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.
Fixing The Hobo Suit
Superheroes look subjectively cool when they leap tall buildings on comic book pages, but when they leap into real-life adaptations, their wardrobe often translates into laughable shells of spandex and rubber. Early on, wrestlers’ tights fit the bill, perhaps too closely for any contemporary suspension of disbelief. In the ‘90s, Joel Schumacher tried to merge cartoonish glee with modernism in the Batman movies, and the result was psychologically painful to look at. So 99% Invisible producer Eric Molinsky talked to costume designers for a broad spectrum of recent hero franchises. The resulting story is a fun tour through underpants and jumpsuits that even non-nerds will appreciate. The designers are thrilled to explain superheroic origins in terms that make sense to their own craft, from the camp-to-armor journey of Batman to the practical journey of the recent Netflix pincushion known as Daredevil. Fans of The Incredibles will be pleased to hear the context of that film’s costume designer add to the fun, but it is perhaps more interesting to hear about movies that a listener may have even found less than enjoyable. The episode offers an opportunity to hear these heroes described in terms of Kevlar and dexterity rather than cheesy moral quandaries.
Anna Faris Is Unqualified
Kate And T.J. Miller
Anna Faris Is Unqualified is a new podcast with a secret weapon. With the escalating number of podcasts in existence on the internet, any subculture can easily find its specific podcasting niche and stick with it. But no matter who you are, there’s one thing everyone struggles with, and it’s the subject of Anna Faris’ new project. Anna Faris Is Unqualified aims to give advice to those in trouble with love. Every episode she has a different guest to help her assist callers with any relationship difficulties they may be having. On her second episode, she is joined by the power couple of T.J Miller and his wife Kate. A comedian and an actress, the two are endlessly entertaining, but also allow a highly personal look at their relationship’s history. T.J Miller is notorious for being hilariously unhinged, but actually proves himself a sincere and caring guest dedicated to helping the callers in the best way he can. It’s rare to experience the enviable dynamic of a “celebrity couple” this intimately, and future guests should look to the Millers as the new standard. This episode suggests a bright future for this podcast.
Tom Scharpling is as chipper as ever, despite making headlines for Google’s alleged theft of his long-running club hit “Come On Y’all, It’s Time To Have Fun” in a Chromebook ad jingle. It helps that his recent attempts to revitalize the program—most notably his latest show-within-a-show, a rapid-fire open-phone @Midnight parody—have been rousing successes. Another such invention, the ladies-only month dubbed NoDudeVember, wound down this week as Scharpling lifted the ban on men for the purpose of receiving legal counsel, though the most reasonable advice came from a woman named Grace, who helped anchor the “Showbiz Crimes” episode back in August. Jon Wurster, of course, has always been exempt from NoDudeVember, and his increasingly musical calls continue to highlight Wurster’s particular skill set. This week, he calls as Chet from the Mews at Newbridge Estates to regale Scharpling and listeners with renditions of forgotten band theme songs by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, The Del Fuegos, Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin, The Smiths, and David Bowie. The rest of the callers run the gamut from a charming 10-year-old girl to the proverbial “persona au gratin” Zach from Richmond, giving Scharpling a chance to flex his range for a truly joyous three hours.
Host Aaron Mahnke admits at the top of the episode that even as a horror writer, nothing really scares him except for one thing, open water. Transitioning into tales of loss at sea, he taps into a pulsing vein of creepiness dating back to the 18th century B.C. But it’s the more recent stories of lifeboats capsizing and vanishing children’s faces in waves taller than any ship that are especially haunting, as modern survivors have ways of having their infinite horrors recorded in vivid details. Some wreckage hardly seems possible at all: A lifeboat full of skeletons lay trapped in a cave where they could be seen, but no team of rescuers could recover them. The ship they had come from had already suffered a tragic fate, but this impossible scenario created an enigma that was hard to reconcile. And though ghost ships seem a recurring theme, it is not the possibility of the stories being true that are so haunting. There are communities who discover and live near these tragedies, and their stories reflect their own inability to process them. Mahnke is ever the dredger of yucky tummy feelings, and thrives at the chance to make these stories both uncomfortable and part of an existential dread that anyone can relate to.
The New Hollywood Podcast
Lenny Abrahamson (Director: Room, Frank)
On the latest episode of The New Hollywood, host Brian Flaherty is joined by Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson, most recently known for the highly buzzed-about film Room. At the top of the show, Abrahamson comments on Flaherty’s Irish last name, and the two quickly discuss their ancestry, segueing perfectly into who he is as a filmmaker. It’s an exciting look at a new voice that is slowly but surely making itself increasingly prominent in the filmmaking world, and the natural candor between the two makes for an engaging listen. As they chat in an open room at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, Abrahamson is charming and eloquent, eager to discuss whatever Flaherty asks. Though an out-of-studio recording might seem like a doubtful invitation to some, there’s a warm quality about it, as the soft chatter in the background cushions the interview. It’s evident that Flaherty is truly a fan of Abrahamson’s work, and that sincerity makes for a conversation that easily delves into his history as an academic, the culture he grew up around, and the artistic choices he’s made to become the lauded director the industry is coming to love.
Listen Up! The Big Turkey In The Sky
For the final installment of Only Human’s “Listen Up!” bootcamp, the show’s weeklong project to help listeners become better listeners, host Mary Harris has great tips to improve listening skills from chaplains to psychoanalysts, just in time for the holiday season. “Sometimes, the people we love the most are the hardest to listen to,” Harris explains, and many experts on the subject agree. Lawyer and mediation specialist Kenneth Feinberg talks about trying to find common ground with his own family, and Franchesca Ramsey, comedian and host of the MTV web show Decoded, discusses something most people have experienced with their families at some point: talking with family members who tend to project their own ideas of who she was growing up instead of who she actually is now. So for this holiday season, Harris asks Henry Alford, a humorist who interviewed crisis negotiators about how to best deal with Thanksgiving stress, how one should handle stress during family time. He suggests apologizing, even when you don’t mean it (a move similar to a Jedi mind trick), acknowledging differences in opinions without actually disagreeing (which is a great move in discussions about politics), and just straight-up lying. “If you can be the person who says, ‘Oh, I heard you when you said that thing an hour ago’… you win, hands down; you are the big turkey in the sky.”
Turkey & Greens: Tykeia
Hosts Crissle and Kid Fury have a lot to celebrate on this week’s episode of The Read: a long-awaited guest spot from their close friend Tykeia, Kid Fury’s birthday, and Adele’s new album, which has been bringing them tears since its recent release. They give thanks to Adele for outselling Taylor Swift’s 1989 and taking the #1 album spot from Justin Bieber, and talk about how difficult it is to play the new album while driving alone without crying. Crissle, Kid Fury, and Tykeia have a lot of tough love for the listeners who wrote in this week: from the fan whose artist boyfriend won’t get a job, to the gay listener hooking up with a guy who claims to be straight. Kid Fury also delivers an incredible, on-point read to rapper Lil Boosie about his recent comments that he’s tired of seeing “gay shit” on TV in shows like Empire. Crissle reminds listeners to mind their manners in other people’s homes during the holiday season, to bring a gift, take off their shoes, and remember a pack of matches if they’re anticipating any gastro issues in someone else’s bathroom.
Some listeners might be put off by this week’s episode of Rock Solid, because it is close to three full hours of two fiftysomething dudes talking about the back half of KISS’ discography (and it’s a follow-up to a previous, equally long episode that covered the band’s earlier records), but it’s also hard to think of a better tribute to the band that exemplifies classic rock excessiveness. No one’s better suited to talk in depth about some of KISS’ worst records than host Pat Francis and guest Jimmy Pardo—two long-time fans who lived through all the highs and lows as they happened—and that all three hours of the episode fly by is a testament to that fact. The two also bring out the best in each other as podcast personalities—see also: every fifth episode or so of the earlier seasons of Never Not Funny—and it ends up being a satisfying and very enjoyable listen for KISS fans and detractors alike.
474: Ken Jennings
This special holiday episode of the Lovecast will accomplish one of two things. For people who were lucky enough to have been born into households full of relatively functional, psychologically healthy human beings, this assortment of familial sturm und drang will give them plenty of reasons to give thanks. And everyone else will find it comforting that they’re not alone in their misery. Dan Savage warns at the front of the show that this one is going to be kind of a grind, and he is not exaggerating. It’s full to the brim with abusive parents, uncaring partners, and contemptuous relations. Mercifully, Savage takes a break from the drama midway through to talk to friend of the internet Ken Jennings about the Mormon church’s new “disavow your gay parents before baptism” rule for young adults. That’s the ostensible reason at any rate. It ultimately seems like Savage is more interested in dissecting the Jeopardy champion’s deep LDS faith and understanding how it works in concert with his massive intellect. Jennings, for his part, seems all too happy to tilt his cranium forward and let the host root around inside. What follows is a remarkably pleasant conversation about an awfully awkward topic.
Do you use lube when you’re having sex? If you do, apparently you’re annoying Ronda Rousey, who said in a recent interview with Maxim that “people who use lube” is her biggest sexual pet peeve, as discussed by Allison P. Davis, Maureen O’Connor, and David Wallace-Wells in this week’s episode of the New York Magazine’s Sex Lives podcast—and they’re all unhappy with her less-than-sex-advice. They also interview Jennifer Wright about her new book It Ended Badly: Thirteen Of The Worst Breakups In History, which grew out of a need during her own breakup to find stories of other people behaving badly at the end of relationships in order to feel better about drunk-dialing her ex—like the brokenhearted artist who commissioned a giant doll replica of his ex, which he brought to dinner parties and the opera before he beheaded it publicly. They wrap up the show by playing a voicemail from a caller who responded to the show’s call for stories about people who refused to do certain things in the bedroom. He dated a girl he was sleeping with who refused to kiss him on the mouth because “she was afraid she would get attached,” and separately suggests that the 69 is a sexual move that needs to make a comeback.
The Steve Austin Show - Unleashed!
Pro-Wrestling Talk With Wade Keller
As Monday Night Raw viewership continues to fall to record lows, even the six-time World Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is becoming less and less polite in his criticism of WWE television. Austin is joined this week by frequent collaborator Wade Keller, editor-in-chief of the Pro-Wrestling Torch newsletter. Keller, likewise, brings an uncharacteristically fiery perspective to his reviews of Survivor Series and the decline in pro wrestling ratings; when Austin gushes over an old Flair-Windham bout, Keller pounces into a rant about how the Fed’s contemporary focus on “sports entertainment” has become a detriment to itself. Keller brings specific examples of ways in which this commercially palatable format kills more traditional “heat,” from Kofi Kingston’s baffling breaking of the fourth wall on Raw to a growing number of product placements in backstage skits, and even goes so far as to suggest that wrestlers be fined when their matches earn “this is awesome” chants from the crowd. Still, Austin keeps Keller on course with ease, a testament to his ever-growing ability as a host, and doubles down on his historical support for a few wrestlers in particular—Sasha Banks and Antonio Cesaro, who remain, to Austin’s indignation, rarely even on the show.
A Very Unorthodox Thanksgiving
Launched in July as a self-described source of “news for the Jews,” Unorthodox is a relatively young and seemingly niche podcast. In its Thanksgiving special, though, Mark Oppenheimer, Stephanie Butnick, and Liel Leibovitz welcome a batch of listener mail that does well to disprove that latter descriptor. The hosts follow up with a number of people who authored letters to the show of varying contentiousness in the past year, including a charming Jewish family of four for whom Unorthodox is a weekly bonding experience, as well as Oppenheimer’s brother, Daniel, who takes Leibovitz to task on his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Less thoughtful listeners get their letters dramatically read in batches by New York comedians Jo Firestone and Connor Ratliff, which only furthers the sense of a large, diverse community following. But the star of the week may be singer-songwriter Jim Knable, who pulls from the same pool of letters as Firestone and Ratliff but puts the words to music. Knable’s punky take on an aggressive pitch email for a book called Crossing The Boundary, in particular, could serve as a world-class advertisement in itself.
“My favorite Pokemon? Oh, that’s an easy one. Snorlax. Snorlax is huge!”—Tom Scharpling, The Best Show
“One of the upsides of being sort of drunk [when you have sex] is that booze is sort of a breath freshener.”—David Wallace-Wells on one of the many reasons drinking before having sex is a good move, Sex Lives
“Guess what? I’m not a millennial. I’m a cultured, educated, professionally active, liberal, progressive, Zionist, secular, Jewish, 73-year-old woman. What’chu got for my demographic, yo?”—Jo Firestone reading from the listener mailbag, Unorthodox