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.
When the Attitude Era podcast launched in 2013, it sought to provide a comprehensive assessment of WWE’s raunchy, risk-taking Attitude Era by dissecting every pay-per-view airing that occurred between WrestleManias 14 and 17. The hosts did it earlier this year, signing off with seemingly nowhere else for the podcast to go, which is why it was such a lovely surprise when it was resurfaced last month. Now central trio Kefin Mahon, Adam Bibilo, and Billy Keable have a new concept: Instead of exploring the Attitude Era, they’d be analyzing moments in wrestling history that tried to capitalize on it. That brings them to a breakdown of the abysmal WrestleMania 27, which marked the beginning of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s latter-day run with the WWE. This three-hour affair is reserved for the event itself, a muddled mess brimming with underdeveloped gimmicks, lame cameos, and a headlining match involving announcer Michael Cole. As always, the encyclopedic Mahon leads the group by providing context and insight as his cohorts express appropriately hyperbolic amazement at the poor storytelling on display. For longtime listeners, it’s a treat to hear the boys bring their intelligence, humor, and charisma to an (almost) entirely new set of talent and circumstances.
Broke Bad Witch
What is Magic? // Queering The Tower // Spellcasting 101
[Subscribe on iTunes]
No magic related podcast is as personal and charming as Broke Bad Witch, the new podcast from self-described city witch Cecelia Kyoko, that is part storytelling and part self-help. The first episode is broken into three segments: In the first, she explains what she means by the word “magic,” touching on her own approach to practicing witchcraft as well as larger ideas about narratives, structure, meaning, purpose, and habits. In the next segment, she tackles the feared and misunderstood tarot card, The Tower, explaining through a personal story how it can actually be a good thing in a queer interpretation. This diary-like voice is what’s most striking about Broke Bad Witch, as the city witch grounds all of her smart and intuitive ideas about the usefulness of magic for queer people, trans people, and people of color in personal narrative. In the third segment, she examines herself in an earnest account of how she turned to spellcasting when she realized she wasn’t letting people get to know her on a deeper level. In that story, she touches on social media, the construction of one’s self, and vulnerability. And it’s all an intimate lead up to a more general beginner’s guide to spellcasting. Broke Bad Witch is the practical magic podcast every witch needs.
[Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]
Chapo Trap House
A Problem From Heck: @ChMadar
Thinking about human rights lawyers, it’s easy to imagine a group of passionate, hardworking, good-hearted people who want to make the world a better place. While that’s very possibly at least a partially accurate picture of the field of human rights protection, it certainly does not apply to everyone involved, and not even to some of its biggest players, as civil rights attorney and writer Chase Madar handily illustrates in his first (and hopefully not last) appearance on Chapo Trap House. The conversation is framed in the context of the recent, stunning failure of a peace deal referendum in Colombia, but it nicely opens up into a broader discussion of, as Madar puts it, “the creeping weaponization of the human rights industry,” and Human Rights Watch’s role in that, which is eye-opening to say the least. The Chapo hosts qualify the discussion as vegetables for their listeners and it is indeed a big, nourishing, dispiriting plate.
Daily Kos Radio
A Very Special Episode
Under normal circumstances, there’s not much reason to sort through the archives of a daily political news podcast to listen to something from a previous week. Especially since, in this election cycle, it might as well be the previous year. Exceptions, however, should be made for this particular episode of Daily Kos Radio. Instead of picking apart the day’s headlines with frequent call-in guest Greg Dworkin, host David Waldman devotes an entire two-hour episode to one topic: Donald Trump’s unsettling longtime connection to the fashion industry and human trafficking. Most of the meat for the episode comes from the first part of an extensively researched exposé by Daily Kos contributor SwedishJewfish, but Waldman bolsters it with plenty of commentary and secondary sources. To be clear, even though this originates from a liberal website, it’s not a political hit job. Even if Trump weren’t involved or running for president, the sludge dredged up here about the modeling industry and its more unsavory aspects (predatory agent and scout John Casablancas chief among them) is intensely unpleasant but unfortunately necessary. All grossness aside, it’s also an intriguing glimpse behind the curtain of a mostly mysterious world.
I Was There Too
Star Wars: Anthony Forrest
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s line “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” has become one of the most famous in the Star Wars universe. But as actor Anthony Forrest points out to I Was There Too host Matt Gourley, it’s significant for many reasons. And he should know—it’s being directed at him in the film. For one, it’s the first time in the franchise that a Jedi mind trick is used. It’s also one of the earliest moments of humor in Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope. Throughout his conversation with Gourley, it becomes apparent that this kind of deep thought—from several of the stars all the way down to the bit players—contributed to the world-building that made the original trilogy such a watershed moment in pop culture history. This is a guy who not only learned the distinction between a Stormtrooper and a Sandtrooper (he played the latter), but also created an elaborate backstory for his other minor role as Luke Skywalker’s friend Laze “Fixer” Loneozner for a scene that eventually got cut.
Jamie Lee's Best Of The Worst
Worst Drug Experience
Each episode of this new podcast from Jamie Lee is broken into two parts: a completely random catch-up conversation between Lee and the guest up top followed by a talk focused on specific “worst.” The common threads throughout the podcast so far are Lee’s undying love for Bulletproof coffee and her lack of shame while reliving some of the worst, most embarrassing moments of her life without any air of pretension: “This is not The Moth. Just get into it.” This week Lee is joined by Shawn Pearlman to talk about their most traumatic drug experiences, first diving deep into an extremely candid and thoughtful conversation about writing sitcoms that is a thing of comedy nerds’ dreams. The highlight, however, is Pearlman’s in-depth and terrifying tale about being a 14-year-old on acid.
Confessions Of A Duran Duran Fan
Every installment of the Mortified podcast comes as a welcome reminder that we all spent our gawkish teen years more alike than we were different, and “Confessions Of A Duran Duran Fan” points out that even our deepest-held secret fantasies were all being informed by the same pop cultural source material. Two different readers this week share 1980s journal entries in which they waxed poetic about untamed bad boys John Taylor and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran, declaring their undying love for the band and even crafting steamy novellas in which they—girls no older than 15, but surely much more mature in their dreams—are seduced by the smitten rock stars. The biggest delight for listeners might be piecing together the implicit real-life moments that were playing out behind this loud fandom: Dana’s parents renting a limo to take her to the Duran Duran concert, for instance, or Jillian’s divorced parents being promptly written out of her romance story by dying in a car crash on page one. Whatever the reasons for this shared infatuation, it’s clear that Duran Duran, for better or for worse, sparked adoration (and creativity) in an entire generation of teens.
The Projection Booth
Special Report: Doomed: The Untold Story Of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four
B-movie mogul Roger Corman has produced more than 350 films in his six decades of productivity, but there’s only one that was never released. That was never even intended to be released. And, ironically, it’s become one of his most famous films. 1994’s Oley Sassone-directed The Fantastic Four was made on a shoestring budget of $1 million solely so that German production company Constantin Film would be able to retain its film option on the Marvel property. Unfortunately, nobody outside of Corman and Constantin was let in on the gambit. So, the entire cast and crew poured their lifeblood into the project, trying their best to spin gold from discount straw, and what they ended up with was bad costumes and shitty effects, though it’s still arguably the best F4 film made to date. This episode of The Projection Booth is not about that movie. This is about Doomed, the 2015 documentary about that movie. Show hosts take an in-depth look at the labor of love, taking time to speak with its director Marty Langford and others responsible for nursing the filmic account to life. As far as podcasts about documentaries about movies go, this is immensely engaging.
Following a string of episodes that tackle the big questions of science, morality, and the origins of the universe, it’s nice to see Radiolab pursue a more intimate type of story: that of Seneca, Nebraska, a tiny town grappling with the decision to formally end itself. Rifts divide the paltry population of 30 into “save” and “end” camps as the final vote on whether to unincorporate Seneca draws near, an ultimatum that’s as symbolic as it is practical. Producer Simon Adler interviews nearly everyone in town as they analyze how their dearly held home went from a vibrant, dedicated community to one that might be easier to dismantle than cling to, a question of bureaucracy and everything that neighbors can mean to each other. Adler makes the apparent choice to let the interviews breathe with minimal context or clarification, allowing the residents of Seneca to fully own their story, just as they have empowered themselves to choose its ending. That ending, when it comes, is surprising and lovely, and quiet in a particularly Radiolab way.
Revealing conversations with hip-hop heavy hitters is the modus operandi of Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller’s Rap Radar podcast. This format that gives listeners an inside look on the reality of the music industry; the key being the caliber of their guests, ranging from MC’s to promoters and beatmakers behind the scenes. This episode features Cortez Bryant, whose work has been the backbone to the careers of Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj. Bryant uses this appearance as an opportunity to open up about lawsuits, financial troubles and some of the friendships he’s lost in the past few years. Riding the fine line between self-promotion and brutal truth telling, he shows us the tactical, legal savvy, business side of entertainment that’s usually in the shadows. “I try to be a diplomatic as I can,” Cortez explains regarding the beef between Lil Wayne and Birdman. As co-hosts, Wilson and Miller ask the hard questions, often with an air of humor, that keeps the conversation rolling smoothly. On the topic of Wayne, Cortez says “When he puts his head to something and his heart to it, it’s gonna come out great. And I just follow his lead.”
Who Is This Restaurant For? Pt. 1: Us Vs. Them
The Sporkful’s impressive four-part series on restaurant design, “Who Is This Restaurant For?”, pulls no punches, wading immediately into discussions of race, cultural expectation, and whether it’s possible for any restaurant to be “for everyone” (and indeed, whether any of them should). Sporkful host Dan Pashman teams up with Kat Chow from NPR’s Code Switch to travel across the D.C. area, investigating how a decade of gentrification might have influenced the city’s dining scene as the diners themselves shift demographically. In a bold and honest move, Pashman gives the mic over to a group of college students gleefully disparaging successful D.C. restaurant Busboys and Poets for its perceived cultural pandering—but not long afterward, we also hear a defense from the Busboys and Poets owner himself, and listeners are left to sort out which side of this divide they’re on. That type of anecdotal raw data has, so far, been the series’ best attribute, always acknowledging the intersection of food, atmosphere, and identity, even if that leaves us with a tangle of conflicting values to tease out on our own.
Two Beers In: A Tipsy Political Round Table
Scott Brown And Anthony King
It’s quaint to think that just a few years ago, drinking games based on political events were an irreverent internet novelty. Now, watching a presidential debate stone cold sober seems like a sick dare. Each week, New York-based Upright Citizens Brigade performers Cody Lindquist and Charlie Todd invite satirists, pundits, journalists, and comedy writers to get appropriately anesthetized and have a freeform discussion about the newest election developments. This week, over a bunch of Stone Brewing Tangerine IPAs, Gutenberg! The Musical! writers Scott Brown and Anthony King commiserate over the second debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and have a mostly serious discussion about the reverberations to come from Trump’s insidious “Bush Bus” remarks. Unlike, say, the actors and comedians Bill Maher invites on his Real Time panel—most of whom make it very clear they’re there simply as comedic relief—Todd and Lindquist’s professional and personal network extends to the informed, gloriously smartass, less-familiar names who are behind the ideas and phrasings in progressive outlets like Full Frontal, Saturday Night Live, Late Night With Seth Meyers, and Last Week Tonight. For left-leaning folks, it’s a hugely cathartic way to touch base with sanity while following a presidential campaign that is clearly shit-faced and needs to go home.
We Hate Movies
Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers
The sixth installment of the original Halloween series puts the hosts of We Hate Movies in a unique position. Because it has two widely known versions (the theatrical cut and the producer’s cut), they have not one, but two films to lovingly skewer in a single episode. That means several amusing detours that illustrate the sometimes absurd differences between them, including (but certainly not limited to) a ’90s fart-rock score and a climax that involves a young Paul Rudd (make that Paul Stephen Rudd) arranging a circle of rune stones to defeat Michael Myers. Fortunately, the late, great Donald Pleasence stars in both editions, thus allowing the guys to imagine Dr. Loomis in a variety of made-up scenarios. For instance, what if the Howard Stern surrogate in H6 means Loomis is an avid, somewhat depraved fan of shock-jock radio? What if the raspy-voiced, elderly psychiatrist has a thing for on-air Sybian rides? It looks the gang has add another so-iffy-it’s-funny impersonation to add to the WHM universe.
“Michael Myers must smell like shit. It’s not like ‘Oh, I don’t know he’s in the room.’ This guy’s never showered.”—Stephen Sajdak on Halloween horror villain Michael Myers, We Hate Movies