalist who shares Pardo’s affection for wordplay, mispronunciations, and ’80s hard rock, all making for a surprisingly quick listen.

Radiolab: Shorts: Dogs Gone Wild
A strong, essay-like episode examines the question of just how separate our pets are from wild animals, as contributor Lulu Miller recalls the story of a childhood pet who took to the woods.

Risk! #215: Surprise!
Aside from Will Ruehle’s story about having to kill a squirrel, the stories in #215 feel pretty typical for Risk!, such as Margot Leitman’s piece about a college romance and Brett Gelman’s one about getting hit by a car. But the show switches it up a bit by pairing Gabe Liedman and Kathy Salerno’s stories, bouncing back and forth between the two as they talk about dealing with farts during inappropriate situations. Toilet humor always gets a laugh, but Salerno’s story is unexpectedly poignant. 

Sound Opinions: Riot Grrl
It’s great to hear Sound Opinions dedicate an episode to women in rock with this week’s episode on riot grrl, but the segment feels a tad abbreviated thanks to two album reviews (The Cars get a mixed review, Fleet Foxes a double-buy) and three industry news stories. Jim DeRogatis, Greg Kot, and guest Sara Marcus, author of riot-grrl history Girls To The Front, provide a nice history of riot grrl (focusing on Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Bratmobile, and Heavens To Betsy) and its status today, though it would’ve been nice to hear also from one of the musicians.

This American Life #435: How To Create A Job
Planet Money makes an appearance this week to talk about the complicated task of job creation. It’s typical work for the team: They start with a big-picture question about the economy, then set out to answer it. What’s atypical, though, is the way the episode drags, in part because there are no real surprises here. The exception is Act Four, which looks at how few job programs targeting those who need it most: people who never finished high school.