In Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends 10–15 of the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend
Jake Fogelnest is such a compelling speaker, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who isn’t lured in by the tenacity of his voice as he talks about almost anything. Whether it’s describing the important role UCB played in his life, or the differences between Adam Driver and Ryan Seacrest, there’s nothing Fogelnest doesn’t have an opinion on. That quality, plus the treasure trove of incredible stories he has to share made him the ideal guest for Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend. In this episode, Fogelnest tells stories of being a child with adult interests, like his obsession with John Waters when he was 7 years old. Rosen and Fogelnest delve into his past with Squirt TV, the public access turned MTV show he made out of his bedroom when he was just a teen. Even more amazing is that, for the most part, Fogelnest is being his genuine self, rather than the Hollywood persona one might find on various social media platforms. He talks about going to rehab at 17, and how he learned to prioritize self-care. Also, there’s a lovely moment that encapsulates Fogelnest’s magnetism as the two discuss Rosen’s personal fears, and he declares—in that classically impassioned Fogelnest way—that she can come to a place where external validation doesn’t rule her happiness. He’s so spirited in his character that one is compelled to follow his advice purely on instinct.
The Black Tapes
Speak No Evil, Think No Evil
The return of The Black Tapes has been anything but a return to form. What started as a fictional investigative podcast in the style of Serial now sees journalist Alex Reagan venturing ever further down the rabbit hole of her paranormal case studies, grasping at straws to link far-flung demon sightings and shadowy found footage to the concrete (and mounting) disappearances of those around her. Reagan has begun seeing a sleep specialist about her resultant insomnia, and this fraying appears to mirror that of her research partner, notorious skeptic Dr. Richard Strand. It’s compelling to hear Strand grow steadily less confident that a reasonable explanation can be found for each sinister “black tape” case, as Reagan herself stubbornly clings to agnosticism even as witnesses and interviewees beg her to see a bigger picture forming. It’s unclear at this point whether subplots like the disappearance of Strand’s wife and the recurring threads of sacred geometry will factor meaningfully into Reagan’s investigations, or whether they’re just red herrings in a narrative that might entirely be the product of our host’s gradual unraveling.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Trump Vs Bernie: Gilbert Gottfried, James Adomian, Anthony Atamanuik
This might be the episode where Comedy Bang! Bang! became “that kind of show.” The combination of Gilbert Gottfried and Anthony Atamanuik’s brilliant Trump character is a lethal one as their sexually charged humor plows through Scott Aukerman’s usual attempt at boundaries. While Gottfried’s presence in the episode might be a divisive one, Atamanuik and James Adomian are so consistently hilarious as Trump and Bernie, their segment alone churns out some of the most quotable content Comedy Bang! Bang! has seen in recent memory. Gottfried actually brings out some of the best in them, as he continuously derails the conversations to talk about old sitcom episodes, the absurd hilarity of the shtick heightening as Adomian and Atamanuik find new ways to make the distractions about themselves and their policies. Adomian’s grasp on Bernie is so tight, he’s able to twist Gottfried’s anecdote about an episode of Diff’rent Strokes into an opportunity to talk about healthcare. Atamanuik is incredibly quick as Trump, like when Bernie argues something he said as being “classically racist,” to which he promptly replies, “Well, I’m a classic guy.” The comedic gold comes from the two dancing happily within the extremes of their characters, and it’s a thing only they can do this well.
The Real Dean Scream
There are a number of things that might leap to mind when Howard Dean comes up in conversation. Perhaps it’s his continued efforts to make universal healthcare a reality in the United States. It might be the 50-state strategy he employed as chairman of the DNC, resulting in his party’s usurping of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections. Or it might be the youth-oriented political machine he built for his 2004 presidential run, which rewrote the rules of electoral campaigns and ultimately carried Barack Obama to the White House four years later. But odds are, it’s none of those things. The former governor of Vermont’s name is most often invoked as part of a political cautionary tale, a story of how the barbaric yawp he produced during his concession speech in Iowa made him a national laughing stock and handed the Democratic nomination to his rival John Kerry. But how true is that legend really? And did his unhinged scream ever actually happen? FiveThirtyEight Elections debuts its political documentary series with an effort to answer these questions. As the 2016 primaries get uglier and uglier, this illuminative examination should resonate vibrantly even with listeners who are too young to remember a pre-tarred Dean.
Friends, Our Close Friends
Hollywood Handbook has been remarkably consistent in recent weeks, which is all the more impressive in light of the fact that in that time writing jobs have prevented hosts Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements from even being on the same coast of the country at the same time, much less in the same recording studio together. Still, there’s something to be said for the chemistry between the two that can only truly exists when they’re in the same room. That alone is reason enough to celebrate this guestless episode, which finds them very much back together in the same room. It’s also very hard not to have a big, dumb smile when it’s initially revealed that Davenport is indeed back in town and the duo is finally reunited, and harder still to get rid of that smile throughout the remainder of the episode which, content wise, is classic Hollywood Handbook: extremely silly and very funny riffing about how dumb their engineer is, about which of the various Earwolf underlings they’d most like to marry, and about shitty new TV shows. It’s a total delight on multiple levels.
The Intersection, which debuted last month from San Francisco radio station KALW, is an ambitious audio documentary project examining recent changes to the Bay Area through the lens of its specific intersections. Producer David Boyer will spend the entire first season on the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin neighborhood, engaging with the people who live and work there. This week, Boyer explores the relationship between the drug dealers and their neighbors living on that corner, which is known for its open-air drug market, where participants openly deal and use in broad daylight. Boyer documents the perspectives of everyone affected: the police, the neighbors, the addicts in recovery triggered by the drug culture, and the members of the community who formed the 100 Block Safety group to take back their neighborhood from dealers. They organized monthly neighborhood events to take up the space the dealers inhabit, and every afternoon they hose down the sidewalks littered with human feces, urine, and syringes. “It’s to show everyone that this is a cared-for place,” says one neighbor. And it’s making a difference—some of the dealers have started offering to help clean up as well.
Never Not Funny
If there were one surefire way to safeguard against letting the season 17 of Never Not Funny go out with a whimper, it would be to bring back comedian and actress Cristela Alonzo, and nobody can fault Jimmy Pardo and company for making that decision. She’s one of the most boisterous guests to appear on the podcast, and her high energy not only elevates the energy of the entire show, but it keeps Pardo on his toes the whole time, and keeps the show moving along at a consistently quick pace. This comes at the cost of focus, of course—the gang seems to be changing to a new topic almost constantly and never really settling down—but it’s invariably entertaining throughout and it only adds to the overall feeling of a long, winding, whirlwind conversation. The show would become exhausting if it was like this every week, but it’s certainly welcome as a once-per-season injection of energy.
Note To Self
Do you have a hard time putting down your phone to focus on the person in front of you? When you do put your phone away, does the thought of all the articles you could be reading or the viral videos you should be watching fill you with the fear you might miss out on the next big cultural phenomenon or Kanye West Twitter drama? You’re probably suffering from “information overload,” and Note To Self wants to help. Last week the podcast launched its Infomagical Project, a weeklong series of daily challenges and short podcasts designed to help their audience fight information overload and regain focus in their lives. Participants received text messages each morning with a task for the day, such as “Work on only one thing at a time.” Or “Discuss something you’ve read in person or by phone for at least seven minutes.” The interactive, engaging project has started an incredible conversation among participants about what it means to use technology to improve your life—without letting the technology use you. Just hearing about Infomagical now? Don’t worry. You can still sign up here for the next round of text challenges that will start this week.
Oh No Ross And Carrie
Ross and Carrie Audit Scientology (Part 1): Going Preclear
It’s a wonder Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy are welcome anywhere after their noble infiltrations of the 9/11 Truth movement, the Latter-Day Saints, the Raelians, and now the Church Of Scientology. In the first of what they promise will be their longest series yet, Blocher and Poppy “show up so you don’t have to” at Scientology’s Hollywood headquarters expecting to take the core personality test or two that orients their prospective mentors to their needs. They quickly discover that the church isn’t too keen on letting them out of their grasp—one training offering after another finds Blocher having to justify the plans that he already has for the evening and the next morning before he can step away. And it’s heavily implied, too, that the men and women manning Big Blue are compensated monetarily for whatever courses they can scurry their new converts through. The Scientology series is a long-awaited exploit for Oh No, and with vague allusions ranging from Poppy attending an exclusive New Year’s party to needing some extra donations from listeners in fear, presumably, of the notoriously litigious church coming after them, the stage is set for a cathartic ride.
This week Mary Harris interviews Dr. Willie Parker, an obstetrician gynecologist who travels from state to state in the South to perform abortions for women in poor communities with limited access to abortion services. But he didn’t always perform abortions. He grew up in Alabama in a fundamentalist Christian community, and for the first 12 years of his career, his religious upbringing kept him from learning how to perform the procedure—until a sermon from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about the Good Samaritan helped him realize that refusing to perform abortions for women who badly needed them was the bigger moral conflict. Now Parker performs as many as a dozen abortions a day in different clinics, including the last abortion clinic open in Mississippi, which is currently under threat of closing. Harris interviewed Parker just a few weeks after the November Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado; he’s well aware of the dangers that come with his job. But he refuses to be afraid or quiet about his mission to make abortions safe and accessible for women: “I’ve made the conscious decision to practice my craft with the dignity and the honor that I think it is due. When you’re doing something that’s liberating and life-saving for people, there really is no clandestine way of doing it.”
What Does A Professor Look Like?
Otherhood is a new podcast hosted by Rupa Shenoy that collects stories from U.S. immigrants and their children.This week, Shenoy interviews several people who refuse to be defined by society’s stereotypes. She talks to Ada Tseng, who created a calendar of hot Asian men to fight the cultural assumption that East Asian men aren’t attractive, and researcher Jerry Park about how the seemingly positive “Asian model minority” stereotype hurts other minority groups, especially African Americans. Shenoy also has an interesting, dynamic conversation with MIT assistant professor Renée Gosline, whose parents are from Trinidad and Tobago. She fulfilled her grandmother’s dream by attending Harvard shortly before she passed away. Gosline gives talks about inclusive leadership and regularly asks her audiences the question, “What does a professor look like?” She knows she doesn’t resemble what comes to mind for most people when they think of professors because she isn’t an old white man. These preconceived notions of what people in certain professional roles “should” look like are a problem, because they limit people of color from also seeking out those roles.
Remake This Movie Right!
Stephen King’s It
Remake podcasts are becoming a subgenre of their own these days, and all for the better. It’s not that movie remakes are an inherently bad idea—Hollywood just tends to muck up the execution. That’s where programs like Remake This Movie Right! come in. But unlike many of their brethren, the hosts have a rule where they have to agree on the approach to the film in question. In the case of Stephen King’s It, that makes for a lengthy discussion on what the structure of their remake should be. After lots of friendly debating, they settle on a three-film approach: one about the seven protagonists as children taking on the cosmic, shape-shifting entity of the title (usually in the guise of a murderous clown), one that follows the kids as adults when the creature appears one again, and one focused on their older relatives being terrorized by (and fearfully ignoring) the beast. Even though that last film is somewhat of a departure from King’s novel, it also plays into the work’s sense of history—anyone who’s read the book knows that It has resided in the town of Derry, Maine for hundreds of years. In case any of that sounds too heady, Remake also questions King’s choice to write a bonding yet very unsettling sex scene between the pre-teens (thankfully, it doesn’t make it into their film).
Pumped On Trump
This week’s episode of Reveal attempts to answer a question a lot of people have been asking these days: Who exactly is supporting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and why? Reveal sent reporters around the country to attend Trump rallies and interview some of his supporters to shed light on how Trump went from leading a reality show to leading in the Republican polls. They talk to Michael, who is willing to support Trump at the expense of his number one political issue: marijuana legalization. He loves that Trump is “a bit of a wild card.” Many others also love that Trump isn’t afraid to be “politically incorrect,” when he discusses issues like immigration and terrorism, and “solutions” like building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico or banning Muslims. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the Trump supporters interviewed by Reveal are white. Another supporter is confident Trump can reform our broken political system because he’s “his own man,” with his own money and doesn’t answer to big donors. Overall, the episode is a good reminder that although Trump might eventually leave the political stage, his supporters aren’t going anywhere.
At the conclusion of Serial’s first season, host Sarah Koenig unsatisfyingly explained Adnan Syed’s guilt or innocence might never be confirmed. And while the whodunit question is compelling, for many listeners, that was entirely beside the point. This surprise season-one update will certainly appeal to that latter group, as Koenig covers the hearing taking place this week to present new evidence and determine whether Syed’s conviction should be overturned due to the incompetence of his attorney, Cristina Gutierrez. The oddity of all the season one “characters” suddenly sitting right beside Koenig in a Baltimore courtroom is not lost on her; in dispatches to producer Dana Chivvis, she describes with discomfort and awe how Asia McClain’s new testimony includes mentions of the Serial podcast, the seam over which the story folds onto itself. These comparably slapdash new episodes—recorded from the inside of a hotel room closet, using pillows and bathrobes as acoustic tiling—might not change listeners’ minds about Adnan, but they speak to the greater concept of reasonable doubt, and how perhaps our whole legal system could use a refresher on how to measure a trial by it.
You Must Remember This
The Blacklist Part 1: The Prehistory Of The Blacklist
While the U.S. is currently debating the feasibility of electing a proud and outspoken democratic socialist as Commander In Chief, it seems an apt time to take a step back and remember a time, not all that long ago all things considered, when having even the faintest whiff of association with socialism could lose a person his or her livelihood and ruin the lives of their family members. This week, You Must Remember This kicks off its latest series about the unseemly underside of glamorous entertainment world as she delves into the cultural roots of the Hollywood blacklist. Beginning with the battles over unionization born of the Great Depression, host and writer Karina Longworth leads the listener into the World War II years and through the arguments, schemes and scandals that divided the film industry, carefully introducing important characters and setting the table for everything that will unfold in the next 15 episodes. Assuming this is as good as the series Longworth produced on Charles Manson’s Hollywood last summer (and based upon this initial episode there’s every reason to suspect it will be), fans of the increasingly popular podcast have a solid several months ahead of them.
“I one time actually was snorting a big pile of cocaine, and it turned out to be Ted Knight.”—Anthony Atamanuik as Donald Trump, Comedy Bang! Bang!
“There’s endless numbers of times when I found myself isolated, doing email or something like that that doesn’t need to be done, and in those moments I have wondered whether my tombstone might read, ‘He checked email.’”—Greg McKeown on the struggle to be more intentional with the way you spend your time consuming information, Note To Self
“I say life is dangerous. Life is fatal. Nobody’s getting out alive. But if you don’t have something you live for and you’re convicted by, and if that conviction isn’t deep enough for you that it might lead to somebody wanting to harm you or kill you for it, then you’re already dead.”—Dr. Willie Parker explaining to host Mary Harris why he isn’t afraid of the risks that come with working as an abortion doctor in the South, Only Human