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.
The Axe Files
Ep. 95 - Van Jones
Activist, author, and CNN commentator Van Jones has become a voice of reason and comfort following the 2016 presidential election. Proof can be found in his election night statements, when he congratulated his conservative co-anchors on a seemingly impossible victory, while also stressing that millions of Americans would now be living in fear. It wasn’t an outright indictment of the Donald Trump campaign as much as a challenge to it: Trump rode to the White House on hateful comments about many different people. Now that he is about to be the most powerful man in the world, how will he make those same people feel safe? That diplomacy extends to Jones’ interview with David Axelrod, in which he expresses his desire to empathetically communicate with both Democrats and Republicans, regardless of how much the latter has wounded him. As he says, writing off everyone who voted for Trump as dumb, misogynist, and racist won’t get anyone anywhere. He should know—right before the election, he spent a good deal of time talking to them face to face for his webseries, The Messy Truth. “We’ve spent all this time talking about each other, and never to each other,” he tells Axelrod.
Cane And Rinse
Fallout: New Vegas
The exhaustive, analytical approach Cane And Rinse brings to video games feels tailor-made for something like the Fallout series, which, along with the Elder Scrolls series, all but perfected the modern-day cohabitation of RPG and open world exploration. The team covered game studio Bethesda’s first take on the series (Fallout 3) in 2012, so there’s a streamlined approach here that allows for even deeper explorations into Fallout: New Vegas’ game play, mechanics, characters, and downloadable content, which, in traditional Cane And Rinse fashion, is all dissected in individual segments. There’s plenty to discuss, too, namely in how Bethesda handed the game’s development over to Obsidian Entertainment, a company revered for its writing and storytelling, but reviled for its notorious bugs. Though they occupy the same world and use the same engine, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are wildly different games, and one of the most fascinating aspects of this episode is how divided fans are between the two. This is especially evident during a portion devoted to the thoughts of the podcast’s fans. Those who like their video game analysis in-depth, measured, and studied will find plenty to love in this two-hour episode.
Cookies: A Basketball Podcast
Desus And Mero On The Knicks, LeBron’s Trolling, And More
There is a curious lightness emanating from this episode of Vice basketball podcast Cookies, being a document of the world as it were, mere days before the election. The effervescence of the conversation between hosts Ben Detrick and Jordan Redaelli, with guests Desus Nice and The Kid Mero (of The Bodega Boys podcast), seems like a mosquito of hope preserved in digital amber. Though it should be noted that regardless of how the events of last week played out, the episode would have been worth catching. With Cookies, Detrick and Redaelli have created an excellent space for pop culture discussions, with basketball acting merely as a jumping-off point. These relatively gossamer conversations—compared to the current dirgelike state of today—are mostly focused on the Knicks, with an in-depth reading on the importance of hairstyles in the game, Kristaps Porzingis’ amazingly quick acquisition of an American accent, and the prospect of team owner James Dolan living forever to ensure that the Knicks never win a championship. In between, the guys roast continental breakfast, LeBron James, and even the Eastbay athletic wear catalog. America is hyperventilating right now; this episode of Cookies affords listeners a chance to breathe for a second.
Earlier this year, it became legal for ordinary people—not just bigwigs—to invest their own money into start-ups. In the United Kingdom, however, it’s become commonplace, with equity crowdfunding websites and initiatives kicking off as far back as 2011. It’s a gamble, sure, but the prospect of being an early investor in the next success story is enticing. The question, however, is how many success stories are there? To answer that question, Bloomberg’s Adam Satariano traveled to Scotland to meet Rob Murray Brown, who runs a blog that investigates the success and failure rates of start-ups that use U.K. crowdfunding sites like Crowdcube. It’s no stretch to guess that most never materialize, but the episode delves deeper, raising questions of ethics both in the start-up and crowdfunding sectors. How vigilant should these sites be in allowing people to use their platforms? Should they be weeding out people who can’t own up to their promises? Is this a new kind of scam? Crowdfunding isn’t going anywhere, though for the American listener, it might also change the way we see sites like Kickstarter and Patreon. How much due diligence is necessary here? What promises can we trust?
How Did This Get Made?
Vampire’s Kiss: Live With Hayes Davenport
On the latest How Did This Get Made?, co-host June Diane Raphael makes a triumphant return in an episode dedicated to the outrageous ’80s Nicolas Cage movie Vampire’s Kiss. It’s a movie that begs for an HDTGM? shakedown. With so many levels of insanity to unpack, like the movie, there’s never a dull moment. Joined by Hollywood Handbook’s Hayes Davenport, the four take on the insurmountable task of analyzing Cage’s unhinged performance, understanding what the movie is actually about, and playing scene highlights and unhelpful commentary tracks. Davenport is the perfect kind of guest for the episode; his energy provides a great balance to the chaos, and his insights are always hilariously specific. Raphael is also great as she attempts to sincerely understand the characters, proving just why her presence has been so missed. Together they sift through the many ridiculous details of the film, from the unexplained fighting mimes to Cage’s character’s arousal from a bat. Their commitment to discuss any and all theories to justify his descent into madness is the mark of an instant classic. Paul Scheer’s closing anecdote about working with Cage on a new movie is the cherry on top.
The Longest Shortest Time
W. Kamau Bell Asks His Mom About Sex
In an award-winning episode, The Longest Shortest Time enlists comedian W. Kamau Bell to sit down with his 79-year-old mother and talk about her sex life. In a society whose understanding of sexuality is always evolving, this episode examines the assumptions surrounding single motherhood, the notion of the virginal parent, and the power of openness. It never feels like an overly produced podcast episode constructed to send out a specific message, but rather it feels like what it actually is—a frank conversation between a mother and her son about times unspoken. One of its strongest appeals is that Bell is discovering this side of his mother with the listener in real time. With every nervous giggle or slight recoil, he is at once the partial subject and the audience surrogate. The episode stands out not only for its candid conversation but also for how charming and captivating Bell’s mother is. Being encouraged to be her full self without filter, she grows more and more comfortable with expressing her sexual history, from her most memorable nights to wet dreams; her honesty is endearing and important.
My Brother, My Brother And Me
The Anxiety-Free Cruise
In these trying times, the McElroy brothers’ goofs are more important than ever. For this pre-Election Day recording, the brothers insist on an “anxiety free” episode, welcoming listeners to “My Brother, My Brother And Me Island, a place where you can get away from it all for an hour and just fuckin’ chill.” From their introductions as Justin “Island Boy” McElroy, Travis “Hammock Time” McElroy, and Griffin “Coconut Bra” McElroy, the delightfully silly tone is set and never falters. Throughout this hour of much-needed dumb fun, they take on how to act when you’re the last person on a bus and the bus driver is unaware of your presence, the new Hardee’s beer cheeseburger, the minimum and maximum age for eating at a restaurant, and the age-old question “Which is the baby: the egg or the sperm?” The McElroy’s commitment to each increasingly ridiculous question or plea for advice is what continues to make them such likable and fun hosts, as no opportunity for a goof goes unexplored; no bit goes unperformed. It all culminates in a chaotically hilarious attempt at a musical mashup of Jimmy Buffett’s “Boat Drinks,” Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” and Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” which is possibly the most McElroy thing of all time.
On The Media
The results of last Tuesday’s election left many licking their wounds, sniping at foes and allies alike, and trying to make sense of a new American reality. News-oriented podcasts have stepped in with a wealth of listening choices this week, perhaps none as immediate and emotional as the morning-after bonus content from On The Media. Fans of the program know that much of OTM’s secret sauce comes from the push and pull between co-hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, and their tension comes into sharp relief here. As the show’s activist heart, Garfield laments that not enough was done to stop Donald Trump, while acknowledging that OTM largely exists in a liberal echo chamber. Meanwhile, Gladstone exists as the program’s cerebral investigator and sees a new sense of purpose in listening (and challenging) a more diverse chorus of voices. Garfield is despondent and genuinely fearful, while Gladstone is determined and seems to be recalibrating in real time. The media is often criticized by the left for the disingenuousness of a denial of a personal point of view, and there is validity in that criticism. It’s refreshing and cathartic to hear OTM’s distinguished and committed co-hosts pause for an open, honest, and heated discussion about where Trump’s election will lead America over the next four years.
The Projection Booth
It’s hard to imagine any cinephile ignoring Mulholland Dr. However, even if you hate David Lynch’s 2001 masterwork, there’s still fun to be had in listening to others attempt to sort through its myriad curiosities. On this episode of The Projection Booth, host Mike White is joined by professor Erik Marshall and author Jedidiah Ayres for a focused conversation in which they expectedly assign meaning to puzzling characters, scenes, and shots. Being well-versed in film history, the trio’s discoveries transcend conjecture with allusions to related films, actor histories, and a deep knowledge of Lynch’s filmography. Later, actors Patrick Fischler and Laura Elena Harring talk about working on the film and share interesting thoughts on the industry as a whole. What’s most enticing about this episode is the insight White shares about the TV pilot that Mulholland Dr. was supposed to be, as the project was initially meant for TV and was only made into a feature after the deal collapsed. White is one of few to have actually watched the pilot, so fans eager to hear how the two pieces compare and contrast will have plenty to chew on.
In the wake of last week’s election, it is vital to remember that there is always more courage to be found in an ounce of compassion than a pound of hate. On this bonus episode of Reveal, show host Al Letson’s potent strain of empathy makes this essential listening. As the title states, the episode is Letson in an extended interview with Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, on the morning following Donald Trump’s ascension to the office of president of the United States. Letson, who is black, allows Spencer an opportunity to make the case for the desires of his think tank—cloaked, as it is, in the disturbingly pedestrian name, the National Policy Institute—that the two might have a dialogue about the impossibility of making America a white ethnostate. The interview’s most unsettling aspect is found in Spencer’s calm demeanor, discussing such a radical and destructive idea in as dispassionate a manner as any politician on the Sunday morning shows. Listeners will be left with many questions, not least of which is the appropriateness of decorum and deference when discussing indefensible matters. For his compassion, Letson deserves every plaudit coming his way.
How Did That Happen?
The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro recorded this discussion with himself and fellow journalists Nicholas Confessore, Maggie Haberman, and Jim Rutenberg in the wee hours of November 9, just as it became clear that Donald Trump was going to win the presidential election. The 30-minute episode is most notable for its intimacy; there’s a palpable sense of defeat in the voices of these journalists, but also a calm, earnest desire to know how the election went this way. Here, the journalists who, for years, helped shape the media narrative of the election ponder their own role in Trump’s victory, wondering if perhaps their focus in certain areas was misguided. They don’t strive for answers so much as the questions they’ll need to ask in the coming months. They also don’t use this platform as a means to critique Trump or the Trump voter; rather, they want to better grasp “an electorate that we failed to completely understand.” With four people alone in a room in the middle of the night coping with what’s going to affect both their lives and careers for a very long time, this episode confirms the power of podcasting and acts as a bracing reminder of the evening.
We Got This!
Best Indiana Jones Film
If you are looking to take a side in an epic disagreement that won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed with emotion, you could do a lot worse than this week’s episode of We Got This! While technically considering all four Indiana Jones films, the hosts mercifully excuse Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull for obvious reasons. Using a scoring system that includes MacGuffins, sidekicks, villains, action sequences, and heroines, Mark Gagliardi and Hal Lublin dutifully pick apart what works as the best Indiana Jones film. Hal supplements the discussion armed with box-set documentary information, which will have Indiana Jones fans nodding in approval. In addition to a debate that skews toward the more analytical, this episode allows Mark and Hal to showcase their skills as voice actors, recreating Henry Jones Sr., Major Toht, and others. Everyone has their own favorite Indiana Jones film, but it takes Mark and Hal to codify subjectivity and serve up the best entry, period. And considering that we’re all about to enjoy a little extra time off around the holidays, this may be the perfect primer for a whips and fedoras movie marathon, and no, you don’t have to watch Crystal Skull if you don’t want to.
“I have ten thousand favorite scenes, but I loved the one where he’s like, ‘Alva, Alva, Alva, Alva! Alva! Alva!’ and it just keeps cutting out into the office, and people are like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’”
“That seemed to be inspired by Dave, the Chipmunks’ dad.”
—Jason Mantzoukas and Hayes Davenport on Vampire’s Kiss, How Did This Get Made?
“Do you take American Express?”
“And, um, I had an oopsie. If you could send somebody out—”
“I did… I did have a dook. And also, this is very important… I did see a firetruck today, so, excellent!”
—Griffin and Justin McElroy as two children at a restaurant, My Brother, My Brother and Me
“Speaking personally, I’m afraid and ashamed… and I’m angry. And as to what to do next, I don’t know.”
—Bob Garfield, On The Media