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.
Anna Faris Is Unqualified
Though co-host Sim Sarna tries to keep things on track with Anna Faris Is Unqualified’s simple podcast structure—guest interview, rapid-fire question game, call-in segment—Anna Faris can’t help but follow loose, tangential threads of conversation wherever they lead her. With Canadian guest Ellen Page, Faris starts by trying to name all Canadian provinces, then expresses guilt for confusing provinces with territories. Page is given lots of breathing room to promote her exciting Vice project, Gaycation, wherein she documents the experiences of LGBTQ people around the globe. It’s the call-in segment when Faris and Page’s dissimilar personalities converge. They both implore an engaged woman to stay the hell away from an old flame who works in her office, concluding that he’s nothing but bad news in an attention-hungry package. The conviction with which Faris and Page counsel this caller confirms everything the world already assumed about them: They are two strong women who have been around the block enough times to confidently call out bullshit, weigh in on matters of romance, and no doubt be an amazing hang on a weeknight in Faris’ living room.
The Axe Files
Politicians occupy a rather dichotomous position in our world, having to be both talismanic figures onto which the public project their beliefs, as well as just general human beings. It can make it nearly impossible to see them as anything other than the party they represent, features painted with the broadest of strokes. It is thus such an important service rendered by eminent political strategist David Axelrod’s podcast The Axe Files that listeners are granted not just a peek behind the political curtain, but an opportunity to fully realize the humanity of the individuals interviewed. This week’s guest, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, is at times amazingly candid as he discusses the current state of his party, what it was like to run for president, and how funny he finds it being labeled “Washington elite,” having grown up in a South Carolina liquor store. Graham is also one of the more distinctly charming members of the Senate, which helps to keep the conversation bubbling. There is a sincere lack of friction on both sides in their conversation, giving listeners something rather refreshing to hear in political discourse: honesty.
Better Call Saul Insider Podcast
The Better Call Saul Insider Podcast has almost as few frills as its namesake: The episodes are plainly titled by screenwriting conventions and co-hosts/Saul editors Kelley Dixon and Chris McCaleb anchor an unstructured chat involving executive producers Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, the episode’s writer, and occasionally Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk sits out of their review of “Amarillo,” though first-time writer Jonathan Glatzer more than makes up for it with his high energy appreciation just for being involved. And with production designer Tony Fanning in the mix as well, the crew finds a natural rhythm detailing the ins and outs of the show’s gorgeous locations, like how they repurposed an Albuquerque library for Davis & Main’s uniquely Pueblo style in contrast to the stuffy, corporate HHM, and how the opening shot of Jimmy McGill posing by a Lone Star mural has become just the latest stop in the unofficial Breaking Bad tour of the region. In addition, casual-hardcore viewers will find insightful reminders from Gilligan and Gould peppered throughout, like how Mike Ehrmantraut’s innocuous battery-operated gift to his granddaughter will one day play an integral role in Breaking Bad, as well as the quietly sad fact that McGill will one day go on to name his holding company after the greatest night of his life spent snuggling on the couch beside Kim Wexler watching Ice Station Zebra—Howard Hughes’ favorite movie.
Between The Liner Notes
God Bless Tiny Tim
From the vantage point of 2016, Tiny Tim, the 6-foot 1-inch falsetto-voiced, ukulele-playing singer who gifted the world with the novelty music mainstay “Tiptoe Through The Tulips,” may seem like a pop-culture blip, a minor eddy in the gushing torrent of weirdness that characterized the late 1960s. And maybe in some ways that’s just what he was. He certainly hasn’t had as lasting an impact upon music or society as, say, Alex Chilton or Lou Reed. But neither Chilton nor Reed ever drew record ratings after being invited to have their weddings beamed into living rooms around the nation via Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. There was a brief period of time when the genuine eccentric Herbert Khaury—who could previously be found rattling around Greenwich Village with shoulder-length hair and white make-up smeared across his face a decade before that would cease raising eyebrows—was one of the most famous and lauded musicians in the world. Between The Liner Notes, a documentary style podcast hosted by Matthew Billy, managed to turn the character study of a stranger than average guy with odd tastes in music and sad spiritual hang-ups into 40 fascinating minutes of biography. People who don’t think the life of Tiny Tim would make for a compelling story clearly haven’t heard this episode.
Champs Farewell: Questlove
Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher bring back their very own podcast hype man, DJ Douggpound, as well as special guest Questlove, for the final episode of The Champs. The podcast has made a point to only highlight people of color from the worlds of hip-hop and stand-up since its start at a time when comedy podcasts seemed to be suffering from a major lack of diverse voices. Brennan and Kasher talk about everything and nothing during the first hour as they wait for Questlove to arrive. That’s ultimately what makes the show great. It’s not highly produced or edited. Instead, it’s two dudes in a room talking shit and trying to get to know a guest while DJ Douggpound occasionally distracts them with noises. The hosts are well aware of the odd racial setup of the show, but it’s also refreshing that they insist race be a present factor in all of their discussions while also not being limited to it. Questlove opens up about his thoughts on Kanye West, the final years of his close friend Amy Winehouse, and his personal struggles with being a part of the fame game. It’s enlightening and feels less like an interview and more like a conversation among friends. Luckily we get to be a fly on the wall.
Housing For Women Special: Mira
Perhaps the most interesting aspect inherent to the medium of podcasting is found in the transmutability it affords its programs. Where else can one find such an immense tonal shift like that witnessed by listeners on this week’s Distraction Pieces podcast? The show—hosted by the intense and intelligent Scroobius Pip—often revolves around interviewing fascinating famous creatives. But then comes an episode like this week’s, once again shifting listener expectations as to what the program is truly capable of achieving. This comes when Pip has on as his guest a woman, pseudonymously known as Mira, who bravely recounts her harrowing tale of being trafficked into a life of prostitution from her unnamed home country to England. Pip, for his part, does a great job of guiding his discussion with Mira along with a delicate touch, allowing her to tell exactly the story that she finds necessary. It is an intensely emotional interview and one that serves to both shatter the myth of compassionate humanity while also helping to restore it at the same time. Mira’s tale is sadly not an isolated experience, making this episode such an phenomenally important listen. It is in episodes like this where listeners get to fully experience the qualities which have made Pip one of the most interesting podcasters working today.
Micro But Mighty
Rose Eveleth has nailed the right combination of silly humor and hard science with her podcast Flash Forward, which looks at “a new future every week” by taking one facet of a hypothetical future and exploring how it would change the world. Formerly Gizmodo’s Meanwhile In The Future podcast, Flash Forward has a new home at Boing Boing for its second season and has so far focused episodes on things like mosquito extinction, the Earth’s population all simultaneously contracting prosopagnosia, and, this week, the potential medical benefits and scary abuses of microbiome transplants. The show’s open, in which Eveleth expertly parodies tabloid talk shows and paid programming, feels less far off than any other so far. That’s because microbiota science is actually making formidable advancements, as Eveleth discovers through conversations with experts that these tiny ecologies could be as unique as a human fingerprint. And its potential practical uses—from inoculating babies born through cesarean section to solving sexual assault cases—seem well worth the messy legislation that gets alluded to in the same breath, though as even uBiome CEO Jessica Richman concedes, “Whenever there’s a new breakthrough in science, people kind of overshoot the mark a little bit.” Thankfully, Eveleth is on the case.
Hello, From The Magic Tavern
This week, Arnie, Chunt (Adal Rifai) and Usidore (Matt Young) are joined by Baron Ragoon, the “steward of the Shrike valley,” played by Chicago improviser Chris Rathjen. It is slowly revealed that the baron is an affiliate of The Dark Lord, which causes Usidore to go into a panic, retreating under the table to become “one with the shadows” as he commands Chunt and Arnie to ask the baron increasingly revealing questions about The Dark Lord. Chunt and Arnie are conflicted about the baron’s evil politics, because Rathjen plays the baron as such a nice guy, which is a smart character choice on his part. What makes this episode one of the most hilarious in recent memory, is the push for jokes spearheaded by Rifai as Chunt, who recognizes early on that “Shrike” sounds like “Shrek.” If listeners pay close attention, they can hear precisely when Rifai decides that this will be an ongoing joke as he persistently sets up jokes to be made with remarks like “I feel like a lot of people like Shrike when they’re younger, I feel like Shrike appeals to a lot of kids” and “They have a talking donkey in Shrike, nobody respects it.” Once everyone decides to run with Rifai’s decision to relentlessly leap at every single opportunity for a joke, there’s no turning back as puns and references are weaved in and out of the baron’s complex narrative.
Kulap Vilaysack, Our Close Friend
It’s been a month since Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements’ emotional Hollywood Handbook reunion, and every episode with the boys back in the studio together has been further proof of the incredible and effortless dynamic between the two. That’s why when the guest segment of this episode happens later in the show than usual, it’s hardly noticeable or even a slight bother, no matter how great Kulap Vilaysack is as a guest. In this episode, they crack open the Teaser Freezer once again, and discuss Criminal, the new Kevin Costner movie, who is quickly renamed “Kevin Chopsner,” because “He’s got chops for days.” After some astute observations about how Chopsner seems to have a spicy hoagie stuck in his throat, Vilaysack joins them in the studio after being late because of kickboxing. She is an absolute delight as they nag about all the podcasts who haven’t asked them to be guests, really giving their new “needy for validation” angle all they’ve got when they even grill her about why they aren’t on her new show Bajillion Dollar Propertie$. Vilaysack can hardly respond through her laughter, but when she does she’s hilariously incredulous at their ridiculous claims about favoritism within the Earwolf community. It’s always rewarding to hear such uncontrollable laughs from guests, because it feels like they reside in the same Davenport and Clements’ fan club as the many dedicated listeners, validating the love of the hosts’ commanding but absurd comedic style.
My Brother, My Brother And Me
Remain On The Smooth Tip
This week on My Brother, My Brother And Me, the McElroys are fresh off the Fuller House ride of their lives and find it impossible not to talk about at length. Each brother has seen varying amounts of the show, Travis only watching the first 15 minutes while Justin seems well into the series, encouraging his brothers to keep watching as he describes some of its most ridiculous scenes. They move on to giving some advice, which, as expected, brings about rapid fire bits, as when they take on a Yahoo Answers question in which a kid was kicked out of Cici’s Pizza after eating 22 slices of pizza. Travis clearly doesn’t think it’s that high of a number, which makes Griffin exclaim in outrage, “That’s a lot of ’za, my dude! That’s a shit ton of sweet pie!” After some discussion on the right “slizzies/scoupa” (pizza/pudding) ratio, they move on to the incredible question, “Is the swing era slowly dying away?”, which provokes predictably impassioned responses as they hatch a plan to bring back swing music. It all comes to a head when they arrive at the topic of MC Scat Kat. Justin reads aloud the press kit found on Wikipedia for MC Scat Kat’s personality, which includes phrases like “street philosopher” and “remains on the smooth tip,” which as fans could imagine, the brothers can hardly handle. They don’t even try to contain their laughter, and hilarity ensues.
Note To Self
Wait, You’re Into [Insert Kink] Too?!
Can technology improve your sex life with your partner? With Kaitlin Prest of the podcast The Heart, Note To Self interviews GraceAnn Bennett, an ex-Mormon who married her husband in her 20s. An inability to communicate about their sex life always plagued their relationship, and they eventually got divorced after 19 years together. After her divorce, Bennett left her advertising job and created the new app PlsPlsMe, a tool to help couples talk to each other about what they like and don’t like in the bedroom by allowing them to ask specific questions about their interests—spanning from romantic gestures to kink preferences—through their phones. When both partners share a turn-on, they receive a notification. We hear from real-life couples using the app and consider why it’s so difficult to ask your partner for what you want—and most surprisingly, why sometimes it can be harder to ask your partner to make out with you than to ask them to pee on you. “It’s like training wheels for real in-person intimacy,” Bennett says of the app.
It’s been roughly four years since Superego released episodes with any regularity, and as the “improvised and analyzed” podcast reaches its 10th anniversary, the quartet behind it—Matt Gourley, Jeremy Carter, Mark McConville, and Paul F. Tompkins—apparently realized now was a good time to officially retire it. Superego will continue in sporadic live events and special episodes (so not all that different from how it’s been the past few years), but the podcast as fans have known it is ending. It’s a shame, because Superego is a singular, storied show in the world of comedy podcasting, but it’s also been a little frustrating to be a fan and have it released so seldom. The final episode finds the group in great form, beginning with a long opening sketch about a puzzle room/house that doesn’t offer much in the way of puzzlement. The Star Wars themed Brown Resistance Squadron is typically sharp (with some good jokes about The Force Awakens), there’s a good bit based around a Smithsonian audio tour, and a crossover segment from Howl’s The Complete Woman. But Superego is in peak, convoluted form with the Shootout At The O.K. Corral Stunt Spectacular, where the group imagines a bizarre amusement-park theme show version of the famous gun battle. It’s a moment that makes the end of the podcast especially bittersweet, but it’s best that Superego go out on a high note.
The Tell Show
Michael Ian Black—Home
Michael Ian Black is in the Tell Show‘s radical honesty hot seat this week to play Never Have I Ever with hosts Isaac Fitzgerald and Summer Anne Burton. He also discusses choking on Pixy Stixs and improvises a few painful slam poetry verses. On the show’s theme of home, Black shares a story about buying his first house with his wife and his decision to leave Los Angeles for the East Coast, against everyone’s professional advice that it would hurt his acting career. He asks his wife to pick out their new home by herself even though that meant he would have to move in without seeing it first, promises her he’ll tell her he loves it even if he hates it, and then ends up hating it. And their new house came with a neighbor who used to live in the house and still stopped by to mow the lawn. Eventually, the home started to feel like his: “Certainly, once you have a baby throwing up on you, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is my house.’”
With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus
James Mastraieni, Drew DiFonzo Marks: Vision Quest
In this episode of With Special Guest, comedians Drew DiFonzo Marks and James Mastraieni are Chakie (short for Chakra Dudoosie) and The Sound Of Leaves Rustling. They host the show Vision Quest, a podcast where they take hallucinogenic drugs recorded live from Joshua Tree. Originally named Carl Weisenberg, and Vladimir Putin (no relation) they abandoned their given names (“Don’t want to say slave name, because I’m free now.”) and became “the shamans to the stars” through the use of Ayahuasca. Right off the bat, the episode masters its tone as the two command, “Whatever you’re doing right now, stop, put everything down, and hug yourself.” The cohosts’ handle on their characters is perfect and familiar as they welcome Emma Dottie (Lapkus), who is trying to overcome the death of her son, who she believes she tickled to death. The three go on a journey through Emma’s memories, which results in her becoming Oprah, Chakie revealing he had sex with his mother, and Leaves Rustling being taken over by his lizard brain, which apparently means he can only say “lizard brain” and loves microphones. The concept of taking an Ayahuasca driven vision quest allows the comedians to be particularly unhinged, with no idea too ridiculous to explore, which is just the kind of fun energy this podcast thrives on.
We see what you said there
“There’s Gary Oldman, who is from the Batman movies. And if you remember, he asks the famous question, ‘Why are you being so serious?’”—Sean Clements on the trailer for Criminal, Hollywood Handbook
“So, when you saw your wife’s face, were you a believer?”—Adal Rifai as Chunt making one of many Shrek references, Hello, From The Magic Tavern
“I don’t think that feeling ever quite goes away, that you’re kind of waiting for maturity. I think that feeling stays with you, so you either start doing things, or not.” Michael Ian Black on growing up and waiting to feel grown up, The Tell Show