Step inside San Quentin State Prison with the new prisoner-produced Ear Hustle

Image: Radiotopia
Image: Radiotopia

In Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at podmass@avclub.com.

Blank Check With Griffin And David
The First Blank Check Mailbag

Whether they’re discussing the best place to get bagels, Freaks And Geeks DVD commentary, or the ending of Zodiac, the core dynamic between The Two Friends (Griffin Newman and David Sims) is what consistently makes Blank Check an exciting listen. Throw in some of producer Ben Hosley’s charm, and you’ve got a trio of personalities and perspectives that are always entertaining, and that lay a foundation for their film analysis to flourish with unique life. In this special episode, the hosts answer listener questions sent in via email and Twitter. It’s lovely to hear Newman and Sims have casual fun as they catch up, talk about embarrassing career moments and burger reports, become impassioned about particular directors, and even confront the haters. There are some particularly good questions that spark interesting conversation, and though most of it is still film-centric, their back-and-forth is endearing no matter the topic. It’s an episode that truly caters to fans, and is also a perfect transition into their next miniseries, which they finally announce here.

Ear Hustle
Cellies

Imagine spending half of your day in a 4-by-9-foot room. Now imagine sharing that room with another person. That might sound like an existential nightmare, but it’s everyday life for the millions of people who are incarcerated in the U.S. prison system at any given time. Inhabiting a closet-sized prison cell with a convict can be awful in unexpected ways: You might get stabbed in your sleep (that’s addressed), but there are other, more mundane issues too, like their soap-opera habit, or the fact that they begin talking first thing in the goddamn morning and don’t stop until they fall asleep. Radiotopia’s new inspired podcast, Ear Hustle—produced and hosted by inmates of California’s San Quentin State Prison—opens the cell door wide enough that we can all peer in and see what life is like on the other side of the justice system. The debut episode focuses on the surprisingly intimate relationship of cell mates, including the courting process of finding a suitable living partner. A very humanizing look at an often ignored segment of society.

Eric Roberts Is The F$%&ing Man
LA CUCARACHA (1998) & NO DEPOSIT (2015)

Mike White from The Projection Booth podcast sits in with hosts Doug Tilley and Liam O’Donnell on Eric Roberts Is The F$%&ing Man to decide if Eric Roberts is in fact the fucking man. The podcast at times resembles a Tiger Beat magazine dedicated solely to the Best Of The Best star with the hosts carefully analyzing Roberts’ Twitter feed, pondering who his cryptic tweets are aimed toward, and speculating on his upcoming projects, including the timely film Fake News. Tilley and O’Donnell also propose that they’ve probably seen more Eric Roberts movies than Roberts’ spouse, Eliza. The main event of the podcast is an in-depth discussion and dissection of the 1998 neo-noir La Cucaracha, in which Roberts appears to devour some live vermin in an impressive performance. Tilley, O’Donnell, and White also dive into 2015’s character-actor bonanza (Michael Madsen, Robert Loggia, Peter Coyote) No Deposit, then carefully decide if Eric Roberts is the fucking man in each film. Is Eric Roberts the fucking man? You’ll just have to listen to find out.

F This Movie!
Favorite And Underrated Slashers

Patrick Bromley is joined by managing editor of the Daily Dead, Heather Wixson, to discuss the best and most underrated slasher films. The list wisely bypasses the big franchises (Friday The 13th, Halloween) and sheds light onto some lesser-known gems. Bromley addresses the fact that “underrated” is a meaningless word these days, particularly when it comes to horror films; there seems to be a devout fanbase for anything, no matter how minuscule. Bromley brings 1979’s PG-rated Charles Band production Tourist Trap to the table, which features life-size dolls rather than the diminutive killers of most Band outings. Wixson pontificates on proto-Scream meta-stylings of April Fools Day, which is a rare case of a slasher getting slapped with an R rating not for gore, but for language. A highlight of the episode is a brief but compelling discussion on the psychosexual underpinnings of Robert Hiltzik’s nasty Sleepaway Camp, released in 1983. The show is thankfully spoiler-free, so if any listeners are unaware of that film’s outstanding twist ending, they can track it down tonight.

Here To Make Friends
Bonus: Paradise Production Halted

Here To Make Friends is a pretty lighthearted Bachelor recap and interview podcast, though hosts Emma Gray and Claire Fallon have always imbued the show with a feminist perspective and a sense of social consciousness. That makes the podcast well-suited to discuss the controversy that’s been ripping through Bachelor Nation over the last week. In short, filming of Bachelor In Paradise, a Bachelor spin-off show, has been halted due to allegations of sexual misconduct, and, last Wednesday, contestants Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson secured attorneys and released statements to the media. Careful not to give too much credence to unconfirmed reports, Gray and Fallon talk with Bachelor insider Reality Steve about what he claims to have heard about the situation. Later, they bring on Paradise alum (and attorney) Michael Garofola to illuminate the realities of the show’s production and what kind of role production plays in the actions of cast members. Bachelor In Paradise is the kind of silly, drama-filled summer show that culls more guffaws than “awwwws,” and the hosts excel at articulating the line between entertainment and reality.

Hollywood Masterclass
The Role Of The Artist

Handbook Heads and comedy fans unite! Sean Clements has teamed up with Ben Rodgers for Hollywood Masterclass, a show in which Clements “guides” Rodgers through the world of acting and teaches him the depths of their craft. Playing a persona named Shonk Lemons, Clements is exactly in his wheelhouse as he leans into the incompetent “mentor” role, pontificating with mixed metaphors and half-realized thoughts. Rodgers, a.k.a Bang Rodgeman, is brilliant as the straight man who vocalizes his doubts without deterring the improv. In this brilliant debut, they try to get to the bottom of what art really is (“it’s paintings and stuff”) and discuss whether or not Rodgeman is leading-man material (or if he’s Charles Manson). Also integral to the show is engineer Brett Morris, who peppers in well-timed commentary. But what really pops are the musical cues used throughout: pulled straight from an Inside The Actors Studio-type program, they’re downright hilarious every time. It eventually becomes clear that Clements’ qualifications and intentions are questionable, making it the perfect start to a show that will undoubtedly become a new favorite.

In The Service
Heartbreak And Water Damage

If you suddenly came into a bunch of money, and you wanted to do something worthwhile with this once-in-a-lifetime windfall, what would be the smart thing to do with it? The answer to that question for Long Islander Zahra Tangorra was to open her own restaurant, despite having zero experience in the food service industry. In 2010, Tangorra opened Brucie in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill, and while the respected little Italian cafe closed five years later, plenty of memories lingered. Memories of hot spaghetti sent airborne by angry sous-chefs and waitstaff walking out on the busiest nights of the year. Memories of leaky pipes, overflowing toilets, and the heartache of realizing that her culinary baby could not sustain itself. She shares all the memories with Kath and Jan, the two hosts of this podcast for people who have endured long, stressful, exhausting nights preparing and serving food for the public. Anyone who’s spent any time as a server, dishwasher, or chef will certainly recognize—perhaps with some fondness—the ordeals cheerfully and humorously recounted here.

Thought Spiral
Test Show #6

Folks might already be familiar with comedian Andy Kindler as the voice of Mort on Bob’s Burgers and other various roles in front of the camera on television shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and The Wizards Of Waverly Place. J. Elvis Weinstein, meanwhile, was featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Freaks And Geeks—and the pair have experience in the podcast sphere as well. Hearing the two comedians chat about their careers, and perspectives on the industry, is insightful on their newest venture, Thought Spiral. Kindler is refreshingly open (his experience with Prozac is discussed), and the two have a fun and colloquial repartee. In this episode, they chat about their ideal TV roles—Weinstein would choose a supporting character on a sitcom whereas Kindler would rather work on a show he considers worthwhile—and watching colleagues they dislike fall on hard times. As a podcast, Thought Spiral feels like listening in on close friends: they’re open, frank, and entertaining while also conscious of how their platform works, calling out lulls in the conversation and moving from topic to topic with ease.

Very Bad Wizards
Extended Minds, Extended Foreskins

Meet Inga. She’s a completely normal adult woman who wants to spend the day at her city’s art museum. To get there, she engages her memory to recall that the museum is located on 53rd street. Now meet Otto, an elderly man afflicted with Alzheimer’s who also wants to visit the museum. For him to get there, he needs to write down the museum’s address in a notebook and refer to it while en route. This is the set-up to a famous paper introducing the concept of extended mind, or the idea that Otto’s notebook is just as much his “mind” as is Inga’s memory. Hosts David Pizarro (a psychologist) and Tamler Sommers (a philosopher) debate the legitimacy and ethics surrounding the extended mind, including whether cognition stops at “skin or skull,” or whether our smartphones count as part of the extended-mind concept—and if so, does that make it okay to be checking them constantly? A separate discussion ensues about the ethics of male circumcision and whether it can truly cause lifelong trauma, as some people claim.