Photo: Raigo Pujula

In 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.


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Beyond Yacht Rock
Cake Hunt

Beyond Yacht Rock is the podcast follow-up to Yacht Rock, the popular webseries that fictionalized the exploits of Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Steely Dan, and others—and, in the process, coined the term for the smooth sounds those musicians made in the 1970s. Previously on the podcast, host David B. Lyons misremembered the name of the Sebadoh album Bakesale as Cake Hunt, inspiring cohost J.D. Ryznar to create an arbitrary musical genre based on Lyons’ “improvised fact.” Ryznar describes a “cake hunt” as a “brag about an unremarkable achievement,” begging the question, “What do you want, a cake?” On the episode, hosts Ryznar, Lyons, Hollywood Steve Huey, and Hunter Stair provide commentary on the 10 biggest cake hunts of all time: Katy Perry telling everyone at the party she kissed a girl (Jill Sobule admittedly deserved a small slice in 1995), John Fogerty playing “Centerfield,” and in one of the most amusing moments of the episode, cunnilingus enthusiast Marvin Sease going downtown. As usual, the show is hilarious, full of fun facts, and even educational when it comes to the term “cherry Chapstick.”

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[Mike Vanderbilt]


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Blank Check With Griffin And David
Saving Private Ryan With Richard Lawson

The third installment in their Dreamworks-era Steven Spielberg miniseries, “Pod Me If You Cast,” this week Griffin Newman and David Sims discuss Saving Private Ryan with special guest Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair. Recorded some months ago, there’s talk about what it’s like to view this film within the context of the 2016 election cycle, and Newman, having only ever seen the film within this context, provides a balancing insight to Sims’ and Lawson’s perspectives. (Lawson, for instance, was initially so obsessed with Saving Private Ryan that he nearly joined the Navy.) The conversation never wanes as they dissect the film’s cast of cute boys, its distinct Spielberg style, and its uniquely contained performances. Lawson’s sincerity and sense of humor make him the perfect Blank Check guest, folding easily into the energy of the show. All three are on top of their games throughout the episode, making this an ideal entry point for any curious potential listeners.

[Rebecca Bulnes]


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Kismet
Dust

In an era where people’s introductions to one another are increasingly facilitated by the internet, Kismet instead explores how fate and free will factor into the curious ways that strangers’ lives intertwine. The second episode features the story of Greg Holgerson, an NYPD officer diagnosed with leukemia likely caused by exposure at Ground Zero on 9/11, and Sue Harrison, a British woman who saved his life through a stem-cell donation. What elevates these encounters is the artful method of their recording: Each individual gives their account solo, then the parallel narratives are matched up, highlighting moments where the stories overlap. The episode is full of emotional beats as the pair recount their unlikely paths to de facto kinship, from Holgerson’s spare recounting of the events of 9/11 to the special moment when he and Harrison were finally allowed to meet after a mandatory two-year waiting period after the transplant. It is a touching tale, and the manner in which it’s told exemplifies the best qualities of the medium.

[Ben Cannon]


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Lizard People
Skull And Bones And The 2004 Election

Conspiracy theories can be a lot of fun. At first blush, many seem to provide reassuring explanations for the troubling facets of our lives, because it’s more pleasant to imagine a world ruled by powerful cabals of scheming geniuses than a world in which we must accept that people are simply dumb and mean and selfish. Lizard People is a podcast that lets listeners indulge the bogus theses of faked moon landings and chemically tainted water sources at a safe remove from skepticism. Each episode, comedian Katelyn Hempstead invites a guest to ply her with arguments or logical fallacies and try to convince her of their pet conspiracy theories. This week, L.A.-based improviser Edgar Momplaisir offers his thoughts on how the secret society Skull And Bones interfered with the 2004 presidential election by asking notable S&B alum John Kerry to concede the race to fellow notable S&B alum George W. Bush. Both Hempstead and Momplaisir are charismatic and funny, and it’s a pleasure to hear them riff once the show gets going.

[Dennis DiClaudio]


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Missing Richard Simmons
Where’s Richard?

The podcast medium has always offered a deep well of surprise and discovery for listeners, but this new show investigating the disappearance of fitness guru Richard Simmons from public life is nothing short of a labor of love. Host Dan Taberski is a former friend of Simmons’, his investigation spurred on by an inability to square his perception of the star with the now-reclusive figure. The podcast’s discussion of Simmons remains charitable throughout, shedding light on the often unfair treatment he received for being a singular personality in less tolerant times. Simmons was flamboyant, excitable, and possessed a campy aesthetic, though he was also sympathetic to overweight people, often reaching out directly to counsel strangers amid their struggles. Maybe the most interesting aspect of the show is that Taberski and his team seem to be crafting it in real time, similar to Serial’s first season. They solicit the audience for stories of Simmons’ whereabouts and even include an appeal to Simmons himself.

[Ben Cannon]


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Mother, May I Sleep With Podcast?
Just Ask My Children

HelloGiggles cofounder Molly McAleer has an abiding passion for Lifetime movies. This podcast, which just finished its first season, looks into the finer (and more ridiculous) points of made-for-TV gems like Death Clique, She Cried No, and Drew Peterson: Untouchable, rating them on a scale from Citizen Kane all the way up to the titular Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? (Currently, 2012’s train wreck Liz & Dick holds the top spot). In this finale episode, McAleer invites guest Adam McCabe to select the film, and the two watch the 2001 drama Just Ask My Children, based on the real-life 1980s Kern County child abuse cases. McCabe brings a special insight to the film: He grew up in the Kern County area during that time, when an unprecedented number of child abuse cases (many laced with satanic ritual) were being tried in court. Surprisingly, in its overdramatization of the true story, Lifetime appears to have actually gotten many of the basic facts correct. But that doesn’t mean they don’t commit some pitch-perfect flubs, like randomly swapped-out actors, bad hair-dye jobs, and melodramatic prison dialogue. After all, aren’t these opportunities for mockery what make Lifetime movies great?

[Brianna Wellen]


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Shock Waves
The Directors Of XX

XX is a new horror anthology film featuring an all-female crew of directors and a mostly female cast. Here, three of those directors—Roxanne Benjamin, Sofia Carrillo, and Jovanka Vuckovic—join the Shock Waves gang for an examination of the film’s origins and prolonged development process as well as each director’s personal journey within the horror genre. Carrillo, for instance, recalls memories of Pennywise and Chucky terrifying her as a little girl in Mexico, while Vuckovic shares how “horror movies were my best friends during my loneliest times.” As a producer and director on the V/H/S films and last year’s Southbound, Benjamin is able to touch on the larger challenges of crafting anthologies, from the curation process to establishing a consistent tone. As always, the interview is prefaced by a rundown of what horror the hosts have consumed that week, a conversation that brims with infectious enthusiasm and insightful analysis of horror both new and obscure. An especially sweet moment finds cohost Elric Kane embracing cohost Ryan Turek after the latter astutely reassesses 1988’s Fright Night 2. Yep, their fandom runs deep.

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[Randall Colburn]


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This Feels Terrible
Scott Rodgers

Erin McGathy’s relationship podcast is at its best when it gets so personal that listeners grow uncomfortable. Rather than formatting this interview show as one in which comedians chat about the ups and downs of their love lives, each episode drills down into McGathy’s own relationship history and how she came to be a divorced comedian living in Ireland, happier than ever. This week she sits down with a former fling, Scott Rodgers, who himself has had two different engagements fall through. After taking time to focus on his stories, McGathy and Rodgers begin to break down what really happened between them during their relationship; it’s a process that sounds so raw and genuine that it’s likely this is the first time they’ve ever discussed it. This culminates in the pair reading over private Facebook exchanges all the way back from 2008, which, while cringeworthy, ring true to anyone who has attempted flirting in the age of social media.

[Brianna Wellen]


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Why Oh Why
Do I Hate Men?

One of the most appealing aspects of the dating podcast Why Oh Why is witnessing the journey of host Andrea Silenzi, who found herself newly single just a few episodes into its reboot. The fallout from her long-term relationship changed the fabric of the show, shifting her from curious observer to cautious dater. While recently interviewing men about their thoughts on feminism, Silenzi was asked out by a man whom she turned down (despite her mutual attraction to him) because she didn’t feel emotionally ready to date again, which prompted the man to ask, bluntly, whether she hates men. This week’s Why Oh Why addresses that very question, and what Silenzi concludes is much more complex than a hatred of an entire gender: “I was so angry that these guys thought feminism was about hating men,” she says, “that I started hating men.” For Silenzi, being single in Trump’s America means that attraction is inexorably entwined with ideology; to untangle it all is an ongoing process, and a good reason to keep listening.

[Randall Colburn]

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