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.
What’s On Your Reparations Tab?: Ta-Nehisi Coates
The theme of this week’s episode of Another Round is how slavery reparations should be awarded and the ways racial inequality continues to plague America. Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu ask co-workers and friends how they would like to receive their reparations (highlights are an Apple TV, $1 Apple shares, unlimited Netflix subscription, a lifetime supply of Beyoncé weaves, and Drake. “Can I have Drake?”) They also interview recent MacArthur fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates, who Tracy calls “Mr. Reparations,” referencing his well-known Atlantic piece, “The Case For Reparations.” They discuss the reception of his book Between The World And Me, and what inspired him to write it, the role of empathy in racial equality in our country, why he finds struggle to be more inspiring than hope, and how he uses writing for his self-care. Clayton wraps up the episode with an incredible story of her fight with an older white man over several indignities including a shared armrest, which were originally documented via live tweets. “White men be treating the whole world like it’s their living room, man. You can’t do that. My mom didn’t raise no pushover, at all,” Clayton says, and you can almost hear her shaking her head during the entire retelling.
The Axe Files
Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Former White House senior advisor David Axelrod might be a top-notch political strategist and advisor, but he’s only a so-so interviewer. Fortunately, his new podcast The Axe Files does not rely on his powers of discourse so much as it does the fatness of his Rolodex. In his first month on the online air, he’s featured discussion with Governor Mitt Romney and Senator Bernie Sanders. And, to be fair, his lackadaisical questioning style could very well be counted as an asset, as these episodes feel much more like conversations than interrogations. The subjects don’t display the typical on-message rigidity that political figures usually share. That pays off well in this week’s episode, as former House Speaker Representative Nancy Pelosi gives the closest thing to an honest assessment of the GOP’s current leadership quagmire. Midway through an episode, it’s almost believable that a real person with genuine thoughts and feelings is speaking instead of a politician. It’s a spooky sensation. Expect this show to start generating some headlines as it gets more well-known and the country gets ever more election obsessed.
At the end of this week’s show, Tom Scharpling threatened me and The A.V. Club with an $80 million dollar lawsuit if The Best Show appeared in Podmass. But when an episode of The Best Show is as good as this one, there’s only one thing to do: Get the lawyers involved. Scharpling always covers a lot of ground in three hours, but this week’s show is especially jam packed. Jon Wurster calls in as Scharpling’s doctor and, like all the best Scharpling and Wurster bits, things escalate brilliantly as Dr. Mannheim becomes more and more unhinged the drunker he gets. Continuing a streak of great podcast appearances, Nathan Fielder also phones in to drop tidbits about the new season of Nathan For You and speculate about Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s sex life (much to the delight of A.P. Mike). The rest of the show is just as inspired and gets rounded out nicely with calls on the topic of childhood misconceptions, the return of the sound collage, and the debut of a new and hopefully regular kid caller. So, if Scharpling wants to settle this in Judge Davies’ court, fine! We just hope we don’t have to endure the barbershop stylings of Zachary Brimstead, Esq.
Clerk and Dagger
The Bizness Boyz Solve A Crime, or Wednesday Pt. 2
This machine culture podcast is a weekly fictional serial diving into the occult office where Samantha Newberg (Caitlin Checkeroski) just started as an intern. It brings a whole new meaning to the terror that can be found on the other end of a Craigslist job posting. “Most interns die in the elevator,” says Chevrolette (Noelle Hoffman), one of the break room gabbing gals. For $69 a week Samantha deals with Satan, fields customer service calls about lizard suits, cleans Sasquatches cage, and, in this episode, is accused of murder by the mystery solving Bizness Boys. This week’s episode is a great example of the voice casts’ range; a group of 10 or so Chicago-based comedians play the core characters as well as the multitude of creatures and passers-by who inhabit the mysterious office culture like Tammy the upbeat secretary (Richard Kniazuk), Samantha’s dice-rolling cubicle-mate Gary (Ashley Yates), and, of course, the bathroom priest (Brandon Kirkman). The weekly episodes are short and sweet, but filled to the brim with solid jokes that sneakily reveal more and more about the office where Samantha’s supervisor is a mop who’s been on a conference call for two weeks and Garfield reigns supreme.
Rockdoughberfest is falling apart at the seams. Nick Wiger is getting beaten up at the arcade. Mike Mitchell is retroactively changing some of his previous ratings. All rock-themed restaurant chains serve basically the exact same overly sweet cocktails and generic food. There aren’t even that many rock-themed restaurant chains to begin with. It’s not surprising, then, that the playful antagonism between the two hosts is at an all-time high, getting less playful and more antagonistic with each new restaurant review and each new secondary segment that Wiger introduces. Thankfully, that antagonism is one of the funniest elements in all of Doughboys, and nothing induces laughs more reliably than Mitchell letting out a hearty, genuine “What the fuck?”—which is only becoming more frequent. While the future of Rockdoughberfest hangs in the balance (and various rock memorabilia hang on the walls), Spoon Nation waits with baited breath to see which restaurant will get the Doughboys treatment next, and whether the Doughboys themselves are strong enough to survive it.
Revival Talk: Michael Ausiello
Bless the podcasting gods for giving us an episode of Gilmore Guys so soon after the revival announcement. If you’ve been on the internet at all this week, you’ll know that Gilmore Girls is coming back for four “mini-movies” sometime in the near future. If you’re like me, you were racing to Kevin T. Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe for their thoughts, as the Guys are pillars of the Gilly community. What’s great about this episode is that it’s not just two fanboys going wild with excitement for two hours, but a conversation with questions, hopes, expectations, and more questions. They end up discussing the very nature of television today, and the unprecedented risk that is inherent to every revival that has sprung up recently. Even when talking with Michael Ausiello, the man who broke the news, there seems to be no real hints at what to expect. There’s a comfort in knowing that listeners of the show and the hosts themselves can be collectively clueless, riding out this weird journey together, as one. But if anything at all, at least we can hope that Amy Sherman-Palladino tells the story she intended, and Gilmore Guys can live on for just a little bit longer.
Charlize Theron, Actress, Producer, Activist, Mother.
The first episode from new podcast #Girlboss Radio—hosted by Sophia Amoruso, entrepreneur and writer of the book of the same name—is an exciting preview of more great things to come from a brand that advertises itself as “a hub of inspiration to share stories about what creating an amazing life really means, and about being the boss of your own life.” The formula of the podcast is simple: Amoruso interviews accomplished women, such as Charlize Theron, and asks about their successes, how they got their start, and how they work to serve as a model for other young women. Even in the first episode, Amoruso proves herself to be a talented and engaging interviewer, propelling the episode forward with tough and sometimes embarrassing questions. (Great example: “Have you ever pooped your pants as an adult?”) Theron goes into intimate and lighthearted detail about her moves from South Africa to Italy to New York to Hollywood, her difficult transition from dancing to acting, her fight for equal pay in movies, her ambivalence toward marriage as an institution, and her incredible passion for motherhood. After laughing at Amoruso’s suggestion that she might have good advice for young women, Theron talks about some of mistakes she made early in her career, advising young women learning to pursue their passions that if they want to succeed, it will take a lot of chill, resilience, and hard work.
What better way to combat the rampant stereotyping of Muslims in America than by getting out in front of the issue and injecting some wonderful, sardonic wit into the conversation. The #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast does just that, as hosts Zahra Noorbakhsh and Taz Ahmed spend time both highlighting positive stories of the American Muslim experience while also joking about the “creeping Sharia” that is coming to strangle the traditional American way of life, poking fun at the serious issue of America’s Islamophobic tendencies. The topic of intersectionality comes up, and with it some startling revelations, like Noorbakhsh mentioning that when she was growing up among a Persian community, the prevailing thought was that they were white people who simply weren’t good at being outwardly so. It highlights the sad reality that the struggle for equality in America is not a unified front, underscoring the importance of awareness and tolerance. This is not to suggest that the episode is a dour affair, as Noorbakhsh and Ahmed clearly have a great deal of fun in discussing the topics of the day and their energy is infectious. The show is of that rare breed of podcasts, as funny as it is important.
Jesse Vs Cancer
This week Jesse Case takes a break from his chemotherapy treatments to ditch the cancer discussion to talk about why we should wait to teach students the cool stuff. And he’s right! When you’re a kid, he says, you find everything fascinating. That’s when we should hit them with the hard stuff. Lessons about dinosaurs and space should be saved for bored high-schoolers; it’s the first step to changing the educational system for the better as far as he is concerned. In this episode he also talks about stage fright, lighthouses, and time travel, all with the sense of humor and insight that makes this podcast great. Case is the perfect representation of someone taking a stand because of their disease without letting it take over his life; he uses his platform to prove you can still be funny and lighthearted even while fighting a deadly illness but also knows when he should shine a light on serious issues. The issue here is the new mammogram guidelines changing the age for breast cancer screenings from 35 to 45; he argues the change might as well be murdering people and the sooner anyone gets checked out whether it be for breast cancer or colon cancer (Case’s ailment), the better. By slipping these conversations in between his comedic ramblings, he just might be saving people’s lives.
Never Not Funny
Typically the guestless opening segment of Never Not Funny is the most nonsense-heavy element of the show, with Jimmy Pardo, Matt Belknap, and company getting engaged in a real conversation about something that goes somewhere once the guest shows up. However, the only real story told that has much forward momentum throughout the entire episode with Horatio Sanz happens before he shows up, and it’s Pardo’s story about going to see Chris De Burgh and realizing while he’s there that Chris De Burgh has a massive Iranian fan base. As it turns out, though, that doesn’t matter so much, because everyone on microphone is funny and on their toes, and if anything it’s impressive that the Never Not Funny crew can make guessing games—What model is Sanz’s friend Brian’s 2003 Toyota? How many DVDs and Blu-rays does intern Garon Cockrell own (as of the last time he updated his inventory)?—into an entertaining listen for upwards of two hours.
On this episode of Off Camera, actress Olivia Wilde joins Sam Jones for an intimate chat about her new film, Meadowland, becoming a mother, her own personal growth, and finding liberation in acting. Wilde is open and eager to discuss everything Jones sets on the table, and is able to be self-aware and eloquent while maintaining the highly personal tone of the show. She discusses when she truly felt her career as an actress begin, being able to view her path from both inside and outside of herself, which is a refreshing thing. Wilde hardly presents as a “Hollywood type,” and is candid in her approach to the interview as the two relate about becoming a parent, and all the personal choices that go into being a part of the industry. In that way, she is the perfect guest for Off Camera; unpretentious, charming, and insightful. Jones is skillful in his hosting abilities, and lets the conversation drift where it naturally does, while seamlessly hitting all the marks he wanted to. It’s a model episode for a new listener.
Fans of basketball are likely to be flush with anticipation as the 2015–16 NBA season is only a day away. One of the more exciting prospects for this year is having the prodigiously fun basketball podcast Open Run along for the entire ride this time, as the show only launched in February. Hosts Jesse Williams and Stefan Marolachakis kick things off in a particularly exciting fashion, nabbing perhaps their highest profile guest yet in Jeanie Buss, president and part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. Over the course of their oversized conversation the topics that the trio cover is incredibly wide in scope, ranging from the return of Metta World Peace (or is it The Panda’s Friend?) to L.A., Buss’ history with the team and her role in the organization, as well as touching on the awful situation that has befallen former Laker Lamar Odom. Buss proves to be a wonderful guest, displaying a sense of diplomatic savvy in her answers while also coming off as equally playful and open. The episode serves as an excellent encapsulation of the strengths of the program; deeply engaging basketball talk conducted in an effortlessly charming manner. Here’s to the season ahead.
Remake This Movie Right!
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary
The internet is packed full of Monday morning auteurs, film-goers who know why the movie they just sat through didn’t quite work and have some rock-solid opinions about how it could have been perfected, had somebody in Hollywood simply thought to ask. Well, Remake This Movie Right! is essentially patron equivalent of those people (one of whom might be writing this review), with the notable difference that its three co-hosts are not insufferable bores. On the contrary, they’re actually rather self-effacing and fun to spend some time with. Make no mistake, their ideas in the newest episode for adapting Stephen King’s classic horror/bummer tome Pet Sematary—which was originally brought to the screen in somewhat underwhelming fashion by Mary Lambert in 1989 and is currently back in development with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo directing—are not great. But that’s kind of the fun of the show. There’s zero expectation that these will ever move beyond the podcast, but it gets you thinking about the inner workings of a quality film. Taking movies apart and putting them back together is a time-tested means for film dorks to engage with the medium beyond simple gushing and criticizing.
Neil Strauss (The Truth)
Finally, the world gets to hear what happens when the dude who wrote The Game, a book that supposedly helped a lot of men sleep with lots of women, sits down with the dude who wrote Sex at Dawn, a book that apparently helped a lot of men justify their desire to sleep with lots of women. Okay, to be fair, that’s not a terribly charitable reading of the situation. Christopher Ryan, latter dude and podcast host, and his book are both quite sex-positive and pro-feminist. As is, it turns out, his guest Neil Strauss, whose new book The Truth attempts to walk back a lot of the scuzzier aspects of the book that made him wealthy and launched the pick-up artist culture into the stratosphere. You’d never assume that the thin-voiced, unassuming new father we get here would have at one time been able to present himself as the creepy, hand-magician-looking master of seduction he presented himself as a decade ago. Based upon this conversation—and a live discussion with Ryan and Mating In Captivity author Esther Perel—he seems to have emerged from that society with some interesting observations about its inhabitants, as well as himself.
On this week’s Trap Set, a podcast “about the lives of drummers,” Joe Wong interviews comedian-musician Reggie Watts, best known as the co-host of Comedy Bang! Bang! with Scott Aukerman until he departed the show recently to become the bandleader at The Late Late Show With James Cordon. After the pair leave the show 12 minutes into the interview eat some edibles, the podcast kicks off with Wong asserting that although Watts isn’t “a drummer in the traditional sense,” no one could argue with his status as maker of beats—whether with just his voice, his keyboard, or his trusty loop pedal. Wong and Watts discuss his early life in Germany and growing up in Montana, his relationship with drugs, his love for the comedy trio Stella, and how he developed his unique brand of music-comedy over the years. “It’s alway been an organic building,” Watts says. “There wasn’t really an, ‘Oh my god, now I know,’ it was more like, ‘Oh, I’m doing this, do you like this, is that okay?’ It was more like, ‘Is it okay for me to do this here? Does this still qualify as comedy?’” What comes across the most in this interview is Watts’ confidence in himself and what he’s created over the years, thanks to his amazing ability to combine a seemingly laid-back attitude with his incredible drive to work hard in everything he does.
“I’m a writer. I’m not a preacher. I’m not a college principal. I’m not a prophet. It’s not my job to make people feel good about the world, no more than it’s Joan Didion’s job to make people feel good about the world. I write literature. And the notion that art should be judged by whether it makes you feel good or not—whether it makes you feel good about tomorrow—is absurd. And infantile.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates on literature, Another Round
“Nothing comes easy. If it came easy, everybody else would be doing it, so don’t ever sit back and scream about why it’s not being fed to you on a silver spoon. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of sweat, and the people who go and do it, who work twice as hard as you, are the ones who are going to get the job and they are the ones who are going to succeed. So unless you’re willing to put the hours in, don’t expect great things to come your way, in anything in life.”—Charlize Theron, #Girlboss Radio
“The only way you learn is by hearing what somebody’s actually saying. Some people are waiting for their solo, and it’s like, ‘Well, that’s not what it’s about.’ That should be the last thing on your mind, or it should be something that overwhelms you, overtakes you in the moment. It should be about listening to what everybody’s doing, because you’re making music together.”—Reggie Watts on working in a group, The Trap Set