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.
When presented with the class of headlines Americans been seeing this month, it’s easy to understand why people might vacillate between wanted to know every detail of the latest shooting tragedy and not wanting to know anything about it. Unfortunately, neither of those options are usually available, and so, we go about our days in a sad and confused stupor in perpetual dread of the next upsetting headline. The hosts of Code Switch—NPR’s podcast about race and identity—aren’t really in any sort of better situation than their listeners, but they are empathic and level-headed, which makes their commentary a vastly better resource for processing all of this than most other media. In these two episodes from last week, they address the recent incidents in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas by talking to an assortment of authorities with different perspectives. There’s a Harvard historian who made a career of researching race, crime, and policing. There’s the Memphis interim police director who marched with Black Lives Matters protesters, and the National Organization Of Black Law Enforcement Executives member himself who himself was harassed by police as a kid in New York City. None of this will make the hurt go away, but it will help to suture the wound.
Paul Thomas Anderson is without a doubt one of the top two Andersons working in cinema today. Of the seven acclaimed features he wrote and directed over the past two decades, there are two that stand out as being particularly beloved—Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. Released 10 years apart, they could hardly feel more different from one another to the casual observer. One is frenetic and spritely, sweaty with sex and giddiness, and the other is slow and stately, simmering with horrific tension. Yet both were born of the same mind, and neither seems like it could be erased from his filmography without leaving a major hole. They’re equally indispensable to cinematic history, and that’s probably why the co-hosts of The Canon are forced to choose between them. According to the rules of their Earwolf podcast, only one of them can be added to the pantheon of great films, with the other left out forever in the cold. And while Amy Nicholson and Devin Faraci argue vigorously for their picks, the decision ultimately lies with the listeners who must make a Sophie’s choice with their vote. This is possibly the most difficult contest they’ve presented thus far.
The Ezra Klein Show
Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton.
In our sound-bite-oriented media culture in which we exist, it’s easy enough to forget why former secretary of state is one of the most accomplished woman in U.S. politics. For anybody who needs a refresher, her conversation with Ezra Klein serves that purpose well. The Vox article Klein built from it was based generously around social media, but reading her thoughts doesn’t have quite the same effect as hearing her formulate them. Here, she discusses minute issues of policy with a sobering attention to detail. But as wonky and nerdy as it gets, it remains thrilling in a sense. This is the world in which she lives and thrives. And it might just give listeners confidence that she might be able to move the needle on federal governing.
Fake The Nation
Beyonce For Vice President: Josh Zepps, Lizz Winstead
In this premiere episode of Fake The Nation, host Negin Farsad is joined by The Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead and Josh Zepps of HuffPost Live. It’s a comedic breakdown that isn’t too hung up on political talking points. The format isn’t new, but it is fun hearing these guests hammer out their opinions on each issue, speed-round style. From email scandals to VP picks, the assumption of the show is that listeners are already frustrated news junkies in need of a laugh and another perspective. “I thought it was great that Muslims took a break for a second,” Farsad says in reference to Trump’s tweet of Hillary Clinton over a pile of money next to the Star Of David, “And also by extending it to another minority group, we can actually stop and take notice.” Fake The Nation has room to grow and find its voice, but if it keeps a steady set of talented guests and its comedic edge, it will definitely be worth keeping up with.
FriendsLikeUs consistently captures real conversations among women of color with a mix of humor and seriousness. This week, host Marina Franklin is joined by comedians Janelle James, Hadiyah Robinson, and Pat Brown, which leads to an interesting discussion on race. For many comedians of color, it is important to read the room but also talk from a place of honesty. Franklin notes how she felt more comfortable talking about the police shootings in front of younger crowds, and James has found that her brand of humor mixed with her primarily white fan base has opened the minds of many young white men and women. “Everything I write is super tempered,” Janelle explains “Because white dudes especially, they’re so used to being in charge. If you come with a rant, they’re not reading it. And I really feel like, if you can make people laugh or whatever, then you can make them think.” These four women prove that black comedy isn’t monolithic. However, there is a commonality to be found when you get those different comedic styles in one room. The result is hilarious.
The Great Debates, Our Close Friends
This week’s Hollywood Handbook finds its strength by being broad in its inspiration for comedy and specific with its concurrent theme. Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport are joined by Dave King, Steve Hely, and Dan Medina of The Great Debates, and it’s a perfect match. The group naturally finds games to play, creating opportunities to explore avenues that are ripe for everyone’s brand of comedy. But what ties the whole episode together is how the most memorable tangents hinge on the theme of Clements’ childlike envy. Whether it’s that King got a role on Love that Clements auditioned for, how he hasn’t been a guest on Doughboys yet, or the mere idea that Jake Johnson is more successful than he is, Clements masterfully plays up the insecurities of his persona by using real life details that everyone can poke and pry at. It’s a true testament to the idea that improv is honesty. Throw in some of their most hilarious ads to date, and what’s left is an episode that exemplifies why Hollywood Handbook is one of the most consistently entertaining podcasts available.
Lost expeditions hold a special place in our collective subconscious; fueled by hubris, they begin in the physical world, but follow a trail of breadcrumbs into our imagination. When the remains of adventurers are discovered, it serves to elevate the mythology around their fates. While other mystery-focused podcasts and media often insist on on answering the unexplained; Lore examines the nature of phenomenon itself, and why it’s so gripping on our psyche. The case study in this episode is a failed mountaineering expedition in the Ural Mountains in 1959. The peak in question, Kholat Syakhl, fittingly translates to “Dead Mountain” in Russia. The strange circumstances around the remains of the party are not easily explained by normal means, which has perpetuated stories of abominable snowmen and other tales of the fantastic. But Lore host Aaron Mahnke doesn’t try prove the existence of yetis. Instead, “The Mountain” effectively recounts the unnerving, unanswered evidence itself, allowing us to fill in the pieces ourselves, and demonstrating what make mysteries like this linger in our minds for decades.
Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling
You don’t have to love wrestling to love how much comedians Marty DeRosa and Sarah Shockey do. The co-hosts have an impressive combined knowledge on the sport that shines as they review a recent episode of Raw. An episode that inspired this thought from Shockey: “Freaky Friday; Ric Flair and Charlotte wake up in each others bodies…” Suddenly they spiral into a full-fledged writing session on what this movie and others would be like. “They wake up the next day, and you know the scene is.. “MY BOOBS!” Shockey exclaims in her best Flare voice. It’s some of the best improv you’ll ever hear. It’s great listening to DeRosa talk about something light-hearted in comparison to the subject of choice in his popular Wrestling With Depression podcast, and Shockey’s infectious laughter could definitely fight well against Ron Funches’ giggle in the ring. Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling is audio proof that wrestling has never been just for kids, but for adults of all ages who are young at heart and also enjoy smashing fold-up chairs.
Decoy Gang War Victim
PoetryNow, launched in 2015 under Chicago’s WFMT Radio Network in collaboration the Poetry Foundation, returns this summer as a weekly series. Featuring a range of the biggest names in modern poetry, PoetryNow is great if you’ve been meaning to check in with the latest from Cave Canem to the Poetry Society Of America. Every week in only four-minute segments, the show manages to blend acoustically beautiful readings of work with just enough personal detail from the writer to create insightful analysis instead of navel-gazing. While the short length does leave the listener wanting more, it’s also great to let a few episodes pile up for what feels like a roundtable of diverse voices. The second season launched with Tyehimba Jess reading “Sissieretta Jones,” which comes alive as Jess describes why Jones inspired the piece. Jess has always been a writer who has merged poetry and musicality; his 2005 book, Leadbelly makes not only the life of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter jump off the page, but also the music. With the addition of PoetryNow’s production, his reading of “Sissieretta Jones” features complexities not captured on the page. The most recent episode featured Carmen Gimenéz Smith reading “Decoy Gang War Victim,” a response to a 1970s art piece on Hispanic representation in the media. Again, excellent production highlights Gimenéz Smith’s voice to connect media racism from 1974 to today. There’s perhaps no easier way to be transported from the first black woman to sing at Carnegie Hall to the streets of L.A. gang violence and abandoned Detroit homes.
It’s a rare thing when Paul F. Tompkins is upstaged, but guest interviewee Nathan Lee Graham delightfully crushes his interview with the host of Spontaneanation. Despite suffering from a cold, Graham dominates the interview portion completely, and as a result casts a tall shadow over the rest of the episode. Listeners who don’t immediately recognize Graham’s voice may remember him as Todd, the maligned assistant to Mugatu in Zoolander. If there’s anything better than hearing Tompkins’ riff brilliantly, it’s hearing the comedian laugh at his guests; Graham literally leaves PFT gasping for breath for extended periods. The interview is so arresting that the gang of improvisors (Maria Blasucci, Matt Gourley, and Tawny Newsome) are much more focused on preserving the energy of Graham’s interview, rather than his provided setting—Paris, France. There are episodes of Spontaneanation where the group nails the storyline, and others where the narrative never gels, and usually this determines the relative success of the episode. “Paris” is one of the rare episodes where the chemistry of the performers and the potency of the interviewer overcome a nonsensical, pointless, and half-baked premise to create a thoroughly enjoyable episode.
Alan Takes Control
Sook-Yin Lee isn’t likely a well-known name to most Americans, but her contributions to the art of narrative audio storytelling have been legendary. During her 14 years as host of the Canadian Broadcast Company’s cultural mainstay Definitely Not The Opera, Lee transformed the aim of the program, exploring and curating stories of life in all of its curious meanderings. In the wake of this May’s shock end to DNTO’s 22-year run, Lee pivoted into a new project for the CBC, launching the podcast Sleepover, a show suffused with such a rich energy that it positively hums. The premise is novel: that Lee and three complete strangers spend a night in a hotel room, talking about their lives and problems in hopes of coming to a place of greater understanding by morning. One sleepover produces three episodes, each centered on a different member, of which this is the third. The episode’s subject is Alan Zweig, a 64-year-old documentary filmmaker and recent first-time father, who is joined by Scaachi Koul, a 25-year-old writer, and Charlie McGettigan, an 8-year-old struggling to learn to read. Lee’s interviewing abilities are masterful, and the way she gets her subjects to play off one another generates moments of pure pleasure and genuine growth. Sleepover is perhaps the most interesting and excellently eccentric podcast of the year, though coming from Lee it’s hardly surprising.
Sooo Many White Guys
Phoebe And Lizzo Get Lit
2016 has been as bleak a year as any in recent memory, but one of the brightest spots amid the chaos has been WNYC Studios’ hilarious 2 Dope Queens podcast, hosted by Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson. It is cause for great jubilation, then, that Robinson has launched her own solo show, Sooo Many White Guys, with the aim of interviewing diverse creatives in every profession—provided they’re not white men. It’s an excellent mission and one which Robinson handles with aplomb right out of the gate, interviewing Minneapolis-based rapper/singer/competitive flautist Lizzo, whose joyously infectious “Good As Hell” is a strong contender for song of the summer. But first, the recent police-involved shootings lead Robinson to pre-empt her previously taped interview with Lizzo in favor of a telephone call with her, discussing the latest horrific events. The most striking moment of the call comes when Lizzo explains how all of the little moments of joy she experiences in her day have been stolen away from her, replaced by a creeping sense of guilt whenever she does take her mind off it all. Robinson’s original interview makes up the bulk of the show, and is a real delight. Sooo Many White Guys’ commitment to providing space for marginalized voices is vital, and the show really soars due to Robinson’s abundant playfulness, intelligence, and humor.
Talk Easy is a weekly podcast of long-form conversations with notable names from film, comedy, politics, and more, hosted by A.V. Club contributor Sam Fragoso, Movie Mezzanine founder and writer for Vanity Fair, WIRED, NPR and more. This week Fragoso sits down with Eric André, and the two find themselves not only hitting traditional talking points regarding comedy, they also discuss their shared obsession with work, and the complicated idea of monogamy. The episode is endlessly entertaining, not only because André is just that, but because Fragoso is adamant in his quest to dig into where André is coming from on a personal level. Fragoso knows that to produce such bizarre and nebulous comedy that knows no real world limitations, there must be something that grounds André in the reality. The conversation goes through many learning curves as Fragoso figures out how to take on such a complex interviewee, but it’s within those forks in the road that he gets what he wanted all along: an at once hilarious, enthralling, and even intimate portrait of Eric André.
The Vulture TV Podcast
Seinfeldia: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Jennifer Keishin, author of Seinfeldia: How A Show About Nothing Changed Everything, discusses her book on this week’s Vulture TV Podcast in such detail that you want to drag her straight to a Brooklyn bar’s trivia night. Unlike many meticulous researchers of pop culture, Keishin’s voice bubbles up with unbridled joy alongside cohosts Gazelle Emami, Matt Zoller Seitz, and Jen Chaney as she shares some choice anecdotes from behind the scenes of Seinfeld’s monstrously successful nine-season run. The four hosts analyze the infamous season-four gem “The Contest” from every possible angle, lauding it not only for its ability to convey so much while revealing so little (it is, after all, not funny to declare outright that the characters are in a masturbation stalemate), but also for its elegant sidestepping of NBC censorship. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s relatively long leash from the network allowed for unprecedented sitcom innovation, but the show was also a pioneer in its reliance on syndication: reruns would ensure that viewers could appreciate the recurring catchphrases, callbacks, and bit players that shaped the series’ unparalleled sliver of New York City. Other fun revelations: Seinfeld’s sibling rivalry with Friends and one fan’s mission to bring Rochelle, Rochelle to life.
We Got This!
Best Original Ghostbuster
Although we are neck-deep in what might be the most contentious, vitriolic presidential election since Reconstruction, the internet’s most poisonous debate of the year centers on Paul Fieg’s assault on masculinity itself, the remake of Ghostbusters. If you’d like to think about how bustin’ makes you feel so good, instead of why people insist on using social media to be so awful to one another, you can do a lot worse than this week’s episode of We Got This. Limiting themselves to consider only the original 1984 film and its sequel, Mark Gagliardi and Hal Lublin roll up their sleeves to determine which supernatural exterminator is the best. And lest you think that this is simply a 60-minute exercise to get to Bill Murray, Gagliardi lays down a pretty damning argument at the outset: “Peter Venkman is a poor scientist by the dean’s standards, and the laziest Ghostbuster by anybody who say the movie’s standards.” If the hosts of this podcast have honed anything in their tenure, it’s mastering the distinction between “best” and “favorite.” True to form, Mark and Hal fill in the space between nostalgia and pedantry to build a completely logical, yet thoroughly subjective determination of who is the best original Ghostbuster. The episode is a great warm-up to rewatching the classic original, and is filled with nuggets of Ghostbuster 101 trivia, like Huey Lewis’ lawsuit against Ray Parker Jr.
“Let’s say you do five or six Tyler Perry films. And you’re very well known… in certain circles… on South Crenshaw, perhaps. Now, I come along and do… a Zoolander, or a Zoolander 2, or Sweet Home Alabama. That’ll take care of me for 20 years. Whereas you have to keep doing Tyler Perry movies and no one will know about them, or care about them.”—Nathan Lee Graham on the financial disparity between being cast in a crossover film versus being cast in a film marketed toward black audiences, Spontaneanation
“That was in the past, let’s stay in the present moment.”
“You’re a new man now?”
“I’m a new man. I read two chapters of an Eckhart Tolle book, I no longer believe in the past.”
“You only need two chapters.”—Eric André and Sam Fragoso, Talk Easy
“I think George might be the center of that show, which is not a surprise, since he’s really Larry [David]. And I think we all feel that. That’s why we love George. That’s exactly his character: ‘Why’s everybody always asking me to do things? I just want to sit here.’”—Jennifer Keishin on what makes George Costanza relatable, The Vulture TV Podcast