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.
2 Dope Queens
Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, the always hilarious and all-powerful hosts of 2 Dope Queens, have a lot of important things to discuss on this week’s episode: from the difference between Creed’s Scott Stapp and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, to the embarrassing way that some white men and President Barack Obama pronounce words like “ukulele” and “karate” (Williams: “It’s such a man bun thing to do”), and that time that Robinson, in front of a family with small children, accidentally did an impression of a dude having a theatrical orgasm. The show also features performances from comedians Hadiyah Robinson, Jordan Carlos, and Kevin Barnett; they’re all excellent, but the hands-down highlight is the set from Robinson, who flawlessly juggles clever quips about weed and her mom stalking her Facebook page to recommending that the best way black people can protect themselves from cops in America is by shooting themselves first.
America Adapts—The Climate Change Podcast
State Level Adaptation Planning
Despite its undeniable threat to human civilization, climate change remains a grossly under-addressed topic across all fields of pop culture, podcasts included. But there are a handful of informative programs that will hopefully change that. Among them is America Adapts. As the hopeful title suggests, the podcast is concerned less with the doomsday scenarios found in so much other climate change coverage, and instead focuses on how we can work through the effects of global warming that are already in place. This week’s episode features Davia Palmeri, the climate change coordinator with the Association Of Fish And Wildlife Agencies. During her conversation with host Doug Parsons, she points out how climate change won’t just affect exotic species in far-off places, as many people believe, but also closer-to-home animals such as elk and monarch butterflies. She then explains some of her organization’s adaptation strategies, which include connecting already existing nature reserves, thus making for easier travel for North America’s wildlife. Though dense and covering a wide range of topics, the episode also has a human face, thanks to Parsons’ and Palmeri’s easygoing, non-panicked demeanors. That seems like an essential trait to get the rest of the country to start listening.
The Axe Files
If you’ve somehow managed to make it this past year and a half without being exposed to the cultural tsunami that was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, you’d in all likelihood still remain fascinated by this episode of David Axelrod’s political insider interview show. Miranda, the 36-year-old Hamilton playwright and performer, did not become a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award for no reason—dude is sharp. Although he’s very casual and conversational, he never seems to be speaking off the cuff. Whatever the topic, he seems to have given it a great deal of thought beforehand. You get the impression that if the conversation somehow turned to controversial ice fishing in Nova Scotia, he’d have a considered opinion. Unsurprisingly, he comes from a family that put a premium on deep thought. As he and Axelrod discuss, his father graduated college at the age of 18 and went on to become a player in New York City politics, and his mother has a successful clinical psychology practice in Manhattan, resulting in a home life that he describes as the perfect breeding ground for his breakout creation.
Black Nerd Power
The One Where We Pretty Much Talk About Luke Cage The Whole Time
Netflix’s Luke Cage brings to light the undeniable power that black nerds have right now. The Black Panther and Luke Cage franchises are in motion, Issa Rae’s and Donald Glover’s new series’ are garnering rave reviews, and we have what some might call the nerdiest and blackest U.S. president in history. All that and a bag of chips makes podcasts like Black Nerd Power as relevant as ever. Recorded in Memphis, BNP features roundtable discussions on what’s happening in comics, films, and television. The defining factor of the show is that it makes nerdiness sound cool as hell. From the moment they introduce themselves, you’ll want to become best friends with co-hosts Ms. Kimber, Markus Seaberry, and Richard Douglas Jones. They ride the high of recently being voted best podcast from the readers of the Memphis Flyer magazine with an episode that’s mostly dedicated to superhero Luke Cage but also dives into a conversation on Moon Girl. The Luke Cage discussion is a nuanced dissection of what’s good and bad about the debut season, with Seaberry saying, “There are moments where it gets a little preachy.”
F*** You. We Like The Bengals.
Though based in New York, comedians Alex Stone and Sam Evans remain avid fans of the Cincinnati Bengals football team. That mutual bond has manifested itself into a weekly podcast dedicated to whomever the current rival of the Bengals are. Riding a fine line of saying “Fuck you” with a smile, they challenge the brand, athletes, and cities these teams represent. Evans and Stone have a wonderful rapport that isn’t hindered by the fact that they are, in this case, talking over the phone. Their weekly takedown of the opposition brings a lot of laughs. It also highlights odd facts about those teams that are fun to explore. When this episode was recorded, the Bengals were up against the Dallas Cowboys. The guys play a ’70s jingle from Charlie Pride that Stone describes as a mix of “Shaft” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” It’s an appropriate description for a song with lyrics like “Get down. Get down. Get down, y’all / Dallas Cowboys, cowboy football,” set to a funky rolling bass line. Whether you’re a Bengals fan or not, that these guys take the time to record a podcast about something so specific deserves respect.
What’s It Like Living In America Undocumented?
Jonathan Van Ness is shaping up to become the anti-Terry Gross. He’s unprepared and goofy, and his use of the idiomatic “like” is excessive enough to give Christopher Hitchens an aneurysm. But while Van Ness appears to recklessly careen through his interviews, he very intentionally puts his guests at ease (a skill that most likely carries over from his work as a hairdresser). That gift comes into focus during his interview with UCLA student Erick Zerecero, who doesn’t sound entirely comfortable speaking on record about being an undocumented resident. But slowly Zerecero relaxes, even adopting Van Ness’ “likes,” and he paints a horrifying portrait of a foreign country—our own. From the age of 12, Zerecero and his family lived in constant fear that something as simple as a flat tire could end in detention and deportation. His family, like many, fled the violence and poverty of Mexico, giving up advanced careers in health care and science to become gardeners and house cleaners. Zerecero is now protected by the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, but his parents are still subject to immigration enforcement. While it’s valid to argue against amnesty policies that complicate legal immigration, Zerecero’s ground-level perspective is compelling. Imagine being, for all intents and purposes, a paranoid criminal—merely by living somewhere you’re told you’re not allowed to be.
Three episodes deep into Jonathan Goldstein’s gorgeous and reflective Heavyweight, some recurring themes have already come to the fore. He never, for instance, forgoes an opportunity for self-deprecation and is able to spin pure poetry out of mocking his past selves—in this case, his college days as an incredibly serious film student. One late-’80s independent documentary he watched in his school days, Anger, left him forever wondering about the fate of the young girl with an arresting cameo: She sits quietly while her intersex father weeps over his hopeless situation, desperate for answers. Jonathan’s quest to track down the little girl, Tara, is a delicate one; he seems to lack any plan for what to say, instead just wanting to somehow ensure, for his own peace of mind, that life turned out okay for her. What unfolds over the course of this engrossing half hour is human in 50 different ways. Mostly, it’s a story about how our worst moments needn’t define us, even if they’re encased in amber for the world to see. There’s a separate, complex, lovelier life apparent to anyone willing to look closer—and Goldstein is, to our benefit, always looking closer.
How Did This Get Made?
Vampire Academy: Michael Showalter, Aisling Bea
On the latest episode of How Did This Get Made?, Jason Mantzoukas and Paul Scheer are joined by two special guests (as June Diane Raphael is still on maternity leave), Michael Showalter and Aisling Bea, to discuss 2014’s Vampire Academy. Throughout the episode, all four constantly jump over each other’s words, overlapping commentary with undeniable enthusiasm. Usually when guests and hosts talk over one another in a podcast, it can be chaotic and hard to listen to, but everyone’s eagerness to talk about the movie is what makes this episode consistently enjoyable. They discuss how much information Vampire Academy throws at the audience, a faulty filmmaking tactic that gives them a plethora of strange details to dissect and ridicule. From a Jimmy Carter poster in a dorm room to the female leads’ perfectly curled hair, they tackle every element of the movie with hilarious affection. This episode also includes one of the most insane supercuts the show’s intern, Avril Haley, has ever debuted, where she compiles every use of the words “Moroi,” “Dhampir,” and “Strigoi” in the film. The length of the clip is staggering, and leaves everyone floored. It’s clear they all had fun watching Vampire Academy, and that in turn makes it an effortlessly fun listen.
The JV Club
Actress Kristin Bell might be the ideal guest counterpart to host and comedian Janet Varney. On this week’s episode of The JV Club, it takes less than a minute for the two to skip over the small talk and launch into a bit about live studio audiences and T-shirt cannons. Thanks to many shared interests, they are able to trade references and clever asides so quickly that sometimes it can feel like you’re watching a tennis match instead of listening to a conversation. But what stands out most about the episode is how effortlessly Varney and Bell are able to shift from cracking jokes to gushing about true crime to having a thoughtful discussion on how white parents should talk to their children about race. To wrap up the episode, Varney and Bell play alternate-universe M.A.S.H., giving Bell the opportunity to imagine what her life could have been like if she had pursued a career as a professional scientist and dog petter—but even in this alternate universe, Bell is still married to her husband, actor Dax Shepard. “I knew it! Can’t separate us!” Bells squeals when she hears the results. “The bond is too strong.”
Mindy Kaling is a figure in pop culture who fans believe they know. In her show, she plays a character with her same first name, which often leads people to assume that the Mindy on screen is synonymous with the Mindy in real life. This episode breaks down that notion and strives to understand who Kaling is outside of her show, chronicling her story and how she got to be where she is today. What we find by following host Sam Jones’ guiding hands is a woman who is incredibly hardworking and smart and who carved out her own path. It’s evident Jones did his research—which becomes an increasingly important and reliable part of the show—as the two discuss Kaling’s Dartmouth days and her hit off-Broadway play, Matt & Ben. Jones is clearly inspired by her work ethic and quickly reveals himself to be the perfect interviewer for her as he asks detailed questions about her writing process, books, and the choice of making her character on The Mindy Project an ob-gyn. Kaling is incredibly down to earth, endearing, and honest as she explains how the comedy world has changed for women since she started, how she found her voice, and the tired idea that you have to be miserable to do good comedy.
What was supposed to be a 10-minute episode of Retronauts turned into a 50-minute discussion of not-so-great superhero games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Writer Chris Baker, an expert in the world’s worst video games, joins regulars Bob Mackey, Chris Antista, and Henry Gilbert to chat about the long-hated game adaptations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman. In true Retronauts fashion, however, no one’s content to just trash these titles; instead, Baker and the hosts dissect what works in these games as well as the liberties the creators took in their adaptations (an extended breakdown of how lazily certain Batman villains were integrated into the NES version is especially hilarious). Soon enough, the discussion pivots to encompass several Turtles- and Batman-related games and then a larger snapshot of superhero games, from Superman to Silver Surfer. The episode’s surprising trail of tendrils can be credited to Baker, who here asserts himself as an endless font of amusing details and analysis on this bizarre, esoteric subject. Credit also to the Retronauts team, who know well enough not to prematurely end such an enjoyably nerdy conversation. Despite the episode clocking in at nearly an hour, it flies by in no time.
Inside The Trump Tax Bombshell
If you are one of the handful of people who don’t know by now, The New York Times recently discovered that Donald Trump declared a nearly one billion dollar loss in 1995, creating a potential tax-free loophole for 18 years. So when the Times’ own campaign podcast covered the story behind the story, you might be inclined to think there’s some self-congratulating going on; that’s actually not the case at all. Instead, we get a fascinating look at what it’s like for reporters to be handed a highly time-sensitive, extremely specious piece of information that is potentially catastrophic. Host Michael Barbaro speaks with David Barstow and Susanne Craig, who explain the surreal moment of opening an innocuous envelope from Trump Tower with three pages of photocopies. From there, they began an arduous process of forensically scrutinizing every detail, such as consistency of serifs and descenders on numerals and the spacing between entries. The whole time they are trying to ascertain validity, the reporters are painfully aware of the possibility that they are not unique in having received this information. As accuracy and exclusivity can run at odds with one another, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Barstow tracks down Trump’s tax preparer from the ’90s and uses rhetorical gymkata to poke at dubious forensic details without forcing the accountant to betray the confidentiality of his client. It turns out that the sausage-making behind this story is equally fascinating.
We Hate Movies
Pet Sematary II
Here’s a hot take: Pet Sematary Two is more enjoyable than Pet Sematary. Not better, but more enjoyable. That’s the mantra of We Hate Movies’ most recent episode. While the gang praises the slow-burn terror of Mary Lambert’s original, they insist that there’s no denying the hypnotic outrageousness of Lambert’s oft-panned sequel. From the get-go, it embraces head-scratching plot and production details, from star-fucking housekeepers to a soundtrack packed with, as the guys put it, “Better Than Ezra fart rock.” But the film’s true ace in the hole is Clancy Brown zombie-chewing the hell out of the New England scenery as Sheriff Gus Gilbert. The guy’s already an abusive asshole in life, which means he’s really an abusive asshole after getting reanimated by the supernatural forces of the Micmac burial ground. Where else are you going to see a horror-movie villain kill a bully with a dirt-bike wheel to the face, then take down his wife and kid with an avalanche of spuds from a potato truck? It’s these weirdo macabre flourishes that make the WHM team howl, and after listening to their latest Halloween spooktacular, you’ll want to howl along with Pet Sematary Two, too.
Why Oh Why?
Can Meddling Help A First Date?
Why Oh Why? existed in another form a year or two ago. Scrappy and intelligent, host Andrea Silenzi explored the complexities of dating and technology by interviewing everyday daters in addition to experts, not to mention recording her own dates and inviting failed paramours on to discuss what worked and what didn’t. Now, as part of the Panoply podcast network, it’s back, and Silenzi has cast her gaze outward. A few episodes ago, she held a “Single Straight Guy Focus Group,” and in the latest entry, Silenzi tags along on a date between a friend of hers and one of the participants. The daters know they’re being recorded, which, along with Silenzi’s persistent “meddling,” inevitably changes the texture of the date, raising the stakes in some ways while lowering them in others. It’s all innocent enough at first, but the arrival of an unexpected and unplanned visitor reveals new behaviors and simmering truths in both parties as well as some poignant observations from Silenzi. Single or betrothed, you’re likely to identify with both parties by the end of this date.
“I got eight nephews. I had to call all of my nephews and talk to them about what to do if they got pulled over by the police. This is very scary times for black people. I made eight individual calls. I said, ‘Look, hey, if you get pulled over by the cops, this is very important: Shoot yourself. That’s it! You got a better shot if you shoot yourself. [To the audience.] Don’t aww, we’ve seen the fucking video! Now y’all gonna get sensitive. Whatever! I’m like, ‘If the police come, just start choking yourself. ‘I got it, I got me. Back up, sir, I don’t want to hurt you while I’m hurting me.’ Fake your death! When you get to the coroner’s office, zip yourself out of the body bag and sneak out. —Hadiyah Robinson on the advice she gave her nephews to avoid conflicts with the police, 2 Dope Queens
“Life is hard for everybody. And, I think ‘life is hard’ doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to be funny. And if most people live their daily lives every day like, ‘I enjoy my life. I think it’s good, but it is really fucking hard,’ I think that that’s an okay thing to show in a comedy show. Even when the girl is wearing incredible clothes and haute couture and has a great job and lives in a great apartment.” —Mindy Kaling on season four of The Mindy Project, Off Camera
“When you have to orchestrate a truck accident in this movie, it also contains two million potatoes.” —Andrew Jupin on the awesomeness of the death scenes in Pet Sematary Two, We Hate Movies