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.
Royal Rumble 2001
It’s the last Royal Rumble of Attitude Era and hosts Kefin Mahon, Adam Bibilo, and Billy Keable think it’s one of the best of all time. Credit the Rumble itself—a 30-man, lottery-based battle royale—as it combines a little bit of everything: hardcore tomfoolery, comedy antics, and, once The Rock enters, some edge-of-your-seat fisticuffs. It’s ridiculous, thrilling, and, by virtue of the talent it encompasses, legitimately unpredictable (a rarity in the Rumble-verse). The matches surrounding it are more hit or miss, but each leads the hosts down a number of fascinating rabbit holes, with extended musings on the impact of celebrities within wrestling (Drew Carey makes an unfortunate cameo here) and WWE’s post-Benoit revisionism when re-airing PPVs. Possibly the best part of this altogether stellar episode, however, comes out of a throwaway backstage segment between jobber Tiger Ali Singh and the once-great D’Lo Brown. There’s a genuine melancholy to Mahon’s voice as he delves into the various ways both were mistreated by the WWE, with a story about Singh being shipped off to Puerto Rico for conditioning and all but forgotten an especially unfortunate twist. That this trio can find pathos in the most tossed-off segments is a testament to both the purity of their fandom and their talent as hosts.
The Black List Table Reads
Chrome Noir: Kent Tessman
“Men in hats. Tommy guns. Robots. A film noir detective story that will have you riveted.” What a tagline. On this episode of The Black List Table Reads, the hosts share the never-produced screenplay, Chrome Noir, which is almost exactly what the tag line said it would be. It’s a film-noir story set in an alternate world where robots—or as they call them, Mechanicals—roam the street. Many of them take up jobs as drivers, like starring robot Gus. Gus (a strangely endearing robodude) is friends with Milo Rawley, a photographer with the heart of a detective. After taking some shots at a crime scene involving a Mechanical that fell nine stories through a window, Rawley senses that things aren’t adding up. Along with his fellow underdog, Gus, he begins his own quiet investigation. The script nails the noir genre with all the classic moves; cool names like Bert Dixon and Spats Lassiter, femme fatales, gangsters, corruption, twists and turns, and sharp dialogue. Except this noir has robots. The cast (Collin Hanks, Zachary Levi, Katie Lowes, and more) brings the script to life with its performances, which are only enhanced by the jazzy score, futuristic yet classy robot voices, and crisp sound effects. With its strong characters and enthralling narration, it’s the perfect script for Black List fans.
Bret Easton Ellis Podcast
As easy as it is to call Michael Angelakos’ episode of the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast his “coming out” interview, it also feels disingenuous. Yes, he decided to reveal his homosexuality publicly for the first time while on-air with the author (he’s told select friends since June), but this doesn’t even happen until more than halfway through the discussion. Even then, it’s not done with any kind of fanfare or announcement, instead coming up naturally after a lengthy conversation on outrage culture (because, you know, it’s Bret Easton Ellis), making art as a child in New Jersey, Madonna’s dip in quality (and how that’s okay), and mental health. Angelakos has been forthright about that last topic for a while now, encouraging open discussions that strip away the stigmas associated with bipolar disorder and depression. And as his time on the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast proves, he’s determined to do the same thing with his own sexuality.
Is It Evil? Email
New podcast Codebreaker launched this week, and it’s attempting to transform the way people consume podcasts. Hosted by Ben Johnson, the podcast aims to “answer the fundamental questions about technology that consume us every day.” And in addition to releasing a brand new episode every week, the whole season is available to binge on, like a Netflix series. The show’s quest this season? To examine different forms of technology in the average daily lives and ask the question, “Is it evil?” On the deck for this week: email. Johnson finds a lot of different answers to the question through a series of surprising stories about the positive and the insidious ways email affects people every day, from a woman who met her now-husband after sending a message to an incorrect email address, to a frustrated pediatrician who calculated he wasted $1 million every time he answered another bureaucratic email, to the student who accidentally instituted an “email tax” to cut down on unnecessary emails for the Stanford Graduate School of Business all-student email list. Is email evil? Probably, sometimes, Codebreaker attests, but it’s a necessary one that won’t be gone anytime soon.
Family Medicine: Abdul Qaiyum
This week’s episode of The Distance, a Chicago-based podcast about long-running businesses, covers a surprising origin story about one of the city’s most beloved family-owned shops, Merz Apothecary. Forty-three years ago, Pakistani immigrant Abdul Qaiyum visited the 100-year-old apothecary for the first time—and left the store that day the new owner. It was a surprising move for a young man in law school with a pregnant wife, and no interest in working as a pharmacist or owning a business, but when an older family friend recommended he stop by the store to meet owner Ralph Merz about his plans to sell the shop, he said yes. That store visit would change the life not only of Qaiyum’s family, but of his grateful customers, many of whom are immigrants thrilled to find their favorite products from home on the Merz shelves. In an effort to keep the store’s devoted customers, Qaiyum learned German and worked hard to stock beloved products, leading to an increase in sales during his first year of ownership. After a move and a remodel to transform the store into something that resembles “a store in Vienna one hundred years ago,” Qaiyum still runs the incredibly successful store with his oldest son Anthony.
Dream Maker: Matthew Porretta
The brilliance of the Human Conversation podcast is that, while it doesn’t follow any preset format, every avenue that it follows bears rich fruit, whether comedic or otherwise. While there are several factors that account for this, it principally rests on the genial honesty of hosts Erin McGathy and Wayne Federman and the quarter-century age gap between the two. This provides for a show that has plenty humor and genuine emotion burbling through its every moment. McGathy identifies her relationship with Federman as “soul-siblings,” which proves an apt moniker given the pair’s distinct connection that seems to transcend simple friendship. The topics that covered in this week’s episode flow from Federman’s first screen role in The Parent Trap III, to McGathy’s fantasies about David Bowie and Mick Jagger, and beyond. Later the show’s potential for achieving the amazing is on full display when a discussion about McGathy’s Halloween costume—Disney’s Robin Hood—leads to her revealing a childhood crush on actor Matthew Porretta of Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men In Tights fame, an actor with whom Federman is friends with. This leads to a sweetly mischievous, impromptu phone call with Porretta who—while not aware that the call began as a joke—gives an earnest interview about his time working on the film.
I Don't Even Own A Television
Casino Royale: Lauren Parker
There is a line in the opening theme song to the I Don’t Even Own A Television podcast that perfectly and succinctly explicates the show’s mission statement, stating that “a novel can ruin your life.” Therefore, the work of hosts Jay W. Friedman and Chris Collision is less about the reading of awful books solely for the enjoyment of the audience and more as a way of preventing potential readers from the attendant harm that bad literature can inflict. In this week’s timely episode Friedman and Collision are joined by guest Lauren Parker—herself the host of the Book Feelings podcast—in an attempt to dissuade those caught up in the excitement of the latest James Bond film from cracking the spine of Ian Fleming’s first Bond book, Casino Royale. The trio are amazed that the misogynistic, middle-manager Bond of this book gave birth to the suave and enjoyable character of the film series. For as slight a volume as the book is, the hosts are shocked to find it often larded with interminably boring passages on the rules of baccarat and work memos. In all, the show is a delightful listen, benefiting from a fun format that keeps the conversation continually flowing and with a great amount of intelligent humor.
Pistol Shrimps Radio
Matt Gourley is an absolute engine of absurd humor, producing more quality audio in a single week than many are like to make in a year’s time. One would then assume—quite wrongly—that the output would be like multiple cups of tea made from a single bag, lessening in quality with each successive installment. Gourley’s work, however, suggests he is always operating at the top of his game. There is something very dada about the comedy he and co-host Mark McConville are doing on the thoroughly experimental Pistol Shrimps Radio, making it perhaps the most important of his current programs. The premise is simple: The Pistol Shrimps are a recreational women’s basketball team in Los Angeles, playing in a league comprised of actors, models, comedians, and other Hollywood types, where Gourley and McConville do live play-by-play recordings of the Shrimps’ games. The pair are comically unaware of even the most basic rules of the sport but affect perfect broadcaster tropes to cover. During this week’s game, the undefeated Shrimps face off against the Alley Oopsies, while the hosts riff about a wildly diverse spread of topics as they open several gifts from listeners. Jensen Karp even stops by for a halftime sock report. There is precisely nothing else like Pistol Shrimps Radio in podcasting, which makes it well worth the listen.
Reported by Jack Rodolico, this week’s episode of Reveal is a detailed investigation into decades of reported abuse and neglect at Lakeview NeuroRehabilitation Center in New Hampshire, a for-profit rehab center for the disabled. Rodolico visits the facility, interviewing patients’ families, who detail horror after horror suffered by their loved ones: mysterious unreported injuries, patients who ran away and weren’t found for days, sexual assault committed by patients and staff, and blatant neglect resulting in the death of a patient. Thankfully, lawyer Linda Blumkin brought much of the abuse to light after hearing stories about her daughter Jessica, who lived at Lakeview from 2010 to 2013, being prescribed incorrect medication and receiving inappropriate attention from the male staff who bathed her. She took action immediately, making and recording calls to the New Hampshire regulators who licensed the facility despite regular complaints. While New Hampshire refused to take action, it didn’t take long for Blumkin’s home state of New York, which was paying for Jessica’s care, to open up an investigation, resulting in Lakeview losing its license and shutting its doors this summer. Unfortunately, the nightmare still might not be over. The facility’s CEO Chris Slover just created a new company to work with the same client population on Lakeview’s former grounds.
Savage Love Episode 472: Debra Soh
Dan Savage is well known for his ability to stir up a gyre of righteous indignation in his listeners and readership by detailing various civil injustices on his long-running podcast and even-longer-running syndicated column. (This is the man who disarmed and redefined the words “Santorum” and “Brownback,” after all.) However, a skill at which he’s equally adept is assuaging that same fanbase’s disquiet. And that’s precisely what he does during the opening rant of this week’s show, somehow managing to reframe the city of Houston’s depressing new anti-trans law as the panicked response of an electorate that is watching culture change before its fearful eyes. It’s sort of like an aural Xanax. Later in the magnum version of the show, Savage and to Salon journalist Debra Soh discuss the way that society responds to pedophilia and question whether punishing people who seek help restraining their dark proclivities is really the best way to keep children safe. Whichever version you listen to, make sure that you stick around for the very last listener call-in in the closing moments of the show. Take special note of this advice, lactophiliacs.
Someone Else's Movie
Milcho Manchevski On Amadeus
Among the evergreen complaints levied against the medium of podcasting is that it presents a mechanism for decidedly inexpert commentary to be elevated to a level parallel with that of the mainstream. Though one might argue such universal access is in fact podcasting’s greatest strength as well, it holds true that when it comes to artistic criticism there is no substitute for experience and education. The combination of those factors applied in an exceedingly novel fashion are precisely what helps set apart the Someone Else’s Movie podcast from today’s teeming masses of film commentary shows. Host Norm Wilner, senior film writer for Toronto’s NOW Magazine, invites a person from the film industry to talk specifically about their love for a film which they had no hand in creating. This week Wilner is joined by Macedonian filmmaker Milcho Manchevski—director of the Oscar-nominated Before The Rain—to explore his abiding love for Miloš Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus. Wilner and Manchevski’s discussion is lively, covering much ground in and around the film with great intelligence, touching on topics like the juxtaposition between the grandiloquence of the film with the lack of stilted pomposity of its performances. The amount of thought and attention paid makes the podcast a true pleasure.
Lil Bub with Jon Wurster (G-Rated)
Pairing the internet’s favorite cat Lil Bub with Jon Wurster is one of the more creative pairings in The Talkhouse’s history. The occasion for the get-together is the release of Bub’s debut album Science & Magic. As with any interview between man and cat, there’s a thread of absurdity that runs through Wurster’s questions and Bub’s responses, which take the form of a meow or a purr or, when things become too complicated for Wurster to interpret, the words of Bub’s dude Mike Bridavsky. The two cover Bub’s history, musical influences (Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” the only song she ever listens to), and what inspired the songs on the record. In the best moments, Wurster makes a bit out of creating tense, heated moments with Bub, giving the episode the feel of a particularly delightful The Best Show call. An interview between a cat and Wurster wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the original Catman, KISS’ Peter Criss, and Wurster does not disappoint. After reading Bub a gross but hilarious passage about rock ‘n’ roll excess from Criss’ autobiography, Bub one-ups Criss with a story of her own, proving that she can easily keep up with the likes of KISS.
Aziz Ansari: Netflix’s Master Of None
Aziz Ansari is currently navigating an interesting crossroads in his career. He found some speedy success in stand-up, sketch, and situational comedy (with top-billed solo performances, Human Giant, and Parks And Recreation all arriving in his early 20s). But now, in his early 30s, he’s taking a sort of side path, not exactly away from comedy, but into some more introspective territory than one might have guessed from his previous output. Shortly after the release of his non-fiction book on love and sexuality, Modern Romance: An Investigation, he debuted Master Of None, a complimentary Netflix series that’s taking a lot of cues from filmmakers in Hollywood’s second golden age in the ’70s. Hal Ashby and Woody Allen are two of the more easily identifiable influences he cites in his half-hour-long conversation with The Treatment‘s Elvis Mitchell. If you are not already watching the show, listening to Ansari describe his creative process in co-creating and co-producing it will likely inch you a bit closer to hitting the play button. Anyone’s who’s seen his stand-up or heard him on podcasts already knows that he’s a thoughtful guy, and this will not dissuade anyone of that notion.
For years Marc Maron has been champing at the bit to get any tidbits on Lorne Michaels that he could. “What’s Lorne like?” just might be the most uttered phrase on his podcast, always with a childlike wonder. If all you had was WTF to shape your ideas of the Canadian comedy producer, you’d surely imagine him as not even a man, but a giant glowing orb granting the comedy wishes of the world—and in part, he is. Maron fluxes between anger and glee during the interview, airing his grievances about not getting hired at Saturday Night Live while simultaneously worshiping at Michaels’ feet. And Michaels, well, he’s just delighted at how much Maron has obsessed over him (or is it least doing a very good job at pretending he’s not totally freaked). From his start in Canada to his start in television to a breakdown of the relationships between SNL cast members, the legend of Lorne Michaels is finally uncovered. Now seems like the perfect time to sign up for Howl, which boasts a two-hour companion piece to this episode made up of all the stories about Michaels from the past 600+ episodes of WTF With Marc Maron, just to really set the scene.
With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus
Laura Willcox: Dafuqs Da Matter You With Nicolette Scoppapapalee
Dafuqs Da Matter You With Nicolette Scoppapapalee has a simple premise: Nicolette is a New Jersey girl who’s got shit to complain about, and endlessly wonders, “Dafuqs da matter you?” Guest and host Laura Willcox plays Nicolette, while Lapkus plays her cousin Natalie. The two effortlessly create a fully realized universe at the top of the show, making it one of the most successful episodes to date. To create a whole new podcast every week is a difficult task, but Willcox takes the reins as if she’s been doing this show for years. It allows the two to deliver some of the most solid character improv With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus has seen yet. Natalie and Nicolette discuss the possibility that her husband is gay (“He like, loves Broadway musicals, he loves small dogs… but he’s not like fuck a guy gay”) and their failed gun rights themed Kidz Bop singles, which lead to their hatred of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. They also play a game of Never Have I Ever, a genius move for revealing the strange histories of the at once insane yet grounded and endearing characters. This episode feels like it reached the goal of what the show should always be like—a smooth, funny, and effortless slice of a new podcasting world each week. Future episodes should look at it as the new standard.
“Email is the last great unowned technology, and by unowned I mean, there’s no CEO of email. There’s no number you call when your email doesn’t work. It’s just a shared hallucination that works.”—Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard’s Berkman Center For Internet And Society on how amazing it is that email is free to use, Codebreaker
“You are asking an alcoholic whether they think alcohol is evil while they’re drunk. I mean, I’m trying not to check my email right now. Email is not evil. We are evil, and email dismantles the barriers and the filters that we have erected to contain our evil selves.”—Sabri Ben-Achour on whether email is evil, Codebreaker
“He goes, ‘I’m not A.J, I’m B.J. And guess what? A.J, is Gay-Jay.’”—Natalie (Lauren Lapkus) on how A.J’s brother told her Nicolette’s husband was gay, With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus