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.
All Songs Considered
Bob Mould And Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams’ output is almost sickening. On top of cranking out at least one album a year, he’s amassed dozens of singles, 7-inches, and EPs, not to mention two collections of poetry and a trove of unreleased (officially, at least) bootlegs. Turns out he’s not a bad interviewer either. On the latest episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered, he invites musical hero and occasional collaborator Bob Mould to his Pax-AM Studios in Los Angeles for an hour-long segment that’s half podcast discussion/half louder-than-usual Tiny Desk Concert. In between performances of Mould’s “Hold On” and “The End Of Things” (both from his most recent album, Patch The Sky), the two discuss everything from hardcore to their writing process. If any of that sounds too general, trust that both artists tackle each topic with a music-geek enthusiasm that’s infectious, whether it’s Adams detailing how Lost Highway dismissed, then exploited his prolific number of songs on eBay or Mould defending his often maligned foray into electronica. Even more important than the content is the vibe: at the end of the day, these are two people just enjoying each other’s company—a simple pleasure that anyone can relate to, whether they play music or not.
When Tom Scharpling sends out his weekly emails every Tuesday afternoon announcing the topic(s) for that night’s Best Show, it’s usually less of a jumping off point than it is a failsafe. This week’s bit with Jon Wurster acting as longtime caller and Shout! Network executive Matthew Tompkins is the case in point, with the duo meandering hyper-specifically through a classically structured Scharpling & Wurster phone call that punchlines with Tompkins admitting to his three sentences served at Guantanamo Bay. Tompkins comes prepared as usual with a slew of new network offerings like The Matador and Vinny’s Place, both feel-good punk-rock programs, to continue to flesh out the station’s bizarre lineup, but Jerry Only and Doyle Von Frankenstein’s car repair-slash-prank phone call show is his most surefire hit yet. Bookending that call, Scharpling catches up with some fan favorites, like the lawyer Grace who anchored last year’s Showbiz Crimes episode and his former protégé Geneva, who barely makes it into the end of the “Losers Only Hour.” The infamous Larry Da Perv comes through on the other end with a tee-up for Scharpling up to sing some Billy Joel ditties and the typically giggly Fred From Honolulu closes the show shouting into the GOMP.
Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown
Lymes In The Sand: Amy Phillips, Kulap Vilaysack
This week, the Housewives are in Dubai, and Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider aren’t even that drunk while discussing them. On this episode of Bitch Sesh they are joined by two guests whose Housewives viewing history couldn’t be more different. Amy Phillips is a diehard fan and Housewives impressionist, while Kulap Vilaysack (Bajilion Dollar Properties) is a first-time viewer. Both perspectives are clay in the hosts’ hands as they demand impression after impression from Phillips, squealing in delight, and are endlessly impressed by how much information Vilaysack was able to gather about the characters in just one episode. Vilaysack is wonderfully fresh as a guest, having no real history with the various storylines, and says whatever comes to mind about the show—“like a child.” as the hosts say. A few topics inspire the most impassioned discussions, from the overwhelming number of kaftans and subsequent shoulder exposure, to who everyone is attracted to. But nothing shakes things up as much as the discussion of whether or not the Housewives wear wigs, and how it’s heartbreaking to face the endless lies that reality shows often tell.
The Book Of Ye
“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”: Clark Jones
The Book Of Ye is a new bi-weekly podcast from comedians Rob Haze and Chris Daniels. It may also be the first podcast dedicated to exploring the multifaceted life and times of Kanye West. This episode kicks into gear as the guest, comedian Clark Jones, describes the first time he met West. Jones almost booked him for a show when he was a student at Morehouse college. Co-host Rob Haze once spotted the rap legend drinking a Slurpee at the Atlanta airport. These are only two of the millions of Kanye sightings that exist in the world, but their accounts highlight Yeezy’s mythical status. This isn’t a show that seeks to explain or defend West to listeners. However, it’s more about diving into his dark twisted fantasy in a noble attempt to figure it all out. The result is a truly fun and laid back philosophical discussion. “I’m still trying to find a theme in The Life Of Pablo,” Jones admits, as he describes how disjointed the songs feel together. “See, I feel the complete opposite,” Haze responds, “I feel like the theme of Pablo is like, I’m looking for guidance.” If you happen to be seeking guidance on West world, consider clicking subscribe on The Book Of Ye.
Two Jesuses enter this week’s episode of The Canon, but only one will ascend into the pantheon of classic cinema. Co-hosts film critics Amy Nicholson and Devin Faraci compare and contrast auteurial visions behind the two most popular and divisive New Testament retellings of our time. They direct their attention to The Passion Of The Christ, Mel Gibson’s 2004 carnage-filled account of Jesus’s persecution and execution at the hands occupying Roman forces in Israel, before moving on to The Last Temptation Of Christ, Martin Scorsese’s 1988 psychological examination of a man unwilling to accept his own divinity. Interestingly, neither film is a straight adaptation of the Gospels. Instead, each film draws heavily from supplementary texts, which by their very nature say a lot about the two filmmakers—Gibson’s from mystical accounts, such as Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s revelations from the Virgin Mary in the 19th century, and Scorsese’s from the controversial and oft-banned 1955 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Both films also contain elements horror filmmaking and make interesting use of extras. And that’s pretty much where the similarities end. As is clear from this discussion, the two films are so wildly divergent that would almost seem to be different stories entirely.
Chapo Trap House
We Need To Talk About Kevin
[Subscribe on iTunes]
Chapo Trap House is not for everyone. Plenty of potential listeners will be turned off by the very far left political leanings of the hosts—Felix Biederman, Will Menaker, and Matt Christman, each minor Twitter celebrities in their own right—but even those who agree with their politics might prove allergic to the consistently poor audio quality of the show. And yet, it feels like an absolutely essential listen. The hosts have gripes with people at every point along the political spectrum, and although they are often lamenting many of the events of the week, their energy and desire to improve the political landscape of this country is not only unparalleled, but also contagious: if listening to this podcast doesn’t make you want to become more a more politically engaged person, it’s hard to imagine what will. It’s also a tremendously funny show right out of the gate—an offhand joke about calling one particularly unsavory pundit “Cold Stone Steve Austin” stands out, as does their hilariously biting take on Hamilton—and hopefully one that these guys actually keep producing every week.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Bonus! The Mysterious Secrets Of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium
The Mysterious Secrets Of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium is quite the mouthful for a podcast title, but it’s oddly suiting. The show, if the first episode is any indication, has many moving parts. Each is intricately designed, every element cared for with true attention to detail, making it one of the most enthralling auditory experiences in the podcasting world yet. And it’s only just begun. The podcast is a Howl exclusive show, but as this week’s Comedy Bang! Bang! bonus episode, Scott Aukerman allowed for non Howl subscribers to get a taste of the magic in the show’s first installment. Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium is a fantastical scripted narrative whose lead character, Lord Joseph Banks, is played by none other than Flight Of The Conchords’ richly voiced Jemaine Clement. Set in the magical time of 1768, Joseph Banks is a posh “squillionaire” and nephew to disgraced botanist Bertie Banks. After an encounter with a cheesemonger, Joseph Banks has a fever cheese dream that guides him to revisit Bertie’s botanarium with his servant Solander, where they discover his biggest secret. The sound design of the episode truly transports the listener deep into the world, and the writing is perfectly suited to Clement’s comedic chops. In its debut episode, the show sets a fully realized universe to explore, and hilarious characters to go wandering with. If this is Howl’s way of getting new subscribers, it just might work.
Doughboys’ Tournament Of Chompions (Burger Brawl) was fairly absurd from the get-go, but each and every week the hosts’ quest to democratically determine the fast food chain with very best burgers overall has gotten more and more (and more) hilariously insane. Special interests and trolling have gotten in the way of the truth, and rules don’t seem to mean anything to our beloved ’boys any longer. The week’s episode—with the very funny Nicole Byer (Party Over Here) and her brazen food opinions—is a gem no matter how you look at it, but one could easily make the case that the minisode—featuring corrupt commissioner Evan Susser (complete with surprise entrance and Vince McMahon entrance music) and costumed, yellow card-doling referee Matty Smith—outshines it, as it reaches an absolute fever pitch of absurdity both in terms of humor and in terms of outlandish breaches of tournament regulations. It’s been a tumultuous, controversial tournament, and it will come to a presumably very dramatic conclusion next week, assuming the hosts don’t strangle each other before then.
Julie Klausner Again, Our Close Friend
Few podcasts have used music to such great comedic success as Hollywood Handbook has. The show’s brief musical ventures often come from live episodes with the help of engineer Brett, but Julie Klausner’s first appearance on the show marked an unforgettable use of Dave Matthews Band for hosts Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements’ very own jukebox musical. In this episode, they try to recreate that magic, but this time without any supporting music at all. Their goal is to create a completely original musical with the help of Klausner, and the result (or at least act one) truly encapsulates why Hollywood Handbook continues to thrive, and how easily the hosts can mine their already hilarious guests for comedic gold. The musical is about the infamous Joe The Plumber and other random specifics from the 2008 election. The songs are really where the episode hits its peaks, with the hosts’ cackle inducing faux sincerity exemplifying everything that garners them such a loyal fan base. From a song about Levi Johnston (“My first names is jeans / My last name is weens / What’s in betweens? / The man of your dreams”) to the revelation that calling Obama “Obummer” offers an opportunity to rhyme with “plumber,” the episode is full of moments where the three discover increasingly ridiculous avenues to explore, each one leading to delightfully absurd places. By the time the episode wraps up, the only lingering disappointment is that there wasn’t more time to keep digging.
How Did This Get Made?
Bloodsport—Live!: Nicole Byer
Live from Largo At The Coronet, How Did This Get Made? finally enters the dangerous area of the Kumite. June is unavailable, but Nicole Byer (Party Over Here) ably pitches in with an energy-level and libido that is more than a match for Jason Mantzoukas. Unlike The Flop House, which operates almost independently of the films being reviewed, HDTGM?’s success depends largely on their film choices. Fortunately, Bloodsport is a brilliantly executed trainwreck, and a perfect example of Canon Films’ brand of bargain-basement, corner-cutting action cinema. Almost immediately, all three panelists express their fascination with JCVD’s sexual energy, which is both taut and strangely nubile. Other worthy topics of discussion are the surreal, ADR-intensive flashbacks, Van Damme’s prepubescent hairstyle, Forest Whittaker’s appearance, Frank Dux’s biographical authenticity, casual racism, Bolo Yeung as a possibly deaf martial arts villain, and of course, splits. Van Damme does at least seven in the film, including one while in bondage. All of this transpires in front of spirited audience who is more than ready to chant “KU-MI-TE!” with almost no prompting. Much like the movie, this episode is turned up to 11.
Love + Radio
The Silver Dollar
There is a pervasive feeling in this current election cycle which suggests Americans have at long last given up the ghost of civility, choosing instead to lazily attack those they do not understand, or to whose beliefs they do not subscribe. To be fair it’s not an entirely new development, but the level to which it has become de rigueur is rather alarming. The absence of decorum only further erodes the desire for comportment on either side. Which is why this week’s episode of Love + Radio—a re-podcast of a February 2014 episode—feels like such a wonderfully timely and important tale of compassion, listening, and the power of simple human connections. Musician Daryl Davis tells his amazing story of encountering serious racism and becoming so intellectually curious about its perpetrators as to end up meeting with a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. The message which Davis espouses is one of radical compassion and empathy, choosing to never accept that he could be disliked simply on the basis of the color of his skin. It is a wonderful listen made especially poignant given the tenor of our present political climate. Special honors go to producers Nick Van Der Kolk and Brendan Baker whose subtle audio manipulations only serve to heighten this hour of understated and engaging brilliance.
Point Of Inquiry
The Odds of Life’s Oddities: John Allen Paulos
Exceedingly few people would likely choose to think of themselves as multi-dimensional hypercubes, but exceedingly few people view the world as John Allen Paulos does. In the course of this new memoir, A Numerate Life: A Mathematician Explores The Vagaries Of Life, His Own And Probably Yours, the award-winning mathematician and Temple University professor outlines how he filters life through the basic mathematic principles with which he makes his career to find fresh wonder in a areas that most people never think to look. If that makes him an oddball, though, it also makes him pretty normal, because, according to his calculations, being strange is the most common thing in the world. And that’s where the concept of people as multidimensional hypercubes comes in. That might sound like an impenetrably nerdy thought, but you’ll just have to trust that when he explains it, it’s still pretty nerdy, but much less impenetrable. In fact, it’s actually a rather elegant way to think of what it means to be, and not to be, ordinary. The conversation between Paulos and Point Of Inquiry’s Lindsay Beyerstein is likely make a lot of listeners’ eyes glaze over, but a subset of people who are weird in the just right way will find it riveting.
Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers
No Holds Barred, 1989
Every other week, Dion and J. Blake of Saturday Night Movie Sleepover discuss and reminisce about movies that appeal to different generations. The duo mixes trivia with personal accounts of watching movies such as The Last Starfighter, Gremlins, and The Breakfast Club during their formative years. The show is fueled by nostalgia but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This week, they delve into the 1989 Hulk Hogan vehicle, No Holds Barred. It takes the guys at least 45 minutes before they actually delve into the movie as they get sidetracked talking about their favorite wrestlers and storylines from the WWF (now WWE) that took up so much of their time during their adolescence. The guys also discuss the illustrious film career of Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr., who certainly carved a niche out for himself with tough guy roles throughout the ’80s and ’90s and while their under no assumptions about the quality of the film, they treat No Holds Barred with just the right amount of respect that it deserves.
We Got This!
Batman Vs Superman: Travis McElroy, Ben Blacker
While fans will be lining up this weekend to see mom and dad fight, Mark and Hal decide once and for all who is the greatest superhero, Batman or Superman. As part of Maximum Fun’s annual MaxFunDrive, the podcast network cross pollinates all week long, and Travis McElroy of My Brother, My Brother And Me (and about a dozen other MaxFun podcasts) drops in to help pick the best grown man in a cape and tights. They are also joined by Thrilling Adventure Hour co-creator Ben Blacker, which is only appropriate as the sometimes comic book author helped pick between DC and Marvel last summer. For most of us, the choice between a gritty, conflicted crimefighter and an indestructible do-gooder isn’t much of a choice at all. Even Travis, the lone Superman supporter, realizes that the cards are stacked against the son of Jor-El. Like many of the best We Got This! episodes, the decision is non-controversial, and the pleasure is in the meandering route to the reach the verdict. The evidence includes the myriad representations of the each hero, and acknowledges that they are the monolithic archetypes they have been regarded as over the last three decades that they are more to each character than how they been codified in the last 30 years. After all, Superman couldn’t always fly, and Batman started out as a hooligan tossing bad guys from rooftops.
Goldwater’s Contested Convention
Anyone who’s been following Donald Trump’s ongoing ascendance to the top rung of the GOP this past year has probably, on more than one occasion, stepped away from their computer screen and marveled at how remarkably weird U.S. politics has become. How can one of this country’s two major political machines be lining up behind somebody so polarizing, so indelicate, and against the continued protestations of conservative elites? Could this drama really come to a raucous head at the Republican Party Convention this July? Surely this must be a wholly singular event we’re witnessing. Well, not really. As Face The Nation’s John Dickerson points out in great detail over the course of the latest episode of his pleasantly terse and consistently illuminating Whistlestop podcast, this all bears striking similarities to 1964 when Barry Goldwater was the thorn in the Republican’s side, inciting racial controversy and threatening to hobble down-ballot candidates, with Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, and other top party officials pulling every trick out of the bag to wrest away his delegates. This is a truly fascinating reminder of just how messy our nation’s supposedly peaceful transfer of power can get.
You Made It Weird
Among its bounteous gifts, the era of podcast prevalence has provided listeners a heretofore unknown degree of access to celebrities, where interviews are generally long-form, minimally edited, and unusually unvarnished. More often than not though these interviews have been constrained to a certain stripe of guest. The revelation in this week’s You Made It Weird is right up top, with host Pete Holmes choosing to buck the current trend and welcome prolific Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers into the studio for a massive two hour interview. Sports personalities—based largely on dint of simplicity of profession—are not renowned for being gregarious and open minded. The interview with Rodgers both serves to dispel this notion while giving some unique insights into his life outside of the game. Holmes’ interview style is so deceptively simple and free flowing that a question about whether Rodgers plays the Madden series of football video games quickly leads to Rodgers openly admitting to seeing a UFO in 2005. The discussion between Holmes and Rodgers is lively for just how much it eschews traditional sports tropes, touching instead on spirituality, religion, and the meaning of living. It is a lively and engaging conversation which pushes boundaries of sports representation in a typically comedy-dominated space.
“For me, that was my version of Harry Potter.” – Ryan Adams discussing his love of British hardcore band Discharge, All Songs Considered
“Money going from Gawker to Hulk Hogan is like a raft filled with urine going from the deep end to the shallow end in a urine-filled swimming pool.”—Tom Scharpling, The Best Show
“Oh look! A Nettled Spagetarium Nocturnam! The Night Spaghetti.”
“It looks like spaghetti!”
“Yes! And nibble the stem. What does it taste like?”
“Extraordinary! It tastes like spaghetti.”
“Yes! Spaghetti! But specifically when you eat it at night.”—Jemaine Clement as Lord Joseph Banks and musician Lawrence Arabia as Solander exploring Uncle Bertie’s botanarium, Comedy Bang! Bang!
“I don’t care for Obamacare / This drain’s clogged with too much hair! / Hey, you guys over there! / Listen to me, let’s take the stairs!”—Sean Clements singing one of his Joe The Plumber songs, Hollywood Handbook