A bored student at school in London, 1978.
Photo: Evening Standard/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.


The Boring Talks
Book Pricing Algorithms

The new BBC podcast The Boring Talks gets over the gimmick of its title pretty quickly—just a light Jedi mind trick to make you look—and jumps immediately into the minutiae. The premise is simple: One person explains something that they find interesting, but which might seem boring on the surface. The format was honed at an annual Boring Conference, and though the podcast only dropped its first episode this January, it feels fully developed and energetically yet succinctly produced.

In Episode 2, “Book Pricing Algorithms,” Tracy King, who (among other things) illustrated Tim Minchin’s Storm, talks about working on that project and finding copies of their book in the mysterious “new and used” section of Amazon for several times the selling price. Her investigation takes us, in a fleet 11 minutes, from her fascination with Uri Geller to fruit fly genetics to how she single-handedly changed the demand—and therefore the book-pricing algorithms—of Daredevil #133 from May 1976, driving its price from $2 or $3 to about $50. (As of this writing, you can buy #133 for $12.)

The topics are scattered in their subject matter, which is frankly part of the fun—if you’re not persuaded of the joy of, say, model villages, maybe you’ll find it in yellow road lines or wooden pallets. Utilitarian episode titles belie the sheer enthusiasm of the speakers, who are finally given their 15 minutes to talk about that one thing they love that nobody else gets. [Laura M. Browning]

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Bite
You Thought You Knew Spam. You Knew Nothing.

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Like everything that comes out of Mother Jones, Bite offers engaging and well-reported stories. Billed as a “podcast for people who think hard about their food,” hosts Tom Philpott, Kiera Butler, and Maddie Oatman invite everyone from writers and farmers to scientists and chefs to discuss the politics and science of what we eat. This week, Mother Jones senior editor Dave Gilson attends the annual Spam Fest in Isleton, California to discover such delights as Spam cheesecake before circling back to Butler, who is joined by chef Tunde Wey. The two ruminate on the food industry’s wage disparity along racial lines; Wey shares the results of his fascinating experiment in which he asked, “What if food prices depended on your skin pigment?” Later, Philpott speaks to Maine congressperson Chellie Pingree, who owns an organic farm and runs a restaurant, about the future of affordable and healthy food. This variety of information is what listeners can regularly expect from Bite’s expansive and informational coverage. [Becca James]


Ear Hustle
Firsts

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When Radiotopia chose Ear Hustle as the winner of its competition for new shows in November 2016, the announcement came at a pivotal moment for criminal justice. The podcast, recorded entirely within San Quentin State Prison, was riding on a wave of renewed interest in prison (and sentencing) reform, but less than a week later Donald Trump was elected, all but ensuring that wave had now crested. Given Trump’s emphasis on “law and order,” the Ear Hustle project suddenly became one of vital importance: Giving voice to prisoners in a nuanced and humane manner feels downright revolutionary. On this, the show’s second-season debut, host Nigel Poor and inmate co-host Earlonne Woods explore a range of first-time experiences behind bars, from McDonald’s to marathons. Several smaller, more humorous tales are nestled around the episode’s more serpentine central narrative, a quietly moving recollection of the first time one inmate’s mother came to visit him and how it impacted their relationship. Poor and Woods wisely refrain from attempting to distill any larger message from these stories, allowing them to exist as simple reminders that humanity endures behind bars. [Ben Cannon]


Homoground
WASI

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Since 2011, Homoground’s host Lynn Casper has greeted listeners with, “Same ground, different sound.” The tagline of this queer music radio serves to remind listeners that personal experiences and expressions are variable and divergent. It’s also an open invitation to hear some of the raddest music from LGBTQ and allied bands, which Casper hopes will “bring exposure and access to queer bands, especially to those who live in isolated areas.” Oscillating between mixtapes and interview episodes, Homoground this week features Jessie Meehan and Merilou Salazar of Los Angeles band WASI as they discuss the band’s origin and the process of creating music with a partner. They also share tracks from their latest EP, Stranger California, treating listeners to a view of L.A. through the couple’s eyes. From the mood- and synth- heavy “Puzzles” to the more upbeat “City Nights” (a riot pop number about self-discovery), WASI delivers empathetic and life-affirming tunes for anyone moving through a major transitional phase. Either way, Homoground has produced over 200 episodes, guaranteeing there’s something for everyone. [Becca James]


Small Town Dicks
Monster Part 1

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True crime podcasts are a dime a dozen these days. But Small Town Dicks offers a perspective many other shows don’t: two real detectives recount the real cases they’ve worked on. The twin detectives, Dave and Dan, don’t tell us their true identities or locations to protect the innocent, but they share very real stories about violent crime, sex crimes, and child abuse with hosts Yeardley Smith (yup, Lisa Simpson) and Zibby Allen. This week the story focuses on a 10-year-old kidnapped while riding her bike. Real 911 phone calls are played, real witnesses are heard, real details of the case are shared by the officers who responded to the incident. Smith and Allen are complete professionals when they speak to the guests. Unlike so many shows trying to find novelty or comedy in these cases, they treat each incident like a true journalist. Each case featured is compelling in its own right, and hearing the direct clues and official responses to each case makes it all the more captivating. Small Town Dicks gives one of the most unique and accurate accounts of true crime in the ever-expanding genre. [Brianna Wellen]


Waking Up
Hidden Motives

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When’s the last time you told a lie? Is it even something you’d be aware of? We all go through life engaging in a certain amount of deception, but it’s possible that the frequency of our duplicity is unknown to our inner selves, because we’re not running ourselves. That’s the basis of some of the thinking behind the book The Elephant In The Brain by economist Robin Hanson, who believes we’re hardwired to practice deception and self-deception to get ahead socially. Think of this way: our conscious self, the part that explains the self to itself, isn’t the same part that’s calling the shots. As Hanson puts it, we’re not kings or presidents of our minds; we’re the press secretaries rationalizing our actions with self-indulgent puffery that sometimes contains partial truth. Take conversations: What’s the point of having any? To exchange information? If obtaining new information was really the goal, we would all listen far more than we talk. Hanson also asserts college is just to show off, political division occurs because we’re slavish loyalists who refuse to admit it, and many other mind-bending insights that challenge assumptions about how honest everyone is. [Zach Brooke]


Welcome To The Clambake
I Am Fucking Awesome With Lucia Brizzi And Ross Everett

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Lindsay Stidham and Angela Gulner are feminists trying to figure out exactly what that means. “Being a human is tough, and being a feminist is complicated, and our best resource is each other,” they say. Every week the duo invites guests to discuss a topic relating to modern feminism and the ever-evolving rules of supporting women, female-identifying folks, and everyone else who deserves more advocates. This week on Welcome To The Clambake (it’s the opposite of a sausage fest!), comedians Lucia Brizzi and Ross Everett join the hosts to discuss the current self-help boom and how they use performance to both satirize and champion the mission of people like Tony Robbins. Brizzi and Everett use comedy as a “Trojan horse” for the messages they want to convey. Through these parody acts, the two confront issues of consent when it comes to onstage massage rituals and therapeutic make-outs. What starts as a conversation about a very specific topic evolves into an exploration of personal growth, non-gendered energies, and rape culture, proving that it’s going to take many more episodes of this podcast to continue making sense of the complicated world of modern feminism. We should look forward to every minute. [Brianna Wellen]


Wolverine: The Long Night
Chapter 1: A Thousand Ways To Die In Alaska

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With 2017’s Logan marking Hugh Jackman’s retirement from playing Wolverine on screen, fans of one of Marvel’s most iconic characters has been left wondering when they’ll next get to enjoy the adventures of their favorite adamantium-clawed Canadian beyond the pages of a comic book. Thankfully, Marvel has teamed up with Stitcher to give devotees exactly what they’ve been hoping for. The new radio drama Wolverine: The Long Night is an expertly produced, capably performed, and smartly paced half hour of listening. Invoking a noir tone, the first episode finds two special agents investigating a number of mysterious deaths in Alaska. Using the investigators’ interviews as a storytelling mechanism builds tension and anticipation as the mystery unfolds: a suspicious cult, secretive townies, and reports of a strange newcomer by the name of Logan all serve to set the stage for the familiar but fresh new chapter in the adventures of Wolverine. If you’ve finished bingeing the second season of Jessica Jones and feel like Avengers: Infinity War can’t come soon enough, then this audio series is sure to thrill and satisfy in the meantime. [Jose Nateras]