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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since launching last summer, Glowing Up has dug a nice little niche for itself: It’s for people who want an earnest makeup and lifestyle podcast but who maybe also don’t remember to drink water until after 3 p.m. every day. That’s what makes Esther Povitsky and Caroline Goldfarb’s New Year’s episode such a joy: Their resolutions are appealingly low-key, realistic, and funny, but they’re all genuinely good ideas, too. Wandering into whatever strange conversational hallway beckons—particularly if it involves Janice Dickinson’s taste in omelettes or the physical aftereffects of delving into the Denny’s value menu—the episode feels pleasantly loose and off-kilter, which is appropriate for an hour in which these two very funny women advocate for a 2018 resolution “grace period.” (Who actually even knows what they want from the year when it starts?) It also makes time for a delightful piece of promotion, when Goldfarb gleefully trumpets the premiere of Povitsky’s new series, Alone Together, which premiered the following day on Freeform. Yes, it’s a plug, but it’s a plug based in friendship, and that is totally glow-worthy. [Allison Shoemaker]
Reckonings is a podcast that just feels right for this particular moment in time, when people don’t often admit to being wrong and it’s an ever more rare thing for such moments to be consequential and public. Host Stephanie Lepp manages to capture all of this in an often jaw-dropping way, interviewing individuals who’ve switched their points of view on major issues. Consider this past week’s episode, where Lepp talks with Joe Lindsley, one-time protégé of former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Lindsley wasn’t just any Fox News employee but rather something of a surrogate son whom Ailes groomed to take over the entire company, which makes Lindsley’s change of heart all the more massive. In his conversation with Lepp, Lindsley details a particularly disturbing and pervasive culture of paranoia surrounding the Ailes family and Fox News during the Obama era, speaking in terms that feel more akin to fighting an underground resistance than running a news organization. Given the current president’s proclivity for watching that very network—as well as having been advised by Ailes prior to the latter’s death in 2017—it’s chilling to consider just how effective their morally bankrupt tactics have been. [Ben Cannon]
In December 1972, United Airlines Flight 553 crashed during an aborted landing at Chicago’s Midway Airport, killing 45 people, including Dorothy Hunt, wife of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. This set off alarm bells among a more paranoid subset of the population, bells that only grew louder when it emerged Dorothy Hunt carried $10,000 in cash at the time of her death. Yet this thread was only one of several far-flung conspiracies emerging in the wake of Watergate: Another allegation was that the break-in stemmed from Nixon’s burning desire to learn if Democrats knew about a loan Howard Hughes had made to Nixon’s best friend, Bebe Rebozo. There were even pro-Nixon conspiracies that alleged the CIA sabotaged the break-in (which they believe would have otherwise gone undetected), or that Hunt planned and ordered everything himself without Nixon’s knowledge. Host Leon Neyfakh lays out his belief that conspiratorial thinking in this era was fueled by newfound cynicism toward government and a fervent desire to learn the truth. According to Neyfakh, Nixon missed this culture shift, hastening his downfall when he thought he could fuck with special prosecutor Archibald Cox consequence-free. [Zach Brooke]
In just 20 minutes, “Art Is Dead” evolves from a slice of pulpy true crime to a portrait of an artist to a history lesson in Yugoslavian politics to, well, something else entirely. Know this, though: The Constant describes itself as a podcast about the “sometimes comical, sometimes tragical, and always fascinating ways people mess things up,” so nothing you’re hearing here is quite as it seems. Credit host Mark Chrisler, who structures this labyrinthian narrative about the “artist” known as Darko Maver like a thriller, deftly nailing each new twist in the story with an engaging flourish. This effect also owes something to the episode’s tautness; there’s no fluff to any of The Constant’s outings, which prioritize story over banter. That said, what makes “Art Is Dead” land as well as it does is Chrisler’s own conclusion, which ties the story’s themes of misinformation, pretension, and “doing it for the lulz” to our current, “post-truth” landscape. By doing so, he allows us to consider the ways we’re still messing up in the wake of that from which we’re still learning. Clever, that. [Randall Colburn]
The Turnaround was an intimate gem of a short-run series that aired last summer. Hosted by NPR’s Jesse Thorn, the premise was to ask questions of some the best living interviewers in media, including everyone from Louis Theroux to Werner Herzog. Not appearing during that original run was seminal talk show host and consummate conversationalist Dick Cavett, who finally comes around in a special bonus episode. At 81, Cavett has the enviable ability to reminisce about landmark talks he’s conducted across the decades, always guided by an incisive coolness and aplomb—except that time he told Timothy Leary he was full of crap. Yet the fact that Cavett had a boiling point only serves to distinguish him from the fawning Fallons of the world, even as he acknowledges mistakes minor (getting distracted mid-interview) and major (inviting soon-to-be convicted murderer Jeffrey R. MacDonald onto his show and believing him innocent). Cavett also regrets never inviting his public rival and private friend, Johnny Carson, onto his set. But those moments are far outweighed by the unforgettable ones, such as catching Bette Davis off-guard with a question about losing her virginity. [Zach Brooke]
Earlier this month, Terry O’Reilly’s long-running CBC Radio show debuted its 13th year on the air with a rundown of marketing fads from mood rings to Thighmasters to television-exploding Clapper switches. This week’s episode, which analyzes the different survival tactics legacy brands like Crayola and Velveeta have used throughout the ages to navigate the shifting consumer landscape, gets at the heart of what makes the zippy, educational half-hour program so thought-provoking and accessible: its total lack of cynicism. That’s a rare quality in discussions about advertising, or as the Under The Influence team prefers, “life through the lens of advertising.” A lack of cynicism doesn’t mean a lack of criticism, though, and some of the most valuable lessons featured on the show happen to coincide with companies’ most embarrassing mistakes, be them Pepsi-level offensive or Tropicana-style head-scratching. This week’s takeaways are mostly success stories, including one about a shoe shiner whose luxury business model started with one small change that had big, albeit subtle, social implications: working at a table like a craftsman instead of hunkering over in a bowed position. [Dan Jakes]
In this weekly podcast, New York–based comedians Patrick Monahan, Kath Barbadoro, and Eli Yudin reflect on absurdities of the past week, or the things that made us say, “What a time to be alive.” This episode starts with the No-Pants Subway Ride (as well as subway performances in general), and the three hosts have a lot to say about the sense of humor that factors into participating in something like the No-Pants Subway Ride or playing games like Cards Against Humanity, making some interesting points about the relationship between earnestness and irony. Spanning a wide variety of subjects—from a parade held by Cleveland Browns fans in response to the Browns’ loss record to a recent lawsuit by Radiohead against Lana Del Rey for ripping off their song “Creep,” as well as the all-around awfulness of vlogger Logan Paul—Monahan, Barbadoro, and Yudin provide commentary that highlights the weird, random, and often dumb aspects of contemporary life. What A Time To Be Alive covers the cultural current events that, for better or worse, illuminate society in all its complexity: funny, sure, but just as often really messed up. [Jose Nateras]