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.
Vexillonaires are people who redesign what they consider to be inferior flags. Roman Mars starts out this episode by talking to Portland flag expert Ted Kaye about how anyone can design their own perfect flag on a small piece of paper, as long as they understand how simple it should be. This makes flag designs instantly accessible to any layman wondering if we should really be concerning ourselves so much with something so abstract. This episode is particularly interesting because the idea of constantly “rebooting” anything could easily come across as niche or irritating to those who’d rather not think too much about a flap of fabric that represents an abstract idea. But by using a flag that was unfortunately remixed without its original designer’s approval (the Portland city flag) a compelling case is made for this ancient and elaborate form of symbolism being fluid. In 1969, Portland’s flag was designed nearly perfectly by local artist Doug Lynch. But the city council butchered it with a sloppy city seal mashed into the corner. Many decades later, an elderly Lynch saw his design saved by Kaye and other vexillologists. It’s a great story framed by a fun idea, likely to make more than one listener break out a blank sheet of paper.
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
Two episodes in, it’s clear that this original podcast from Wolfpop—Earwolf’s brand new pop culture spinoff channel, curated by Paul Scheer—has the potential to be one of the most fun and/or frustrating film discussions available for download. The concept is pretty simple: Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci and L.A. Weekly’s Amy Nicholson throw down every week over the quality and status of a supposedly classic film. Then, after ruminating upon their arguments, listeners get to vote on whether the film belongs in the canon. The real fun of the battle over Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom this week is in just how brutal the two hosts are to one another. The jabs they throw at one another get kind of personal, and dangerously close to mean, but you can tell that there’s real affection between the two, and that keeps it from being too squirmy. Though Nicholson’s remarkably wrong opinions about Goodfellas in the kickoff episode might lead you to question her abilities as a co-host and film critic, she fully redeems herself this episode, mocking Faraci’s apologetics for Temple Of Doom’s third-grade xenophobia into the dirt. It’s a strong showing for such a new show.
Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period
A Soldier’s Story
This week’s episode features a meaty discussion of the long-forgotten Norman Jewison-directed A Soldier’s Story, featuring, though not starring, the talents of a young Denzel Washington. Host W. Kamau Bell recalls being taken to see the film by his mother upon its release, under the pretext of it being “black people homework.” This is due to the film’s largely black cast, a rarity at the time of release, stocked with talents like Adolph Caesar (the Don LaFontaine of Blaxploitation cinema), Howard E. Rollins, Jr, Robert Townsend, Art Evans, and even David Alan Grier. The film also depicts a particular slice of the racial experience of post-segregation America, when black soldiers were not allowed to fight in World War II. Other examples of “black homework,” according to Bell, include Roots, Malcom X, and surprisingly Devil In A Blue Dress. Co-host Kevin Avery points out that Art Evans played “the black guy in Die Hard 2,” since in the first three Die Hard movies John McClane relies exclusively on a black counterpart to achieve his mission (Reginald VelJohnson for the first, and Samuel L. Jackson in the third). The hosts also discuss Jewison’s desire to direct Malcom X, which makes for a neat piece of Hollywood history.
Grantland Pop Culture
It’s always a good day when you can spend 45 minutes of it listening to Bill Murray shooting the shit. If you’re still bummed that his conversation with Howard Stern a few weeks back went by so fast, console yourself in the knowledge that this conversation with ESPN’s John Walsh contains very little overlap, aside from Murray’s jammed-in, promotional-minded proclamations of St. Vincent’s greatness. Because this was originally recorded for a sports channel, the two men spend a decent amount of time discussing the comedian’s abiding love for Chicago sports teams and the annoyance factor of impenetrable game statistics, but they never drill down too far for a lay person to follow. Hands down, though, the best part of the discussion comes relatively late, when the Second City alum freely offers some of the most personal details of his strained relationship with Harold Ramis, and their ultimate reconciliation, to date. For people who follow sketch comedy the way that Murray follows Chicago sports, this is a fantastic gift. This alone is worth the listen.
Matt Besser starts this week’s episode off with a lengthy rebuttal. Listeners were unhappy with the way he runs his argument segment, Case Closed, and he was not having any of that. The defense he outlines is hilariously inspired by a Mad Max movie, and should hopefully put all complaints to rest. Just as Master Blaster unambiguously runs Bartertown, Matty B runs Case Closed. With that in mind, Besser launches into another hilarious installment with three top-notch improvisers. Fan favorites Pamela Murphy and Dan Lippert appear alongside Paul Rust, who always brings a weird, childish energy to the show. The scenes take an unusually long time to settle in and find the joke, but when they do, there’s nothing like them. The slow, predictable build of a dominatrix taking her human puppy to a dog park pays off in spades once Besser shifts the location to a medical consultation with a doctor willing to role play. Rust contributes an evolving list of unconventional characters, and expertly brings them back throughout. Improv4Humans hasn’t had a running joke as funny as Funky Kong in a long time. Amazingly, it keeps rearing its funky head back almost all the way to the very end of another excellent episode.
The Indoor Kids
Nerding Out With Jared Logan
The Indoor Kids is best when it centers episodes around a specific video game, console, or gaming genre. That doesn’t mean, however, that the broader episodes aren’t equally enjoyable. Take this episode with comedian Jared Logan, which rapidly oscillates between books (The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder), TV (The Strain, The X-Files), comics (Transmetropolitan, The Invisibles), movies (Birdman, Pan’s Labyrinth), and, yes, video games (Hearthstone, The Evil Within). Hosts Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are well versed in nearly all arenas of pop culture, but The Indoor Kids always benefits from a guest who’s an expert in a specific field. Logan, a “bicoastal” Dungeon Master, fills that role, bridging the gap in their respective interests by discussing how role-playing has influenced video games and vice versa. The Indoor Kids is best in moments like these, when it transcends genial riffing to discuss the profound connections we find in pop culture, such as a discussion about martyrdom in film and TV that touches on Buddhism and Christian lore. That said, this episode also features repeated attempts to make up new “diarrhea songs.” All of the songs are hilarious, but not as funny as Gordon’s shock at just how bad Nanjiani is at writing them (“When you’re going to the grocery store and you feel something bore… out of your butt.”)
Old School Wrestling Podcast
Shotgun Saturday Night, January 11, 1997
Professional wrestling’s had plenty of unfortunate storylines. David Arquette winning the world title, Mae Young giving birth to a hand, and the abominable Gobbledy Gooker are just a few that come to mind, and each adorns every list of wrestling’s worst gimmicks, but there’s one nobody talks about: a “sex tape” between wrestling diva Sunny and Sesame Street’s Elmo that debuted on the short-lived WWF Shotgun Saturday Night show in 1997. That egregious misfire, and the show that spawned it, are covered on this week’s Old School Wrestling Podcast, serving as a nice change of pace from the show’s recent string of ’80s territorial coverage. Hosts Dre and Black Cat go far beyond Sunny and Elmo’s tryst, however, using the episode to posit Shotgun Saturday Night as a precursor to the WWE’s raunchy, violent, and wildly successful Attitude Era, which kicked off in earnest the following year. Shotgun Saturday Night found the struggling franchise—ratings juggernaut WCW Nitro trumped it week after week—holding matches in bars, nightclubs, and even Penn Station as they edged toward the kind of hardcore tactics popularized by ECW. It’s an era of the WWE that’s rarely discussed, and Dre and Black Cat’s chat is both fresh and funny, even with their sometimes drowsy delivery.
U.S. High-Speed Internet Lags Behind On Price, Cost
Science Friday took a poll and discovered that American Internet is not only embarrassingly slow and expensive when compared to other civilized nations, but America has also become a notorious online joke. According to Science Friday’s education manager Ariel Zych and guest Susan Crawford of Harvard Law, the bigger the city, the worse the connections, and the tighter the corporate stranglehold. Prices are soaring compared to the rest of the world, and everyone hates their provider. Science Friday reveals that the media monopolies that are to blame are so entrenched that it will take a political candidate or corporate titan with interest in the common person over their own net gain to tear up the streets and change our terrible system. Crawford uses the podcast as a platform to rip the business model to shreds, pointing out how America is strangling its own technology industry out of sheer selfishness. Though Crawford has given up hope that the federal argument for net neutrality will ever get off the ground, she hopes that smaller cities will start to set a better standard.
The Deal With Jay
As the episode opens, host Sarah Koenig is heard interviewing a juror from the trial of Adnan Syed, and Koenig brings up Syed’s refusal to take the stand. This is fairly standard at criminal trials it is explained, jurors are even told not to factor it into their assessment of guilt or innocence. The juror, however, indicates that for her and her fellows it was absolutely something they considered; if he wasn’t guilty shouldn’t he have had no issues facing the jury? Many listeners will likely fall into this camp with regard to Jay. Being the central witness and perhaps accomplice in the murder of Hae Min Lee, Jay has been the subject of much scrutiny, mostly through his taped confessions and their inconsistencies. But where Syed is brought on to clear up issues and represent his side of the story, Jay has been entirely absent. This week Koenig attempts to understand Jay, sussing out his personality and whether he could be the real perpetrator of the crime. This eventually leads to Koenig dropping in unannounced on Jay, who understandably refuses to be interviewed. In the end listeners come away with a very human portrait of a complex individual, certainly one whose silence should not instantly equate guilt.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
The House Of Worth And The Birth Of Haute Couture
In this particularly style-obsessed chapter of Stuff You Missed In History Class, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey dive into the origins of the modern fashion movement with surprisingly focused results. One French man in the 1800s, Charles Frederick Worth, is responsible for the very idea of “collections” and ready-to-wear clothing. Though his personal line of clothing did not quite survive to the current era of fashion, it made it into the 1950s and birthed every direct competitor and modern designer during its century of production. So when the hosts refer to Worth’s competition they make the point that there would literally be no competition if not for Worth. The podcast apparently gets a lot of fashion suggestions (and Frey is particularly eager to dig into one) so this episode is a big payoff for fans, and a part of culture that has dictated in some sense the way the entire planet dresses to this day. Though some of the research seems tainted by biased records and opinions (all of Worth’s designs are referred to as beautiful and “not ugly” by the hosts with only a passing reference to craftsmanship) it is fascinating to hear just how much of such a huge art form can be traced to the career of one person with humble beginnings.
This American Life
Some life-changing moments happen with an immense amount of planning. Sometimes things just happen. “The Leap,” explores both situations in-depth, and finds a hilarious way to bridge the two via seniors hard of hearing. The episode starts out strong with the story of a New York City bus driver who in 1947 famously left his route and wound up in Florida. What starts out as a lionizing tale of rebellion and freedom unravels when the driver’s sons have different ways of interpreting their father’s legacy. The story woefully toes the line between liberation and abandonment. With no clear answer, the episode moves on to much-needed comic relief: old people talking about time travel. It takes a bit to get there, but once the producers bumble their way into a retirement home, magic hits the mic. The final segment is the most curious. After decades of sobriety, Tina Dupuy finds herself questioning the alcoholism that has ruled her entire life, including childhood. Her story has a profound message in favor of entertaining the risks that might destroy your life.
Turned Out A Punk
Martin Mills (Head-hancho of Beggars Music Group)
Damian Abraham is a man of many talents. He’s best known as the frenetic frontman of the Toronto hardcore band Fucked Up, but he also hosts a video series on weed for VICE, recently moderated a Toronto mayoral debate, and did a stint on TV as a V.J. And now, with Turned Out A Punk, he can also call himself a podcast host. The idea behind the Abraham’s foray into podcasting is this: Each week, he interviews someone about the ways that the music, scenes, and ethos of punk shape their life and work. Abraham has devoted his life to punk, and he’s the kind of punk rock obsessive who casually mentions the records on his want list in conversation. This part of Abraham’s personality is front and center in his inaugural interview with Martin Mills of Beggars Group. Mills is a pillar of punk. He was at the earliest punk clubs and his labels put out some of the first punk singles in the late ’70s. His conversation with Abraham flows like any great punk song; Abraham’s questions and Mills’s responses are rapid-fire and the quick pace leaves no room for filler as the pair go through 40 years of punk history. With this strong a start, Turned Out A Punk is well on its way to becoming essential listening for anyone interested in the genre.
The X-Files Files
“The Blessing Way” & “Paper Clip” With Devin Faraci
Kumail Nanjiani’s episode-by-episode commentary show about Chris Carter’s blockbuster sci-fi series has been full of entertaining insight from episode one, but the overarching theme—just how rich of a ’90s time capsule The X-Files is—has taken some time to develop. After all, it’s a show that thrived on the sort of paranoia and conspiracy mythos that could only have existed in the pre-digital, post 9/11 era before cell phones and the Internet fizzled possibilities in the genre out. Nanjiani’s earnest curiosity and encyclopedic knowledge would be enough to moderate a fruitful and funny discussion, but the host dives deeper, going so far as to dredge up early Internet message board conversations, which are fascinating in their own right. It and the show’s following has been enough to capture the attention of Gillian Anderson herself, so as the podcast rounds the season three corner, largely considered to be the show’s turning point from cult hit to mainstream staple, hopefully she’ll fulfill Nanjiani’s nerd dream and make an appearance. This week’s conversation with returning guest Devin Faraci about “The Blessing Way” and “Paper Clip” show off the best and worst of The X-Files, namely Carter’s inclination toward New Age baloney, and the show’s capability for brilliantly walking the line between real world government atrocities and high fiction.
“It’s both racist and misogynistic, and you know what? Shit happens. It is what it is.” —Devin Faraci on Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom, The Canon
“As soon as you hear ‘Andy Dufresne crawled through six miles of shit and piss’ you just know, ‘Oh, American Gangster is coming on!’”—Kevin Avery on how you don’t need to rent American Gangster, just flip to TNT and wait for The Shawshank Redemption to end, Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period
“Of course if we could teach a dog to rap out hints, that would probably save its life. But’s just a theory.” —A doctor (Matt Besser) attempting to save the life of a dominatrix’s human puppy, Improv4Humans
“It’s regionally different everywhere, the diarrhea song. It’s like a folk song.” —Jared Logan, The Indoor Kids
“Elmo, are you ready to ride Space Mountain?” —Sunny to Elmo in their “sex tape,” Old School Wrestling Podcast
“Maybe see the dinosaurs. Just to see how they are. I’d have to be equipped with some kind of… laser. I don’t know.” —An old man contemplating time travel, This American Life
“After their Mexican stand-off… is that okay to say? Mexican stand-off? Can I say the word ‘Mexican?’ Is that okay? Anyway, a filthy Mexican stand-off is happening…”—Kumail Nanjiani, The X-Files Files