Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect (Getty Images)
PodmassPodmassIn Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at podmass@avclub.com.

Bleeped
There’s No Sin In Cincinnati

In 1990, a groundbreaking exhibit by artist Robert Mapplethorpe arrived at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and practically turned the city upside down. “The Perfect Moment” was a collection of 175 black-and-white photographs shot in Mapplethorpe’s signature style, including explicit depictions of BDSM acts between men, as well as images of nude children. Listeners at work will probably want to grab their headphones for this episode—Bleeped host Matthew Billy gives frank descriptions of the transgressive, homoerotic works that sparked a media firestorm and shook squeaky-clean Cincinnati to its core. Billy also takes a look back at the sociocultural climate of the late 1980s that fueled swift local backlash to the exhibit and culminated in a highly publicized obscenity trial. This new documentary series explores the battles with censorship that have shaped American law and culture, and the historic debate sparked by Mapplethorpe’s controversial exhibit offers an example of the power of individuals and communities to protect freedom of artistic expression. Throughout the episode, Billy touches on the legacy of those who fought the Cincinnati officials trying to shut down the exhibit, raising larger cultural questions about the nature of art, pornography, and who should get to define those categories. [Sofia Barrett-Ibarria]


Break Stuff: The Story Of Woodstock ’99
Just One Of Those Days

With the 20th anniversary of Woodstock ’99 upon us, it’s a good time to dig into the factors that made that festival the illegitimate child of the Woodstock legacy. Music journalist and former A.V. Club editor Steven Hyden guides us through the premiere episode of this investigative podcast series, trying to make sense of what went wrong. Featuring observations from promoter John Scher, Korn lead singer Jonathan Davis, writer Maureen Callahan, and former MTV VJ Dave Holmes, the series title is borrowed from a Limp Bizkit song, and some have claimed that the quintessential dude-bro band was responsible for inciting the riots that took place. While Scher has no problems laying blame squarely at Fred Durst’s feet, archival interview footage and a retracing of the festival’s timeline place the band’s live set and the riots a day apart. Beyond snippets and personal accounts of Limp Bizkit’s performance (which included mosh pits that turned the medical tent into an intensive care unit), the phenomenon of cultural mythology is explored, examining how nostalgia can distort reality, particularly where perception of the original Woodstock festival is concerned. Hyden poses a question worth considering: “Why were we trying to recreate the ’60s in the ’90s in the first place?” [Jason Randall Smith]


Daddy Issues
Tony And Chaz Rodgers Talk First Time Fatherhood

African American comics Tony Baker and Keon Polee must have had people kvetching to them about their podcast’s very popular name. It turns out there are several podcasts with the same title, including another one where comedians joke about fatherhood. This one is still highly entertaining and enlightening, as Baker and Polee share the pluses and minuses of being, as Baker calls them, “known fathers.” In this episode, Baker holds down the fort while Polee takes that much-derided stand-up gig: a cruise ship. Fellow stand-up and former roommate Chaz Rodgers steps in as a co-host, and he and Baker do a fair amount of reminiscing, riffing (they start the show recalling good and bad times they’ve had consuming meat), and ball-busting as they compare notes on being stand-up dads. Baker gets into such things as “milkneck,” which babies get when milk spills into their neck creases and builds up an unsavory odor, while Rodgers laments feeding his baby girl organic foods he doesn’t know anything about. Whether you have kids, are about to have kids, or just don’t want to deal with those little bastards and prefer to observe from afar, the Daddy Issues these guys serve up are worth the time. [Craig D. Lindsey]


Filling The Void
Roller Coasters With Diablo Cody

In the world of podcasting, there is certainly no shortage of shows featuring professional creatives talking about their projects, their craft, and the things they’ve accomplished over the course of their career. Filling The Void, a new podcast from the recently debuted Earios network, is distinctly and purposefully not about those things. Hosted by author and co-creator of Netflix’s Love, Lesley Arfin, each episode features a guest talking about the hobbies and little joys that fill whatever time they’re not spending on work. How does a successful screenwriter and producer like Diablo Cody fill that time, you may ask? Traveling around the country riding roller coasters, of course. Listen and enjoy as Cody gives you the lowdown on her anxiety-filled history with these thrilling theme-park rides and explains how she evolved into the kind of person that takes bus tours of regional coasters, makes snide remarks about snobby enthusiast cliques, and shares hard opinions about roller-coaster names. Filling The Void is a breezy joy and a reminder that people are more than the things they create. [Dan Neilan]


Hollywood Crime Scene
John And Max Landis

Desi Jedeikin, co-host of Hollywood Crime Scene, sums up her feelings about father and son filmmakers John and Max Landis early in the latest episode when she says, “The piece-of-shit apple doesn’t fall far from the piece-of-shit tree.” Jedeiken supports this thesis by recounting to co-host Rachel Fisher both John Landis’ culpability in the horrific events on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie (which cost three people their lives) and the allegations of sexual abuse against Max. The first half includes a dutiful retelling of the chain of events that led to one of the worst on-set accidents in film history. But the main focus is on John Landis’ self-pitying lamentations on how he was just as much a victim as anyone else. The second half dealing with Max Landis feels less like a history lesson, not only because the story is still unfolding, but because of the hosts’ visceral antipathy toward the junior Landis. They know men like Max Landis. His kind are all too common in the entertainment industry. Hollywood itself is the biggest piece-of-shit tree there is, and Hollywood Crime Scene is collecting all the apples. [Anthony D. Herrera]


Larger Than Life
Becoming Big Willie

The Los Angeles Times appears to have ramped up its prestige podcast output nearly two years after the runaway success of Dirty John. Last month brought a detailed look at the accused Golden State Killer; this month, the focus moves away from true crime to profile a forgotten folk hero. Big Willie Robinson returned home from Vietnam in the mid-’60s, leaving his native New Orleans to settle in L.A. He found a community gutted by the Watts Riots and still roiling with animosity between the black community and the police. Robinson wasn’t looking to solve the city’s issues; he just wanted to drag race. But the 6-foot-6 black veteran was a natural peacemaker, and in time he was running the underground racing circuit. The cops took notice, and rather than bust everything up, they recruited him to organize unsanctioned but tacitly authorized events to rehab their shaky public relations. Robinson quickly began to move in celebrity circles while cultivating his own image, becoming a media sensation. However, the episode concludes with Robinson’s time as an establishment darling ending in 1970 after he backs a losing mayoral candidate. [Zach Brooke]


Queery With Cameron Esposito
Ryan O’Connell

Cameron Esposito is known for being a stellar comedian and advocate for the queer community, and with her podcast, she continues to give voice to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people. Ryan O’Connell is one such person: a writer from Ventura, California who recently created and starred in his own show, Special, on Netflix. O’Connell started as a blogger for Thought Catalog before publishing his memoir, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, in 2015. The book, which details his experience as a gay man living with cerebral palsy and his career writing for television, was immediately optioned for TV, though its small-screen adaptation just debuted this year. As O’Connell explains to Esposito, 2015 Hollywood was less than eager for narratives centered around queer individuals, let alone one living with a disability. Esposito and O’Connell have a compelling and in-depth conversation about the struggles and triumphs of being queer artists/entertainers and the ways in which our current cultural moment feels starkly different, even if we do still have a long way to go. [Jose Nateras]


Single Smart Female
Big Warning Signs When Dating

Every woman needs a romantic fairy godmomma, and Jenn Burton should be yours. The self-professed relationship guru sits down every week to help single women everywhere find the romantic life of their dreams. On this week’s episode, Burton answers the email of a 28-year-old single mother in the midst of a relationship dilemma. The listener shares her experience of dating a man who claims he’s not ready to be a father and how she’s not entirely sure of his faithfulness in their relationship. We can all relate to overlooking many red flags because we think we’ve found “the one,” but Burton provides her expert take on the importance of establishing trust, and why no relationship can truly work without it. She gives stern advice and a rare acknowledgment that it might be time to take a step back and reevaluate this relationship. Luckily, Burton never leaves listeners hopeless, and always leads with the reminder that there is a great, big romantic world just waiting for all of us. Plus, she offers three exclusive tips and warning signs for never settling in a relationship. It’s what every single smart female needs to find her next great love. [Vannessa Jackson]


Spectacular Failures
A Funeral Industry Giant Keels Over

People die all the time. It’s one of the things human beings do best. So how could a cornerstone of the funeral industry fail so, well, spectacularly? Spectacular Failures is the newest podcast to American Public Media’s slate of greats, this one hosted by audio darling Lauren Ober. The podcast aims to look at endeavors that somehow went wildly wrong. Ober is a fantastic and funny host, and paired with cheesy ’80s-inspired bed music, she creates a great contrast with the macabre subject matter of the funeral industry. This week’s episode looks into The Loewen Group, a “funeral home consolidator” that secretly ran tons of seemingly local funeral homes. Imagine if Starbucks owned your local Bean Bois or what have you—and then, imagine that somehow, they were taken down by a true mom-and-pop shop. It’s a story of classic capitalist greed, of hubris and comeuppance, and a bunch of caskets that, no, Lauren Ober would really not like to give a test drive, thank you. [Wil Williams]


Stuff To Blow Your Mind
Psychedelics: The Manifested Mind, Part 3

A useful tool for some, a terrifying, mind-altering, moral-challenging drug for others. Psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, mescaline—all of these psychedelics can have a profound impact upon a user’s life by way of hallucinations, intense euphoria, a distortion of perception and time, and maybe even an out-of-body experience. Fittingly, Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick of Stuff To Blow Your Mind have opened the floodgates on the subject with their latest series. “The Manifested Mind” is still rolling out episodes, and part three sees the two hosts discussing psychedelics as the subject of scientific studies in the ’50s and ’60s, from LSD aiding sufferers of alcoholism, to psilocybin being a catalyst for many churchgoers’ cosmic religious experiences, to psychedelics’ role in ’60s counterculture and their portrayal as drugs used solely by radical leftists. Informed by books like Food Of The Gods by Terence McKenna and Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind, Lamb and McCormick introduce and (hopefully) demystify psychedelics for all interested. [Kevin Cortez]


Teen Creeps
A Summit On YA Fiction With Grady Hendrix (Episode #150)

There have already been 150 episodes of Teen Creeps! For this milestone episode, Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai are joined by Grady Hendrix, author of Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History Of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction. The three of them analyze YA pulp fiction and how it has evolved over the decades, exploring how the genre was often full of cautionary tales about how drugs are in everything from soda to apples. They also discuss how there seems to be a lack of minority representation done well, if at all. Through the whole episode, they revisit the books they loved most, like My Sweet Audrina featuring iconic villain Vera, who inspired the Teen Creeps hashtag and inside joke #ALLCAPSVERA with her pure, unparalleled evil. Listeners also get to hear Hendrix describe what inspired his own YA novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. They go on to cover the wildest tropes of the genre, including dressing up as a dead person to kill people, jump-scare fake-outs, and falling in love in hospital beds. Hearing these three discuss pulp with so much appreciation, thoughtful criticism, and genuine love is a delight that will make listeners excited for Teen Creeps’ next 150 episodes and beyond. [Nichole Williams]


UnStyled
Jenny Slate On Not Allowing Relationships To Define You

UnStyled, hosted by Refinery29 editor-in-chief and co-founder Christene Barberich, has a tendency to reveal some unexpected things about your favorite actors, designers, and artists. This installment featuring actor and writer Jenny Slate does it again, confirming why Slate is one of the most exciting voices in comedy today. Her conversation with Barberich reveals the tender, mindful human behind her many various characters, from Mona-Lisa Saperstein on Parks And Rec to Marcel The Shell With Shoes On. Slate doesn’t shy away from unpacking the challenges of the last five years, from her divorce, a high profile breakup, and a debilitating case of stage fright. This sprawling interview touches on bell hooks, the normalization of abortion, and how maybe saying “fuck” on air wasn’t the real reason behind the comedian’s dismissal from Saturday Night Live. Wildly self-aware, Slate discusses the disorienting and harmful nature of internal and external misogyny, especially in the world of entertainment, and how much work needs to be done in the industry to create actual parity. [Morgan McNaught]

Share This Story

Advertisement

Advertisement