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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
’80s All Over
On ’80s All Over, film writers Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg discuss every major film release of the MTV decade one month at a time. If anything, this podcast proves the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. While the ’80s certainly saw the release of an astounding number of classics, there are also some forgotten gems, and some real duds. Featured on this episode are the killer kid flick Bloody Birthday, Federico Fellini’s City Of Women, and Going Ape!, which stars Tony Danza, Danny DeVito, and an orangutan. The hosts also drop some knowledge, discussing the notion of regional release dates compared to worldwide releases that most films see today. The episode also devotes quite a bit of time to the oft-overlooked thriller Nighthawks, which features a bearded Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams as New York City cops who take on the evil international terrorist Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer in his American film debut). The show, like the best film podcasts, skillfully weaves together nostalgia (the opening theme is the “HBO Feature Presentation” music and will surely trigger some memories), criticism, and trivia.
Food 4 Thot
It’s somewhere in the middle of this episode of Food 4 Thot, the absorbing new podcast focused on gay life from an intersectional perspective, when the show really comes into its own. There is a palpable sense of familial closeness to the friendship shared by hosts Tommy Pico, Joseph Osmundson, Fran Tirado, and Dennis Norris II that makes listeners feel party to something more than just diverting entertainment. That said, the show is extremely entertaining all the same, hilarious and convivial from its first moments to its last. Its structure is modeled after a dinner party, opening with an amuse bouche of some fun and ribald games—with names like “Homo-nym” and “Perish The Thot”—that set the stage for the meatier discussion of the episode’s main course. The conversation this episode is centered on a heartfelt exploration of the different escapes, physical or otherwise, that queer people must make as a result of their sexuality. It is in this segment that the chemistry shared by its hosts really stands out, making the show something quite special.
If there’s any criticism to be leveled against Girl Friday, it’s that it’s likely to leave the listener with a vague sense of annoyance that they weren’t there in the room. Whatever the topic and whomever the guest, it always seems like it was a pretty good time. That’s especially the case for this week’s episode, in which Rachel Bloom—co-creator and star of CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—joins Erin Gloria Ryan, Amanda Duarte, and Briana Haynie in the studio to kind of talk about her cult-hit musical comedy, but mostly to indulge in both current events and whatever cultural flotsam drifts into the conversation. Bloom is an exceptionally gifted talker with a lot of illustrative anecdotes from the trenches of her many creative endeavors. The three regulars have an enviable rapport all on their own, but when a guest like Bloom comes in and really vibes with their frequency, it makes for a particularly fun show. If it’s not already, Girl Friday should be listed alongside Pod Save America as essential listening for #TheResistance. With its irreverence and mockery of the patriarchy, it’s a soothing balm after a week of painful news.
Doing Spont, Our Close Friend (With Paul F. Tompkins)
Only rarely can a podcast hook a listener not within minutes, but seconds, with what can only be called laugh-out-loud comedic efficiency. This week’s Hollywood Handbook does just that, and it’s one of their best episodes to date as Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements attempt to recreate an episode of Paul F. Tompkins’ Spontaneanation. A fumbling piano intro plays from Davenport’s phone, and a monologue by Clements lovingly mocks Tompkins’ signature style with vicious accuracy. Hollywood Handbook “doing” an episode of Spontaneanation contains so many detailed layers that a simple synopsis feels like an injustice. Tompkins’ obvious glee, the hosts’ masterful performance of bad improv, and the revolutionary use of a soundboard app are all just the tip of the iceberg. There’s incredible value in the hosts truly embracing the dumb fun that makes them laugh and trusting the fans to get the joke and be just as willing to go on this ride. Reaching that level of comfort and confidence is clearly freeing for Davenport and Clements, and that couldn’t be more exciting to listen to.
Ghostbusters (With Paul Scheer)
Half a year after Earwolf’s genially combative movie podcast The Canon went on an abrupt hiatus, the show is back, albeit in a slightly different format. Originally, co-hosts Amy Nicholson and Devin Faraci squared off weekly to decide which films deserve inclusion on the list of all-time greats. But then some stuff happened, and Faraci vanished himself from all media. In this new incarnation of The Canon, Nicholson will throw down with a guest co-host each week, which should imbue the show with a whole new set of charms. This week, comedian Paul Scheer joins her to discuss the merits of the original 1984 version of Ghostbusters. It is a really enjoyable way to recontextualize Ivan Reitman’s supernatural comedy, and it’s absolutely non-squirm-inducing, which is both a plus and a minus. Nicholson’s dynamic relationship with her original host had its benefits and drawbacks, and while it’s unclear whether an identical energy will emerge from a rotating cast of sparring partners, it’s great to have this show back.
There’s been a resurgence of research into the therapeutic efforts of psychedelic drugs as of late. California-centric storytelling podcast The Leap unearths an early effort in its latest episode, detailing psychologist Gary Fisher’s 1960s experiments with giving severely emotionally disturbed children “a whopping dose of acid.” From the get-go, there’s a lot to be skeptical about. Fisher came up with the idea after taking a recreational acid trip in 1959, and he shrugged off concerns about damaging the children further by saying there was “nothing to lose” by experimenting on these kids, some of whom were “dying anyway.” Fisher’s treatments did elicit occasional signs of progress, and some children made genuine breakthroughs—but the rise of the 1960s counterculture movement spurred reactionary elements to force the end of Fisher’s research. This leads The Leap hosts Amy Standen and Judy Campbell to try to find out the fate of Fisher’s subjects, though a look into Fisher’s life is arguably more productive and jaw-dropping as they discover a man who is much closer to “mad” than “scientist.”
The Longest Shortest Time
All The Feels With Rob Huebel
Perhaps the clearest hallmark of modern comedy is its arch tone, a characteristic detachment that allows practitioners a certain remove from their subject matter. Few comedians are more adept at playing off of that trait than Rob Huebel, whose career has been built on portraying, according to his IMDB page, “charismatic but otherwise loud, ignorant, and obnoxious jerks.” All of which helps to make this week’s episode of The Longest Shortest Time that much more of a revelation, in which host Hillary Frank makes conversation with a nakedly emotional Huebel as he opens up about the premature birth of his daughter and the months she spent in the NICU. Huebel walks a tightrope between succumbing to the overwhelming emotion of his story and hilariously beating back tears, often by cursing out Frank. For a show more often focused on the maternal perspective of childbirth, Huebel’s episode gives listeners a glimpse at what such a situation can be like for a father. It is a remarkable listen, one that elicits tears of both laughter and empathy.
The Vice Magazine Podcast
April: “The Looking Glass”
The cover of the April print issue of Vice features a gilded, baroque mirror against Jacobean floral wallpaper, reflecting a set of louvre-paneled closet doors beneath a tiered chandelier, all bathed in a swirl of iridescent Day-Glo light, visuals that photo editor Elizabeth Renstrom describes as akin to what one might experience from tripping on ayahuasca at their parents’ house. Inside the pages of the magazine (and within this podcast overview), things get, if possible, even more surreal. Public records ace Jason Leopold turns up some heretofore unseen documents related to the D.C. Madam prostitution case from a decade ago that scandalized our nation’s capital, documents pertaining to said madam’s infatuation with and harassment of a U.S. naval officer. Ross Ufberg dishes on a three-day male-only Jewish religious festival held at the tomb of a Ukrainian rabbi that some have called the Hasidic Burning Man. And Lauren Oyler hangs out in a Savannah cemetery drinking schnapps with Patricia Lockwood, author of 2013 viral poem “Rape Joke” and forthcoming memoir Priestdaddy.
Worst Collection Ever
In this episode of Worst Collection Ever, Shawn Marek and Jen Stansfield explore the absurdity of a 1978 issue of Spider-Woman. The two discuss both their interest and lack of skills when it comes to cosplay—setting aside the weirdness of everyday people casually walking around in capes—before finally making it around to issue #8: Spider-Woman facing off against an American Revolutionist cursed with immortality. As a villain with no particular powers aside from an inability to die and a striking resemblance to pro wrestler Triple H, he attempts to end his cursed existence through the flawed logic of a murder/suicide of both himself and our hero. Marek and Stansfield have fun looking at the campy plot devices and the physical abnormality of the way Spider-Woman’s breasts are illustrated. Another issue is then discussed, in which Spider-Woman confronts a struggling door-to-door salesman who, in a suit borrowed from a dead man, becomes the mistaken target of the gangsters who killed the suit’s first owner.