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Marc Maron has a “reasonable talk with weird fellas” Tim and Eric on WTF

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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.

The Flop House
A Talking Cat!?!


A Talking Cat!?! shouldn’t exist. Every single aspect of it is impossible to explain, and listening to The Flop House hosts attempt the impossible is a sheer delight. The Flopsters can tackle any sort of film, of course, but movies like A Talking Cat!?! are its raisons d’etre, and because it’s right in their wheelhouse, they knock it out of the park. Along the way comes one of Dan McCoy’s most inspired speaking flubs, which leads to an ace Tim Conway/Werner Herzog goof. Though a largely unremarkable listener mailbag segment culminates with a disappointing resolution to the long, wildly controversial Ding-donggate saga, when coupled with the end of a very successful (if somewhat confusing) first Smallvember/Smalltember theme month, it is enough to bring any Flop fan to tears. But, lo, on the horizon is that holiest of The Flop House high holidays—Shocktober—which promises a positive cornucopia of spooky laughs and hilarious chills. [CG]

How Did This Get Made?


How Did This Get Made? has faced off against many movies commonly called The Worst Of All Time. This week, the podcast finally tackles Glitter, the 2001 train wreck that almost permanently demolished Mariah Carey’s career. The star vehicle (and its accompanying soundtrack) performed so badly that Carey was prematurely dropped from her recording contract. In a lot of ways, Glitter is the perfect movie for this show. Not only is it nigh on incomprehensible, but every element of its making is a head-scratcher, which leads to hilarious diversions from a self-proclaimed all-star cast of Paul Scheer, Adam Scott, Casey Wilson, and Dan Levy. (Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael were both unavailable for this episode, recorded live at Largo.) For listeners who haven’t seen Glitter, the offhanded references to the plot come across as sublimely bizarre (Semaphore in a nightclub? A trip to the orphanage? Someone getting murdered for weird reasons?), but the conversation is enjoyable from front to back. Scott in particular is an MVP for reading back his hilariously droll notes during the movie. (“Does she even want to be a singer?) Even without the big hitters in attendance, Scheer turned out another fantastic episode. [MK]

Judge John Hodgman

For this week’s case, Judge John Hodgman attempts to settle an argument between Chuck Bryant, host of the How Stuff Works podcast and co-host of Stuff You Should Know, and Chuck’s wife, Emilie Sennebogen. When Emilie went out of town to visit her family, Chuck took it upon himself to undertake a DIY project and widen the dining room doorway. Even by Chuck’s own endlessly entertaining self-defense, the job was planned poorly and executed even worse, a quixotic project that Emilie thinks requires the skills of a professional to fix. Hodgman’s questioning is more pointed and acerbic than usual, and does a wonderful job of bringing out the many problems with Chuck’s work and Emilie’s understandable annoyance toward the work. Disputes between spouses tend to play well on Judge John Hodgman, especially when a couple is as able to approach an exasperating situation with a healthy sense of humor like Chuck and Emilie do here. Both Hodgman and Jesse Thorn are friends with the couple—both are fans of How Stuff Works and Hodgman co-hosts trivia with Chuck at MaxFunCon—which causes the courtroom proceedings to be more playful and loose than usual, making this one of the better episodes of the year. [DF]

Monster Talk


It’s a genuine tragedy that so little footage exists of Maila Nurmi performing as horror movie host Vampira for the cameras of her seminal ’50s-era television series. Because people are unable to view for themselves the subversive wit and social satire she managed to sneak onto Los Angeles-area living rooms, her most lasting image in public eye is as “Vampire Girl” in Ed Wood’s infamously awful Plan 9 From Outer Space. Relegated to the status of mock-worthy cultural footnote, she ends up receiving little credit for having invented a mainstay TV archetype and exerting an impressive influence on pop culture in her wake. During this hour-long conversation with Blake Smith, W. Scott Poole, author of the biography Vampira: Dark Goddess Of Horror, even goes so far as to give her credit as a strong inspiration for the goth aesthetic. Nurmi—the Finnish-born daughter of a traveling preacher who fraternized with beat poets, modeled for early bondage magazines, and was nearly made into “the next Lauren Bacall” by director Howard Hawks—lived a much more interesting life than most people realize. This fascinating, though atypically non-cryptozoological, episode of Monster Talk should help to right that injustice. [DD]

The New Yorker Out Loud
The Right To Be Forgotten


The Internet has long been a place where past misdeeds, disasters, or embarrassing moments can outlive their perpetrator or victim, but a recent European Court Of Justice decision may make those moments more difficult to find. The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin and Columbia University professor Tim Wu discuss the complicated issue that pits a private citizen’s right to privacy against government regulation of free speech in this Out Loud installment. Toobin discusses his reflexive opposition to the law that allows individuals the right to have certain information about them removed from search engine inquires before hearing the details of the cases that brought his free speech absolutism into question, including publicly available photos of an 18-year-old California woman who was decapitated in an automobile accident. It’s the kind of thorny discussion that challenges easy opinion, knee-jerk partisan platitudes or the victimless solution. Wu, an unsuccessful candidate for New York Lieutenant Governor earlier this year, suggests his own support for a statewide law mirroring the European ruling, but acknowledges the troubling history of search engine regulation by totalitarian governments. The absorbing discussion doesn’t settle any debate, but it’s one that should provoke serious thought about an issue with weighty consequences. [TC]

There’s No Such Thing As A Fish
There’s No Such Thing As An Egg And Cress Portsmouth


The researchers of British TV show Q.I. welcome a special guest this week in Helen Zaltzman of the Answer Me This! podcast, making this the first episode in recent memory with as many female voices as men’s (researcher Anna Ptaszynski is often left with 3-4 male colleagues; this time only with Dan Schneider and Andrew Hunter Murray). The chemistry of the episode is instantly amiable and quick, its title coming from an interesting fact about how sandwiches were nearly named after Portsmouth, the place where the Earl Of Sandwich would have preferred to rule. This switching around of names leads to fun riffing on the original meanings of the acronym “LOL,” the acronyms doctors use to mock their unfortunate patients to their face, and the prostate-sounding name that Tolkien nearly gave Gandalf The Grey. But the back half of the episode segues into some fascinating science. Squirrels can tell which snakes can see in infrared, and when encountering them they emit radiation from their tails so they appear to double in size. Of course there are also breeds of squirrels with enormous genitals, and it is impossible for everyone to let that fact escape without examination. But before jokes get too easy, the topic rolls into a squirrel’s ability to mask their odor, trick hawks into crashing, and use ultrasound. [DT]



Autism is the subject of this week’s emotional Radiolab. In focus is the story of Owen Suskind, an autistic man in his early 20s who, incredibly, was pulled up out of a thundercloud of extreme autism. Growing up, he was entranced by Disney movies and only able to communicate in basic three word sentences. One day, out of nowhere, “Walter doesn’t want to grow up like Mowgli or Peter Pan” comes out of Owen’s mouth. What follows is incredible, a story the likes of which is usually reserved for Harpo Studios, but Radiolab isn’t so sensational. By interviewing a slew of prominent researchers, the second act provides an important counterpoint to Owen’s story, saying that this is just one anecdotal story. With this, Radiolab does away with the sensationalism, and focuses on how his family was affected, particularly his older brother. Because Owen can now communicate, we get an extremely personal insight into his life in the dark days, especially at high school. Surprisingly, the most emotional moment comes from Owen’s older brother, his self-styled protector, who transforms Owen’s love of a Disney classic into a poignant metaphor for their life together, and for the sheer unfairness of autism. [MK]

Science Friday
Artificial Sweeteners Might Sour Your Microbiome


Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute Of Science arrives as a special guest to Science Friday this week, sharing a study he conducted where laboratory mice were fed proportional amounts of artificial sweeteners, which completely altered the composition of the digestive bacteria that helped their metabolism and made them obese. There are trillions of bacteria in every human’s gut as well, each of them influencing overall health, and our society’s obsession with replacing sugar with mountains of aspartame and the like might be completely destroying humans’ ability to process other types of sugars. Elinav’s study also worked with young and healthy humans not previously ingesting artificial sweeteners, and it suggests this intake might even promote diabetes and other ailments because of their loss of ability to process glucose. As the science is explained it gives way to easier to understand terms like “gut microbes,” so listeners averse to topics that might go over their heads should still be able to listen without feeling lost. Elinav, combined with the work of his colleagues, makes a compelling argument against ingesting chemicals simply because they offer zero calories to the consumer, making the podcast a welcome wake-up call to those looking to inform their coffee guzzling (and other) habits. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class
The Lady Juliana


Tracy V. Wilson and Holy Frey preside over this especially dark episode of Stuff You Missed In History Class, named after a 1789 convict ship. A cliché often noted about Australia is that it started as a penal colony for Great Britain. But perhaps more disturbingly, Great Britain wanted to colonize by offsetting its male-dominated population. Sadly they needed to export women to Australia like some sort of product in order to achieve this plan, and many of these women were sent against their will. The women were convicts themselves, though the ways that a woman could go to prison in the 18th century were less than modern. Many of the women had been given a death sentence for extremely minor infractions. Defendants on trial rarely knew their trials had started, they went by so fast, and prosecutors routinely sent 10-year-old children to die for crimes like theft and prostitution without giving the defendant a chance to literally defend themselves. And being on these boats was considered a fate worse than death, meaning some horrible events surrounded the transportation of these women. The subject matter elicits a warning to parents and teachers who may be listening, and adults are likely to be bummed out. [DT]

Stuff You Missed In History Class
A Culinary History Of Spam


It may be hard for people to wrap their heads around this today, but Spam wasn’t always considered a punchline. For many people and many years, it was considered a godsend. Stuff You Missed In History Class’s Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey provide a succinct but thorough narrative about how this iconic canned meat product was born of ingenuity and scrap pork shoulder in a Hormel Foods processing plant before quickly catching hold in the public consciousness and becoming a common item on American dinner tables. They tell how it was used to feed countless U.S. troops during World War II, who in turn introduced it to the people they encountered while stationed overseas, who in turn introduced it into their local cuisines. Even listeners who never acquired a taste for the polarizing meat product may find themselves feeling disheartened when Wilson and Frey get around to explaining how it wound up as a component of more American people’s jokes than their diets. [DD]

Stuff You Should Know
How Animal Domestication Works


Any listener even vaguely interested in animals or anthropology will find this episode of Stuff You Should Know to be essential listening. Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant resist the urge to get political for the most part as listeners will likely already have their own passions on the subject, though Bryant does note that he is not a personal fan of orcas in captivity. From cows to dogs to fish, animal domestication has led to everything from how we find companionship, to how we eat, to how we dress, to how diseases have evolved to jump from animals to humans. The hosts provide great asides about zoos, the film Blackfish, and whether mankind has gone completely bonkers in its efforts to reshape the animal kingdom to its will. The short version: No domesticated animal started as particularly friendly to humans. Sheep had “kemp” instead of wool, horses were too small to ride, and dogs were just wolves. The philosophy of whether this is all a huge blunder or the future of living with our animal bretheren is explored with humor and goes deeper than the podcast has gone in many weeks. A story about domesticated foxes that rapidly developed dog-like features without cross-breeding within 60 years of being isolated is of particularly interest. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know
How Police Interrogation Works


Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant tackle the topic of police interrogation this week, a topic that will seem less controversial than it perhaps ought to be once listeners finish the episode. The hosts admit up front that this episode debunks so much of the other police-related episodes they’ve done that this might finally be the capper to this unofficial series. Anyone watching recent news of our modern militarized police state to anyone who watching The Killing or True Detective will want to hear Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant pull apart the history and tactics of police when grilling suspects. And it turns out that most of the tactics coerce false confessions and many use facts that are logistically impossible to have taken place. Interrogations are designed to increase stress, which increases a suspect’s own belief that they may have done something wrong whether they have or not. The inherent skeptic streak in both Clark and Bryant turn them into excellent advocates for the general public, who might wrongly trust interrogating officers who in fact do not sympathize with their suspects. They have particular interest in the psychological tactics involved, and are more than willing to go on silly, goofy riffs when discussing the dark idea of a suspect’s hopelessness during interrogation. [DT]

We Hate Movies
Secret Window


No doubt, there’s been an obscene amount of celluloid thrown away in misguided attempts to bring Stephen King’s written words to the screen. For every one Shining or Shawshank Redemption, there’s at least two Maximum Overdrives or Lawnmower Mans. But, to hear the three hosts of We Hate Movies tell it, David Koepp’s Secret Window is on a whole other level of misguidedness. Based upon a particularly thin novella composed of disparate elements of many more fully realized King stories, the 2004 psycho-thriller stars Johnny Depp, in one of his increasingly rare trying-to-behave-like-an-actual-human-being roles, as a schlubby writer who looks like Johnny Depp, but in an immaculately clean tattered bathrobe. It also features Brooklyn’s own John Turturro and his awful menacing Mississippi accept, which provides a solid chunk of very satisfying mockery from Andrew Jupin, Stephen Sajdak, and Chris Cabin. If you’ve seen Secret Window, you’ll probably have a stronger appreciation for the hosts’ contempt for it. But even if you haven’t, it’s not all that difficult to jump on board their disdain train and enjoy their many personal anecdote diversions. [DD]

Tim And Eric


It turns out Marc Maron was all worked up for no reason. For years now he’s expressed a combination of anxiety about and excitement for the prospect of being fucked with on his own show should he ever convince brilliant weirdos and legendary fuck-withers Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim to appear on WTF—to the point where it’s almost a little disappointing how straightforward their actual appearance turned out to be. Nonetheless it’s a very engaging—if not quite revelatory—conversation, with a lot of discussion of influences and obsessions; biographies and origins; and projects past, present, and future. All three men seem to be on the same level the entire time, and it’s fascinating to hear Tim and Eric talk about the way in which they perceive themselves. Maron doesn’t get a chance to scratch much deeper than the surface, but considering the subjects, what he was able to get is significant, and it’s a satisfying episode. [CG]

We see what you said there

“Ironically, Trouble With The Curve? Straight down the middle.”—Dan McCoy on the film’s aggressive beigeness, The Flop House


“Everyone who goes onto House Hunters gets really freaked out if they can’t see every room in their house from the center island in their kitchen.”—John Hodgman on the prevalence of the open floor concept, Judge John Hodgman

“If she had been ten years later, she might have fit in with the Warhol Factory set pretty well.”—Blake Smith on Maila Nurmi, Monster Talk


“It’s inconvenient, isn’t it?”
“On a bicycle especially.”—Anna Ptaszynski and Andrew Hunter Murray on the trouble it would cause a human to have testicles as proportionately huge as that of a South African squirrel, No Such Thing As A Fish

“One of our favorite movies is The Jungle Book, because Mowgli, it’s his quest with his animal sidekicks to get him to the man village. What we have been doing all this time, and what we’re still doing, and what we do everyday is to bring Owen closer and closer to that man village that we all inhabit… As hard as we might try, we may not get him there, but that doesn’t mean you leave him on the path. You stay with him, even if it’s a neverending path.”—Walter Suskind on his autistic brother, Radiolab


“Have you seen that picture of that pug who was clearly messing around with a crawfish? And gets its tongue bit? And it’s like in mid-air, and they have huge eyes that are bulging out anyway…”
“He was trying to… have sex with the crawfish?”—Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant on how pugs don’t really act like their ancestor the wolf, Stuff You Should Know