Just in time for Buffy Week, the latest episode of Buffering The Vampire Slayer examines a turning point in the show where the Scoobies realize that what is right and what is wrong is rarely a black-and-white distinction. But before that, there’s much fun to be had with hosts Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo’s Drusilla obsession, fawning over the character’s theatrics. Another tangent is sparked by Cordelia’s defense of Marie Antoinette—a tangent backed up by heavy Wikipedia research, of course. The episode’s affectionate ribbing (poking fun at Ford, mocking the cast’s wardrobe) is balanced out by genuine character analysis, making this a fun listen and a functional companion to the show. The hosts are even able to make a strong case for Buffy’s continued relevance, discussing how the minor character Chanterelle represents a particular perspective that is equally present and frustrating today. Later, Youngs and Russo reflect on the episode’s pivotal message and how it marks a new era of depth for Buffy’s central conflicts. Youngs’ closing song for “Lie To Me” is particularly poignant, emulating the subtle sadness of Giles and Buffy’s concluding exchange.
Alexis Madrigal has pinpointed the very moment and place that gave rise to the modern global economy, and on this new podcast (this comes from Fusion, which, like The A.V. Club, is owned by Univision Communications). Madrigal fully explores that inflection point. Contrary to what one might imagine, it didn’t occur in some Silicon Valley garage, but the location isn’t entirely far off. Madrigal points instead to a trio of 1960s shipping cranes in the Port Of Oakland that ushered the container shipping boom into America. On the face of it, container shipping is something so plain and accepted today that it hardly even seems worthy of notice, let alone a podcast miniseries. Yet this seemingly dry topic gives rise to intensely personal stories from the people whose lives it has touched, for better or for worse. These containers have impacted everyone from consumers to stevedores, artists and activists, all while transforming the very concept of regional economies. Madrigal and his production team have really achieved something miraculous, seizing upon this topic and producing a show that is beautiful, engaging, and affecting.
Sometimes within the very first minute of a podcast, it becomes evident that it’s something special. While introducing multi-hyphenate Tom Scharpling, host Gilbert Gottfried can’t help himself from salting the fresh wound that is Scharpling’s departure from the Divorce writers’ room. Scharpling is a good sport, enjoying this ribbing and giving as much as he gets. Amazing Colossal Podcast! plays like a perversion of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This, concerned only with the ridiculous, scatalogical history of Hollywood’s past. Scharpling uses his caustic comic stylings as he, Gottfried, and co-host Frank Santopadre engage in a savagely funny romp exchanging show business tales, including startling amounts of Jerry Lewis shit-talking with some Adam Sandler slander thrown in for good measure. Scharpling’s intense interest in Saturday Night Live leads to a great segment dissecting Gottfried’s short and dismal turn on the show following the departure of Lorne Michaels and the original cast. That feeling from the first minute of the show proves true, as this is an excellent episode from one of the best under-the-radar podcasts.
This week, Hollywood Handbook is back to basics, talking about movies and Oscar season. Given co-host Sean Clements’ recent rants about how the show hasn’t been Hollywood-centric in two years, it’s an even funnier return to form, complete with nonlinear ramblings and engineer bashing. The return of Engineer Cody is pivotal: Aside from the hilarious bullying he endures from Clements and Hayes Davenport, Cody derails the show constantly. In a brilliantly bumbling move, he is asked for a list of Oscar movies so the group can make predictions and rattles off a list of Best Picture winners including Titanic, Slumdog Millionaire, and Forrest Gump. Guest Dan Lippert (part of the Big Grande improv group) slips easily into a Handbook-style alpha persona, navigating every ridiculous conversation in which he finds himself. Clearly, Lippert knows the game and how to play it. There’s even a coerced appearance by production coordinator Kevin, who plays off his relatively “low” status perfectly. It’s a moment that highlights how well everyone involved with Hollywood Handbook knows the intricate dynamics and roles they’re meant to play, even when dragged into it.
For the last year or so, How Did This Get Made? has been supplementing its movie commentary by publishing oral histories, and its new series, Origin Stories, appears to expand on that concept. In this inaugural episode, Blake Harris chats with screenwriter Dan Gordon, who in addition to screenplays like Passenger 57 and The Hurricane wrote 1993’s horrendous Surf Ninjas. It’s that latter film that Harris initially calls to discuss, but he gets waylaid by mind-boggling stories of Gordon’s early years in Hollywood. There’s his tale of getting hired by Universal Studios, then immediately fired by studio head Lew Wasserman himself for unknowingly stealing office supplies. And then there’s the story of his first directorial effort, which encompasses kidnapping, dope, and money laundering, with characters so colorful as Muff The Button Man and Sammy Davis Jr.’s cocaine dealer. They only get around to Surf Ninjas in the final moments of the show, but the good news is that there’s two more hours of interview available. You’ll just need to pony up the cash at Howl’s How Did This Get Made? podcast feed. With these stories, you might just want to.
In Vox’s new weekly podcast, critic at large (and former A.V. Club writer) Todd VanDerWerff lives up to the show’s title by talking to interesting people from the world of arts and entertainment. VanDerWerff is quick to mention that this doesn’t mean “just the biggest stars,” but also includes “folks who you maybe haven’t heard of” or who are currently “on the cusp.” This week, Todd welcomes Ryan Murphy, producer of myriad television properties (Nip/Tuck, Glee, and American Horror Story, among others), and the two engage in as fluid and informative a conversation on Murphy’s prolific career as the hour allows. Murphy describes how his roots in journalism influenced his production sensibilities and explains his continued drive to expand entertainment’s limited focus on straight white males. This is essential listening for anyone with an interest in today’s TV landscape, which Murphy continues to overtake. His newest offering on FX, Feud: Bette And Joan, is a result of his effort to employ more female directors, leading to his interest in Hollywood heavyweights Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and how they were treated as they aged. With the two leads portrayed by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, The A.V. Club is already enjoying it.
There are three things you need to know when deciding if Parcast’s latest true crime podcast is something you want to pipe into your ears. First of all, the show features moderately detailed descriptions of horrible events, sometimes even making use of voice actors to up their lucidity. It’s not quite death porn, but it’s more intense than a Wikipedia entry. The next thing you should know is that the narrator uses a rather affected “true crime” voice. If you’ve ever watched a basic cable crime program, you’ll know exactly what this means. If not, you’ll figure it out within seconds. The third thing is that there is a quiet, macabre sense of humor on display. In the newest episode—the second of a two-part series focusing on the exploits of America’s most notorious female serial killer—there’s a tonal shift so abrupt and so striking when the narrator introduces the sponsor that it’s hard not to laugh and almost impossible to imagine it as being unintentional.
In The Bechdel Cast, comedians Jamie Loftus and Caitlin Durante investigate iconic films with an exacting appraisal of how their female characters are portrayed and how they interact with each other. Paige Weldon joins the hosts for this week’s uniquely challenging breakdown of Heathers, a film whose flawed characters, dark comedy, and feminist themes were penned by a straight white man. All three women have different relationships to Heathers: Weldon has been an avid fan since youth; Durante was notably less enamored with her first viewing; and Loftus balances her high school opinions with her present understanding. With measured self-awareness, the group delves into different aspects of Heathers, including Christian Slater’s charm, the film’s portrayal of high school existence, and the memorable dialogue throughout. What sets The Bechdel Cast apart is its willingness to linger on the things that make them laugh, the purely fun elements, bringing a new buoyancy to film podcasting.
Tommy Cooper was a superstar in his native U.K. during his lifetime, but remains unknown in the States—which is a shame, because he’s hilarious. Cooper was quick to make his unconventional appearance part of the act, punctuating his towering 6’4” frame and bulging facial features with a bright red fez atop his head. Then there’s his set, which combined a rapid-fire series of one-liners with intentionally bungled magic tricks. His personal life, though at first blush fairly reprehensible, is packed with can’t-help-but-laugh shenanigans; for example, he attempted to hide a long-standing affair from his wife using techniques right out of sketch comedy. He also made the decision to play his chronic cheapness like a bad joke throughout his life, slipping tea bags into cabbies’ pockets while telling them to “have a drink on me.” Although Cooper’s death on live television in 1984 brings his story a sad but unforgettable close, his life is spun into comedic gold in the hands of hosts of Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, whose giggle fits and accented reenactments make for a hilarious biographical profile.
As we near the halfway point of Karina Longworth’s epic 12-part “Dead Blondes” series, Tolstoy’s maxim that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” holds true. None of the featured actresses ever seem to possess more than fleeting happiness, yet all experience truly unique miseries stumbling toward their graves. From the start, Carole Landis differs from other subjects in one notable way: She is not a natural blonde. A brunette in her earliest roles, Landis bleached her locks after being hired by D.W. Griffith (of The Birth Of A Nation fame) for the prehistoric fantasy film One Million B.C. More than any actress covered so far, Landis cycled through lovers at breakneck speed, including relationships with director Busby Berkeley, Valley Of The Dolls author Jacqueline Susann, and an Air Force captain she met while on a USO tour. But it was her last relationship with married heartthrob Rex Harrison that would contribute to her death by suicide at age 29, ending Landis’ story and foreshadowing next week’s episode on the most infamous blonde of all: Marilyn Monroe.