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 email@example.com.
A Podmass spotlight
Daily news series
Daily roundups are having a moment. They’re nothing new, but they’re poised to define the current era of podcasting the same way Serial did when it turned the medium on its head in 2014. Unlike Serial’s inability to generate revenue, however, these daily news programs might hold monetary value in addition to cultural cachet. Wired writer Felix Salmon details the profitable possibilities of this podcast iteration using one of the earliest adopters of the format, The Daily, as an example: The podcast, he says, “won’t just make money on its own right, it will sell subscriptions to the newspaper and the website while doing so.”
Spawned by The New York Times, The Daily condenses the print publication into 20-minute episodes released Monday through Friday. It’s a logical extension of the journalistic heavyweight, maintaining the brand’s tradition of delivering “all the news that’s fit to print,” or in this case, “how the news should sound.” Similar offerings only half as long can be found within the new NPR podcast Up First, which aims to give listeners “the biggest stories and ideas—from politics to pop culture” throughout the week.
A few decidedly hipper dailies like Reporting To You and Today, Explained, from BuzzFeed and Vox, respectively, have also gotten in the game, the latter promising “all killer, no filler.” These, too, have a consistent weekday schedule that’s attractive to advertisers, especially when compared to anthology podcasts that not only change subjects from season to season (gambling with listeners’ level of interest), but also take indeterminate amounts of time off. And of course there are the lesser-knowns, patiently waiting for the right audience to find them.
All of these podcasts provide the valuable service of making news consumption something that can be multitasked, allowing listeners to consume the news while still going about their day (I for one like to soundtrack teeth-brushing and face-washing with some of the briefer options). So which, if any, is the best for you? The jury’s still out (check out Hot Pod’s appraisal of the leading series), but we suggest picking five of interest and conducting a trial week to come to your own conclusions. [Becca James]
Comedians often have their fair share of experiences with mental illness, and throughout the podcast Chill Pills comics Candy Lawrence and Tyson Klein explore their encounters with depression, anxiety, and whatever other issues might come up while welcoming a guest to share their own story. The conversations go to deep and dark places, but are often grounded in humor that makes some of the hardest moments easier to digest and relate to. On episode 10, comedian Matt Brandseth discusses his mother’s death, his divorce, and his interest in Transcendental Meditation. The show allows everyone to be vulnerable while being funny; it gives people the power to make jokes about dead parents and addiction and heartbreak and medication with a genuine spirit and a punchline. Lawrence’s and Klein’s openness to share their own struggles and support their guests’ emotional arc makes the podcast all the more compelling. The result is a voyeuristic form of therapy that elicits tears and laughter in equal measure. [Brianna Wellen]
Winning the lottery can overwhelm anyone, but it hit Abraham Shakespeare harder than most. A 40-year-old trucker’s assistant at the time of his $30 million windfall in 2006, Shakespeare was besieged by both strangers and acquaintances looking for handouts. After Shakespeare went missing in 2009, police started to question if some of the shadowy figures that emerged from the woodwork were capable of more than begging. Through periodic texts to friends and a phone call to his mother, a man claiming to be Shakespeare said he was just lying low, but his voice was unrecognizable, and it was odd for him to be writing anything, as he was functionally illiterate. This sad case plays out on Generation Why fairly predictably, though there are a few interesting developments as the investigation unfolds, such as Shakespeare’s barber MacGuyver-ing a makeshift recording device to help police build a case after the wire he’s outfitted with becomes too risky following a suspect’s attempts to get handsy with him. [Zach Brooke]
National Security Law Podcast
Wait—We Have To Talk About GATT?!?
In a medium littered with specialized shows, the NSL Podcast just might be the most niche out there. It’s hosted by two incredibly wonky law professors who delve into national security legal justifications with an informed zeal rarely seen outside of… these two guys. Even trade policy would be outside the scope of the podcast, if not for the fact that Trump used national security as a justification for the recent steel and aluminum tariffs. Putting aside both the political and economic wisdom of the president’s decision, the hosts attempt to determine whether he has the authority to take protective actions. As with most legal questions, the answer is a big fat “it depends,” with the needle pointing toward yes; the matter hinges on whether the U.S. is experiencing a “national emergency” sufficient to be exempt from the General Agreement On Tariffs And Trade (the eponymous GATT). Listeners are also treated to stories of past actions that would absolutely explode the country today, such as when Harry Truman nationalized the steel industry. Thankfully, the hosts end the episode with something a little more digestible: their favorite TV dramas. [Zach Brooke]
Radio Cherry Bombe
You Had Us At Cake And Cocktails
Radio Cherry Bombe is a seamless extension of its namesake indie magazine and recently published cookbook, which celebrates women in the food industry. Each week, host and Cherry Bombe co-founder Kerry Diamond invites some of the coolest and most creative chefs, bakers, stylists, writers, and cookbook authors to engage in thoughtful discussion outside of the “chef bro” culture that dominates food-related media. On this episode, self-taught pastry chef Caroline Schiff, of Brooklyn’s The Greene Grape, “talks about her mentors, why she’s birthday-cake-obsessed, and what she’s doing with brown butter these days.” The sense of community Radio Cherry Bombe fosters is especially evident when Schiff speaks about chef Sohui Kim—another accomplished woman with ties to Brooklyn’s food scene (Good Fork and Insa)—praising her mentorship in such a way that you can feel the admiration in Schiff’s voice. Mixologist Maggie Hoffman is also featured, sharing useful tips for making cocktails at home, as well as naming a few of her favorite female mixologists, adding to Radio Cherry Bombe’s ever-expanding list of female culinary creatives to know. [Becca James]
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Goys
Thank You And Goodnight With Guy Branum
Kevin T. Porter has not given up his relentless pursuit of honoring all things Amy Sherman-Palladino. The Gilmore Guy has teamed up with comedian Alice Wetterlund to dive into the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, examining the merits of the show through not only the lens of the Palladino-verse but also the way the series addresses female comics, Jewish culture, and civil rights in 1950s New York City. Guy Branum guests on the finale episode, bringing some much-needed no-nonsense commentary to the entire series. Mrs. Maisel was universally beloved by the guests (and critics and viewers), but this episode of the podcast removes the rose-colored glasses without diminishing the show’s merits. It’s an honest and important conversation addressing the realities of being a stand-up comedian and the often ignored cultural struggles characters would have faced in a more realistic setting. The trio honors the creative boundaries Sherman-Palladino breaks in her first venture following her Gilmore-revival disaster while pushing the industry to do better when it comes to telling stories about comedians, women, and marginalized voices. [Brianna Wellen]
This American Life
This American Life is a stalwart of storytelling, but “Five Women” surpasses previous episodes to deliver one of the most enthralling looks into today’s #MeToo movement. Stating that “there is no #MeToo moment that is actually separate from the rest of our lives,” producer Chana Joffe-Walt invites five women, all of whom have one man’s misdeeds in common, to share how their personal histories shaped their response to sexual harassment and the ways they’ve taken control of their narrative. The man in question is Don Hazen, the AlterNet editor who was placed on what BuzzFeed News reported as “indefinite leave” this December after he was accused of sexually harassing women in the workplace. Spanning 13 years, these women’s stories discuss Hazen’s behavior as it relates to their previous experiences, like a teenage realization at the swimming pool or a memory of a mother’s poor advice. By featuring these women, Joffe-Walt gives listeners an inside look at the various (and at times vastly different) perspectives surrounding sexual misconduct in a refreshingly honest and enlightening way. [Becca James]