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.
The Adventure Zone
The Eleventh Hour—Chapter Six
The Adventure Zone has been slowly building its credentials among RPG podcasts, thanks to the chemistry of Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, and a commitment to following overarching, multi-adventure campaign. “The Eleventh Hour” starts with a standard parlor-room-mystery-meets-Western storyline, and tweaks it with a Groundhog Day-type time lock. The quirky, as-yet-unexplained rules of the town of Refuge cycle Merle, Magnus, and Taako through an hour of in game-time adventure, concluding with total destruction, which resets the game clock, again and again. The past couple of episodes have started to expand the mythology of both the adventure and the broader campaign—including the mysterious red-cloaked being who is emerging as the prime antagonist, operating behind the scenes. By the back-half the episode whips into high gear with a kinetic bank heist. This episode demonstrates Griffin’s ability to captivate listeners with theater-of-the-mind storytelling, as well as the McElroys’ growing aptitude for inhabiting their characters creatively. Their problem-solving skills challenge and delight their DM, and should please listeners. And those who feel the episode lacks some story-advancing mythology will walk away very pleased by the final moments of Chapter Six.
Haitian Radio On American Airwaves
Afropop Worldwide is a spotlight series with a focus on the influence of African music and culture around the world. This episode shines a light on radio, particularly the Haitian radio stations in Flatbush, Brooklyn that broadcast on frequencies that aren’t officially licensed. Fifteen minutes in length and packed with loads of information, this sonically rich investigation features conversations with the people behind four New York-based subversive Haitian stations: Radio Soleil, Radyo Panou, Radio Independance, and Radio Triomphe. Producer and host Ian Coss navigates the listener through the history of Haitian people’s loyalty to radio, which in Haiti is the most accessible form of entertainment. This episode is stylishly edited and gets more compelling by the minute as Coss takes a look at every end of the radio signal issue. There is conflict here because in the eyes of the government, radio frequencies are to be licensed and must serve “public interest, convenience, and necessity,” and some FM stations feel that their potential reach and ad revenue are being co-opted. If you have an interest in radio, history, politics, or legal wormholes, this is a feast of an episode to dive into.
The Ending, Perhaps
Apotheosis: It’s a term deployed often in Archive 81’s final episode, and it’s a fitting analogy for the near-biblical crisis in which Dan finds himself. He has finally stepped out of the shadowy warehouse where he’s been listening to 20-year-old recordings, beyond his heretofore partitioned reality, and is now a concrete part of the recordings’ narrative. Listeners, too, are no longer separated from this nightmare by layers of cassette-tape framing devices; we’re experiencing Dan’s own story in real time as he comes face-to-face with the elusive, godlike Samuel, whose audible oozing and growling allow us to fill in the terrifying blanks. Sound is wielded in this finale with more sophistication and consequence than in any previous episode, complete with screams, crunching, sirens, blood spurts, and everything else that could possibly underline horror’s well-earned place in the podcast canon. “It’s always better to record,” Samuel warns Dan in their last moments together, and all that follows leaves us no choice but to believe him.
The Art Of Wrestling
AOW 313 Edinburgh LIVE Week One: Chris Gethard, Joe Hendry, John Hastings, Brendon Burns
“I’ve been going to the gym every day with Colt Cabana,” says Chris Gethard. “And for the people who can see me in the room you can see that that’s a ludicrous idea.” Recorded live at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, wrestler and host Colt Cabana proves his comedy chops and ability to work a crowd outside of the ring. Typically, The Art Of Wrestling centers around Cabana’s conversations with friends in wrestling about the highs and lows of the business. However, this episode is an intersection of subject matters with Scottish wrestler Joe Hendry, Canadian comedian John Hastings, and comedians Gethard and Brendan Burns. Hendry is the true highlight of this episode. As a pro wrestler, he is relatively new with ambitions toward being a WWE champion, and has made a name for himself with his entrances. “I thought, you know, I would love to come to the ring to ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins,” he explains. If you’ve seen the Hannibal Burress documentary, Hannibal Takes Edinburgh, you know that the festival can be emotionally draining. However, at week one, Cabana seems full of energy and has an excited audience of fans.
Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown
Meet The Wives
This week the Olympics took away new episodes of the Real Housewives on Bravo, but also gave fans of the franchise the gift of superfans Danielle Schneider and Casey Wilson reflecting back on the first episode of the Real Housewives Of New York City. Like most episodes of the podcast, the pair take their time getting to the matters at hand, kicking things off by taking about Real Housewife Jules Wainstein’s body cleanser, flipping through Schneider’s bully-tainted fifth-grade yearbook, and listening to Wilson’s father’s voicemail message about bookshelves. It’s not until minute 44 out of 66 that they dive into the episode of television that introduced the world to Ramona Singer. And it’s a real Ramona-coaster from there. Hearing the duo watch that episode again as if it was the first time is a delightful glimpse of what could have been if podcasts were as aplenty eight years ago as they are now. If the Whispering Angels of the world are lucky, they’ll return to classic seasons of the franchise in the podcast’s future, but for now, this is a lovely gem of a throwback episode.
There have been entire podcasts dedicated to poop stories, but there’s something special about hearing one of them on Box Angeles, Mike “Box” Elder’s increasingly endearing podcast about the varying backgrounds, habits, and goals of showbiz professionals—most of them steadily working actors and writers instead of A-list superstars. This week’s guest is Ingrid Haas (Comedy Bang! Bang!, Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World), and while the entire episode stands out for being a charming Canada-to-Hollywood bildungsroman, it’s Haas’ tale of selling a pilot to Chelsea Handler that becomes most memorable. It’s not necessarily the content of her anecdote that’s unique (as far as poop stories go, it’s tame), but rather the openness with which she tells it. By the end, it feels as if the idea of talented, hardworking adults shitting themselves has been unstigmatized—something listeners may not have realized had a stigma surrounding it in the first place.
Doug Loves Movies
Laura Benanti, Brad Oscar, Alex Brightman, Julia Mattison
Doug Benson’s latest episode of Doug Loves Movies marks his 30th show at New York City’s Gramercy Theater, and he celebrates it with an episode themed around movie musicals. At first, that seems like subject matter his panel of Broadway performers—several of whom have been nominated for (and won) Tony Awards—would be highly familiar with. As they quickly learn, however, the movie musical is a genre unto itself, one that’s a completely different animal from what goes up on The Great White Way. Even if many of the films are stage-to-screen adaptations such as Godspell and Gypsy, the category also includes oddities like Absolute Beginners and Everyone Says I Love You. As a result, none of the guests know as much as they think they will, and their lighthearted shame becomes a source of amusement throughout. At the same time, it’s hard to blame them for not answering Benson’s questions more successfully. After all, how many people—Broadway actors or otherwise—are going to recognize a tagline as clunky and strange as “All the excitement, the glamour, the tenderness, the music of the greatest entertainment of our time”?
Can woke-ness be defined? Highwater is designed to inspire those who are in creative fields by drawing the connections between pop culture and our everyday lives. In this episode, host Chakka Reeves and return guest Felonious Munk discuss the intersection of activism and art. Munk, who appears regularly on The Nightly Show and has a social media presence on what is arguably the woker side of the internet explains how Twitter helped develop his comedic persona. “You’re like a felonious munk!” was a friend’s commentary on his material. After perhaps jokingly making it his Twitter name, it somehow stuck. “I started getting booked for shows and they never asked me.” Later, Reeves uses Erykah Badu as the center of a discussion on both the disdain that some people hold for the term “woke,” and the progressive backlash against celebrities who were once held in high regard for their social stances. Highwater seamlessly blends audio of the pop culture references made in the conversation, and tackles a wide range of issues. What we learn is that woke cannot be defined. “Woke evolved,” says Munk. “We’ve finally bridged that gap between academics and who we would have called the layperson.”
Sometimes Lore focuses on just one myth or story tied to a specific locale. But with New Orleans, there’s simply too much to choose from. That’s why host Aaron Mahnke uses “Everything Floats” as an opportunity to research several different tales of The Crescent City. Although a comprehensive exploration of its many ghost stories, macabre legends, and general freakiness would be too much for a single episode to hold, Mahnke manages to pick some truly memorable ones, including two pirate smugglers who made a deal with Andrew Jackson and the criminal specters that supposedly haunt Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street. To spoil the details of any of these yarns would be to spoil the episode, and that applies tenfold to its grand finale, which centers on the infamous Gardette-LaPrete House. Once home to a hedonistic Turkish prince, the mansion eventually became the site of a horrific crime straight out of a novel by Anne Rice. Or a bizarre movie starring Nicolas Cage. Or a work from anyone else who’s become (understandably) enthralled by the darker side of New Orleans.
For many people, Reductress was a website that snuck up on them a few years ago when really strange and bitingly funny links started popping up in their Facebook feeds via friends who are less sad and basic than them. The so-called “feminist Onion” quickly built up a loyal readership of people keyed in on the e-publication’s surreal sensibilities. That phenomenon is currently repeating itself with Mouth Time, Reductress’ podcast. While Podmass covered this relatively new show just a few weeks ago, that was for a live episode, and the opportunity to review one of the more common in-studio episodes is as good an excuse as any to write about this some more. Co-hosts Nicole Silverberg and Anna Drezen (in character as the puerile, puddle-deep site-editors Quenn and Div) are quick-witted and razor-sharp, even while feigning dullness, as they skip effortlessly from absurd topic to absurder topic. This week’s guest, comedian Eliot Glazer (Broad City, writer for New Girl), serves as the perfect foil for Silverberg and Drezen. He’s a gifted comedian in his own right, and has an innate understanding of when to step out of the way of a character and set up jokes to be spiked by others.
My Dad Wrote A Porno
Casino Etoile, Amsterdam
If you haven’t listened to Jamie Morton’s My Dad Wrote A Porno, I beg you to go binge the entire first season right now. Returning for a second season this year, Morton’s premise continues to pay off as he reads a chapter a week from a smut novel his father wrote called Belinda Blinked. While it’s not exactly necessary to catch up on previous episodes (the book doesn’t feature anything resembling a plot), you don’t want to miss Morton’s hilarious narrations, recurring jokes, and disgust as he breaks down his father’s erotica. Morton and his friends never come off as cruel or mean toward his dad and instead manage to capture the awkward feeling of realizing your parents are sexual beings—and in this case, incredibly raunchy sexual beings. My Dad Wrote A Porno is a celebration of bad writing and awkward sex that’ll make you cringe, but it’s more than worth a weekly check-in.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Through Eleanor’s Eyes
It would be nice if there were just some way to tie the current state of political affairs into a podcast episode about a remarkably over-qualified first lady and feminist icon who was often publicly despised for pushing the boundaries of what should be expected of a president’s wife. Unfortunately, there’s not. Even so, it’s certainly worth giving this installment of The Washington Post’s Presidential podcast a listen. Every week, for 44 weeks, journalist Lillian Cunningham focuses our attention—with the help of some expert guests—on one of the United States’ male and (mostly) melanin-impaired chief executives. She presents the historical details as a narrative, in a way reminiscent of Karina Longworth’s dreamy Hollywood recollection podcast, You Must Remember This. Thirty-two weeks into this project, Cunningham has reached Franklin D. Roosevelt. But instead of simply following his political career, she follows it through the prism of his intellectual partnership with his wife Eleanor. Calling upon the expertise of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers editor Allida Black, she examines the way that FDR’s debilitating polio infection at age 39 brought unprecedented intimacy into the relationship of fifth cousins, once removed, as well as the undeniably crucial role that Eleanor played in her husband’s administration.
The Projection Booth
On this week’s The Projection Booth podcast, Mike White—along with co-hosts Jamie Sammons and Eric J. Peterson—discuss director Jack Sholder’s 1987 sci-fi cult-classic, The Hidden. A pastiche of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and ’80s police thrillers, The Hidden features poor-man’s Chris Sarandon, with Michael Nouri and Kyle MacLachlan as mismatched partners pursuing a body-jumping alien (think Jason Goes To Hell) attempting to take over the persona of a likely presidential candidate. The conversation comes alive when the hosts discuss (referring to a scene in the film where the alien beats a music store clerk to death) their favorite record stores—both real and fictional—as well as some of their least favorite record store clerks. The podcast also features an in depth interview with Jack Sholder himself, touching on his oft-forgotten directorial debut Alone In The Dark, A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and just why The Hidden features so much Concrete Blonde.
Elderly white men who hold respected positions within their rural orthodox religious communities aren’t usually the people who are held up as exemplars of forward-thinking tolerance. So, in that regard, Chester Wenger is somewhat of an outlier. The 98-year-old Mennonite minister from Lancaster, Pennsylvania came to national prominence after “An Open Letter To My Beloved Church”—an opinion piece he penned for The Mennonite magazine two years ago—surprisingly went viral. In another regard, he’s just like so many other parents out there: He loves his children more than anything else in the world. So, the choice between accepting his son’s homosexuality and staying true to the conservative values of his faith proved to be no choice at all, and he was stripped of his church credentials after officiating the marriage ceremony of his son and his newfound son-in-law. In the penultimate episode of his 10-part Revisionist History podcast, Malcolm Gladwell examines the dueling impulses to observe tradition and acknowledge change—indulging in a short narrative detour through the recent battles over the legacy of Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University—that is a perpetual skirmish for any thinking person in this world.
Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers
Every other week, Dion Baia and J. Blake (author of Scored To Death) take on a “sleepover classic” on Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers, providing trivia, personal tales relating to the films, and lively conversation between the two film lovers. This week, they guys veer slightly off course into a different kind of movie for a different kind of sleepover, 1980’s Cruising. A controversial film even before its release (certain members of the gay community in New York disrupted filming in the summer of ’79), William Friedkin’s thriller featured Al Pacino going undercover in the homosexual leather community to track down a serial killer who was brutally murdering gay men on the scene. Baia and Blake delve into the novel the film was based on, the controversy surrounding the filming, as well as the long rumored footage that was cut to avoid an X rating and the basis for James Franco’s Interior. Leather Bar. Baia provides insight from friend and former New York detective, Randy Jurgensen, who went undercover into the gay community in the early ’60s in order to solve a series of murders similar to what is depicted in the film and was the basis for Pacino’s character.
“I love America, but this is ridiculous. You’re really going to pre-empt all our Bravo shows for the Olympics?”—Danielle Schneider, Bitch Sesh
“That’s a fun euphemism for bowel movements.”—Doug Benson on The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Doug Loves Movies
“I’m perfectly okay with people not speaking on these issues until they’re absolutely ready. I personally don’t need Ja Rule to help me make sense of the world right now.”—Chakka Reeves, Highwater