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 email@example.com.
It’s Blank Check’s last episode of the Pod Night Shyamacast miniseries, and what better a way to say goodbye to the enigmatic M. Night Shyamalan than to take on a hoax documentary about the director himself? Syfy’s 2004 The Buried Secret Of M. Night Shyamalan is not directed by Shyamalan, but it is definitely his brain child. Even stranger than the concept of Shyamalan wanting to construct a fake narrative around himself, is that Oscar-nominated documentarian Nathaniel Kahn decided to do it. Kahn’s involvement is only one in a series of bewildering aspects of this nearly three-hour-long TV movie, from the ridiculous plotline in which Shyamalan is able to communicate with spirits, to the fact that Johnny Depp is in the film. Hosts Griffin Newman and A.V. Club alum David Sims are hilariously incredulous about the documentary and their commentary is a perfect way to experience the ridiculousness of The Buried Secret without having to actually watch it. It’s one of the most fun episodes of the show since there are so many unbelievable things for them to make fun of, but it also acts as a great farewell to this series. By experiencing the way that the hosts see Shyamalan, and the way that Shyamalan chooses to portray himself in the documentary, it’s a perfect way to wrap up the hilarious and sometimes mind-boggling analysis of the director’s work. Next, they take on the Wachowskis, and one can sense it’s only uphill from here.
Chuck E. Cheese’s: Erin McGathy
Pedophile jokes have never exactly been in short supply on Doughboys, particularly when they are coming from Mike Mitchell and directed at Nick Wiger (usually after Wiger has implied that Mitchell—along with everyone else from the greater Boston area—is a racist), so it’s no surprise that they pop up here and there over the course of a nearly 100-minute discussion about Chuck E. Cheese’s. What’s a little more surprising is just how much talk of cum there is—which, to be clear, is a stunning amount of cum talk. Stemming from an especially gross turn of phrase Wiger uses to describe a nocturnal emission, the topic recurs again and again, only briefly overshadowed by Mitchell’s hilariously bizarre concept of a chain called Cuck E. Cheese (“Where A Kid Can Cuck His Dad”). Talk of how a pungent, lingering smell of diapers tends to combine with the smell of the food at Chuck E. Cheese’s (along with a detailed description of the actual food itself) helps seal this episode’s fate as the least appetizing Doughboys yet—but one that is also just as consistently funny as all the rest.
There has been a lot of fictional content to process over the past few weeks and this episode of FanBros seems to cover it all; from the Rogue One trailer to the odd cultural appropriation of the Doctor Strange teaser. Tatiana King-Jones fills in for DJ Benhameen as captain of the ship, along with co-hosts Chico Leo and TyTheRobot. As things turn to Marvel, King-Jones focuses the conversation on Tilda Swinton, who plays a character typically portrayed as Tibetan in Doctor Strange comics.”There’s a lot of people who feel like a lot of the stuff going on with Iron Fist [and] Doctor Strange is, they take all these Asian tropes, and they stick them and it’s white people,” Leo explains. Furthering the theme of culture bending, a listener asks the dynamic trio to imagine what Daredevil would be like if he were Jewish or Muslim instead of being the practicing Catholic that has historically defined his character. You’ll hear theories on why Natalie Portman is leaving the Thor franchise, and why TyTheRobot worries that Marvel movies are becoming a “sausage fest.” FanBros is one of the most reliable weekly nerd-cultural roundups because of the daunting amount of information it brings and how much fun these hosts have together.
Hang Out With Me
There’s never a lull in conversation with Myq Kaplan, comedian and host of Hang Out With Me. Kaplan is so well suited to podcasting as a platform with his quick wit and rapid fire dialogue, there’s no room for boring small talk as the show goes from zero to sixty in the best way. Kaplan is joined by writer (and former Podmasser) Maggie Serota, who is a perfect match for his auctioneer-like pacing as an interviewer. Kaplan has an evident skill for swiftly steering a conversation from topic to topic without pause, and Serota being equally as quick and intelligent is open and ready to take on every question with a repartee that is both sincere and entertaining. The two tackle the ideas of public Twitter-shaming and what it feels like to be on both sides of it, why people feel the need to say insulting things, cat calling, different forms of performance, Henry Rollins’ poetry, reincarnation, and so much more. If there’s ever a break in the conversation, it’s to make some sort of joke or pun—as Kaplan is a master of wordplay—which is really the best kind of distraction. The episode is endlessly entertaining from start to finish, as Serota and Kaplan ping-pong their wit throughout, though still end up saying things that are inspired and ring true.
Last Things First
Host Sean L. McCarthy gets Janeane Garofalo in the right place at a sad time for a super-sized episode of his candid interview show. At 51 years old, Garofalo is still trudging through fetishized stand up bills advertising “chocolate comedy night” and “hot babes telling jokes,” but Garofalo can’t help but focus on this year’s earth-shattering loss of Garry Shandling, coming to tears when describing the now-iconic grilled cheese scene from Freaks And Geeks as an example of Shandling’s influence on her generation of specificity in comedy. She relates her reticence about transitioning from doing stand up to auditioning for television and cites Shandling’s acceptance of improvisation as a motivating factor in continuing to go out for roles—and though she admits to being frustrated about having Saturday Night Live brought up in almost every interview she does, her criticisms get a new life when they’re juxtaposed by her regret about leaving The Larry Sanders Show in pursuit of that. If it’s any comfort to her or any of Shandling’s mourning devotees, maybe Garofalo is the new torch bearer; she’s certainly got the specificity down.
Richard Linklater speaks with the casual confidence of a major league ball player in the midst of a .375 season. It’s not arrogance, and it’s not off-putting. It’s actually kind of endearing. He sounds like a hardworking, thoughtful craftsman who’s enjoying the comforts of a creative groove. Coming off the massive critical successes of Before Midnight and Boyhood, he just released Everybody Wants Some into theaters, and the reviews are almost across-the-board positive. But that detail doesn’t seem to be of primary importance to the Austin-based filmmaker. To hear him talk shop with Off Camera host Sam Jones, he appears to be much more focused on effectively exploring his own idiosyncratic cinematic curiosities. In this interview, Linklater not only looks back over the high points of his three-decade-long career in film and gives insight into how he transitioned from a college baseball player with an eye on going professional (much like the characters in his new, as he calls it, “memory film”) into an experimental filmmaker obsessively and quietly tinkering with projects, and what elements of the former he brought into the latter. It’s almost disarming how easily he draws a direct line from sports to arts.
Struck By Lightning
“When you’re afraid of the sky, where do you go?” Phil Broscovak asks in tears on a phone-recorded video from inside his truck, waiting out a sudden thunderstorm. Outside Podcast, a production of PRX and Outside magazine, presents the second episode in their survival science series with raw honesty, tracing a lightning strike survivor’s 10-year journey in interviews with family, friends, and physicians. A series that’s ostensibly about extreme bodily phenomena, Outside wisely opts for telling Phil’s story as completely as it can: an explanation of electrical forces within a lightning bolt abuts his parenting anecdotes, and a list of common PTSD symptoms is interwoven with his remembered breakdown in a noisy grocery store. Our hosts do right by Phil’s story by digging uncomfortably deep down into it, detailing his crumbling marriage and outbursts at his children for any clues they might provide for other victims. Listeners are presented with a narrative that is at once an intensely analytical, visceral, and emotional experience, which helps keep the subject matter from feeling invasive or voyeuristic—a perennial pitfall of TV shows like “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.”
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Small Batch—Ta-Nehisi Coates On Black Panther
It’s a genuine pleasure listening to intelligent people speak intelligently about intelligent things. And we’re lucky enough to finally be living in a world in which the subject of comic books can be included in that by a mainstream news organization. In this special half-hour edition of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, guest host Audie Cornish shares an expanded version of her All Things Considered interview with 2015 MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which he discusses his reasons for, and excitement about, authoring the latest narrative arc of Marvel’s Black Panther series. Anyone who’s familiar with his nonfiction work as a national correspondent forThe Atlantic will not be surprised to hear him describe the care and meticulousness thought that went into his iteration of the African king T’Challa. Or, for that matter, the consideration that he and artist Brian Stelfreeze gave to the gender politics of their story. Between this highly publicized run and Black Panther’s upcoming appearance in Captain American: Civil War—followed by his own film, directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed), in 2018—the lesser known character seems poised to join the A-list of superheroes for future generations, and Coates seems appropriately thrilled to be doing his part.
When listening to a podcast interview it is a rare and quite wonderful experience to have the interviewer and subject discover just how much in common they have and, in doing, basically become best friends in real time. That is precisely what happens on this week’s Secret Skin, with show host, rapper Open Mike Eagle and guest, comedian, actor, and podcaster Baron Vaughn discussing their surprisingly similar upbringings what attracted them to a life of performance. Things get off to a fantastic start with Vaughn reciting from memory a good portion of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s classic track “Crossroads,” before launching into a bit about the disparity between talking about oppression versus depression in the black community. The stories that the pair trade are very frank and interesting, discussing their familial disconnects, growing up latchkey kids being primarily raised by television, and how it impacted their worldview and tastes. Though there are several thorny topics discussed they are done in a breezy fashion, making the hour not only an important listen but also an excellently entertaining one. Eagle has for some time now been a wonderful fixture in podcasting and with this, the penultimate episode of Secret Skin’s current season, he continues to knock it out of the park.
Sukiyaki (Ue O Muite Arukou)
Kyu Sakamoto’s recording of the song “Ue O Muite Arukou,” dubbed “Sukiyaki” by a British distributor to broaden its mainstream appeal, is among the largest selling singles in the history of recorded music. That the song is sung entirely in Japanese only further speaks to how truly captivating a piece of music it is. This week on the enormously captivating BBC Radio 4 podcast Soul Music, “Sukiyaki” is explored from several different angles, whether they be academic, triumphant, or devastating. The conceit of the show is one of nearly perfect simplicity, offering a multitude of emotionally affecting tales from those people whose lives have been touched by a particular song. These explorations are often intensely personal, but some speak to a larger cultural impact as well, such as how the popularity of “Sukiyaki” helped Japanese Americans feel once more at home in a country that had only decades earlier seen fit to imprison them. The most affecting tales of the song come near the end of the episode, when two separate instrumental performances are used to help ameliorate the anguish of loss felt following a pair of immense disasters. Listeners may find themselves—as the song’s lyrics roughly translate—looking up to keep their tears from falling down.
Don Cheadle: Miles Ahead
Biopics are pretty much the smooth jazz of cinema. They have a certain mass appeal, and your parents might brag about how much they enjoyed them, but they very rarely represent a big creative or technical achievement. So, as one might imagine, a film about Miles Davis—one of the most innovative and influential jazz musicians of all time—is going to be fraught with the possibility of embarrassment. And that’s why it’s particularly interesting that Don Cheadle would choose that very subject matter for his directorial debut, especially when he’s also in the lead role. In this interview with The Treatment’s Elvis Mitchell, the 51-year-old actor recounts the long road he traveled trying to bring Miles Ahead to screen and explains how every rejection that he and co-screenwriter Steven Baigelman experienced led to a tighter and more fully realized final product. He also gives insight into his attempt to subvert and transcend standard biographical film tropes by filtering the story through Davis’ own aesthetics of experimentation. As he tells Mitchell, he felt like he wasn’t playing Miles Davis so much as he was playing Miles Davis playing Miles Davis, a distinction that is much less cryptic in the context of the conversation.
A Thing For Machines
It’s clear from this debut that Uncanny County is having a blast telling its story. Dramatic cello riffs, tinny robot voices evocative of Cold War sci-fi, and unapologetically stilted line delivery collide in an endearing homage to vintage radio theater. As the scene opens on quiet, unassuming Junction Falls, well-meaning Hal proposes to his high school sweetheart, Sally, a brilliant MIT grad who builds and maintains all of the helper robots around town—or “artificial life-forms,” as she’s quick to clarify. But when Hal discovers that every last person in town has been secretly replaced by the humanoid robots, what follows is a surprisingly rich investigation of the nature of self. Hal feels betrayed, not by Sally, who engineered this vast illusion, but by his own inability to see the life around him as facsimile. Nonetheless, he isn’t about to stop living his life just because it’s not the one he thought. “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” Sally tells him, and it’s just as fitting a maxim for listeners taking a chance on a campy new podcast series.
There is a very special feeling surrounding this week’s episode of Weird Adults, as host Esther Povitsky interviews her old high school friend, fashion model Erin Heatherton from a bed in the Los Angeles Ace Hotel. Perhaps it is the fact that the pair have known each other for so long, or it could be that they have only just woken up after a night of partying, but whatever the case it provides an air of wonderfully unguarded candor to the interview. Povitsky, herself a successful stand up comedian and actress, gets Heatherton to open up about how she made the transition from her nerdy basketball-playing days in Skokie, Illinois to walking in six consecutive Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows. Their conversation is as funny as it is interesting, with Heatherton discussing the ways she is actually a terrible spokesperson for Victoria’s Secret, how she faults the American education system for not teaching her the types of soda available in London, and comparing her transition away from runway modeling to getting out of a terrible relationship. Along the way the conversation provides plenty inspiration in the lessons Heatherton and Povitsky have learned traversing their wildly different paths to fame.
“In some cases, understanding an accident can help disarm trauma. But no one really understands lightning. It exists somewhere between the natural and the supernatural, so survivors are left grasping at crumbs of hard data, reading survivor forums, trying to figure out new ways of coping.”—Peter Frick-Wright, Outside