Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
The Witch (right) and Hereditary (Photos: A24)
PodmassPodmassIn 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.

Are You Afraid Of The Podcast?
The Tale Of The Carved Stone

Summer is the perfect time for sitting around the campfire to revisit the nostalgia of ’90s Nickelodeon classic Are You Afraid Of The Dark? Hosted in the heartfelt way that only folks from Springfield, Illinois can pull off, Sara Laurel Goeckner and Jeremy Goeckner, the wife-and-husband team behind Are You Afraid Of The Podcast? present a watch-through that is entertaining for new and old viewers alike. Their spot-on analysis of this bonkers show pokes holes in ridiculous plot points, highlights unfortunate outfits, and even includes interviews with actors from the show’s original run. Although the podcast is billed as biweekly, you might have to wait a bit longer for new episodes since the hosts are deep in summer stock season, but it’s worth the wait. “The Tale Of The Carved Stone,” episode 33 of Are You Afraid of The Dark?, features the “new to town” trope that dumps poor Alison Denny in the middle of nowhere with zero friends. Can Sardo’s Magic Mansion help her find a friendship charm to change her luck? A dissection of the episode’s non-sequitur time-travel plot is the highlight of the episode. [Morgan McNaught]


Armchair Expert With Dax Shepard
Lake Bell

Joining hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman this week is actress/director/screenwriter Lake Bell, who plays Shepard’s wife in the new show Bless This Mess. After pondering the feminine equivalent of a man’s musk, the trio discusses the current art exhibition of Bell’s husband, Scott Campbell, a celebrated tattoo artist whose show literally changes the people who see it—they put their arm through a hole in a wall to allow Campbell to tattoo them, sight unseen. Transitioning to an in-depth discussion of commitment and the nature of marriage, Bell shares her own insights on how a long-term, intimate, and trusting relationship allows humans to evolve. She’s found that spouses challenge each other in different ways and furthers the relationship by having children, a jumping-off point for unpacking the life-and-death stakes navigated by Bell and Campbell during their kids’ home births. As a guest, Bell is candid and personable, going deep into personal conversations as well as offering a compelling perspective on topics like careers, too. [Jose Nateras]


Bizarre Albums
The Wrestling Album

Every album has a story, especially the weird ones. With his new podcast, Bizarre Albums, host Tony Thaxton (Motion City Soundtrack, Feliz Navipod) will celebrate those stories through weekly mini-documentaries that explore the who, how, and why of history’s most infamous audio oddities. His inaugural episode takes us back to the year 1985 when the nation was suffering from a pandemic scientists have come to refer to as Hulkamania. Riding off the soaring popularity of Hulk Hogan and professional wrestling in general, WWF executives leaped at the opportunity to churn out an album of covers, parody songs, and truly twisted originals performed by their very own roster of leotard-clad brawlers. Despite the comedy album facade, the personnel listing on this record is nothing to sneeze at. Noted wrestling fan Cyndi Lauper provides backing vocals on a couple songs and legendary songwriter-producer Jim Steinman even lends a hand with production. In the end, the most bizarre thing about this album is the complete lack of the decade’s biggest star and the impetus for the whole project, Hulk Hogan. [Dan Neilan]


Hello From The Magic Tavern
Seaside (w/Justin McElroy)

It’s the season-three premiere of everyone’s favorite show about a guy who fell into a portal behind a Burger King with all his podcasting equipment, landing in a magical world where he records a weekly show with Chunt the shapeshifter and Usidore the wizard. This beloved improv series, now in its fifth year, allows every stated addition to the universe to become canon, no matter how wild. This week they are joined by Rodney the Figurehead (Justin McElroy of the greater My Brother, My Brother And Me universe). Rodney wished upon a star and became an animated wooden man with a limited understanding of time and a truly confusing vocabulary; McElroy brings his humor and contagious laugh to the character. As always, the sound editing in this podcast, complete with background chatter and clinking mugs, lets listeners feel like they’re sitting right inside this seaside tavern, eavesdropping on our protagonists. For those who might be intimidated by this show’s back catalog, this season kicks off a new seafaring story arc, making it a great place to start. [Nichole Williams]


Lisa, Sandra And Kristen Go To The Movies
Fighting Robots With Trace Lysette

As the title implies, this movie podcast isn’t going to be a scholarly deep-dive into the vast, flickering world of cinema—even though it’s slated as the audio companion to CNN’s new show The Movies. Instead, CNN writer Lisa France, CNN reporter Sandra Gonzalez, and professional podcaster Kristen Meinzer record casual conversations about movies, especially popular ones. The opening minutes of this episode feature Gonzalez’s top five audience-friendly desert-island movies (Love Actually! Edward Scissorhands! The Lion King!). This week’s guest is Trace Lysette, a trans actress and activist who discusses being influenced by strong female characters as a kid, how Hollywood needs to start hiring trans women for trans roles, and that time she starred in an action movie that got shelved because her trans identity was revealed. To close things out, Lisa France solemnly reveals her undying love for Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Considering that several people on Twitter last week—of all genders—dropped enough divisive takes on Scorsese to make him a trending topic, it’s like France knew she had to get on the mic and speak on behalf of all her Scorsese-loving sisters. [Craig D. Lindsey]


Pretend
The Norco Bank Heist Part 1

A cop records himself trying to coax a confession out of a wounded bank robber he’s carrying downhill in the cold open of this intimate, documentary-style show. Despite its name, Pretend profiles true events, with special focus on imposters. It’s not entirely clear what George Wayne Smith was pretending to be, unless it was a criminal mastermind. That he had a gifted mind and conditioned body was a given, but prior to May 8, 1980, Smith had nothing in his history to suggest what he was about to do. His military training and born-again-Christian indoctrination combined with a lifelong sense of superiority led him to subscribe to a paranoid fantasy of the world ending in 1981, and for whatever reason, he needed a lot of money before that happened. His bank robbery plan was one part too intricate, two parts overkill. Before it was all over, Smith and three accomplices used their considerable firepower to shoot up 33 cop cars and a helicopter. Host Javier Leiva wisely gets out of the way and lets author Peter Houlahan (who wrote the definitive account of the robbery) color the scenes with his exacting knowledge of the case. [Zach Brooke]


The A24 Podcast
Deep Cuts With Ari Aster & Robert Eggers

It’s almost impossible to talk about horror movies of the last decade without mentioning Robert Eggers’ hyper-superstitious period piece The Witch or Ari Aster’s dread-ridden family drama Hereditary. The two films sparked a conversation around the massive divide between critics and audiences, yet the two films are undoubtedly some of distributor A24’s star children. This year already saw the release of Aster’s latest film, Midsommar, and later in 2019, A24 will release Eggers’ The Lighthouse. The newest episode of The A24 Podcast places microphones in front of the two visionaries to discuss some of their past work and their newest films, sans spoilers. The two directors, who are also friends, nerd out at almost a rapid-fire pace, jumping to topics like CinemaScore, Carrie, the importance of watching films more than once, and directors Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, and Andrei Tarkovsky, but mostly Ingmar Bergman. Film buffs, get ready to take notes. [Kevin Cortez]


The Graduate’s Cup
Retaliation

Hosted by Marin Buljan, this fictional documentary podcast follows the trial that will determine whether women are allowed to play in the top male soccer league at East Keilor High School. Focusing on the push and pull between men and women and their relationships with sports, the podcast is framed by Marin’s commentary of soccer games, news clips, and interviews with players, their coach, and others. “Retaliation” picks up after Alice, who spearheaded the change and was the first (and for a while, the only) woman to join the team, convinces her friend Grace to join and sees them through their first match, when the boys on the team structure a subtle but devastating retaliation. The games are cleverly time-lapsed, with Marin describing the highlights and interacting with their coach as his anger builds toward his team every time they ignore his instruction. The Graduate’s Cup unabashedly points out how an administration can (and does) turn their backs on the people they’re supposed to be supporting. [Elena Fernández Collins]


The Outcast
Voguing Is Everywhere, And Now Ballroom Is In Charge

Host Fran Tirado kicks off this new weekly series with a discussion of all things ballroom, the competitive performance and pageantry originating in queer and trans communities of color. Out magazine senior editor and ballroom scholar Mikelle Street joins Tirado for a look back at the origins of voguing and ballroom dating back to the 1920s, as well as major moments in pop culture visibility long before RuPaul’s Drag Race launched ballroom into mainstream consciousness. Now, ballroom culture and language is everywhere: “It has seeped into every nook and cranny of the mainstream in a way that I personally have never seen before,” Tirado says. Terms like “reading,” “kiki,” and other catch phrases popularized on Drag Race all have roots in ballroom, but correct usage and exact definitions can sometimes get lost in translation (fans of the show might be surprised to learn that a “death drop” is actually called a “dip”). Tirado concludes with “Week In Gay” (WIG), a light news recap segment. [Sofia Barrett-Ibarria]

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