Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Cameron Esposito and her side mullet engage You Made It Weird

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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 podmass@avclub.com.

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Doug Loves Movies
Leonard Maltin, Sarah Silverman, Shane Mauss


Shed a nostalgia tear for the Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin’s tome-sized review anthology series whose final issue was made official earlier this month. Given how much it’s been a part of the show, there’s some poetic closure to Maltin stopping by Doug Loves Movies to plug the book, especially on an episode with Sarah Silverman, one of Benson’s early playmates of the The Leonard Maltin Game. Hopefully, the end of the series will be a catalyst for someone to update and distribute Maltin’s now-defunct app, and it sounds like there’s hope. After some prodding, Maltin admits it’s in the works, but doesn’t have any dates or announcements about whether or not it will include the game. Despite a pre-show warning about it being “listless,” neither the Los Angeles heat wave nor a broken air-conditioning system mar this week’s breezy and fun Upright Citizens Brigade show. It does, on the other hand, seem to get under Maltin’s skin when it comes time to talk about AT&T. [DJ]

Top 5 David Lynch Scenes / Eraserhead


There’s been no dearth of bandwidth devoted to discussing the filmography of David Lynch online. Unfortunately—though not surprisingly—an outsized percentage of it had focused on the stranger, more surreal aspects of his peculiar worldview. What makes this episode of Filmspotting worth the listen is how many of Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen’s favorite Lynch scenes highlight the director’s too-often-overlooked dexterity with small moments. While some of the flashier examples—like the Bobby Vinton-soaked opening montage of Blue Velvet or the terrifying family dinner scene from Eraserhead—make their lists, Kempenaar and Larsen more often choose underplayed character interactions, from quieter films like The Elephant Man and The Straight Story. It may feel atypical to a casual Lynch fan, but the choices run like a thread through his filmography. Interestingly, neither critic had seen Lynch’s 1977 debut film prior to their preparations for this show, so they were able to give their thoughts on Eraserhead with fresh eyes, and a full knowledge of everything that would come in its wake.

Inquiring Minds
Al Gore - The Politics Of Climate Change


So excited were the minds behind Inquiring Minds at the coup of landing the former vice president for their podcast, they decided to push this episode out into the world earlier than expected. Granted, it feels less like a planned-in-advance sit-down conversation than a push-a-mic-into-the-guy’s-face-and-hit-record type deal, but it’s still Al Gore. And while Inquiring Minds is the official podcast of Climate Desk—a partnership of multiple progressive-ish news sources, including Slate, The Huffington Post, Wired, and Mother Jones—it’s still a relatively modest little operation, so this was definitely a score. And for his part, Gore, in New York City ahead of last weekend’s People’s Climate March, doesn’t treat it like a PR dalliance. He dives headlong into issues, explaining to correspondent Tim McDonnell the actual politics that shape and frustrate meaningful and necessary environmental legislation. As a Democrat who was a hair’s breadth from the Oval Office, one might expect Gore to massage his opinions in deference to the party, but he’s remarkably frank, pointing out the areas where he believes President Obama succeeded and failed, while praising conservatives who have stepped up and thrown in behind environmental reform. [DD]

Men In Blazers
Spencer Lanning


Tweed season comes early to the Crap Part of SoHo, and it brings with some heady discussions to balance out the usual japery. Roger Bennett, having spent his birthday watching the Kenneth Lonergan play This Is Our Youth on Broadway, is lead to ask Michael Davies if people can change from who they were in adolescence, or whether personalities are fixed before we’re even aware of it. The Scottish independence vote is discussed, with both hosts boasting of their quarter Scots heritage and love for the country. Rog blames the Americans’ independence of 1776, the news for which has only just reached the ”wildlings beyond the wall” in Scotland. After discussing the week’s games, impish Cleveland Browns punter Spencer Lanning joins the blokes to talk about his true love of soccer, the great state of South Carolina, and imagining going to jail for tree murder. Lanning proves to be the rare athlete that is both candid and at ease in front of the mic, making for an infectiously entertaining interview. Gus Johnson’s resignation as lead soccer commentator at Fox leads the men to tackle the lack of American soccer broadcasters with a particularly funny anecdote about the treatment of British broadcasters in the early days of Major League Soccer. [BC]

99% Invisible
Castle On The Park


There is a huge castle taking up most of a Manhattan block, and 99% Invisible reveals it began as a revolutionary 19th-century cancer treatment center, with its huge turrets designed as circular patient wards for easy bedside access. Built in 1887, it came at a time when little more was known about cancer other than it started as a tumor somewhere in the body and developed into something far more invasive. In addition to cancer being better treated in Europe, the disease was also thought to be contagious. A built-in crematorium helped to dispose of the bodies, and in the beginning—when the treatments were fairly useless—the crematorium was used frequently. Hearing how the building was created to be as functional and caring as possible during a dark time in medical history, it’s rather amazing to learn this literal castle served such a dark and difficult purpose. Though it later became a roach-infested nursing home, then condos for the wealthy, its origins make up the bulk of the episode. Early blueprints and photographs on the podcast’s website reveal a building crafted for another era, one designed for the wealthy, which compellingly contrasts the building’s current purposes. [DT]

Our Birth Story


Though only one of Sawbones’ two co-hosts is a medical professional, Dr. Sydnee and Justin McElroy don’t always mix so much of their personal lives into the theme of their gritty/comedic medical podcast. But given it took them a week to take their child home from the hospital, they decide to let things take a personal turn and produce a very unconventional and gripping podcast. With their new daughter, Charlie, quietly nestled against Dr. Sydnee, they explain how their doctor noticed their fetus was “not engaged,” not “facing down,” and that Dr. Sydnee’s pelvis was not equipped to give vaginal birth to their especially large child. What ends up being especially unique about the episode is that it is all one narrative thread, rather than the podcast’s usual structure of leaning on research. Instead of stepping away from the research to riff comedically on their subject, the McElroys occasionally reassure listeners they are not interested in hearing how they should have done any given thing differently. The story then seems all the more personal, highlighting that the hosts are relatively private despite their willingness to share these intimate details in a public fashion. Without giving away the best details, it is a harrowing story, and listeners need not worry, things may get scary but with cooing Charlie in the background there is obviously a happy ending. [DT]

Sound Opinions
Tweedy Live At Lincoln Hall


“Dad Rock” is one of those pejorative terms not just coined on the Internet, but seemingly because of it as well. Online music writing in this century has tended toward rampant taxonomic assignment, becoming increasingly snarky all the while. So when Wilco began releasing albums with less of a bite than, say, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the term cropped up specifically as a way of deriding the band’s output. On this week’s episode, Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot are able to address this head on, welcoming the band Tweedy to the show, performing and conversing live at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. Tweedy, the eponymous father-son duo of Jeff Tweedy, the force behind Wilco, and his 18-year-old son, Spencer, are a treat to listen to both musically and in an interview. Jim and Greg wisely sit back, letting Jeff and Spencer talk openly and honestly. They cover everything from Spencer potentially attracting cougar groupies to how their DNA connection makes playing music together a transcendent experience. Later, when discussing Tweedy matriarch Susie’s recent battle with lymphoma, Jeff’s voice betrays how hard an experience it has been for them, drawing back the curtain on precisely why a family record is important at this time in their lives. [BC]

StarTalk Radio
A Tribute To Joan Rivers


If Joan Rivers sounds like an odd topic for Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s science podcast, it shouldn’t. Enamored with the comedy world as partners in his progressive interests, Dr. Tyson regularly employs co-hosts from this sphere, particularly StarTalk Radio regular Eugene Mirman. In addition to Mirman, Tyson includes Rivers’ comic friend Lynne Koplitz via a 2009 clip featuring both women. Rivers is immediately interested in light-hearted riffing about how space-suits aren’t pretty enough for her and what effects Superman’s flying against Earth’s orbit to reverse the aging process would have. But it’s especially interesting to hear Mirman express how he views Rivers’ legacy. Mirman gives Rivers credit for making stand-up comedy a concept that exists in its current form today, particularly her ability to mine her personal life unlike the more dry and observational comedians of the 1950s. When faced with the idea of eulogizing or posthumously roasting Rivers, Mirman instead focuses on expressing as much of his thoughts on the true meaning of her passing as he can. Dr. Tyson also speaks to comics Chuck Nice and Leighann Lord, giving them their own chances to comment on her point of view and personality. Between these interviews, the 2009 conversation continues in small stretches. And there are legitimately interesting themes about space-feminism and social progress that pop up despite Rivers’ insistence that things stay punchy. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class
The Father Of Dark Matter


Fritz Zwicky was a groundbreaking scientist credited with many origins to our current theories on dark matter, astrophysics, and outer space. Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey are both enamored with him, and are excited to help bring his accomplishments to light in one more corner of the pop culture world. One reason Zwicky may have had some difficulty in becoming well-known is that he was also legendarily abrasive, leadings to regular dust-ups with his colleagues. Though often collaborating with some of the 20th century’s better known astronomers, he regularly called them out as frauds and idiots, causing many in the community to second-guess his theories. But history has proven Zwicky to be a genius, as he posited the existence of dark matter some 40 years before scientists took it seriously enough to confirm its existence, and was the first to coin the term “galaxy.” Stuff You Missed In History Class does an excellent job of painting both sides of his enthralling personality without condemning or idolizing him, though there are several points where it feels like Wilson and Frey needn’t play devil’s advocate and keep acknowledging how cranky he was. The biography they provide makes Zwicky a fascinating and completely essential figure in mankind’s history as a species, so some crankiness seems more than justified. [DT]

This American Life
A Not So Simple Majority


As the demographics of East Ramapo, New York, changed when Orthodox Jews moved into the community, a disagreement about public special-education funds being used in private, religious yeshivas (something federal law expressly prohibits) set in motion a political fight that put the Hasidic community on one side and public-school advocates on the other. In his episode-length piece, Ben Calhoun masterfully lays out the events that led to an organized school board takeover by the Hasidic community and the ways that the change in leadership led to devastating budget cuts and school closures. Recordings from board meetings show the shocking level of drama and enmity between the two sides and give the story a richness by documenting how actions from both sides continue to tear the community apart. As far as the politics go, Calhoun’s reporting comes down on the side of the public-school advocates, but he adds an important layer of complexity to his piece by examining the more complicated and deep-seated issues of racism, antisemitism, and class resentment that fester just below the surface of these rancorous debates. Calhoun delivers a compelling case study of the problems that arise from the deep divides and lack of understanding that can exist in conflicts between an isolated community and the broader population. [DF]

The Mystery Of Childish Gambino


As the story goes, Community star Donald Glover endeavored one day to type his name into an online Wu-Tang Clan name generator, and out was spit the moniker that would inspire him to walk away from a promising film and television career as one of the fastest-rising young comedians and pursue his dream of being a not-terrible hip-hop artist. It’s a likely enough story: “Childish Gambino” sounds like the kind of name that might emerge from one of the two such engines on the Internet. The odd thing, though, is that it doesn’t emerge from one of the two engines; it emerges from both of them when “Donald Glover” is fed into them. TLDR—a short-form weekly podcast that feels a bit like an Internet-obsessed sibling of Radiolab—tries to get to the bottom of this enigma, ​with co-host Alex Goldman ​contacting the programmers of both websites to tease out which one genuinely provided Glover with his rap name, and which one manipulated his code to follow suit. And, more importantly, why. These are 12 of the most dense and enthralling minutes of investigative podcasting about comedian-hip-hop artists likely to be found this week. [DD]

You Made It Weird
Cameron Esposito


As anyone familiar with You Made It Weird knows, Pete Holmes is an open guy, willingly presenting his heart and guts to the world twice weekly through his podcast’s RSS feed. So, it’s only a little bit ironic that in a week in which he both visited a neuroscientist to explore the contours of his brain and sat down for a casual talk with an old friend from his Chicago stand-up days, its via the latter that he provides a better sense of who he is as a person. Holmes is always at his best when he’s comfortable, and though he clearly gets a great deal of pleasure from spiritual and scientific navel-gazing, he’s a comedian in his bones. So, here, he provides what amounts to an eavesdropped, riff-heavy conversation with Cameron Esposito—a strikingly confident and charismatic Chicago expatriate who is already carving out deep grooves for herself in Los Angeles. She is at once self-assured and self-effacing, as she candidly discusses how she came to accept herself as a lesbian, what it’s like dealing with aggressive hetero male audience members, and how she and her girlfriend (and fellow stand-up) Rhea Butcher took the long road through friendship before finding romance. [DD]

We see what you said there

“You won’t be surprised that it’s not far enough for me.”—Al Gore on President Obama’s commitment reversing climate change, Inquiring Minds


“Trust me, there is nothing you can say to me that I haven’t said to myself a million times over.”—Dr. Sydnee McElroy on her disinterest in having her birthing choices criticized, Sawbones

“Donald Glover being Childish Gambino is a necessary fact of the universe, like gold’s atomic number being 78.”—Tim Carmody, TLDR


“Is there something inherently uncomfortable about a system being governed by folks who don’t use that system, or wouldn’t want to use that system?”—Ben Calhoun asks former school-board president Morris Kohn about the optics surrounding the board takeover in East Ramapo, This American Life

“I’m not necessarily plug-in-able. There’s not going to be a show where they’re like, ‘These are our types: We have one role for a side-mulleted lesbian.’ Nobody’s gonna write that show.”—Cameron Esposito, You Made It Weird