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

Christmas carols might actually be good, says NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour

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Death In The Afternoon

Ring Ring, Corpse Phone

“Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.” The Order Of The Good Death, formed in 2011, aims to re-engage the public with the reality of their own mortality, decomposition and all, so as to live a more “death positive” life. If that sounds like a grim foundation upon which to build a podcast, then you haven’t heard Caitlin Doughty, who, along with co-hosts Louise Hung and Sarah Chavez, presents a lighthearted and densely informative short-format weekly series Death In The Afternoon with humor, style, and grace. In this season-one finale, the hosts tackle the privacy concerns surrounding a corpse whose fingerprint was used by law enforcement to unlock his cell phone after his death (due to his suspected role in a recent crime), and whether the funeral home director is legally on the hook for the fallout. In another segment, Chavez illuminates the evolving technology of “neural networks” that could make a Black Mirror episode about digitally resurrecting the dead a distinct reality. Does it extend our grief to engage with active recreations of the deceased? The episode continues at a clip, leaving listeners to file away such big questions to ponder later. [Marnie Shure]

Everything Is Rent
“La Vie Boheme” With Paul F. Tompkins


A good Broadway show sticks with us in a way that few other things do. Perhaps it’s the way it weaves melody, narrative, and character expression into a whole that burrows itself into our heads and stays there forever, or maybe it’s just the joyful abandon of embracing something unapologetically earnest. Whatever the reason, the obsessiveness that musicals inspire in us is perfect fodder for a podcast, and Everything Is Rent is a celebration of Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking 1996 musical Rent. It’s co-hosted by Beth Appel and Sarah Claspell, two Los Angeles comedians who share excellent repartee and a strong command of the microphone. Each episode is devoted to one of Rent’s 40-plus songs and features guest commentary from a comedian and/or “musical theater nerd” (their words) to help them analyze the song in intricate, discursive detail. This is a particularly good episode to hop in on, as “La Vie Boheme” is probably the show’s most recognizable song, and Paul F. Tompkins could talk about ballpoint pens for an hour and still be entertaining. This should be a fun listen even for people only vaguely familiar with the play (like Tompkins). Everyone involved is a delight. [Dennis DiClaudio]

Hey Riddle Riddle
School Runnings

How can you physically stand behind your father as he stands behind you? Placing this puzzle before a group of comedians unable to reason out the answer (standing back-to-back) leads to a set of improv gymnastics that eventually wears down the questioner enough to fork over the solution. Which in turn leads to riffs involving a father-son buddy cop movie where they stand back-to-back on the poster. Rinse and repeat roughly 20 times and you have a full show, though the guessers are occasionally able to hit upon the correct answer. Eventually, a paid puzzle maker shows up to quiz the group with bespoke brainteasers involving movie taglines garbled through dozens of translations. “Her legs over his knees brought a small town with big business,” is one of the harder ones. All that comes after the group tries to unravel the biggest enigma of them all, humans, with each host taking a stab at what their collaborators were like in high school. [Zach Brooke]

Mall Talk
Talbots W/Eliot Glazer


Eliot Glazer delivers a one-two punch of podcast co-hosting this week (see The Need To Fail below) as he joins the women of Mall Talk to discuss the store of his choice: Talbots. Comedians Paige Weldon and Emily Faye fully and gleefully embrace their central thesis that “hanging out at the mall shouldn’t stop at adulthood.” Devotees of Los Angeles shopping staples The Americana, The Grove, and Glendale Galleria, Faye and Weldon don’t let a week pass without at least one trip to the mall, comparing notes about department store expansions, food court options, and the ongoing saga of the Lolli and Pops Sweetness Rewards Program. This week, Glazer discusses his fittingly waspy experiences as a Talbots sales associate, and asks some crucial questions: Why does the catalog feature young thirtysomething women in capes, when said capes are clearly designed for hip retirees? Why do the clothes look “designed for the inertia of menopause”? What precisely is an Orange Julius? He’s shocked to learn about the existence of Talbots Kids, which he surmises can only sell “Murphy Brown cosplay,” and he relays the tribulations of hardline managers. This is the perfect episode to leap aboard this chatty delight of a show. [Marnie Shure]

Pop Culture Happy Hour
We Celebrate Our Favorite Christmas Songs


Christmas songs get a lot of hate, and rightly so. Many “classics” are tired as hell, and some modern offerings inspire far more contempt than holiday cheer. But what if you want to like Christmas music? It does have a lot to offer when the festive mood strikes, or if you’re particularly interested in the endless reinvention of the Christmas canon. Covers abound in this celebration of personal holiday favorites, whether it’s Carly Rae Jepsen’s considered rendition of “This Christmas,” Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst delivering a more troubled “Blue Christmas,” or Todrick Hall going toe-to-toe with Thurl Ravenscroft’s iconic “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” There’s plenty of room for vintage offerings as well. One host applauds the almost anti-Noel “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” which is defined by absence rather than abundance. Another singles out “Silent Night” for similar divergence from typical aggressively cheerful fare festooned with jingle bells. There’s also a lot of love for the closest thing to a contemporary classic, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” If that’s not enough to warm the frostiest heart, also note that nobody debates “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” thank god. Do you hear what they hear? [Zach Brooke]

The Need To Fail
Eliot Glazer


Eliot Glazer is many things. He’s a writer, performer, and producer who originally went to school to study opera. He’s the brother of Broad City’s Ilana Glazer and has deep comedy roots in both New York City and Los Angeles. He’s also an openly gay man. But try to confine him to any one of these boxes and you will run into trouble. The topic of pigeonholing or being pigeonholed comes up again and again on this episode of The Need To Fail—improviser Don Fanelli’s podcast all about, you guessed it, failure—and that’s because it’s a recurring theme in Glazer’s professional and personal life. While he struggled to find his voice and get a foothold in a frigid industry, he would repeatedly run into people trying to tell him what or who he is. Glazer also bristles at the rigid categorizations men throw around in the gay community, dictating what type he is or who could find him attractive. Anyone with creative aspirations will be able to relate to Glazer’s struggle. And if you’re just interested in comedy hot takes, there is a pretty great chunk where he talks about Napoleon Dynamite “ruining everything” by surrendering awkward humor to the mainstream. Truly, struggles come in all forms. [Dan Neilan]

Killmonger From Black Panther


2017’s Black Panther stood out from the rest of the Marvel canon for a lot of reasons, but chief among them was the depiction of Erik Killmonger by Michael B. Jordan. As we said on this very site, Killmonger provided Marvel with its first emotionally complex and utterly human villain. That, combined with Jordan’s magnetic performance, created the perfect foil for Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa. In the latest episode of The Ringer’s podcast dedicated to cinema’s greatest villains, host Shea Serrano sits down with writers Chris Ryan and Kara Brown to discuss what it is about Killmonger that made audiences love the guy they’re supposed to hate. The high point of the episode comes when they turn to the question that plagued social media for weeks after the film’s release: Was Killmonger right? The fact that that question is even worth considering is proof that we’re dealing with a special kind of villain here. Obviously, you’ll want to have seen Black Panther before listening to this podcast, and even if you have seen it, you might as well watch it again. It’s still on Netflix, FYI. [Dan Neilan]