Screenshot: The Empire Strikes Back

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.


’80s All Over
June 1983

Advertisement

In the episodes leading up to January 1983, co-host Scott Weinberg lamented that he was dreading 1983, calling it one of the worst cinematic years he experienced in his lifetime. June certainly is a mixed bag of films for the summer season, featuring teen sex comedies, Gérard Depardieu, and a 4-hour-long Ingmar Bergman feature. Weinberg’s assesment is borne out as he and co-host Drew McWeeny dive into Richard Pryor’s role in Superman III and Roger Moore’s second-to-last turn as James Bond in Octopussy (one of two Bond flicks released that year, and generally considered one of the worst of the series). All that said, this month also features WarGames, the surprisingly good Psycho II (penned by Fright Night director Tom Holland), and another classic collaboration between Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, The Man With Two Brains. One of the episode’s most interesting discussions deals with the career of John Landis. When Landis was implicated in the deaths of two children and actor Vic Morrow on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie (released in June 1983), it very well could have ended his career, if not for the runaway success of Trading Places, also released in June of ’83. [Mike Vanderbilt]


Bad Science
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back W/ Reggie Watts

Advertisement

Seeker’s new show has a simple concept: host Ethan Edenburg is joined by a comedian and a scientist or two each episode, and the expert in the room is grilled about the scientific plausibility of pop-cultural phenomena. A more modest show might start small. A more timid show might work up to the heavy-hitters. Bad Science is neither modest nor timid, so it kicks things off by having Reggie Watts talk about Star Wars with a NASA systems engineer. Watts is funny (that’s no surprise), and Edenburg makes a fine host, but NASA’s Emily Manor-Chapman is the real attraction here, gamely digging into subjects such as the biological and meteorological conditions necessary for a tauntaun to actually serve as a safe haven in a snowstorm. Edenburg keeps things moving and surprising, and the comedians make for lively conversationalists, but Manor-Chapman and the scientists of later episodes are the biggest draw. Come for the yuks, stay for the passionate conversations about explosives, sound in space, and the correct pronunciation of “AT-AT,” all with an eye toward honest-to-god science. [Allison Shoemaker]


Lend Me Your Ears
Julius Caesar

Advertisement

Lend Me Your Ears was inspired by both the results of the last election and Shakespeare’s more political works. Its aim is to make sense of the current national climate through the lens of the Bard’s plays, and Julius Caesar focuses not only on the fall of the Roman Empire but also group mentality, citizenship, and the delicate balance of political systems. Host Isaac Butler does a great job of connecting these dots. He provides context on Roman and U.S. political structures and audio of actors performing pivotal monologues from the play. Butler brings in Helen Shaw, critic for Time Out New York, who offers some key insights into the historical tragedy. Lend Me Your Ears is firing on all cylinders as it hits upon the reasons we continue to produce Shakespeare’s plays: to reflect on the world we live in. Butler starts off with audio from an angry audience member responding to a Julius Caesar wherein the titular character is styled after Trump, and by doing so, Butler perfectly illustrates the point that Shakespeare remains shockingly relevant and instructive for U.S. politics. [Jose Nateras]


Snap Judgement
Lucky

Advertisement

Nada Rothbart was once a premier player in Yugoslavia’s women’s basketball league until pregnancy led to her retirement. Five years later, she was a Sarajevo lawyer and mother of two as her country hurtled toward collapse and genocide. A Jewish woman married into a family of Serbians, Rothbart was left alone to care for her young children and elderly in-laws when her husband was conscripted into the Serbian army. She spent the stretch of days enduring increasingly dire conditions, eating only sauerkraut and paprika every day for two months. After a close call with marauding bandits, she grabbed her children and made a break for a stronghold in the hills. A series of extremely fortunate encounters aided her odyssey, like when she was recognized as a former basketball star by a fanboy-turned-soldier at a crucial checkpoint. Despite her fortune, she remains in grave danger by the time the episode ends, with a promise to reveal the rest of her escape in a forthcoming part two. [Zach Brooke]


Sup Doc
West Of Memphis

Advertisement

Self-proclaimed documentary nerds Paco Romane and George Chen host Sup Doc, in which comedians, filmmakers, musicians, actors, and writers select documentaries to be discussed at length. This month marks what Romane and Chen refer to as “mayhem,” or the podcast’s month-long coverage of true-crime documentaries. First up is horror filmmaker Gavin Michael Booth (The Scarehouse) discussing Amy Berg’s West Of Memphis, a 2012 follow-up to the Paradise Lost series that continues to document the events of the West Memphis Three, a case in which teenagers Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley were arrested for the murders of three 8-year-old children. The film, produced by Damien Echols himself (who has since been exonerated) and the acclaimed Peter Jackson, turns its attention on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims. Romane, Chen, and Booth adeptly provide critical commentary on the documentary and the likelihood of Hobbs’ involvement in the crime while also recommending a bevy of additional documentaries for listeners. Maybe most enlightening, though, is their articulation of the necessity of documentaries in a time where institutions such as law enforcement continue to fail, as is the case here. [Becca James]


The Pay Check
A Big, Expensive, Global Mystery

Advertisement

The gender pay gap has existed pretty much since people started receiving money for their work. Bloomberg reporter Rebecca Greenfield is using this new podcast to get to the bottom of why, in 2018, women are still getting paid way, way less than men. Within that disparity she also highlights the even larger gap between men and women of color. But as she says in the very first episode, it’s not just about spitting out numbers and facts. The Pay Check examines how this issue affects real people by sharing personal stories, juicy company secrets, and monumental court cases that both helped and hurt the problem. In the very first episode, Greenfield shares a story of her own about her mother’s career as a surgeon and tenured professor who discovered the salaries of her colleagues—junior male employees—who made twice as much as she did. Beyond presenting these stories of financial injustice, The Pay Check follows how these moments impact the trajectory of many women’s careers. Greenfield brings together these accounts along with cultural touchstones and moments of fun to figure out how we as a society can close the gap. [Brianna Wellen]


The SafeWordSociety Podcast
What Is Kink?

Advertisement

Brought to listeners by QTPOC and visibility company SafeWordSociety, The SafeWordSociety Podcast is a master class in its mission to create “a safe space for versatility and self-definition while uplifting the stories of those that are too often muted.” Hosted by Kristen McCallum and Lamika Young, the show is full of interviews with community members that aim to navigate the authenticity of their identity, offering listeners a discourse that is as educational as it is entertaining. At only a little over a year old, the weekly podcast is in its fifth season and off and running this episode with the addition of special guests Charlie Trotman and Marcus Borton. The two bring their respective expertise in sex to a candid conversation about kink to cover best sex practices, continuing the podcast’s tradition of seasoning a topic with the perfect amount of seriousness and silliness. From laugh-out-loud moments to “a-ha” realizations, The SafeWordSociety Podcast is one to share in the fight against silence. [Becca James]


Witness
May 1968 Paris Riots

Advertisement

An abbreviated history offering from the BBC, Witness features tellings of major world events by the people who saw them unfold. Here, a former French policeman describes trying to restore order to a city rocked by massive demonstrations in May 1968. Jean-Claude Pruvost was a 22-year-old patrolman when, on May 23, he joined fellow officers in Paris’s Latin Quarter to help push back protesters using sticks, shields, and tear gas while singing “La Marseillaise” and dodging flower pots hurled down from the apartments overhead. Over a six-week period, the situation grew so violent that President Charles de Gaulle fled the capital and considered sending in the army. Though it all, Pruvost says his sympathies lay with workers’ efforts to obtain better working conditions. The students, on the other hand, annoyed him. To him, they were the privileged children of elites using their educational opportunities to cause trouble. But looking back at the riots through a 50-year lens, Pruvost credits them with bringing positive change both to him personally and France as a whole. [Zach Brooke]