Week of Sept. 22-28

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“Premise: Earth is blah blah blah global warming, time travel, people go back in time in time to the Cretaceous period, something something something, dinosaurs.” —Glen Weldon describes Terra Nova, Pop Culture Happy Hour

“You didn’t want to be one degree away from JFK’s dick? And Elvis, and Frank Sinatra… the biggest dicks of the 20th century! He could have been right there!” —Matt Belknap, on his father spurning the advances of Ann-Margret, Never Not Funny

“No one is looking at Chaz Bono going, ‘Fuck, that is awesome! I gotta do that! Hey, mom and dad, I’m a cheerleader and I love my boyfriend, but I just saw Chaz Bono on TV, and I want to be a short little squat dude—’”
“First off, I need a pump-up cock and a half-beard from my neck down. And I need to be able to dance.” —Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony on the idea that Chaz Bono “promotes” transsexuality, Walking The Room

“Let’s see, by my count, we had two dicklesses and one dick fuck.” —Scott Aukerman tallies the obscenity in Nick Thune’s secret recording of his crazy neighbor, Comedy Bang Bang

“Guess what, everybody: There’s some more space that we found.” —John Hodgman musing on what it’s like to be an astrophysicist, The Sound Of Young America

“Did we learn nothing from V? Do you not know that sci-fi fans hate annoying teenage boys? How do you not know that after 25 years?” —Alan Sepinwall on Terra Nova, Firewall & Iceberg

“This is like a bad joke: ‘Four Jews and a Mormon are sitting at a table… ’ —Elna Baker, WTF With Marc Maron

NEW (TO US)

Fitzdog Radio 
Comedian Greg Fitzsimmons has a lot of dark and vulgar things to say that he just can’t fit into his Sirius Satellite Radio program, so he started a podcast. Each episode features Fitzsimmons talking about a recent experience that bothers him or makes him feel terrible about himself, and then he plays an interview with a celebrity—usually from the comedy or porn industry—that was recorded immediately after his Sirius show or while on the road. While Fitzsimmons’ show has been compared to Marc Maron’s WTF, it is much more lighthearted and replaces brooding and confrontation with loveable self-effacement and segments like “Liar’s Poker.” The segments are a good break in the action, preventing the audience and the host from getting too bogged down with inane details about the guest and keeping the pace of the show brisk and the tone fun. 

The episode simply called Pittsburgh features a lot more personal time with Fitzsimmons as he waffles between self-doubt and amusement with his fans. This show also features brief interviews with the Pittsburgh comedians who opened for him, which is a common thing for Fitzdog Radio episodes from the road. This is good news for fans of Los Angeles-based comedy podcasts who are tired of hearing the same cast of comedians on every other show. Another episode with Judah Friedlander is more of a bitch session between two published authors, but Friedlander is another comedian that is less common on the podcast circuit and a breath of fresh air. Fitzdog Radio has a familiar “L.A. podcast” feel, but the host has more dynamic range and the guests come from a larger pool. 


OUTLIERS

Forgotten Classics 
If you’ve ever thought of listening to audiobooks but don’t want to pay for them or can’t decide what to listen to, this podcast is for you. Host Julie D and her fellow readers choose fairly obscure books in the public domain to read chapter by chapter, much like a bedtime story. The stories range from tales of Americana to apocalyptic sci-fi adventures, and the tone of the readers is generally soothing and warm—except when they attempt to mimic the voices of some characters and end up sounding a bit goofy. Episode 168: Bridge Of Birds Chapters 1-3 kicks off Barry Hughart’s blending of Chinese mythology with Western storytelling that follows the journey of Li Kao and Number 10 Ox. Originally there were to be seven books produced, but a conflict with the publishers forced this book into obscurity, where Forgotten Classics found it. 


THE BEST

The Bugle #167: Berlusconi: Hard to Swallow
The audio newspaper for a visual world finally returns to its normal schedule and then immediately says it’s taking another break next week. This anomalous return to form does not disappoint, as John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman satirize all The Bugle favorites in one episode with only General Gaddafi and Hugo Chávez not RSVPing to their own skewerings. This episode focuses primarily on the Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, and his recent comments regarding his passion for prostitutes and how Italy is a “shitty country.” Zaltzman compares Berlusconi to a 12-year-old boy exaggerating his sexual exploits at summer camp and then manages to turn the phrase “unfuckable lardass” into a compliment. While the rest of the episode delivers some great commentary on various global issues, the jokes at Berlusconi’s expense make for truly brilliant comedy. 

The B.S. Report: Alex Gibney
Bill Simmons welcomes documentarian Alex Gibney to promote his film Catching Hell, which focuses on the Steve Bartman incident during the 2003 Major League Baseball playoffs that doomed the Chicago Cubs. Gibney gives some great contextual background, including his attempts to track down the mythical Bartman. He also teases out more historical context (including examples from classic literature) for the documentary’s scapegoat theme. But the podcast shares one problem with the film: too much talk about the Red Sox. Granted, there is a tangential relationship to the Sox (the infamous Bill Buckner error during the 1986 World Series), and Gibney and Simmons are lifelong Sox fans, but it gets in the way of Bartman’s story and Gibney’s compelling documentary. 

Culture Gabfest: Bunny Emergency Edition
After a couple of bumpy weeks, the Gabfest comes back with a strong show from end to end, with all three segments falling squarely into the panelists’ areas of expertise. The two new life-in-the-’60s series, The Playboy Club and Pan Am, serve themselves up on a tee for Julia Turner, who blogs about Mad Men for Slate and rips these network clones for making the same themes explicit in the dialogue. (She even claims to prefer the widely reviled The Playboy Club over Pan Am, but on that point, her co-hosts draw the line.) Stephen Metcalf and Dana Stevens dominate a terrific segment on R.E.M.’s retirement, with Metcalf praising the unique sound of early classics like Murmur and Stevens preferring the clarity and lilting beauty of ’90s records like Automatic For The People. (She even wrote a poem 20 years ago in tribute to Michael Stipe, but she declines to share it.) Farhad Manjoo joins them for the final bit, discussing his multi-part series called Will Robots Steal Your Job?—specifically, Dana Stevens’ job.

Freakonomics Radio: The Upside Of Quitting
Like most Freakonomics Radio episodes, this one challenges some sort of conventional wisdom, in this case the adage “quitters never win, and winners never quit.” Host Stephen Dubner argues that in our zeal to tough things out, we underestimate the upside of quitting something, be it a job, a class, a religion, or a relationship. Dubner’s subjects are quitters who range from former Clinton-era Secretary of Labor Robert Reich to minor-league baseball players to sex workers, who talk about their decisions to quit something, why they did it, and how those decisions ultimately benefitted them. Dubner also recalls one of his first big quits, leaving The Right Profile, a band he played in with Jon Wurster (of Superchunk), shortly after the band was signed to Arista Records, and how doing so brought him closer to the life he envisioned for himself. This episode is less economics-driven than most, and in some ways much of it seems anecdotal. It’s a fun listen, but what’s frustrating is that it’s never really recognized that most of the subjects, including Dubner, are seemingly ambitious people who quit something for another endeavor they were more interested in, so they were more or less bound to succeed in quitting. 

Hang Up And Listen: The Enigma In A Hoodie Edition
A new NFL season means renewed discussion of just how far the league is going to protect its players—and, in a related matter, how much broadcasters are willing to acknowledge the possibility that head injuries are affecting play. In the wake of Michael Vick’s broken hand, the Hang Up And Listen gang scoff at his accusations that officials aren’t doing to enough to keep him safe, but their long-standing concern over concussions remains intact. Other segments examine the films of the day: They speak kindly of the NFL Films documentary Bill Belichick: A Football Life, which reveals more of his winning methods than his notoriously prickly, evasive press conferences, and throw some cold water on the widely praised Moneyball, though their vocational relationship to the subject matter is a bit like a doctor reviewing ER. The big fun this week is in the “Afterball” segments, particularly Stefan Fatsis’ spotlight on the real-life major-league aspirations of Stephen Bishop, the actor who plays David Justice in Moneyball and looks so much like him that players used to call him “Baby Justice.”

How Was Your Week #29: “This Is Lowell”: Patton Oswalt, Daniel Kibblesmith
A long chat about the movie Splash and a discussion with a former reality-show contestant might not sound compelling, but both subjects turn out to be surprisingly engaging. First, Julie Klausner speaks with Groupon humorist Daniel Kibblesmith about his turn on The Millionaire Matchmaker and how he may or may not have treated the entire experience as a goof. Then Patton Oswalt returns to discuss the world’s most famous non-animated mermaid movie, which turns out to be a surprisingly rich conversation about John Candy, the sexism in the film, and casting decisions. Klausner also divulges more about her upcoming live show and reveals that she’s caught on to what the rest of the United States of America already knows: Sofia Vergara is eminently doable. 

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #27: Hank Adams
The Mental Illness Happy Hour began by exploring the intersection of mental illness and creativity, especially where comedy is involved. That’s still a central theme, but as it has progressed, Paul Gilmartin’s podcast has increasingly featured guests who have a fuzzy relationship with the world of entertainment. Hank Adams’ only tie to the entertainment world, for example, seems to be his friendship with Gilmartin. In a revealing interview, handyman and sometimes construction worker Adams discusses how his mother’s alcoholism and prostitution colored his nascent sexuality and put him on a path to prostitution himself. Some of Adams’ revelations will definitely fall on the “too much information” side for some listeners, like his admission that he used to get sexually aroused massaging his grandmother’s feet, but his candor is admirable, important, and ultimately liberating. 

The Moth: A Tribute To Wanda Bullard 
A special episode this week honors the woman on whose porch The Moth was born. Wanda Bullard, who died earlier this month, reappears via a story, “The Small Town Prisoner,” about her father’s ill-fated career in the local police and fire departments in a rural Mississippi town. Bullard’s friend and Moth founder George Dawes Green recalls online that “Wanda’s stories were much quieter. They were always about trust.” Indeed, it’s a nice break from the polished confidence often found in Moth storytellers, and a story in which a comic mistake turns out to have moral rewards.

The Moth: Ernesto Quiñonez: Spanish Harlem, Seventh Grade
It’s a risky thing to make people laugh at a story and then make them feel guilty about it moments later, and novelist Ernesto Quiñonez’s Moth entry admittedly has just enough heft to pull that off. Quiñonez also makes the even more daring gesture of asking forgiveness, after he recounts taking revenge on a racist junior-high bully by smearing him as gay. Mailing dildos and porn to an unsuspecting victim remains funny no matter what the twist, but Quiñonez worries that he was bigoted himself in his approach to breaking his Latino-hating tormentor’s spirit, a tactic that landed the big scary Italian kid in the hospital. Luckily, the halting discomfort in his delivery helps to pull together the contrasting humor and remorse.

Never Not Funny: Live In San Francisco
With the podcast’s success, it’s safe to assume a live audience is full of fans eager to see the crew in their element: Jimmy Pardo working the crowds, producer Matt Belknap as anecdotal wing-man, and Pat Francis playing the smirking antagonist. All of that is here, of course: Pardo nimbly quotes Jon Hamm while faux-hitting on a Dave Navarro lookalike in the audience; Matt Belknap contemplates what it would take for him to try drugs the first time; and Francis reads his maximum-words eBay letter to “Stryper” from Canada, who’s interested in a 14-disc Superman set. But for a few moments, the conversations take turns that imply an expected dedication from the crowd that might not exist. For example, this non sequitur from Pardo: “You know what I discovered? This is not pedophilia. I like little kids’ butts.” And for the punchline of a story on Belknap’s father unknowingly spurring the advances of Ann-Margret Olsson—after Pardo says “I'd take a chance with your Dad, if he had slept with Ann-Margret”—Belknap drops this bomb: “Exactly! I would have been like, ‘Please molest me! I want to be in on this!’” Still, a few cringe-worthy moments doesn’t take away from the other 90 minutes of punchy, whip-crack comedy.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Gambling On Conversations With Dead People
While regular host Linda Holmes is sadly missed, this week’s PCHH perks up considerably from past weeks’ episodes. The opening conversation on the Emmys doesn’t waste time on examining the ceremony, and only glosses over the winners: It’s mostly a funny, low-key dissection of how well host Jane Lynch acquitted herself, and how horrible awards-show banter and the job of awards-show hosting is. (“The bar is so low, it’s makin’ a divot in the carpet,” Glen Weldon crisply summarizes.) A second segment has the hosts placing their bets on which of the new fall TV shows will get past the obligatory few first episodes. Again, the topic isn’t as much about the shows’ relative merits as about how they appear based on their topics, talent, time slots, and ripeness for humorous jabs. Finally, the weekly What’s Making Us Happy roundup gets inside-baseball-y, as Weldon discusses the ins and outs of reviewing Craig Thompson’s terrific Habibi without writing ad-copy pull-quotes, and guest host Tanya Ballard Brown laments her inability to get NPR to ship her off to touch Idris Elba. 

Sklarbro Country #61: Kathy Griffin, Blake Griffin
For a show about sports, Sklarbro Country is refreshingly lacking in the testosterone department. It’s more about kibitzing and rapid-fire quips than macho posturing, more about wry observations than jock machismo. What other sports show would have Kathy Griffin on as a guest to swap tales of debauchery involving Andy Dick and Marilyn Manson? (The Sklars’ Dick story involves the troubled funnyman hitchhiking in a referee uniform he “borrowed” from the set of The Comebacks.) Griffin proves a predictably juicy guest as she bad-mouths Jon Hamm, sends some vitriol Gwyneth Paltrow’s way, and reminisces about working with the Sklars on Divas Salute The Troops. The podcast then keeps the D-list vibe going strong with a call from Jason Nash as Bruce Jenner that chronicles the ongoing humiliation that is the champion-turned-emasculated-husk’s sorrowful existence. It’s one of the funniest and most gay-friendly Sklarbro Country episodes to date, the only weakness being a non-starter of a call from NBA newcomer Blake Griffin (no relation to Kathy). 

The Sound Of Young America: Astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson 
The moon thing’s been done. The Space Shuttle Discovery has been retired. NASA’s funding has been cut back. So how do we make space interesting again? John Hodgman speaks with StarTalk Radio and NOVA scienceNOW host Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson about his revival of the series Cosmos (made famous by Carl Sagan), what the director of a planetarium actually does on a daily basis, and other spacey stuff. Tyson is jocular and self-effacing as he discusses how to make space interesting to a jaded public. Thankfully, there’s always the concept of singularity, which is either totally fascinating or completely horrifying, depending on whether you’re a computer.

This American Life: The Incredible Case Of The P.I. Moms
It might seem a little presumptuous of TAL to imply this week’s story is incredible right there in the title, but the single tale that this episode is dedicated to is indeed almost too strange to be believed. Soccer-mom detectives, torrid affairs, stolen drugs, crooked cops, hidden cameras, the Feds: The story of Chris Butler and his PI Moms is the stuff pulpy TV shows are made of. Oh, and the story also includes a pulpy TV show. There are plenty of twists and turns and a sprawling cast of characters, but Joshuah Bearman’s shrewd storytelling keeps this an engaging listen from its fluffy beginning to its true-crime conclusion.

Stuff You Missed In History Class: The Freedom Rides: Australia Takes Note 
A few weeks of episodes about 1961’s Freedom Rides in the U.S. leads up to this episode about Australia, where those rides struck a deep chord. Aboriginal people there lacked legal rights on almost any level (whereas African-Americans were pressing the boundaries of rights) and they needed a movement. Charles Perkins, Australia’s first Aborigine to earn a university degree, led the movement that would eventually change the face of modern civil rights. They endured protests similar to those of their American counterparts, though a bit less violent. Eventually federal law was rewritten so that native people were counted in the census and treated like true individuals, but it took until 1967 and still did not mean an end to the civil-rights struggle there. Hosts Sarah Dowdey and Deblina Chakraborty wisely include this rather hidden niche of history after two weeks of also covering Australian outlaws. The story paints a positive portrait of the country that, though young and late to support certain ideals, still managed to bring about change.

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Who Was The Mistress Of Murder Hill? 
In the opening moments of this episode, listeners are promised a decapitated body, and the story does not disappoint. Belle Gunness, the titular mistress, was responsible for dozens of murders including those of her children, multiple husbands, and various suitors. It clearly didn’t hurt that Gunness had a morbid charm, taking out courtship ads shortly after the brutally violent deaths of her husbands with hook lines like “Triflers Need Not Apply.” Apparently “trifler” is another word for “men who fight back,” as most of the suitors who answered these ads received a dowry of prompt skull-bludgeoning and were never heard from again. There is something delightfully distant and almost meditative about hearing two cheery female hosts describe a serial killer of more than 100 years ago, and the dark conclusion is certainly worth 20 minutes of your time.

Stuff You Should Know: How Family Crests Work
As Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant break down the exact relationships of crests, emblems, coats of arms, and more mind-rending minutia, one thing becomes clear: This would be a dismal thing to learn about in any way format than two people casually conversing. It’s certainly dense and visual for an audio podcast, but the hosts clearly understand their extensive research. They break down their own crests and joke about how likely you are to get beaten up in the United Kingdom for messing this research up. The guys definitely like discussing this topic, and it should attract universal interest—from those whose heritage traces back to the UK. As a downside, there are eye-roll moments as Bryant feigns ignorance about amulets and tartans. It’s a given that these are smart guys, and it reads pretty clearly as “We don’t know a better way to discuss this than one of us pretending to be dumb.” It happens occasionally on the podcast, and hopefully it won’t get this obvious again.

Stuff You Should Know: How Sword Swallowing Works
Some serious credit should go to the hosts for not flinching at sword swallowing’s finer details. More squeamish folks, such as the recapper of this particular episode, would have a hard time saying “the sword swallower must first swallow a metal sheath” without gagging. But Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant gleefully imagine what it must be like to walk around and socialize with a large metal tube stuffed into your esophagus. They spend approximately 10 minutes describing how various organs, tissues, and an occasional aorta are “nudged” out of the way before Clark unironically comments “...and that’s all there is to it,” launching into some techniques and history to the “art form.” If you’ve ever wanted to know how this is done and simultaneously be convinced it is a terrible idea, this is a must-listen episode. 

Walking The Room #70: Gay Boys And Heavy Duty Temperature Trips
This week’s Walking The Room is full of squirrelly promise right from Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony’s episode-opening argument over whether starfish have “grooves.” One of the more brilliant concepts they’ve stumbled into in a while is the celebrity privilege of having a “phone bitch,” or someone a famous person can hit with a phone when irate. (“Jamie Kennedy has a phone bitch. It’s him. He hits himself with a phone.”) That leads into the idea of “singing your way out of a fight,” in case anyone was really hoping to hear “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” performed on WTR. Lastly, it’s worth paying extra attention to this week’s segment on the evolution of ice-cream flavors—it’s the kind of podcast moment that you almost hope one of them will go back to for stand-up material.

Who Charted? #43: Songs In The Key Of SoBe
After last week’s frustrating turn with guest Todd Barry, Kulap Vilaysack and Howard Kremer sit down with another dry, low-energy guest in the form of Tim Heidecker. This time around, though, Vilaysack and Kremer are infinitely more successful at producing an engaging episode, mainly because of Heidecker’s predisposition to being open and forthcoming. One of the more endearing moments revolves around Heidecker’s genuine surprise over the fact that a group named Das Racist is composed of a group of Indian kids from Queens. Another high point in the conversation comes from Heidecker’s tendency to lapse into brilliant bits of improv in the course of the conversation. One particularly entertaining riff happens during a discussion of the Taylor Lautner vehicle Abduction where Heidecker posits the idea that Americans forfeit their rights as citizens the moment they sign up for Google Chrome. With Heidecker, Vilaysack and Kremer strike a nice balance of having a low-energy guest who still manages to carry his conversational weight. As an added bonus, the episode ends with one of Kremer’s more ridiculous Dragon Boy Suede tracks.

WTF With Marc Maron #213: Artie Lange, Nick DiPaolo, Nick Griffin, Joe Mande, Wayne Koestenbaum, Elna Baker, Morgan Spurlock, Ira Glass
There’s a lot going on in this live episode of WTF, more than enough to justify its nearly two-hour run time and whatever price The Bell House charged for tickets. As is the case with most things filtered through Marc Maron’s coffee-addled brain, the conversation consistently circles back to humiliation and shame—a theme initiated by This American Life host Ira Glass (who attempts to piece together his last, vomit-strewn, and entirely against type night at the venue) and solidified by Wayne Koestenbaum, author of the aptly titled Humiliation. And if you look at it that way, you can put a highbrow spin on Elna Baker’s tale of her first, tear-stained blowjob or Joe Mande’s account of shitting his pants at Jewish summer camp. Never one to be concerned with embarrassment, the newly clean-and-sober Artie Lange makes a surprise appearance at the end of the episode, proving, like Maron, that just because you get your shit together doesn’t mean you’ve run out of funny stories—it just means you’re more likely to be the observer of other people’s humiliation.   


THE REST

The Adam Carolla Show
The week in Ace, in order of descending interest: In a one-on-one interview, Michael Moore and conservative Carolla find common ground in their mutual concern for the American car industry. The talk flows into thoughtful discussions of Ronald Reagan’s controversial trip to Bitburg, the human herd mentality, the Holocaust, and 9/11. (And the ’cast begins with lengthy recaps of Ace’s knee surgery and recovery, with extended griping about hospital gowns—this one truly has it all.) Jane Goodall is the least likely guest ever: After Carolla gripes about bread bowls, gum-chewers, and Two And A Half Men, he respectfully interviews the primatologist, who shares biographical tidbits to plug her upcoming documentary Jane’s Journey. Comedian Doug Benson sits in for a live session from the Lovitz Theater, in which Carolla gripes about heist movies, gives the glass-half-full take on the Troy Davis execution, and goofs on R.E.M.’s breakup. Dana Gould, David Koechner, and Josh Gardner join Ace for another live B.S. session about dog surgery, dog shit, and the Michael Jackson doctor trial. Gardner sings off-color ditties, including Carolla favorite “Mr. Stinkfinger,” and Carolla gripes about his maid, cell phones, and electronic hotel keys. In a spotlight segment that’s short even by Ace show standards, Boondock Saints star Sean Patrick Flanery talks about his best-known film and ponders how technology has made movies a disposable commodity. Carolla continues griping about hospital gowns, then later recounts the joys of peeing on your girlfriend, pals, and enemies in the shower.

The Apple Sisters #17: Boat Queen Week 5 of 6
What happens this week on The Apple Sisters? A tidal wave, some kinky phone sex picked up over the ship’s wireless, (near) nudity, and an extended riff on how Cora is always putting junk between her legs—so, the usual. Like the past few episodes, the Boat Queen-related plot doesn’t move forward until the very end, but with Matt Gourley and Jeremy Carter of Superego on hand, what comes next could be good.

The Best Show On WFMU
This week’s Best Show starts off slow, with the first hour dedicated to callers mostly sticking to music talk, rehashing the conversations about what ’80s movies Orson Welles should have been in and Tom Scharpling’s obsession with the dark arts.  Then close to the second hour, a discussion about demons and haunted places yields some briefly funny moments, but even Scharpling admits that the callers are aiming to turn his show into “their own personal This American Life.

Comedy Bang Bang #124: Bro-ing Out Pt. Deux: Todd Barry, Nick Thune, Matthew Sweet
Comedy Bang Bang’s streak of appearances in “The Best” ends at nine, with the show dropping to “The Rest” for the first time since mid-July. Hey, it was a good run, and it’s not like #124 is bad; it’s just like a lot of sequels—not as good as the original (#121, the first “Bro-ing Out”). Nick Thune’s interminable story about his crazy neighbor sets the sluggish tone early on, despite the funny secret recording he made of the guy’s tantrum. The subsequent segments are also slow, and listeners who dislike the musical segments will have three to skip in the first 45 minutes.

Doug Loves Movies: Howard Kremer, Kulap Vilaysack, and Matt Belknap
On the basis that this episode was thrown together at the last minute (it’s replacing one lost during Doug Benson’s recent trip to the Toronto International Film Festival), it’s an exemplary in-studio hour of Doug Loves Movies, gathering Who Charted? chart-masters Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack and Never Not Funny co-host/DLM producer Matt Belknap. But given the podcasting experience in the room, the episode suffers from an unfortunate flatness. Who Charted? listeners will be happy to receive a visit from Kremer’s brother Lee (“I’ll only see two movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The In-Laws”), but the movie discussions aren’t particularly funny, and Belknap only had enough time to prepare two categories for the Leonard Maltin Game. This one gets an “A” for effort, but an “eh” for execution.

Firewall & Iceberg, #95: A Gifted Man, Pan Am, Boardwalk Empire & More
Can you truly tell how good a season is while it’s still in progress? HitFix.com TV sages Dan Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall explore the question’s various answers in reviews of ABC’s Pan Am, CBS’ How I Met Your Mother, and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Short discussions cover high-profile fall shows including CBS’ A Gifted Man, Fox’s Glee, ABC’s Modern Family, and NBC’s Community, Parks And Recreation, and The Office. And a look at early ratings inspires predictions of which bubble shows are about to pop.

Firewall & Iceberg, #96: Terra Nova, Dexter, Homeland & More
If you’re in the market for a new drama, comedy, or nomenclatural vocational irony narrative (listen to find out exactly what that last one means), this episode will swell your weekly DVR queue by at least two hours. Fienberg and Sepinwall serve bite-sized reviews of Fox family/dinosaur drama Terra Nova, N.V.I.N. Hart Of Dixie, ESPN Steve Bartman-Cubs documentary Catching Hell, ABC’s girl-displaced comedy Suburgatory, CBS man-perplexed comedy How To Be A Gentleman, and Showtime’s extremes: the serial-disappointing Dexter and aces new thriller Homeland. And, yes, they think Breaking Bad is still crushing it. 

Judge John Hodgman: Unbanded Brothers
Without Bailiff Jesse Thorn, who’s off on paternity leave, the Judge John Hodgman podcast has had a couple of rough episodes, though it’s not the fault of the guest bailiffs. Audio problems hampered the last episode—guest bailiff Jake Tapper had a Skype connection at the bottom of the sea and Hodgman accidentally recorded into an internal microphone—and this time combative siblings spoil the show by not abiding by the rules of the fake court. Future guests be warned: Judge Hodgman will have order.

Nerdist #127: The Guild
Nothing screams “fans only” like a Nerdist panel, and devotees of The Guild get plenty of chummy chatter from the actors behind their favorite fictional gamers here. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into a lot of insight into the popular, Felicia Day-helmed web series—Day and Chris Hardwick briefly delve into the advantages of having unlimited creative power online (and the trade-off: zero creative leverage in Hollywood), but there’s just as much time devoted to an audience member presenting Hardwick with a cape made of dicks. You see, it’s a reference to a previous episode of Nerdist... unless you’ve got an entire closet of Nerdist- and The Guild-inspired crafts, best to just tune in next time.

Never Not Funny #917: Ed Crasnick
While the free, pre-guest 20 minutes at the top of this episode are among the season’s best—it’s nearly impossible to draw a line from the riff on Never Not Funny’s sole, lonely trophy to Jimmy Pardo’s sock-wearing tendencies, and such is the joy of this show—the remaining 70-plus get bogged down by guest Ed Crasnick’s forced wordplay and unironically dated references. (On his facial hair: “It’s like rock-around-the-razor. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock shave.” Pardo: “You can’t feel good about having said that out loud.”) A comedy journeyman, Crasnick shares some insightful stories from working with Pardo in the late ’90s, and his analysis of the Emmys is sharp and informed, but too many clunkers leave #917 at the bottom of season nine.

The Smartest Man In The World: Masks
Greg Proops faces his usual issue in this episode: his smarts and improvisational ability versus his tendency to let his tangents wander too much. (This episode stretches past the 75-minute mark). When focused, Proops’ assessment of a topic can be a sharp and funny, but he battles with staying on course. His take on the late Dock Ellis, a former major-league pitcher famous for throwing a no-hitter while high on acid, is hilarious even though he risks losing momentum as his riffing spins off course. His riffs on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case are more effective because he stays on target, so his vitriolic humor lands even harder. 

Sound Opinions: #304 Handsome Furs
Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Boeckner is probably best known as one of the creative leaders of the excellent indie-rock band Wolf Parade, but he sits in here with his wife, Alexei Perry, to discuss his side project Handsome Furs and its solid new album, Sound Kapital. It’s a fairly standard band interview, detailing the couple’s courtship and the group’s influences, but it takes an interesting tangent when Boeckner and Perry talk about their travels in Eastern Europe and Asia and discovering the protest music of the region. That music isn’t necessarily apparent on Sound Kapital—it’s actually the most Wolf Parade-sounding of all the Handsome Furs records—but it’s fodder for a good conversation nonetheless. 

Uhh Yeah Dude #270
In a meaty if relatively subdued episode this week, Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette indulge in some serious talk on drugs’ role in culture throughout the ages and score some points with the idea of replacing Comic Relief with “Comedy Hunger Strike,” in which comics starve until they get a laugh. The hits are a little more spread-out than usual, but then again, who else is going to walk listeners through the finer points of Dollywood’s newest roller coaster, or the schedule for Gay Days at Disneyland?

WTF With Marc Maron #212: Chris Hardwick
Chris Hardwick has spent the past 13 years or so trying to make people forget that he once hosted an MTV dating show called Singled Out alongside Jenny McCarthy and, later, Carmen Electra. He’s largely succeeded in reinventing himself as the proud patriarch of all things nerdy, but Marc Maron nevertheless sees him largely through the lens of his long-ago MTV semi-stardom. Hardwick consequently spends much of his disappointing visit to WTF disabusing Maron of his conception of him as a blow-dried MTV slickster while chronicling his professional evolution from geeky bowling prodigy to nerd Ryan Seacrest.