Podmass_In [Podmass](https://www.avclub.com/c/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](mailto:podmass@avclub.com)._  

Podmass comments and suggestions for future coverage can be directed to podmass@avclub.com


“That’s always fun in a friendship, when you have to push somebody to go play foosball.” —Tig Notaro, Professor Blastoff


“That’s bullshit.” —Nick Denton, publisher of Gawker, on the idea that rich people gossip less

“Talking on a cell phone when you’re right next to someone is like picking boogers, man. It’s rude.” —Matt Besser, Improv4Humans

“Upon the death of a distinguished man, according to Herodotus’ writings, all the women of the household would mud themselves and they would walk through town beating their bare breasts as a show of mourning.” —Holly Frey, Stuff You Missed In History Class


“The day you stop caring what other people think of you is the day your life begins.” —Aaron Eckhart, Nerdist

“Women who work for escort agencies that assign them out to prostitution dates at sushi restaurants know how to eat with chopsticks, and beyond that they are in every other way identical to other prostitutes. They’re not better looking; they’re not smarter; they’re not classier; they’re not more charming. They probably give more blowjobs than any reasonable woman, right? And they are empty inside, but it’s also society’s fault.” —Julie Klausner, How Was Your Week

“This isn’t a sharply aimed arrow that hits the bull’s eye. This is walking up to the bull’s eye, jamming the arrow in and then twisting it. For three hours.” —Josh Larsen on the “excessiveness” of The Wolf Of Wall Street, Filmspotting


“I don’t have any kids that I don’t know about. How do you say that saying? I don’t know any kids that I have about.” —Paul Brittain, Comedy Bang! Bang!

“It is a hybrid international DJ and sink cleaner.” —John Oliver defines Skrillex, The Bugle



The Cracked Podcast
In 2005, the Cracked brand underwent an overhaul from a poor man’s Mad Magazine to a website offering some of the Internet’s most well-researched and acerbic cultural commentary packaged as fun listicles. The site’s content, like “6 Insane Sex Myths That People Used to Teach As Facts” and “5 Pop Culture Creations Spoiled by Their Own Creators,” create a lot of fodder for discussion, thus making it a natural springboard for a fun, informative podcast. And, unlike most other informative podcasts, Cracked features a soundtrack composed almost entirely of early-’90s hip-hop.

Each week, Editor-in-Chief Jack O’Brien dissects aspects of a different cultural phenomenon with a revolving stable of Cracked writers. The most recent episode, “Moral Panics,” is a great introduction to the tone and format of the show. O’Brien is joined by frequent contributor Jason Pargin, a.k.a. David Wong, to dispel myths about manufactured hysteria, from Satan worship by teens to “rainbow parties” and vodka-soaked tampons. Actually, given his seemingly endless well of knowledge and references, any episode featuring Pargin is a treat. One of the best episodes is “Lyndon B. Johnson,” which tackles the politics, personality, and legacy of the former president. Leave it to Cracked to make an in-depth look at a dead president riveting and hilarious. [MS]



The Bugle #258: Nazis Versus Terrorists
The Bugle
is probably the only media outlet that could have so much fun with the seemingly doomed Syrian peace talks without spiraling into insensitivity and douchebaggery. John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman’s snark is out in full force this week as they discuss the (really only one) possible outcome of Assad’s meeting with the rebels. Their on-the-nose impersonation of Ban Ki-moon organizing a dinner party is also particularly notable, if only because he’s an unexpected target. And their report on the homefront is just as incisive, as the duo digs into London mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to start using water cannons to enforce the peace. Zaltzman’s interview with British superhorse Frankel at the tail end is hit or miss, but it’s affable enough to be endearing. [ABe]

Filmspotting #474: The Wolf Of Wall Street Vs. American Hustle / 2014 Movie Preview / Oscar Talk
There’s a point in the debate over Martin Scorsese’s and David O. Russell’s Oscar-nominated films in which it seems feasible (albeit unlikely) that Josh Larsen and Adam Kempenaar might toss off their headphones and throw down on the studio floor. This is both mildly uncomfortable and somewhat thrilling. It doesn’t really matter who was advocating for which film—it’s just great fun to listen to two people who care this much about movies with silly wigs and phony accents. The latter half of the show, in which the hosts count down their most anticipated films of 2014, is less bracing. Still, it’s amusing to hear Kempenaar attempt to squeeze about 12 movies into his top five. [DD]


Freakonomics: Everybody Gossips (And That’s A Good Thing)
Thomas Corley, the man behind Rich Habits, spent five years tracking the habitual differences between the wealthy and the poor. One difference stuck out: According to Corley, poor people gossip much, much more than rich people. Wondering if this claim is scientifically accurate, the Freakonomics team sought out both the purveyors of gossip (notably, the people at Gawker) and the scientists studying it. According to researchers at Staffordshire University, speaking negatively about others usually makes humans feel worse, and most people think negatively about gossips. But gossip may actually be key to the strength of a given social group. A number of psychologists interviewed say it’s a social lubricant, as well as a warning device to let people know about untrustworthy individuals. [NC]


Hang Up And Listen: The Richard Sherman’s March Edition
The national sports media—and now all the culture bloggers in the country as well—spent the last week talking about Richard Sherman’s play at the end of the NFC Championship game, and interview with Erin Andrews immediately following the game. Since the Super Bowl doesn’t happen until next Sunday, the media circus will continue to swirl. This HUAL mini-episode is a well-reasoned and calm summary of the actual events, without all the political grandstanding on social issues that other publications picked up over the subsequent few days. Oh, and there’s this guy named Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl too. It might as well just be a footnote at this point. [KM]

Harmontown #86: Constitutional Belieber
The only reason it’s sad that Harmontown discussed Justin Bieber this week is because the episode was recorded before Bieber’s high-profile arrest on suspicion of DUI in Miami. Instead of tearing Bieber apart though, most of the panel feels sad for him and discusses the effects of outsized fame affecting children at a young age. Listeners may want to stop listening before D&D, because Dan Harmon basically steamrolls everyone else to go on a rant that, while mildly amusing, prevents the group from creating something fun together. [KM]


How Was Your Week #151: To Talk To You About Rembrandt: Karen Kilgariff
The temporary move to Los Angeles continues to do wonders for How Was Your Week?, as this edition’s opening monologue verges on vintage Julie Klausner: heady to a fault, exceptionally wordy, and hyper-specific. The hour-long run-on sentence sprints through scary places to run into Gallagher, past the minute differences separating prostitutes from escorts, and straight into an extended thesis on the unique geniuses of Eagleheart and Lena Dunham. That, plus an interview with Mr. Show alum Karen Kilgariff, makes a return to form for Klausner’s unrivaled capacity to pull airtight truths from overlooked corners. [NJ]


Improv4Humans #117: Meaty Meaty Hands: Jeff Hiller, Jon Gabrus, Mike Still
After a few weeks of manically inventive and thoroughly exciting episodes, Improv4Humans takes a bit of a breather and gets back to the basics. There’s no freewheeling cold open to start “Meaty Meaty Hands,” because it doesn’t need it. Beyond the form-pushing segments, like the Case Closed debates, Improv4Humans is a fundamentally solid show that doesn’t always need that extra push. This week’s hour is proof, and it’s propelled to hilarity by a ridiculous through line referring to a throwaway description of Jon Gabrus having “meaty meaty hands.” Before Matt Besser—along with I4H regulars Jeff Hiller and Mike Still—can get to that bit, the four spin an effortless-sounding satire of college hazing rituals that’s as sick as it is hilarious. There isn’t a dud in this bunch. [MK]

The Moth: Wrestlers, Exoneree, Nurses
The podcast team at The Moth has admittedly milked its holiday break through most of January, which means another full radio hour episode this week. Only one of the five stories is told by an artist—The Wire’s Richard Price—and the rest are from a diverse group of civilians composed of nurses, teenagers, and educators. Chicago’s Tim King discusses his adult coming-of-age when a student looks up to him as a father figure, Merlixse Ventura bonds with a cancer-stricken child during a high school internship, and nurse Lydia Velez rises to a challenge way outside of her job description. Each of the presented stories are standouts in its own way, but Rickie Johnson’s deadpan delivery about his 25 years spent wrongfully incarcerated is the most captivating. His insistence that emotions are hazards, even in the most unfair circumstances, makes the whole thing eerily Kafkaesque. [DJ]


Nerdist #468: Aaron Eckhart
Aaron Eckhart clearly appears on this episode of Nerdist as part of the I, Frankenstein press tour, but fortunately there is barely any discussion of the movie. In fact, Eckhart sounds relieved not to be pressed with the same rote questions and thrives in the loose, casual flow of conversation with Chris Hardwick. There’s not a lot of talk about movies, particularly his noteworthy films like In The Company Of Men and Thank You For Smoking; Eckhart would rather talk about his insecurities about getting older without having started a family, his dog, and conversations he’s had with the guy driving him around from interview to interview. When he talks about the seemingly mundane details of his life, listeners gets a peek into Eckhart the person rather than Eckhart the movie star with a project to promote. [MS]


Nerdist #470: Christina Ricci
Christina Ricci has been in the film industry since she was 9 years old, and she exudes a certain low-key, down-to-earth attitude that meshes well with Chris Hardwick’s enthusiasm. Unlike some of Nerdist’s riff-heavy group chats, this one-on-one conversation feels more like a formal interview—light on laughs but full of interesting discussion nevertheless. For instance, Hardwick’s question about body image sparks a conversation about the lose-lose situation for female stars, which segues into Ricci’s coping methods for filming uncomfortable scenes. Ricci also shares stories of working with Frank Oz on her Kermit impression, her love of “white-trash” foods, and her talent for creating accidental memes. [CS]

Professor Blastoff #139: Literary Death Match (w/ Adrian Todd Zuniga)

When the hosts derail a philosophical discussion in favor of indulging their comedic chemistry, the result is hit or miss. Thankfully, guest Adrian Todd Zuniga is mostly in the hatch this week as an extended plug for his Literary Death Match podcast. Since the conversation is light enough on its own, the Professor Blastoff crew is free to fool around and follow threads that might otherwise annoy. After two weeks of navel-gazing, it’s easy to imagine that chunks of this 2014 debut—especially the fantastically vintage “couldn’t think top-shelf thoughts” riff—will populate the next “best of” specials. [NJ]


Radiolab: Black Box
In its first full-length podcast in ages, Radiolab digs deep into three “black boxes”—those peculiar situations where the start and finish points are clear, but the middle remains a mystery. The Radiolab crew explores them for a riveting hour, swinging effortlessly from notes of body horror to an outstanding human-interest piece. Top honors go to the middle story, a tale of an old-timey radio psychic whose act was never cracked. It gains another layer when Radiolab looks inward during an interview with Penn Jillette, who solves the riddle almost immediately. Listening to Radiolab work over whether or not to reveal the solution is fascinating, and makes a nifty little black box of its own. [MK]


Sound Opinions #426: The Bermuda Triangle Of Rock
Many music fans have a list of artists who came screaming out of the gate with a great EP or debut album, but for whatever reason, disappeared afterward. The “Bermuda Triangle” is completely subjective, and Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot focus on Chicago bands for their respective lists. Still, once that personal bias has been acknowledged, it’s a fascinating concept that serves as a great “conversation stimulator,” as Barry from High Fidelity would say. [KM]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Embalming And The Mummification Rituals Of Ancient Egypt
If mummification seems like a fairly straightforward topic with a few stomach-turning twists, hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey dispel that with some surprising revelations. Apparently fear of necrophilia combined with the reverence given to people mauled by Nile crocodiles led to preparation techniques too complicated to cover in a podcast. But sorting through the religious and ancient medical procedures paints a surprisingly clear portrait of ancient Egyptian life. Wilson and Frey include every plant used in purification and name-check every god with a priest in the process. (Anubis and Osiris handled most of these matters.) Although the rituals occurred thousands of years ago, the amount of effort put into preserving the dead makes the culture seem unusually personal and immediate. [DT]


WTF #463: Live From LA Podfest: Dana Gould, Dave Anthony, Paul Gilmartin, Aisha Tyler, Jimmy Pardo
The atmosphere of a live WTF recording tends to be volatile, determined by a combination of Marc Maron’s mood and the egos of a rotating cast of guest comedians and celebrities—all further heightened by the immediate need to entertain the large, paying audience watching the whole circus. However, everyone on this episode, recorded last October at the second annual LA Podfest, seems to be in high spirits, and the result is a solid 90 minutes of fairly light fun. Early on, Maron even puts two random audience members on the microphone and, to everyone’s surprise—including Maron’s—it pays off handsomely. It’s the rare instance of a purely fun for fun’s sake WTF, and it is great. [CG]


Book Fight! #52: Michael Wayne Hampton, Romance For Delinquents
In this hour-long episode, Mike Ingram and Tom McAllister spend maybe 15 minutes actually discussing the short-story collection Romance For Delinquents. The book’s South Carolina setting prompts a valid discussion of stereotypes in literature, but it goes off the rails when they start talking about “the interior life of hillbilly characters.” [ABa]


Comedy Bang! Bang! #256: The Calvin Twins: Taran Killam, Paul Brittain
Taran Killam and Paul Brittain are funny, and their insane horse-fighting scheme has some good moments, but this week is skippable. [KR]

Doug Loves Movies: Rob Huebel, Ben Schwartz and Rich Sommer
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode can’t reach the high bar set by Rob Huebel’s amazing Jean-Claude Van Damme story told in the first few minutes. [MS]

The Fogelnest Files #74: Boss Ass Bitch: Jake Weisman
This week’s episode never amounts to more than Fogelnest chatting with his friend, which is fine, but not mandatory listening. [ABe]


Judge John Hodgman: #144: Father Gnaws Beast
Vegetarian Kim claims father Rick shouldn’t order meat when the family dines together. Hodgman’s sympathetic digressions about culinary traditions make the episode slightly more entertaining than listening to a vegan-omnivore debate in real life. A short secondary case about acceptable greens-to-dessert ratios goes down like raw spinach. [DXF]

The Mental Illness Happy Hour #151: Listener Confessions
While there are several moving stories from listeners in this episode, which Paul Gilmartin culled from surveys, it’s grueling to listen to him read them solo 90 minutes. [TC]

Nerdist #469: Jon Daly
Chris Hardwick and Jonah Ray have a fun riff session with comedian Jon Daly, but the conversation lacks enough substance to make it one of the best. [CS]


Sklarbro Country #183: The Miseducation Of Lauren Tannehill: Max Joseph Jason and Randy Sklar’s questions for  Catfish: The TV Show cameraman Max Joseph probably don’t merit the Ken Burns-style gravitas they’re presented with. [DJ]

Stuff You Missed In History Class: Avicenna
Although Avicenna was an incredibly important philosopher-scientist, this episode feels overly academic. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: How The Deep Web Works
The concept of the Deep Web is fascinating, but hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant spend little time on its mysterious, sketchier elements (like murder-for-hire sites) and instead focus on mundane stuff (like overpriced engineering documents and unpublished blog posts). [DT]

Stuff You Should Know: Chuck And Josh Bust A Few Everyday Myths
The downside of spending 35 minutes on everyday myths is that a quick Google search would do the same trick, though Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant do their best to keep topics like the lie of chameleon camouflage interesting. [DT]


This American Life #516: Stuck In The Middle
Four stories never totally converge around this week’s theme, making for an episode that has some strong moments but overall is a bit too muddled. [DF]

Who Charted? #164: My Demons High
Although he’s perfectly cordial, Horatio Sanz doesn’t sound like he particularly wants to be on the show, which drags the episode down. [MS] 

WTF #464: Harry Dean Stanton, Sophie Huber
Marc Maron’s lengthy introductory monologue about the circumstances of his interview with Harry Dean Stanton and Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction director Sophie Huber serves as a disclaimer that this one will be tough to finish. [KM]

You Made It Weird #191: Emily Maya Mills
Holmes’ conversation with comedian Emily Maya Mills might be interesting for new listeners, but for regulars, it’s just Holmes going down the same old rabbit holes. [ABe]