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.
Reporting While Brown In The Summer Of Trump
Journalists who cover Donald Trump rallies describe an Orwellian feeling of being jeered and berated as “dishonest,” apropos of nothing, in front of thousands by a man who lies through his teeth for 90 minutes on end. Thoroughly fact-checking and reporting on the presidential candidate while maintaining impartiality is challenging for any reporter, but for persons of color, commenting on Trump’s unfounded ideas concerning race can be akin to fire-walking. This week, Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby chat with La Opinión political correspondent Pilar Marrero and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery about their philosophies for writing about a post-fact politician in the age of vicious instant feedback. Like David Axelrod’s excellent conversation with Jorge Ramos on The Axe Files last year, this episode also highlights the unique advocacy model Latinx-aimed media outlets can take versus the verb-perfect tightrope approach taken at the Post. Along with the NPR Politics Podcast, Code Switch is one of the rare programs that can prod the most challenging social issues in a way that keeps listeners’ blood pressure at bay.
The Cracked Podcast
The Best Fictional Universe To Be A Corpse (Live)
This week’s episode of The Cracked Podcast explores the murky depths of the afterlife at lightning speed with endless fun. Michael Swaim is joined by special guest cohost Daniel O’Brien and comedian and artist Ramin Nazer to discuss the often bizarre beliefs of ancient religions on what happens after death and who they’d haunt if they came back as ghosts. They also explain their perfect afterlife scenario. As this is a live episode, they also get some input from the audience, who is refreshingly comfortable and easy to listen to. The hosts and guest hurtle through some of the most and least appealing depictions of the afterlife in pop culture, explore the idea of what purgatory might look like, and discuss the possibility of the singularity. It’s a conversation ripe with interesting perspectives and finds amusing moments where one person’s heaven is another person’s hell. Quick-witted as they are, the three are able to get through countless complex ideas, references, and revelations without pause, and they have fun doing it.
What To Do When Life Is Really Hard
Don’t be fooled by the New Age book covers on his website, Dr. Robert Puff’s advice relies more on practicality than holism. In his Happiness Podcast, he doles out succinct life tips in an ASMR-tingling voice, helping listeners navigate their way through a world that seems increasingly hectic. As he points out in his latest episode though, that’s actually not the case; dealing with bad things isn’t the by-product of a more chaotic planet—it’s a by-product of being a human being. To illustrate this, he compares existence to being at an airport. We aren’t shocked when something goes wrong with travel plans, so why are we shocked when something goes wrong in our lives? We should all accept that experiencing minor inconveniences, unwelcome change, and even deep tragedy simply comes with the package of being born. Dr. Puff sees this as realistic as opposed to fatalistic, and after listening to “What To Do When Life Is Really Hard,” one may find it easier to cope with some of the perceived crappiness of the universe.
Hello, From The Magic Tavern
Chunt’s Night (Live)
Fans of Hello, From The Magic Tavern should be familiar with fabled Chunt’s Night, a weekly variety show that takes place at Chu Chu’s Chow. Although the existence of such a night has been a canon throughout the show—often brought up by Chunt when pointing out that Arnie Niekamp never attends—listeners have never before experienced it. With special guests galore, this live show lets listeners peek into the world of Foon outside the confines of the Vermilion Minotaur. Fan favorites from past episodes tell stories and perform songs and poems, as Chunt (Adal Rifai) hosts. Melchior, Keeper Of The Doom Horn (Alex Eilhauer), tells the story of his predecessor and “the prank that destroyed a world,” while Spurt The Elder (Andy Carey) performs a brilliant Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air-inspired “poem with percussive accompaniment” (a rap) about King Belaroth. Louis A. Shark (John Patrick Coan) and Lois, a shark (Jen Jackson), sing a romantic duet and D’Athaniel Quen’yarvin (Tim Ryder) performs a rousing verse entitled “Ode To Kicking.” Chunt’s Night has always been an exciting premise, and this episode proves that it was worth the wait.
In the Homemade Stories podcast, storyteller Shannon Cason takes his time easing listeners into his world. Using music as the entry point, Cason gives listeners unexpected doses of hilarity or drama, balancing them out with his true-to-life narratives. “This is one of the most difficult stories I’ve ever lived,” he starts off, with a guitar riff from what sounds like Carlos Santana blistering in the background. What follows is a layered exploration on the psychology of a person cheating on his partner. Cason isn’t the good guy here; he saves his self-reflection for the latter end of the episode. Told with the finesse of a story one might hear on an episode of This American Life, Cason introduces us to the women he spent time with while on a New York trip apart from his fiancée. Cason’s voice as a storyteller is defined by his Detroit upbringing, love of hip-hop and soul music, and willingness to dive deep into subjects that some might deem unflattering. By the end of an episode, he doesn’t feel like an anonymous narrating voice but a friend.
Kevin McDonald's Kevin McDonald Show
Wallace Shawn And Brad Roberts
The premier episode of Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show starts with a catchy jingle and an absurd reminder that “This is an audio podcast.” Recorded live at Union Hall in New York, it’s a mix of sketch, interviews, and live musical performance. Joined by Wallace Shawn and Brad Roberts, McDonald and his cast tackle the difficult task of entertaining the live audience as well as the people who will listen to the recorded podcast. The result is a major success. In the opening sketch, Wallace, who has one of the most recognizable voices in the world, plays Sherlock Holmes. “Ah, yes! Cocaine quickens the mind in the quest for truth,” he exclaims in a faux British accent. After proving that the magic of the audio play still lives, McDonald interviews Wallace, starting by noting the profound impact My Dinner With Andre had on his life by showing him that “anything that I think is interesting might be interesting.” There is a lot packed into this episode, but it all balances out well. McDonald’s Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show is worth a listen.
Nickelodeon Animation Podcast
Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett talks about the development of the legendary football-headed character and how he got his start in animation with Nickelodeon Animation Podcast host Hector Navarro. From the show’s jazzy music to the emotional stories, Bartlett describes how Charlie Brown was his biggest inspiration for Hey Arnold!. “Charlie Brown was long sad walks in the snow to blue smooth jazz music,” he says. “And I was, like, man this is cool. This is about feeling.” Navarro asks all the questions that an adult who grew up with cable access in the ’90s needs answers to. Listeners will be surprised to learn that Hey Arnold! getting picked up by Nickelodeon was the result of pure luck and happy to know that the mystery at the end of the series will finally be resolved in an upcoming made-for-TV movie. Bartlett’s insights into what it takes to make it as an TV animator are honest and heartfelt: “You gotta learn how to get along. You have to have actually a little bit of charm, a little bit of kindness. You’ve gotta work with people.” Wow, is he Arnold?
On The Media
There Must Be Another Way
Voting third-party in a consequential presidential election is either a powerful means of communicating one’s dismay at the poor choices offered up by the two major political parties, or it’s an embarrassingly masturbatory squandering of an opportunity to participate in the democratic process. Maybe it’s neither or possibly both. On this week’s On The Media, cohost Bob Garfield evaluates the value of ballots cast for the Green Party or Libertarians by speaking with Nathan J. Robinson, the editor of Current Affairs, as well as Tony Schinella, a person who spent the year 2000 campaigning hard for a man whose name will forever be invoked by Democrats hoping to guilt unhappy liberals into sucking it up and voting the party line. Ralph Nader, the Spoiler Supreme himself, also joins Garfield to defend his legacy against the claim that he inflicted eight years of George W. Bush upon this country. On a slightly different note, Garfield gets into an uncomfortably contentious—and undeniably fun, regardless of which side you’re on—back-and-forth with Daily Caller editor Scott Greer, who is all too happy to justify his website’s continued attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents of a killed Muslim U.S. soldier.
The Projection Booth
Dick Tracy (1990)
Of all the cinematic podcasts out there, The Projection Booth feels most like film school, concerned less with offering a unified, concrete opinion on a movie and more interested in exploring a variety of perspectives. 1990’s Dick Tracy seems particularly well-suited for this approach, as critics and audiences alike have been arguing about its quality for years. The episode features the hosts making the usual points about the adaptation’s comic-strip-faithful design trumping its storytelling, but the most fascinating segment arrives with author Garyn G. Roberts. A Dick Tracy scholar to the point where he could be the detective’s official biographer (if fictional characters had official biographers), he gives a comprehensive history of the source material’s numerous adaptations, which helps articulate why certain elements of the film work and others don’t. For instance, he views Flattop and Itchy’s killing of so many memorable villains in the opening shoot-out as a huge mistake, especially for any potential sequels. From a pure entertainment standpoint, it’s amusing to hear Roberts briefly snap out of his Midwestern politeness to lay into Warren Beatty’s performance. Glenne Headly, who played Tracy’s love interest, Tess Trueheart, in the film, has kinder things to say about her costar, while admitting his perfectionism could sometimes be taxing.
The BoJack Horseman opening credit theme in many ways perfectly reflects the show itself: It’s simple and catchy, but the more you listen to it, the sadder and more complex it becomes. So it was fascinating to find out that the piece of music was actually made before the show even existed, a creation in Black Keys’ Patrick Carney’s Nashville studio as a test recording. Carney and his uncle, Ralph Carney (a member of Tom Waits’ band), spend this episode of Song Exploder detailing the back-and-forth of layering sounds that led to the final product. The song as we know it on BoJack Horseman is edited down from four minutes to 55 seconds, and on this podcast we get to hear the song in its entirety. The full four minutes reveals darker moments and makes it feel even more right for the show. It almost plays like a modern-day noir theme, perfectly reflecting the Hollywood (or rather “Hollwoo”) in which BoJack and company exist. Here’s hoping the pod decides to dive into the show’s end credit theme by Grouplove next to complete the circle.
How does society convince 18- to 22-year-olds that the smoldering sewage-overrun carnival that is the U.S. political system is an institution worthy of their attention? It seems like every four years that question pops up anew, and every four years marketing teams bombard the latest crop of potential voters with their best shots at making voting seem way cooler than a civic duty is supposed to be. MTV’s Rock The Vote campaign is among the more memorable, if only moderately successful, of these attempts. This election cycle, the youth-oriented media network is trying to engage the kids in the process by actually engaging them in the process and showing that politics can be more than a T-shirt slogan. In this episode of The Stakes, Jamil Smith talks to Democratic Congressman of Georgia John Lewis about the publication of the newly completed March, his three-part autobiographical graphic novel detailing his tumultuous days in the 1960s civil rights movement. Later, fashion blogger Hannah Stoudemire explains why she felt the need to organize a Black Lives Matter protest outside her own New York Fashion Week event, and MTV News style editor Haley Mlotek finds out how a fashion designer used his experience as a U.S. Army first lieutenant to inform his creations.
The Todd Barry Podcast
Live From The JFL Festival In Montreal
You don’t necessarily think “high energy” when Todd Barry comes to mind, though it’s his energy, low as it is, that makes his live podcast from this year’s Just For Laughs Festival so great. The audience, and even his guests, have to settle into his witty, low-speaking manner of getting laughs. If you’re a fan of Barry’s The Crowd Work Tour, you’ll be happy to know that this episode kicks off with a few exchanges between audience members and himself that are more like normal small talk with above average punchlines. As the first guest, George Wallace, who is typically energetic and animated, plays around with the idea of being a mellow comic during the course of the conversation. “I need to slow… down,” Wallace says, pausing just the right amount of time for maximum applause. Mark Forward and Joe Mande also join Barry in this episode. It’s a solid hour and 20 minutes of laughter and occasional silences.
We Hate Movies
Predator 2 (Live)
Sometimes the audience is the worst part of a live bad-movie podcast. If the crowd’s reactions are too enthusiastic, it often spurs the hosts to interact with them in a way that feels like an inside joke if the podcast listener wasn’t there themselves. The latest We Hate Movies live episode counters this by dialing down the volume of the crowd laughter, focusing instead on the rapport among cohosts Andrew Jupin, Stephen Sajdak, and Eric Szyszka. Even better, the trio keeps the recording’s best interests in mind, interacting with one another the same way they’d interact in any other episode of WHM, live or otherwise. The comedic gold isn’t in guffawing with their spectators but in riffing on the unspoken love affair between the Predator and Danny Glover, as well as the oddly placed tightness of Glover’s khakis. As a bonus, the film—more of a “We Love Movies” entry for the gang—also features another performance from Gary Busey (or is it Holly Hunter?), thus further expanding the podcast’s steadily growing mythos.
“Why do we think our plane’s going to be on time? Why do we think it’s going to land on time? And why do we think that we’re going to get all our luggage? Because we may not. Actually, when I go to the airport, I expect sometimes to not get my luggage. I expect sometimes to arrive late, maybe even miss my flight. I expect this, so when it happens, it’s not a surprise.”
—Dr. Robert Puff on his life philosophy, The Happiness Podcast
“But what good are muscles if one does not use them / And I use mine to kick / I’ll kick your foul heart / I’ll kick your dumb face / I’ll kick you right in the dick.”
—Tim Ryder as D’Athaniel Quen’yarvin, Hello, From The Magic Tavern
“I’m going to tell you right up front, Warren Beatty is one lousy Dick Tracy.”
—Author Garyn G. Roberts pulling no punches, The Projection Booth
“He’s kind of in love with Danny Glover. He’s got a crush on him. A killin’ crush.”
—Stephen Sajdak on Predator’s taste in action heroes, We Hate Movies