Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Photo: Chris Jackson (Getty Images)

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.


A Podmass series spotlight
The Windsor Knot: A Royal Wedding Podcast

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Nothing about this podcast should work: It’s two entertainment writers in London talking, often for an hour or more, about the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But Daniel Krupa and Joe Skrebels bring so much chemistry and curiosity to the podcast that it’s one of the most enjoyable podcast discoveries as of late—even (especially?) if you don’t think you care about royal weddings. Each episode is loosely themed; one episode looks primarily at the international response to the nuptials, another talks about security, and one episode is dedicated entirely to the perks available to royal wedding enthusiasts (the best ones are, unfortunately, reserved for couples named Harry and Meg[h]an).

Eight episodes in to what will be about a 16-episode run, listeners have discovered what last name Prince Harry used in the Army Air Corps, weighed the relative merits of fruitcakes and banana cakes, and learned perhaps more than necessary about royal circumcision customs. Krupa and Skrebels explain early on that Harry and Meghan’s wedding falls on the same day as the FA Cup, to the delight of London pub owners, who will be able to serve drinks an extra two hours later that day. Prince William’s role as president of the Football Association would normally entail him attending the FA Cup and presenting the trophy; many in the British press have speculated that Prince William could still attend his brother’s wedding and the FA Cup, but only Krupa and Skrebels have mapped out all the ways he could get there, including having Harry pilot a helicopter. And why not have fun with a national event like this? The hosts are neither stodgy nor gossipy, and their unabashed joyfulness is neither ironic nor overly earnest. Even without a vested interest in a celebrity/royal wedding, listeners will get caught up in the frivolousness of it all. Recommended if you watched The Crown and had questions about royals’ last names, if you would prefer a wedding reception at Legoland, or if you’re curious about how a “ring of steel” could help prevent terrorist attacks on the big day. [Laura M. Browning]


Eavesdropping On America
Tell Me About The Post-Dank Period

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Eavesdropping On America makes it easy to listen in on private conversations without the anxiety of possibly getting caught. This collaboration between radio producers and anthropologists yields field recordings that reveal “what Americans are like and what they’re talking about.” This week, listeners are treated to a hodgepodge of political commentary and insight into “the post-dank period.” Although it’s uncomfortable hearing about the weaponizing of Facebook through memes from a woman who freely uses the word “libtard,” discomfort is the point of a lot of these conversations, which aren’t meant for a wider audience. Take, for example, the second shared recording, in which a son repeatedly tells his doting and well-intentioned mother to “shut up.” The recordings are consistently thought-provoking and prove difficult to shake. [Becca James]


Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls
Virginia Hall Read by S. Mitra Kalita

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In 2016, authors Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli published Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls, a children’s book featuring the tales of 100 incredible women in history illustrated by female artists. Now, the podcast version features each of those stories read by a different incredible modern woman in weekly episodes. Each is framed as a fairy tale, all starting with the cliche “Once upon a time...” before diving into the lives of seldom celebrated women. This week S. Mitra Kalita, journalist and vice president for programming at CNN Digital, tells the story of World War II spy Virginia Hall, one of the first women to work at the CIA. Music and sound effects make this true story seem whimsical at times, but Kalita’s measured tones remind listeners of the gravity of Hall’s life as an amputee working to make a difference in a time of war. Though the original book might have been intended for girls, the short-but-sweet podcast puts underrepresented women in the spotlight and turns those pages into inspirational tales for anyone and everyone. [Brianna Wellen]


Literary Roadhouse
The Story Of The Girl Whose Birds Flew Away 

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A fresh and incisive podcast dedicated to analyzing a different short story each show. This episode’s selection, by Sudanese writer Bushra al-Fadil, is the recipient of the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing. It tells of an unnamed poet narrator navigating a harried central marketplace, where he encounters and subsequently ingratiates himself with a beautiful woman and her younger sister, only to have everything end tragically. While no one on the podcast hated the story, it does receive a mixed reception among the four hosts, which raises the stakes of the book group discussion. One thought that its bare-bones plot was too weak to serve as scaffolding for all the flowery writing built on top. But another craved the non-Western narrative and melodic descriptions flowing through the text, likening it to a painting or poem. All this leads to spirited dialogue on just what exactly a story is, whether short stories can get away with sparser and more impressionistic writing than full-length novels, and whether the illustration of the beautiful woman the author embeds with the text is supposed to look as busted as she does. [Zach Brooke]


Love Letters
Getting Under To Get Over

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There isn’t one way to get over a breakup. Ending a relationship can be messy and complicated, and the path forward has obstacles of its own. Maybe that’s why the brand-new podcast Love Letters is devoting its entire first season to breaking down the topic. Boston Globe columnist Meredith Goldstein talks with people about their heartbreak while sharing her own personal experiences, looking at all the different ways of “getting over it.” The series premiere explores the common advice that “the only way to get over someone is to get under someone.” Goldstein is skeptical of this method’s cure-all abilities—partially because of her own inability to so quickly jump into bed with someone—so she turns to her sister, her friends, and a few strangers to get their opinion and personal experiences with the tactic. Because Goldstein is so open and honest, she invites vulnerability from everyone she interviews, which results in a collection of relatable stories that, taken together, provide sound advice. She also brings in scientific evidence to back up or discredit the claims of her guests. There’s no magic fix, but hearing Goldstein work through the possibilities is a step toward healing a broken heart. [Brianna Wellen]


Nobody Cares (Except For Me)
Vanderpump Rules With Scaachi Koul

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Join writer and endlessly entertaining tweeter Anne T. Donahue each week as she invites a guest to share “something they’re passionate about despite no one else feeling the same.” Passions can range from the more abstract, such as the ’90s, to the more specific, like this week’s Vanderpump Rules. For those not in the know (which up until now also included Donahue), Vanderpump Rules is a reality TV series that spun off from The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills. It is also author Scaachi Koul’s voyeuristic obsession. The conversation surrounding the show’s stars, all of whom work at real housewife Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant SUR, could easily be as vapid as their antics, but is instead an insightful and humorous discussion that touches on many current cultural conundrums. From serious character analysis of standouts Stassi Schroeder and Lala Kent to sillier speculation about whether “pasta” is the cast’s code word for cocaine, this new podcast flows as perfectly as a conversation between old friends. [Becca James]


Very Bad Words
B!#ch Is Back

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In this most recent episode of Very Bad Words, host Matt Fidler explores “bitch.” Before the show dives into etymological roots, guest commentator Emily shares a personal anecdote about using the word inappropriately in a middle school social situation, and Fidler interviews current college students about their usage of and attitudes toward it—as well as detailing the various definitions of “bitch,” including those featured on Urban Dictionary. Moving forward, guest Shannon Dea, an associate professor of women’s studies, cites the word’s usage in the movie Aliens and traces the roots to early Anglo-Saxon usage that, while in reference to a female dog, specifically relates to when female dogs are in heat and presumably unable to control their sexual impulses. This makes the term, as it applies to women, a lot more specific and derogatory than typically understood. Throughout the episode, Fidler and his guests explore the evolution of this powerful word’s usage, implication, nuance, and cultural significance over time. Very Bad Words is a well-produced and fascinating look at the ever evolving vocabulary that reflects and impacts our understanding of language. [Jose Nateras]


White Coat, Black Art
The Unregulated World Of Medical Devices 

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Medical devices are designed to heal us, often by replacing of some of the body’s most essential functions, so why isn’t there more oversight of the market? Investigative journalist Jeanne Lenzer reveals a surprisingly lax and sketchy regulatory environment for medical devices in her book, The Danger Within Us. Outlining the issues on this CBC-produced healthcare podcast, Lenzer traces the root of the problem to a 1976 FDA ruling to grandfather in all existing devices, and the later decision to allow new untested models to be sold so long as they were similar enough to existing products. Throw in a fair amount of congressional arm-twisting to force the FDA to approve this and that device for dubious reasons, as well as blanket lawsuit indemnity for device makers, and you have yourself a boondoggle. All this leads to terrifying personal stories of individuals becoming ill because of a faulty implanted device, like the orthopedist who was poisoned by the cobalt in the metal hip he personally selected, or the firefighter with epilepsy who nearly dies after opting for a neurological implant whose electrical pulses that stop his heart. [Zach Brooke]