Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Drag Race fans have even more to explore with Alaska and Willam’s universe-expanding Race Chaser

Photo: Alaska and Willam (Earl Gibson III/Getty Images, Vincent Sandoval/WireImageBloody Date Night/Getty Images)
PodmassPodmassIn 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.


Near Dark (1987)

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Liz Richards and Josh Krebs are dating, and they’re also working together as co-hosts of Bloody Date Night. Josh is a huge horror fan and Liz is not, so each episode finds them screening a different horror film together, bringing their respective genre-buff and novice perspectives to the flick in question. In celebration of Women in Horror Month, the couple’s Valentine’s Day episode features 1987’s Near Dark, directed by Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow. Having co-hosted the podcast since its inception in 2015, Liz is now a horror aficionado in her own right, comparing the Western aesthetic of Near Dark to ’90s cult favorite Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight, which the duo watched in 2016. Both Liz and Josh raise interesting points in their commentary: They note, for example, that the word “vampire” is never actually mentioned throughout Near Dark, and they emphasize how desperate the two romantic leads come across (comparing the commitment of turning one’s date into a vampire with the ordeal of getting married). The pair cover a lot of ground as they revisit this female-driven ’80s cult classic. [Jose Nateras]


Equal Parts
Sarah & Freddie

We spend so much time using our cellphones as tools to cause anxiety that it’s easy to forget they’re useful for anything else. If you’re in the mood to dilute emotional sewage with something life-affirming and hopeful, you could do a lot worse than Equal Parts. This new documentary-style podcast features interviews with real couples, recounting the byzantine ways in which they came together and fell in love. The catch is that host-producer Maria Passingham records the stories from each partner separately, so expect discrepancies. In the inaugural episode, we meet Sarah and Freddie, whose first real date nearly ended in tragedy, not because Freddie nearly got himself stabbed to death in a bar, but because of what Sarah accidentally whispered to him as they were saying their goodbyes. Obviously, the story has a happy ending, which is something we can use more of these days. Equal Parts is a cleanly produced show without artifice, and each episode is released with a piece of original artwork. [Dennis DiClaudio]


Gettin’ Better With Ron Funches
Young Black Heathen With Taylor Tomlinson

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For comedian Ron Funches, positivity is positively soothing. With his singsong delivery and infectious giggle, Funches—as he shared on Conan O’Brien’s podcast in January—has come by his disarming stage persona honestly. Growing up rough in Chicago; belittled for his incongruous demeanor and geekiness; coping with a lifetime of food issues; and the challenge of raising his son, who is on the autism spectrum, as a single father, Funches has transformed himself into a constantly striving, supportive presence—who also happens to be one of the funniest stand-ups in the country. On Gettin’ Better Funches invites an eclectic mix of fellow comics, friends, his mom, and his beloved professional wrestlers (like friend X-Pac) into his home to talk shop, certainly, but also to engage in a rambling, deceptively in-depth conversation about, yes, getting better. In this episode he speaks with comedian Taylor Tomlinson, who was alongside Funches on O’Brien’s recent stand-up tour. Funches draws out Tomlinson’s life story (growing up in a strict religious home, starting in stand-up at 16) in an encouraging conversation that never crosses into platitudes or sentimentality. For Funches, whose ongoing battle to lose the weight that’s been so central to his onscreen persona forms a thoughtful recurring theme, Gettin’ Better is a refreshing series on finding the way through life’s garbage without turning rotten yourself. [Dennis Perkins]


Hip Hop Saved My Life
Kae Kurd

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Hip Hop Saved My Life is a relaxing and fun U.K. chat show about all things hip-hop, hosted by comedian Romesh Ranganathan. Ranganathan and his guests use their deeply held love of the genre to conjure up similar touch points in their lives, such as their teenage years discovering and defending their misunderstood music from parents, or now as elder statesmen debating the greats versus the garbage. The hosts might be diehards, but the conversation is broad enough that casual fans can take away much from the show besides the names of more obscure artists. Case in point: They spend the first chunk of the show talking about no less prominent a musician than Eminem as part of a “how’d you get into hip-hop” segment. The consensus is that the man can rap, but he mostly makes garbage music now and should either innovate or retire. Then they goof on Ja Rule for a bit thanks to the Fyre Festival documentaries he’ll never live down. The show is filled out as the group moves around topics such as the differences between New York rap and Southern rap, how adult hip-hop is distinct from adolescent hip-hop, their favorite desert island discs, rappers they’re currently listening to, and criticism of current hip-hop trends. [Zach Brooke]


Ologies
Matrimoniology (Marriage) With Dr. Benjamin Karney 

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Before becoming synonymous with a certain kind of comic book fandom, the hallmarks of being a nerd had more to do with a sort of blinkered interest in math, history, and the sciences. By that classical definition, the Ologies podcast is a nerdy dream come true in the best way possible. Hosted by excellent science communicator Alie Ward, the show is a product of Ward’s indefatigable excitement with all of the many subfields of academic entanglement. In each episode Ward speaks with an expert and peppers them with questions ranging from the astute to the absurd. Plenty of audio footnotes and asides make for the perfect blend of hard science and enjoyable audio. This week’s episode feels particularly relevant for the Valentine’s holiday, as it is all about relationships, focusing on the social psychology at play in marriage. UCLA professor Dr. Ben Karney is a quick study when it comes to Ward’s playful interview style, managing to be charming, funny, and insightful in equal measure. This episode functions as a good jumping-on point for nerds of all stripes to enjoy this delightfully inquisitive show. [Ben Cannon]


Race Chaser
All Stars S4 E9 “Sex And The Kitty Girl”

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As of this month, RuPaul’s Drag Race officially hit its 10-year anniversary milestone since the series’ humble, frosty, and heartwarmingly janky debut in cable obscurity. That was then; in the last decade, the elimination-based competition reality show has glowed up from a cult hit to a mecca of LGTBQ pop culture, a mainstream television staple, and a launchpad for more than a hundred drag queens who reshape and reinvent the drag art form onscreen and in clubs all across the country. The matriarch behind it all, Ru, has had her own great podcast with co-host Michelle Visage for years; with Race Chaser, launched last summer, fans get a different but equally well-informed perspective on the show via iconic queens Willam Belli and Alaska Thunderfuck. This week, the hosts break down the penultimate All Stars season four challenge with a discussion about how the show’s campy sketches (“skits,” according to Belli) do and do not translate into the working world, and how Latrice Royale has earned the right to take off her heels wherever she damn well pleases—including the runway. [Dan Jakes]


The Frontline Dispatch
The Boy In The Caravan 

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News coverage of the migrant caravan heading from Central America to the southern U.S. border last fall often positioned the caravan as something Americans should fear, but the story of Vladi exposes the falsehoods inherent in panicky generalizing. A 15-year-old Salvadoran, Vladi is urged by his own grandmother to flee to the U.S. to avoid the escalating recruitment efforts of MS-13. Waiting over the border, if he makes it, is his mother, herself a refugee after receiving threats from gang members on behalf of her abusive, imprisoned husband. Most of the action takes place at the U.S. border, where Frontline reporter Monica Campbell meets up with him, meaning Vladi managed to make the 2,700-mile trek to Tijuana, but his fate is far from certain. U.S. Customs and Border Protection don’t want to admit him for refugee status proceedings. And as an unaccompanied foreign minor in Mexico, Vladi also must contend with Mexican authorities, who could return him to El Salvador at any moment. [Zach Brooke]


The Hurricane Tapes
Muhammad Ali And Bob Dylan

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Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s story has been told many times. Once in song, once in film, and now again in a new podcast from the BBC. Only this time, this tale of injustice, racism, and 20 years of wrongful imprisonment is being told in Carter’s own words via a series of recently discovered tape recordings. There are many aspects of this frustrating case to explore, but one of the more interesting ones is the fact that after he and John Artis were accused of a triple homicide that took place at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey, an entire PR campaign was built up around proving Carter’s innocence. Bob Dylan famously sang about Carter’s botched trial in the 1975 song “Hurricane,” which had to be over eight minutes long to accommodate the complexity of the case. Muhammad Ali, who had previously butted heads with Carter, used his own celebrity to campaign for Carter’s retrial, which was eventually granted. Unfortunately, winning in the court of public opinion is not the same as winning in the court of law, and this story is still far from over. [Dan Neilan]


Throughline
Four Days In August

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When discussing something as complicated as geopolitical relations, context is key. Throughline, a new history podcast from NPR, is all about context. Each week, hosts Ramtin Arablouei and Rund Abdelfatah look back at moments in history that are rarely discussed or sometimes forgotten altogether, examining how the ripples of those events affect us in the here and now. For example, most people know that the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran was a major contributor to the current adversarial relationship between Iran and the United States. But most people don’t know about the CIA-aided coup d’état that occurred in Iran over 25 years earlier. That event—which saw the democratically elected prime minister deposed in favor of a wealthy, dictatorial Shah—was itself the result of years of mismanagement and bad faith trade relations established by British oil companies. Add to that the political meddling of the Muslim clergy and you begin to see how truly complicated this whole story is. But it’s only after seeing the whole picture that we can begin to understand the current mess we’re in. [Dan Neilan]

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