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.
If one were attempting to envision the perfect guest to join hosts Susan Orlean and Sarah Thyre on Crybabies—Wolfpop’s engrossing, funny, and nakedly emotional exploration of melancholy moments—Jason Mantzoukas might be perhaps the very last person on that list. Surprisingly though, Mantzoukas proves himself to be so wonderful that he could easily take up residence on the program, showcasing a delicate sensibility that is as endearing as it is surprising. Having spent his career expertly portraying hilarious characters whose emotional and mental states are unhinged, Mantzoukas as a person has become rather hard to separate from that particular persona. This is a shame, as he opens up so totally to Orlean and Thyre, revealing himself to be a man of deep knowledge, refreshing candor, and a prolific talent for crying. It is fitting then that there has scarcely been another episode more chockablock with crying cues than this one, including a letter from a dying surgeon to his infant daughter, scenes from The Royal Tenenbaums and The Hunger Games, and Mantzoukas going as far as bringing in a playlist of songs that get him every time. There are so many tear-inducing moments that the whole affair basically qualifies as a Voight-Kampff test.
Death, Sex & Money
In New Orleans: How To Get Elected Coroner: Jeffrey Rouse, Simone Bruni
Death, Sex, & Money visits New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Katrina for a weeklong series: In five episodes, Anna Sale speaks with five residents who have called the city home before and after the storm. Their stories share themes of a place that draws people back “like a rubber band” (as Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, a psychiatrist-turned-coroner, describes it) and of natural order being upended in lives that could benefit from some upending. Simone Bruni, a Brazilian-born woman who had anticipated a future as a housewife before the storm, returned to the aftermath of Katrina and, almost on a whim, set up her own demolition company distinguished by a bright pink excavator. Others who stayed through the storm describe looting as a fact of life encouraged by a sense of lawlessness and neglect as the days added up and emergency response failed to show. Several of the interviewees with children remark on how unusual it was to see kids in the months and years following the storm—their young families became a necessary sign of hope and rebirth, although to them, they simply couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s a humane portrait of an unruly city brought to its knees, revived by the people who understand it the best.
Grantland Pop Culture
Craig Finn & Patrick Stickles
A few minutes into Amos Barshad’s interview with Patrick Stickles and Craig Finn, he makes the decision to more or less get the hell out of the way, and rightly so. Not only do the two frontmen go way back, they’re also each renowned for their verbosity, both in the lyrical density of their songs and the thematic density of their interviews. They can carry a podcast just fine without too many prompt questions. If they were a comedy duo, Finn, at 44, would be the Abbott to Stickles’ Costello—a measured, decade-plus older straight man who serves as a mentor to a more rascally upstart. There’s much love and joking between the two as they wax analytic on The Replacements, playing alongside Bruce Springsteen, and starting a rock band in your 30s. But the most entertaining narrative thread is Sickles’ wish to see lyrical beefs between today’s poet laureates of rock, the same as in hip-hop. For him, that means Finn, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, John K. Samson of The Weakerthans (R.I.P.), and Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts. Judging from the two’s relationship, Stickles would probably claim the crown before Finn calmly walks up and takes it off his head.
Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids
“Be Careful Of Anyone Named Trina” (St. John’s)
In 2014 the CBC commissioned 10 episodes of Dan Misener’s Mortified-esque stage show Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids, which is exactly what it sounds like. Now far into season two, the program’s top shelf diary entries and poetry have established a diehard audience at live events from Canadian coast to coast. Adults reading things they wrote as children is an intensely intimate experience for much of the world, and Grownups’s audience always responds to the brave few who speak their angsty pseudo-lit in public with supportive and unbroken laughter. But occasionally a reader’s work will be so bizarrely specific that the gallery becomes part of the show, like during this week’s star performance from a Newfoundland woman named Natalya describing her plan to “do revenge” on her sister Delphine. As Natalya goes through her list of options—“wreck her pencils,” “lose her page in a book” among them—the audience responds with gasps and jeers, now squarely in their own childhood mindset and recognizing the former magnitude of these now-silly threats. That’s when Grownups is at its best—when it’s not just a cut-and-dry reading show but a tribunal for the childhood id still lingering in the room.
Fans of Harmontown are in for a treat this week, as “Firetruck” demonstrates the kind of magic that can happen when beloved guests, popular returning regulars, and a great mix of new conversations and classic callbacks are all present. The acerbic wit of Bobcat Goldthwait turns out to be a perfect match for the warm and genial presence of popular new regular Curtis Armstrong—and Dan Harmon’s shock at forgetting the two guests starred in One Crazy Summer together almost 30 years ago makes their friendship a high point of this episode. With some spectacular stories from Goldthwait (there to help promote his new documentary about comedian Barry Crimmins, Call Me Lucky), this is almost certainly a surefire contender for one of the best Harmontown installments of the year. That is, if the world’s shortest installment of Harmontown Shadowrun—featuring a bold declaration of potential romance between Harmon’s Jim Nightblade and Armstrong’s Dr. Friend—isn’t too abbreviated for people’s taste. But given the hit-or-miss ratio of recent guests’ commitment to the conceit (including Goldthwait), a short installment is probably for the best.
I Was There Too
Pulp Fiction: Phil LaMarr
Comedian and former MadTV star Phil LaMarr is a perfect guest for Matt Gourley’s I Was There Too, as his minuscule role in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction was not only memorable but demands dissection. As Marvin, LaMarr was present during the iconic, oft-quoted Big Kahuna Burger showdown between Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules and Frank Whaley’s “Check Out The Big Brain On” Brett, as well as the victim of an accidental (and comically explosive) headshot from John Travolta’s Vincent Vega. LaMarr discusses the many questions that surround his character, such as who the hell he’s supposed to be and what’s in that damn briefcase he and his buddies have hidden under the sink. What LaMarr makes clear from the get-go, though, is that nobody had Pulp Fiction pegged to be a hit during production; the budget was a paltry $8 million, Tarantino wasn’t yet a household name, and Travolta was “three deep in talking baby movies.” The landscape is so different now that it’s fascinating to hear about the inner workings of a movie that had such a seismic effect on the film industry. Also, LaMarr’s Samuel L. Jackson impression is gold, despite his lack of confidence in it.
The Longest Shortest Time
Should I Have Kids?: Joanna Solotaroff
Over its 60-plus episodes, The Longest Shortest Time has demystified many of the realities of what it’s like to be a parent. But until this week the show hasn’t really tackled one of the most fundamental and fraught questions about the topic: “Do I actually want kids?” It’s a question that’s on the mind of many of the show’s non-parent listeners and this episode starts with three women sharing their diverse concerns about children. It’s also something the show’s producer, Joanna Solotaroff, has been asking herself. In an interview with host Hillary Frank, Solotaroff explains her thinking around starting a family, saying her work on the podcast had made her more reticent about kids until a moment of clarity on the subway made things more complicated. Solotaroff elegantly speaks to her conflicted feelings about parenthood. Her worries and anxieties—shared by many young people—are juxtaposed with prospects of joy and a more fulfilled life. A phone call with Solotaroff’s mother drives home this point. By focusing on these sorts of complex human moments that exist in the larger drama of parenthood, The Longest Shortest Time is a must-listen even for people who have no intention of becoming a parent.
Social media has given a platform to so many people who were previously unheard from in the larger culture of the United States, and yet sadly it has been largely squandered for petty purposes. But this episode of Tax Season is the peak of the social media dreams realized, as all three voices on the show—Darryl Campbell, a.k.a. show host Taxstone, as well as guests Joel Martinez, a.k.a. The Kid Mero, and Daniel Baker, a.k.a. Desus Nice—have risen to prominence on the strength of their Twitter accounts. It would be selling them short to leave the description there, as Tax, Desus, and Mero are all supremely talented individuals who used the platform as a means to leverage mainstream success. The conversations that they have are anything but mainstream, focusing rawly on their different experiences growing up in New York in the ’90s and their trials and tribulations along the way to fame. Desus and Mero, having previously recorded together on the Desus Vs. Mero podcast, have an amazing comic rapport and Tax fits in perfectly. The episode is a fantastic piece of audio, thick with jokes, wild anecdotes, and a feeling of what has been missing from the conversation all these years. As Desus would say, come through, it’s lit.
This American Life
Too Soon?: Harmon Leon
This American Life played coy when advertising this episode, which would apparently concern a little-known and spectacularly ill-conceived “celebrity prank show.” It makes sense they would hold off on revealing that celebrity, as most listeners would have thought it was a joke. But yes, in 2006, Heisman Trophy winner and once alleged murderer O.J. Simpson attempted to rebrand himself with a Punk’d-style prank show called, you guessed it, Juiced. This American Life producer Nancy Updike spearheads this segment, which dissects the bizarre program via interviews with the show’s executive producer and cinematographer, as well as co-star Harmon Leon, a comedian and satirist who also wrote about his experience for Vice. A number of the show’s “pranks” are singled out, with Leon hilariously detailing the lack of forethought or planning that went into the whole affair. But Updike’s exploration isn’t pure schadenfreude; rather, she’s more concerned with Simpson’s motivations, and how such a stunt factors into the troubled narrative of Simpson’s twilight years. Her conclusions are poignant, sad, and very much in line with what The A.V. Club’s own Nathan Rabin had to say about Juiced back in 2008. Never has the question, “How did this get made?” been more appropriate.
Who Stole What?
Loudness War: Turn Me Up!
Music sounds different than it did 25 years ago. Songs have gotten louder and not because artists are taking a page out of Spinal Tap’s playbook and cranking the volume up to—or past—11. Tristan and Rory Shields turn their attention this week to the “Loudness War,” the arms race in popular music to make songs as loud as they can possibly be without blowing out speakers and eardrums. The Shields Brothers explain the tricks producers use to make tracks deafening and less dynamic sounding; as always, the use of samples to support their points ensures the conversation remains accessible even to non-audiophiles. Plus, hearing a Jay Z track played next to a Buddy Holly song and it’s impossible to miss the point. The hosts also talk about how new ways of listening to music—earbuds, crappy computer speakers, digital compression—contribute to this state of affairs. By focusing on how music production has always responded with changes in recording technology, the Shields Brothers smartly cast the “Loudness War” as the latest phase in a trend that’s been ongoing since analog music technology reached its peak in the mid-’60s.