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.
Clerk And Dagger
Mazes & Minotaurs, Or Also Still Friday
This scrappy Chicago-based podcast created by Richard Kniazuk kicked it up a notch this week with a musical episode that feels like the audio-only love child of Buffy’s “Once More, With Feeling” and Community. The comedy series follows a group of colleagues who work for the Illuminati—think NBC’s The Office, but with more lizard people. They find themselves trapped by a mole man who forces them to play a maniacal game that combines Dungeons & Dragons and Sphinx-like riddles to escape with their lives. The music, which ranges in style from Irish drinking songs to soulful ballads to a disco tune, is nerdy in the most delightful way, self-aware and downright catchy. By the end of it all, it’s impossible not to feel endeared to the show’s main cast—Jake Dewar in particular shines as H.R. Giger—and want to hear more of their darkly funny journey, the more songs the better.
Police Videos: Charlotte
In an era when concrete evidence can apparently be dismissed out of hand and truth has no meaningful relation to fact, the much-lauded NPR podcast Embedded returns with this three-part exploration of violent police-involved incidents caught on video. This first episode of the series pieces together the story behind a 2013 video in which a North Carolina police officer shot Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man, 10 times. Host Kelly McEvers and her team are aware of just how polarizing the topic is, and they approach their reporting with admirable objectivity, often confounding listener expectations as a way of forcing introspection about prejudice. Listening to the event captured on tape is an emotionally harrowing experience, but the show doesn’t use it for sensational ends; rather, they intend for listeners to see beyond it, to understand how any two people can see two radically different stories within it. The episode is full of honesty, emotion, integrity, and a yen for change, making it a necessary listen in this era.
The second season of this Hawaii-focused podcast focuses on the universal themes of science versus the sacred, development versus tradition, and natives versus opportunists—all localized atop a mountain on the Big Island. Mauna Kea is a massive dormant volcano that makes up the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands; the location and composition of Mauna Kea proved ideal for astronomy, and since the 1960s, several telescopes have been erected to survey the skies. The mushrooming observatories engendered gradual opposition from native Hawaiian activists, who grew disgusted with the unchecked development and who assign religious significance to the mountain. Opposition between the groups came to a head in 2015, when construction of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope was halted by protesters. The battle over the fate of the TMT and the mountain itself continues today in the Hawaiian legal system and in the court of public opinion, where scientists, activists, and celebrities like Game Of Thrones alum Jason Momoa press their case to preserve their visions of the mountain’s future.
After The Final Thigh Rub
Although the Bachelor finale went as predictably as it could have, saying goodbye to this season with the reliably hilarious, candid, and lovable Griffin and Rachel McElroy was like champagne at a rose ceremony: necessary. Recorded in two parts, the hosts first share their initial reactions to the finale, then come back later with thoughts on “After The Final Rose.” There’s a notably different energy of excitement for the upcoming Bachelorette season with Rachel Lindsay, and it’s a perfect lure for listeners to stick around until then. What continues to set Rose Buddies apart from other franchise-centric podcasts is the McElroys’ attention (and dedication) to the details. The minute specifics they pull from each episode, when filtered through their unique sense of humor, take recapping to an entirely new place: One shot of a lurking Santa Claus behind a tree reminds Rachel of The Blair Witch Project, and Griffin insists on detailing one of the commercials’ captioning errors. Their comedy-inclined viewing experience becomes the listener’s treat, and this episode is the perfect way to close out this season of both the show and the podcast.
Dan Savage is now in his 11th year of recording weekly episodes of his sex-advice podcast, and the Savage Lovecast might now be moving into a new golden age. The 52-year-old columnist and activist has always been at his best when given the chance to rage, with wilting humor and cynical humanism against true depravity and naked prejudice. And here we are in the age of Trump. Savage kicks off this week’s show with a follow-up to last week’s intro, in which he tore into first lady Melania Trump for her many hypocrisies and the pass she’s been given by liberals because she’s a pretty white lady married to an orange monster. Later his excitement for the new live-action Beauty And The Beast gets doused in cold water when Salon writer Amanda Marcotte points out the glaring and somewhat dangerous anti-feminist messages in the fairy tale. On the longer “magnum” version of the podcast, Savage talks to Michael Hobbes about the latter’s recent Huffington Post article on the epidemic of loneliness in the gay community and what can be done about it.
The Last Podcast On The Left
L. Ron Hubbard Part One: Grub Hubbard
It seems like everyone is producing their own investigation of Scientology these days, and the boys at LPOTL are the latest to look into the founder of a secretive, elitist, alien-based religion and see the makings of good entertainment. So begins a multipart biography of L. Ron Hubbard, the prolific author, devout occultist, and legend-in-his-own-lunchtime self-promoter. There’s no end to the debate about Hubbard’s early life, and the hosts plumb many of the usual sources for fodder, like Hubbard’s autobiography and contradicting military records, but the real standout stories come from the diaries of satanic psychedelic rocket scientist Jack Parsons. After getting out of the U.S. Navy, Hubbard came to live at Parsons’ counterculture compound in Pasadena, California. The pair collaborated on many lighthearted Aleister Crowley-inspired black magic rituals, such as summoning the antichrist. Sadly, the bromance was not to endure. Hubbard and Parsons’ girlfriend, Sara—who’d been sleeping with Hubbard for some time at that point—absconded to Florida with a chunk of Parsons’ life savings, forcing Parsons’ to follow them and use weather-manipulating black magic spells in an attempt to catch up with the pair.
These Are Their Stories
SVU: The Prep School Rapist & The “Cherry Pickers Club” With Amelia McDonell-Parry
True crime writers and married couple Rebecca Lavoie and Kevin Flynn host this podcast, picking apart all three iterations of what they call the “f-ing OG of police procedurals, baby”: Law & Order. Instead of taking on the impossible task of chronologically covering episodes of Criminal Intent, Special Victims Unit, or “original recipe,” they jump around in the series, focusing on storylines that are most clearly ripped from the headlines. Guests are invited to discuss their favorite detective teams and prosecutorial pairings, then highlight the finer points of each episode. As seasoned journalists and true crime novelists, Lavoie and Flynn bring their expert perspectives to the season-17 SVU episode “A Misunderstanding” with fellow journalist Amelia McDonell-Parry. Comparing the show’s fictional rape case to the real trial of St. Paul’s prep school graduate Owen Labrie, they find very little differences in the depiction, prompting a discussion of SVU’s role in a culture that fosters rape apologists. Despite the dark and weighty material discussed, there’s no shortage of entertaining and snarky analysis of just how ridiculous and melodramatic these episodic dramas can get.
This excellent episode of The Stakes—the cultural commentary podcast from MTV’s thoughtfully curated audio network—explores the ways immigration policies since 9/11 have drastically changed the physical experience for families caught between the U.S.-Mexico divide. Producer Mukta Mohan ventures to San Diego’s Friendship Park, situated directly on the border, the only place where people on either side may meet face-to-face. Despite its original intent, it has since become a harsh array of fence affording only slivers of space through which to peer, gaps so narrow as to permit touching by pinky fingers only. Mohan’s heartrending story focuses on many of the people who seek to make the park a sanctuary, from a yoga teacher leading binational classes to a pastor preaching salient messages of freedom. It’s the story’s central figures who offer the clearest picture of the awful and random nature of immigrant affairs today. They are a pair of recently separated siblings: one a legal U.S. citizen by birth, the other brought into the country at age 2 and recently deported during a routine status check. Hearing this perhaps unfamiliar story, one can’t help but be moved, hopefully to positive action.
We see what you said there
“What kind of monster wouldn’t name his pipe bomb wife?” —Mole man referring to his weapon, Michelle Piper, Clerk And Dagger
“It reminded me of having contractions while I was in labor.” —Rachel McElroy on watching Blake’s awkward interaction with Rachel Lindsay, Rose Buddies