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.
The Adam Buxton Podcast
Radiohead, for all of its universal acclaim and international fame, feels somewhat like a collection of shrinking violets, as the members rarely grant interviews. Thom Yorke might do the odd, one-off appearance, but the other members almost never engage in public conversation. It is a real treat then to hear Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood talk to British comedian Adam Buxton on his fairly new, eponymous podcast. The interview is recorded in the field, as the pair make their way around Lyon where Radiohead is playing the music festival Les Nuits De Fourvière. This approach adds a great deal of character to their leisurely, ambling talk, which covers everything from the connection bands form with an audience, to Greenwood’s collaborations with director Paul Thomas Anderson (for whom he has written several film scores). Along the way it becomes apparent that Greenwood’s real passion outside of music is in comedy, especially that of Larry David and David Sedaris. Buxton, for his part, is a genial host and interviewer, eliciting candid responses from Greenwood. The podcast also features some of the most amazing and hilarious interstitial songs peppered throughout. These elements combined signal that The Adam Buxton Podcast is a show to follow.
Black Girl Nerds
Roots Recap And Girl Talk
Roots, the classic TV miniseries about the interconnected history of African slaves in America has been re-imagined in a new series from the History channel. This episode of Black Girl Nerds invites LeVar Burton to talk about the importance of the original series as well as the support and backlash surrounding the new one. There is a lot of fanfare for Burton from the start, but it’s understandable when put in the context of his importance to the black nerd population. Having starred in Star Trek, The Reading Rainbow, and the original Roots, he’s reached the status of what BGN host Jamie Broadnax calls “The blerd patron of saints.” Being star-stricken doesn’t stop co-hosts Marqueeda, Tora, and Kayla from engaging in an insightful conversation. This is only one of three segments in this episode that includes an interview with re-imagined Roots producer Will Packer and actor Regé-Jean Page, who plays Chicken-George in the show. The heart of what makes Roots both special and controversial has to do with the power of what television depicts to the world. This episode gives insight on why those involved in the new series feel it was the right choice.
A relatively new true crime podcast out of Australia, Casefile is an artfully bare-bones series recounting murder and missing persons investigations, using only minimal primary-source audio to ground itself. Instead, these are quiet, ambiance-filled retellings by a single nameless host, in the vein of Aaron Mahnke’s Lore. Episode 22 follows the 1989 case of Marguerite Edwards, a wealthy Sydney-area suburbanite who was brutally murdered at home in broad daylight. The police first suspect her husband, and police go so far as to jog at Iain’s pace between his office and the house to determine whether his lunch break would’ve been enough time to commit the crime. After ruling out the spouse, another lucky break occurs in the form of an inmate at a nearby prison who uses information about the murder to bargain for his own reduced sentence in an unrelated conviction. Informants soon become the informed-upon in this winding case of slipups and cold trails, and the conclusion is so gripping that little editing is even needed. For fans of Cold Case Files, Forensic Files, and even Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, this podcast offers listeners the same digestible portions of puzzling mysteries to tease apart.
On this week’s Hollywood Handbook, Chris Gethard joins Sean Clements in an episode that instantly finds its game and plays it masterfully. Clements is desperate to create an episode better than the one that his cohost Hayes Davenport did with Gethard, and much of the episode is spent recapping the previous one, trying to recreate the magic rather than finding its own. That, however, ultimately works in Clements favor, as he plays up the childish jealousy and need for validation. Blending their styles of improv perfectly within the confines of the show, Gethard is insistent on connecting emotionally with Clements in an almost paternal way, while Clements instantly retreats when he gets too close to vulnerability. It’s a game that heightens such distinct parts of their characters and consistently finds them making strides in one direction, only to abandon them and turn back around. After a moment where Clements stumbles upon emotional honesty and retreats yet again, Gethard sums up the thesis of the episode, noting, “You know, we had this very, very brief window of personal feeling where you let your guard down and then somehow we instantaneously began talking about…soap.”
Following a group of oil riggers tasked with manning Shell Corporation’s deepwater oil rig Ursa in 1998, NPR’s Invisibilia offers a fascinating piece on the complex relationship between human emotion and workplace productivity upon its return. In the middle of the Gulf Of Mexico, Ursa requires 100 workers instead of the usual 20 and these workers adhere to the non-communicative “oil rig” culture, never wanting to appear weak. Even when a fellow oil rigger dies, the others don’t emote or acknowledge it, because vulnerability is weakness. When one manager suggests the Ursa riggers take intense emotional therapy courses, the culture shifts dramatically. The outcome is positive as deeply withdrawn, tough Southern oil riggers learn to open up. Yet it raises a question: What right do corporations have to dabble so deeply in the psychology of their employees? In contrast, the second segment focuses on an employee at the first McDonald’s opened in Russia where the restaurant’s trademark love of happiness and smiles didn’t fit the cultural norms. So, the corporation asked employees to take extensive training courses in American happiness. The toll of emotional labor on employees becomes detrimental: It turns out bad things happen when you’re forced to smile no matter how you actually feel. It’s an interesting, haunting listen that proves the reach large corporations can have into our personal ideologies and relationships.
At A Loss For Words
Love Me is a new podcast on CBC Radio hosted by Lu Olkowski that takes an unconventional look at the ways we define and understand “love.” The first episode makes Love Me’s unique approach clear. A beautiful reading of Ella Frances Sanders’ Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium Of Untranslatable Words from Around the World asks that we go beyond our traditional understanding of love and see the many ways it takes form in friendships, families, and with strangers. We follow two strangers who met on a trip to Haiti. Despite that they speak different languages, they soon fall in love via Google Translate. The episode then brings the difficulties of tech courtship to life in a sketch where two computer voices read romantic poetry while maintaining the basic communication required in a relationship. It’s an interesting technique that doesn’t pay off as well in the second episode, “Shame.” Here, we follow two friends who’ve never met in real life. One of them is a global traveler and the other is an overweight, homebound hoarder. The two form an unlikely bond, but shame keeps them from meeting. The story isn’t given closure as we jump to a sketch of a 1970s dating game parody on self-loathing where a woman chooses between dating her Id, Ego, and Superego. It’s a funny idea, but it doesn’t compare to the story of friendship that preceded it. Still, it’s an interesting, distinct take on relationship structures and makes Love Me worth a listen.
Sam Jones sits down with the endlessly entertaining Silicon Valley star Thomas Middleditch, for a candid conversation about the winding road of his career. Middleditch is instantly listenable as he explains how he went from a shy bullied kid to one of the most compelling forces in the comedy scene, whether or not he understands why. He and Jones discuss how he became a “secret sad boy” and how that inevitably informed some of the characters he created when his career in comedy began, each with their own sadness akin to his own. The two talk about the delusional type of hubris that is required to get anywhere in his field, and how taking a risk like dropping out of college was just one of many twists and turns that got him where he is. They break down how he approached playing Richard Hendricks in Silicon Valley, and how he differs from the characters he plays though they share a common heart. The episode seamlessly weaves chronological origin story-type conversation with anecdotes that allow the listener to really get a sense of who he is even outside of his career.
On The Media
Never Again, Again
Following the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, there has been a panoply of responses from the media, many verging on the problematic and protectionistic. It is a boon then to have a show as tirelessly balanced and responsibly sober as On The Media to help quell the cacophony. Hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield are gladly committed to using their position at the helm of the justly venerated show, to act as antidote to the current culture of punditry. On this week’s especially effective episode, the pair touch on several important topics that are on the forefront of the discussion. These range from Raillan Brooks talking about the double-edged sword of being an openly gay muslim in the wake of the tragedy to Dahlia Lithwick dissecting the “triple-decker hoax” contained in the Second Amendment’s grammatically obtuse language and the similarities it shares with Roe V. Wade. Perhaps the most thought-provoking segment of the episode comes in conversation with writer Jacob Bacharach about his piece in The New Republic likening mass shootings to natural disasters, opining that the only real recourse to terrorism is to be found in forgetting. It is through its indefatigable poise in turbulent times that On The Media showcases its immense importance in the medium.
The Lady Vanishes
Fans of Radiolab owe it to themselves to check out author and public radio extraordinaire Malcolm Gladwell’s 10-part series on historical misconceptions and oversights. In this week’s premiere episode, Gladwell tackles an assumption about sociology that, despite being unsupported outside of prized cultural anecdotes, seems to be a given in the world’s collective mind: Progress begets progress. That’s not necessarily so, according to London Business School professor Daniel Effron, who is also one of the leading researchers in the field of moral self-licensing. Framed around painter Elizabeth Thompson’s battle for institutional legitimacy, Gladwell weaves the concept of tokenism through the “court Jews” of Germany to Julia Gillard’s parliament floor roasting of Tony Abbott to Hillary Clinton. In order to to punctuate the point, he rattles off an appalling number of nations who’ve opened the door to a female leader only to shut it harder once they leave office under the guise of a seemingly broken barrier. Stories explored in the concise half-hour show are deep cuts made approachable and visceral by on-location segments, effective sound design, and Gladwell’s engrossing writing-style. It’s pop science in the best way possible and a brainy, breezy addition to the Panoply family.
Savage Love Episode 503
Dan Savage usually starts his advice podcasts with a 10-minute block of monologuing in which he spouts off on whatever news story has incensed his righteous indignation that day. That’s not quite what the intro to this week’s episode feels like. This time around, it’s more of a lament. There are moments in his commentary on this past weekend’s shooting in Orlando that may make many listeners feel like turning away, as though they’re eavesdropping on someone’s private moment of mourning. Savage’s voice cracks and sputters with emotion uncharacteristic of his smart-ass persona. Often—while recounting what the refuge of gay bars across the country have meant to his community and himself personally—he seems on the precipice of unrestrained tears. But he holds it together and delivers what’s probably most resonant and oddly joyful responses to the unimaginable tragedy. The rest of the episode (recorded prior to Sunday’s incident) is standard Savage Love, which is to say above average listening. There’s discussion of sex workers’ rights and the plight of unwilling pedophiles, as well as a bunch of requests for advice. But this opening should be considered mandatory listening, even for the people who are understandably burnt out on this story.
The One With The Kates
The creative team behind the Australian YouTube series, The Katering Show, seem poised for international success. It’s been a little over a year since the debut season of the cult cooking-bickering show—“a food intolerant and an intolerable foodie”—appeared online, and its two writers and stars, Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan (yes, those are their real names), have signed with a probably real talent agency and made the trip all the way from Melbourne to Los Angeles to take meetings with professional meeting-takers. While in town, they accepted an invite from two extremely adoring fans who happen to be major screenwriters. Ordinarily, invitations from screenwriters can be safely ignored, but these two screenwriters are also the co-hosts of Sciptnotes, a podcast with a decent-sized industry following. On a previous episode, John August and Craig Mazin gushed over of TKS’s bleak sense of humor and laser-sharp tone, and they verbally invited the two Kates on as guests mid-recording. Somehow that worked, and this week all four of them sit down to talk about how the weird food series came about and what the two Aussies are hoping to do with their newfound industry buzz. If justice serves and everything works out well, this episode will be a great time capsule of the start of two big careers.
JFK Ramblings Pt 1: Joey Romaine
Siblings Peculiar is a new podcast from Adal Rifai (the voice and mind of Chunt on Hello, From The Magic Tavern) and his sister Sadieh. On the podcast they play Adam and Sarah Peculiar, siblings who believe their paranormal investigator parents were “lost in the fabric of time and space.” They are conspiracy theorists who tend to blame everything on the supernatural or some sort of secret government agency. Every week they talk to someone new about a particular supernatural phenomenon or conspiracy, from time travel to the Mole People. This week the show hits its stride by delving into familiar and accessible conspiracy, and allowing their guest to spin storylines so convoluted and intangible, it’s futile to even try to pin down. Chicago improviser Joey Romaine plays Joey X, who stops by to share his theories on the JFK assassination. Romaine talks a mile a minute, really living up to the title of “rambler”. The hosts are smart not to hold him back, because Romaine’s ridiculous stream of consciousness babbling is some of the most consistently funny content the show has seen to date. Though this is an episode the hosts seem to talk the least, they know precisely when to poke holes in his theories, or pimp him into validating some of his details, and it’s a back and forth they play perfectly.
Recently profiled in the The New Yorker, Sleep With Me is the only podcast that deserves acclaim for how boring it is. The goal of each episode is to put listeners to sleep. And if the slow vocal fried voice of host and creator Drew Ackerman doesn’t do it, the stories he tells will. “This is the second episode of Superdull, our new series,” he explains at the top. It’s the tale of a group of heroes waiting to be called upon to save the earth. There is almost no action here. Just waiting and waiting and waiting, until, of course, some action takes place. This sense of humor is the show’s saving grace. Superdull feels like something a comic book loving father would make up while tucking his child into bed; plenty of cliff-hangers and funny voices for different characters. But what’s most entertaining is how sleep-inducing the pace of the storytelling is. Ackerman talks alone into the microphone for 30 minutes straight. “And that’s it, so I hope you, uh, have a restful evening. Goodnight,” he says by the end. If you are up for the challenge, you may even dare trying to staying awake through episode.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad
In honor of the first black, female, abolitionist, suffragist espionage agent, and artisanal root beer merchant to grace the front of U.S. paper currency, Stuff You Missed In History Class decided to devote a full two-episodes to the unbelievable (sometimes literally) life of Harriet Tubman. As was the case with many black historical figures, she didn’t inspire much scholarly examination for much of the 19th and 20th century, so many of the earliest sources for her life story were children’s books, which don’t tend to be particularly rigorous in their fact-checking. Because of that, we have a biography that’s clouded in myth and obscured by legend. Insofar as they’re able to tease out fact from fiction, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey relay the awe-inspiring biography of a remarkably courageous and benevolent woman who, despite having been born into slavery herself, managed to liberate more than a thousand slaves and become the first female leader of an armed military mission in the Civil War. The co-hosts lead the listener through the exhilarating highs and crushing lows of Tubman’s nine-decade life, including that time she guided Union soldiers through Confederate mines to Combahee Ferry in South Carolina and that other time when she was beaten and robbed of $2,000 by con artists and left for dead in the woods outside Auburn, New York.
This American Life
Birds & Bees
How does an interracial couple explain racism to their kids? How should the concept of consent be explained to kids when they have the sex talk? When should children learn about death and how does one teach it to them when they actually have to face it? These are the questions the latest This American Life doesn’t pretend to have the answers to, but tries to explore from all angles. Chana Joffe-Walt sits in for Ira Glass, since she is a mother who is, like many, struggling to determine when to present the delicate concepts of sex, racism, and death to young children when they have no inherent information about them. The first act looks at a college sexual assault workshop, where it’s evident that despite the endless sharing of information that occurs when growing up, broad questions remain unanswered. Next, W. Kumau Bell shares a story on how an incident of racism forced him to think about how to explain the concept to his two young daughters. The episode closes out with a slightly devastating yet endlessly fascinating segment by Jonathan Goldstein on grief counseling centers focused on children dealing with the death of members of their immediate family. It’s moving to hear how a young mind processes such extreme events of loss, and successfully ties up an episode that swims in the murky waters of bigger and broader conversations that will continue to mystify children and adults alike.
“It added a word to the UCB slogan.”
“I don’t have much of a comment on that.”—Sean Clements and Chris Gethard on Don’t Think Twice, Hollywood Handbook
“He was a… horny bastard… who was a drug trafficker, a drug smuggler, and a French Corsican Mafioso hitman.”
“But horny first? First and foremost?”
“Let’s just say that, when they killed him, when the federales killed him in some other country for trafficking heroin across the boarder, he had two women in bed with him. So you can say, yeah, the guy likes to fuck.”—Joey Romaine and Adal Rifai on Lucien Sarti, Siblings Peculiar