Helen Chandler and Bela Lugosi in Dracula. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

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 podmass@avclub.com.


Gastropod
Cannibalism: From Calories To Kuru

Advertisement

The word “cannibal” first came into use in 1553, but we’ve been eating each other a lot longer than that. Discounting the non-mammalian world, which includes sex cannibalism (spiders and insects), parent-child cannibalism (most fish), and sibling cannibalism (birds), researchers have documented same-species feeding in 75 out of 5,700 mammal species, with humans being among the class’ minority. Not only that, but there’s a surprising quantity of physical history and cultural development surrounding human cannibalism from the early hominids to the present day. Once carried out for ritual or nutritional purposes, the most enduring forms of cannibalism are medicinal. Chinese culture’s emphasis of respect and care for elders has led to the practice of young people removing body parts to feed elders in times of desperation, whereas in the West, medicinal cannibalism has flourished for centuries despite extreme taboos against the practice: Westerners long believed human blood could cure epilepsy, pulverized mummies were sold into the 20th century as a coagulant, and placenta-eating remains a popular form of cannibalism to this day (Hi, Kim!). [Zach Brooke]


Only Stupid Answers
Is Bigfoot From Another Dimension?

Advertisement

While this show tackles all sorts of geeky topics, from comic books to movies to comic book movies, this week’s episode on cryptids is arguably the weirdest. For those who don’t consider themselves cryptozoologists, the most popular cryptids are the Jersey Devil, the chupacabra, and of course bigfoot. The show takes a minute to get going as—keeping on geeky brand—there’s an awful lot of video game chatter at the top. Hosts Sam Bashor and D.J. Wooldridge are not necessarily experts on the legends, but the conversation is brisk and revealing, especially for newer converts to the pseudoscience. There’s lots to take in, and since these creatures probably don’t exist, hearing different takes on the mythology and powers of bigfoot is fun, especially the titular bit about the stairs. A letter from the fans’ segment brings one of the funniest moments of the show when the hosts reveal who in Hollywood they think could possibly be a bigfoot. [Mike Vanderbilt]


Rendition
Clever Is As Clever Does

Advertisement

In each episode of Rendition, host Alex Cespedes explores different incarnations of stories, all concerning a shared theme. This week, these stories all relate to the idea of genius. Where does it come from? Are cleverness and wit the same as wisdom? By considering the narrative legacy of the stories “The Three Princes Of Serendip” and “The Master Thief,” Cespedes explores our contemporary and cultural ideas of genius. While “The Three Princes of Serendip” tells the tale of a Persian king’s three sons (taught by the best teachers money could buy) who are sent on a journey to gain lived experience, “The Master Thief” is a fairy tale with roots in Norway about the brilliant and wily son of an unlearned peasant. Augmented with some awesome music, Cespedes traces the seeds of contemporary heist movies from “The Master Thief,” while the detective tradition of great deductive reasoners such as Sherlock Holmes himself stems from “The Three Princes of Serendip.” Ultimately, Cespedes arrives at some pretty worthwhile insights concerning the notion of genius and proves Rendition to be a literary podcast well worth its 23-minute runtime. [Jose Nateras]


Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers
Garfield In Disguise AKA Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, 1985

Advertisement

It would appear that this year’s October Halloween Horror Movie Extravaganza is leaning into more (relatively) family-friendly films, including The Gate, Them!, and Friday The 13th, Part 6 (for what it’s worth, Jason Lives is arguably the most fun and least sleazy of the Friday The 13th films). In this special bonus episode, J. Blake and Dion look back on the Garfield Halloween special that aired for the first time in October of ’85 and became a fast favorite of the latter’s. As per usual, the guys veer off topic slightly, reminiscing about McDonald’s Happy Meals (and the fast food chain’s annual candy buckets), homemade costumes, and favorite holiday specials in general, particularly It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. There’s some pop culture history with the hosts exploring the Garfield phenomenon of the MTV decade, which found creator Jim Davis’ orange malcontent suction-cupped to every other car on the road, and the eternal question is addressed: Which came first, Garfield or Heathcliff? [Mike Vanderbilt]


Second Wave
Pho

Advertisement

On Second Wave, which presents detailed and engaging information in less than 30 minutes, Thanh Tan investigates how the Vietnam War is still affecting the Vietnamese community. Take pho, for example: Tan explains in this episode that what is now an “it” dish in America has evolved a lot from its Vietnamese origins, and instead of presenting that history point by point herself, she records a conversation among herself, Andrea Nguyen (The Pho Cookbook), and Yenvy Pham (co-owner of Seattle’s Pho Bac) while they eat the dish. This allows for honest and informed communication, which leads to discussion about everything from experimental pho recipes to Vietnam’s communist divide (“One of the ways you can get around kind of political animosities is to start talking about the food”) to pho pricing. So what’s next for pho? Are Vietnamese people losing control of the dish? Nguyen doesn’t think so; she sees its trendy status as an opportunity to continue a tradition and claim space in the American story. [Becca James]


Seincast: A Seinfeld Podcast
The Summer Of George

Advertisement

Seinfeld’s eighth season finale is an interesting one to look back on, as it was the first year that didn’t have Larry David on board creatively. Hosts Vinnie and Matt do a good job succinctly dissecting the episode and its intersecting plotlines—from George’s “decomposing” to Molly Shannon not swinging her arms when she walks and the ensuing catfight with Raquel Welch—so that even if listeners didn’t just watch the show, it’s pretty easy to keep up. Dialogue from the episode is expertly woven into the podcast, allowing the hosts to riff on their favorite lines and little moments that will find longtime Seinfeld fans nodding along in agreement or tracking the episode down to see something they might have missed. There’s scads of behind-the-scenes trivia about the show. Some of the most interesting bits come from the writers and how these characters and situations came from their everyday lives. There’s a particularly funny story about where the “not swinging their arms when they walk” bit came from. [Mike Vanderbilt]


The Ezra Klein Show
Why The Weinstein Scandal Gives Tig Notaro Hope About Hollywood

Advertisement

Nobody needs an excuse to listen to Tig Notaro conversing with anyone. Her unflappable charm, sharp intellect, and bone-dry wit make her one of those few podcast guests who can be counted on to boost a show’s entertainment value. But now that we’re in the midst of a seismic cultural shift concerning the way we talk about sexual harassment, her appearance on The Ezra Klein Show is all the more imperative—not simply because she can be expected to offer her usual sober and singular perspective, but also because she sort of tilled the ground for this reaping, having written a story arc about a sexually abusive boss in the entertainment field into the second season of her Amazon Video series, One Mississippi, not to mention having called upon the show’s executive producer, Louis CK, to address his own allegations of impropriety. Considering Ezra Klein’s day job as a political journalist, it’s probably easy to predict that the conversation would eventually veer toward Donald Trump, whom Notaro asserts ruined not just comedy but pretty much everything. Serious though the topics may be, the episode never gets bogged down in gloom. [Dennis DiClaudio]


Why We Eat What We Eat
Potluck Capital Of The World

Advertisement

Gimlet’s new offering Why We Eat What We Eat points out that “most Americans now have more choices when it comes to food than any other group of people in the history of the world,” before posing the question: “With such a ridiculous abundance of options, how do we actually decide what’s for dinner?” This week, host Cathy Erway chats about the history and tradition of potlucks, traveling to what is arguably the potluck capital of the world—Minnesota—where “the spirit of potluck is stronger than any one cook.” Hardwired into the hospitality of the Minnesotan is the idea that you don’t show up empty-handed, which some say stems from the region’s Lutheran and Scandinavian settlers. Erway takes us through America’s potluck history, pointing out highlights along the way, such as the invention of hot dish (also known as the casserole), with the potluck eventually becoming a trend well outside middle America. The podcast itself is bite-sized, clocking in around 20 minutes, but it still manages to pack in a lot of information and enough chatter about food to make listeners’ mouths water. [Becca James]


You Must Remember This
Bela And The Vampires

Advertisement

This standout Hollywood history pod is back with a short season comparing epochal horror actors Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. This episode, the second of five, limits its scope to Lugosi’s love-hate relationship with creepy foreigner roles, which were the only ones consistently available to him over a lengthy yet fickle career. A rising stage actor in his native Hungary, he fled to America after a failed communist revolution left him suspect in his home country. Years later he was cast as the famous vampire in the Broadway rendition of Bram Stoker’s novel, and donned the fangs again in the 1931 screen version. The film brought astounding recognition, but at 49 and possessing a thick accent, he was too old and too ethnic to land the dashing heartthrob parts he craved. The reluctance ran both ways: Studios needed persuading to cast him as Dracula and had to be guilted into letting him reprise the character in Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein. Still, he reportedly took every offer extended to him, monster or otherwise, thanks to poor contract negotiations leaving him cash-strapped and because he was allegedly scarred by the loss that came from turning down the title role in Frankenstein. [Zach Brooke]