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.
America's Test Kitchen
One Way Trip To Mars
Here’s a sentence you don’t read a lot: Things get pretty dark on America’s Test Kitchen this week. Chris Patil, one of the 600 final candidates for the Netherlands-based 2022 Mars One expedition, chats with Christopher Kimball about the bleak realities of the voyage and whether he’s emotionally prepared for a one-way trip. There’s plenty of enlightening, not-even-slightly-culinary discussion about the economics and variables challenging the mission, but they keep a toe in the food world in creative and thought-provoking ways. Patil goes into the basic science of harvesting water and heating food on the planet, and compares their sacrifice and learning curve to those of early pioneers and settlers, who had food discoveries of their own. Later in the episode, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik suggests there might be a possible upside to growing produce in an unprecedentedly harsh climate; Like René Redzepi’s signature “vintage carrots,” which retain sweetness and steak-like meatiness due to unfavorable weather, there’s no telling what fruits and vegetables will taste like grown in an otherworldly climate. It’s heady, wildly interesting stuff, and it’s sort of hilariously flanked by lighter fare, like recommendations for Trader Joe’s bitter cornstarch taste-free confectioners sugar and a new “classic” chocolate chip cookie recipe.
For the first time in their decades-long partnership, Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster have been performing live to sold-out crowds across the United States, and the comedy duo continues this hot streak with another first for The Best Show: a pre-taped episode from the Earwolf studio in Los Angeles. The result is Scharpling helming a typical podcast-style program free of the show’s famed interactivity, chatting with Joe Mande, Gabe Delahaye, and Lisa Jane Persky about their Hollywood credits and high protein post-gym eateries. Still, when Wurster gets in on the fun—reprising an obscure role as former WFMU sound board engineer Karl—for rapid fire questions with Scharpling’s celebrity guests, the room can’t help but defer to its lead. All the beats of a beloved Best Show remain, mixing new bits, like Scharpling’s embarrassing elevator encounter with Patti Smith, in with old standards, like Brian Doyle-Murray’s one line in National Lampoon’s Vacation (“We like to send out a mailer”). And both Scharpling and Wurster—and even Gary The Squirrel—take care to fit within a more familiar form, as a courtesy to the uninitiated and an act of defiance toward the networks that said they couldn’t.
BuzzFeed's Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer is BuzzFeed’s first podcast, which is a surprise considering how often the media empire is in the vanguard of online trends. But the hosts, BuzzFeed staffers Ryan Broderick and Katie Notopoulos, know their Internet, and as a team they could run circles around most meme junkies. The show is loosely structured, with a main topic of conversation sandwiched between a “word of the day” feature and a “man on the street” type segment that highlights everyday people’s relative Internet illiteracy. But Broderick and Notopoulos have such a lively rapport that they easily spend most of the show gabbing about weird image search results, getting kicked off of social networks (for asking to see everyone’s penis, in one instance), and an awkward “Battletoading” prank. The tone is insider-ish and aggressively irreverent, yet Broderick and Notopoulos manage to fill listeners in on every obscure reference, from “crave that mineral” to “doxxing.” They even take a moment for thoughtful reflection when they celebrate the way that the Internet makes us equals in idiocy and occasional humiliation. True to the BuzzFeed ethos, the podcast is dumb, a little manipulative, and scary smart all at the same time.
James Bewley’s creation—Dale Seever, the host of the eponymous Dale Radio—is unlike most purely fictional podcast hosts, in that he is so fully realized, with a life fleshed out over several seasons of the podcast. There is no doubt that Dale is a character; his mannerisms are outsized and distinctly peculiar, but human and strangely endearing at the same time, like a Daniel Clowes comic. Take the way his vocal chords often constrict, as if wringing the very jokes from his body, giving his delivery a cadence that suggest flop sweat and total mastery in the same breath. In short, Bewley’s Dale is like a modern-day equivalent of Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton. This week’s Dale Radio is a live recording, which does mean there are some audio issues at first, but listeners are advised to stick with it. Bewley manages to put together a very strong slate of guests, from Naomi Ekperigin, a current writer on Broad City, to Bridget Everett, the genre-bending cabaret performer of prodigious bust. Dale’s rapport with his guests is wonderful, as are the stories of his life he peppers in. All of it is funny and completely unlike any other show taping today.
How Did This Get Made?
Deep Blue Sea
As entertaining as bad-movie podcasts are, it often feels like the hosts are shooting fish (or sharks) in a barrel. This week’s episode of How Did This Get Made? avoids this by having filmmaker Evan Goldberg as a guest. As a Deep Blue Sea superfan, he takes smarmy delight in repeatedly defending the film’s highfalutin logic with the precision of one of its many shark/Alzheimer’s researchers. When co-guest Paul F. Tompkins expresses outrage at the sharks’ inability to bite through their fences, for example, Goldberg responds with a simple, “It’s made of a flexible titanium material, my friend.” Hosts Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas get a kick out of Goldberg’s seemingly bottomless cache of knowledge and, as a result, seem to grow a soft spot for Deep Blue Sea over the course of the episode. Let’s not forget—bad movies are bad, but they’re also fun.
In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg
In this BBC Radio 4 show, host Melvin Bragg invites a group of academics for an in-depth discussion on a historical topic in culture or science. This week’s topic is Marie Curie and her Nobel prize-winning family, and Bragg is joined by Patricia Fara of Cambridge, Robert Fox of Oxford, and Steven Bramwell of University College London. They’ve all done their research—you can hear it in the soft rustling of pages in the background—and together the experts give what amounts to a world-class introductory lecture on the Curies and the scientific milieu in which they worked. Before she died of radiation poisoning, we learn, the Polish-born Curie spent hours on end stirring vats of uranium ore, and she was involved in an affair with a married man the same year that she won her second Nobel prize. She also experienced great loneliness at times, but she was close with her daughters, one of whom received a Nobel Prize of her own. In the podcast’s “bonus material,” Fara brings up a memoir written by Curie’s Nobel-less daughter Ève, who portrayed her mother as abnormal and obsessive. “Ève has a lot to answer for,” Fox says, because she colored the public’s perception of her mother for decades to come.
Never Not Funny
Kevin Bigley of Sirens is a relatively unknown entity, and especially so in the world of comedy podcasting. Actors and non-comedy folks occasionally don’t mesh so well with hosts and vibes on comedy podcasts, but that couldn’t be less true for Bigley’s Never Not Funny debut. Indeed, even Jimmy Pardo seems surprised at how well Bigley fits in, not only playing along with his silliness, but actually being flat-out funny—nearly as surprised as Bigley’s publicist is to become an unwitting participant in the mix. Of course Pardo is such a consummate entertainer that it’s ultimately neither here nor there if the guest is good—he can always pick up the slack—but it’s delightful to hear things work out so well, and the episode is a solid two hours of fun.
Advice With Molly Ringwald
Molly Ringwald’s fame towers over past guests’ credits, a fact even the pragmatic David Huntsberger is quick to point out to help justify the flimsy premise for her presence on Professor Blastoff’s landmark 200th episode. Episode 200 would have been a chaotic victory lap for Huntsberger, Kyle Dunnigan, and Tig Notaro no matter what, and the hosts’ admiration for the iconic film star turned Guardian advice columnist more than makes up for Ringwald not reining them in with a topic. Dunnigan in particular mines some easy humor out of hitting on her throughout the episode, but naturally doubles down when he produces a pre-printed scene for the gang to read that’s nothing more than an equally flimsy excuse for their two characters to kiss. It’s an easy joke, but one that’s played with such great sportsmanship by Ringwald that it works. And in an early highlight of the show’s year, Ringwald’s husband Panio Gianopoulos makes a cameo as the punchline of the introductory segment by insisting that he can eat 14 large pizzas in one sitting.
Joe Swanberg is one of the most divisive filmmakers working today: ask a group of cinephiles about him and you’ll likely only hear that he’s both the paragon of self-indulgent navel-gazing nonsense as well as the future of independent cinema. Marc Maron leans more toward the latter of those poles, and in general he and Swanberg seem to be on very similar pages regarding cinema, creativity, art, and life. Because of this, their conversation is upbeat, ecstatic, and enthusiastic—like two people meeting for the first time who will go on to be good friends for a long time. It’s also pleasantly inspiring—if this doesn’t make you want to pick up a camera and make films with your friends this weekend, not many things will. Whatever one may think of Joe Swanberg as a filmmaker, this conversation certainly makes it difficult to dislike Joe Swanberg as a person.
Who Stole What?
The DNA Of Band Names
A quick scan of the Billboard charts can quickly lead one to bemoan the state of popular music, but to the Shields brothers—Rory and Tristan, hosts of Who Stole What? and one-time stars of NBC’s The Voice—it leads to the realization that band names today just suck. The brothers decide to each make a list of so-called “good” band names and compare their findings. These exclude bad names for good bands, like The Beatles, and include the names of avowedly bad bands with otherwise good names. A little Dragonforce is played, which is fucking great. The lists are not constrained by reality, so fictitious band names are also up for consideration. The examples that the brothers present are good, but hardly exhaustive. Things get more interesting as they discuss the name origins for several famous bands with excellent names. Some of these are fairly well-known stories, like Duran Duran being the name of the villain in the film Barbarella, while others are rather in-depth and interesting, such as the origins of Death Cab For Cutie’s name. Overall, it is an interesting, diverting listen, but it could stand a longer discussion on what makes a truly good name and whether it has any real impact on a band’s success.
“So I had to explain to my poor mom what 4chan was. She wanted to see it, and of course I pull it up and it’s like 9/11 erotic fan art like on the homepage. I’m like goddammit.”—Ryan Broderick, BuzzFeed’s Internet Explorer
“LL Cool J’s relationship with that bird made me profoundly sad.”—Paul F. Tompkins on Deep Blue Sea, How Did This Get Made?
“I’m afraid I think she’s an appalling role model for women who want to go into science, because she… absolutely confirms that wrong notion that you can’t be a normal woman and a good scientist…”—Patricia Fara on Marie Curie, In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg
“You grow up with something, there’s no end to what you’ll put up with coming out of your ass.”—Marc Maron on the enduring popularity of delicacy “garbage plates” in Rochester, New York, WTF