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 Black Tapes
This week on The Black Tapes—a fiction series on paranormal conspiracies—Alex Reagan follows up on so many loose ends that it’s lucky producer Nic can keep them halfway untangled. Reagan’s insomnia is starting to make more sense: She and Nic are planning an entire road trip up the coast just to catch a mere glimpse of the elusive Thomas Warren, and they’re using Tor browsers to comb the dark web for information on the elusive “Advocate.” While these leads remain hazy at best, Reagan tracks down a concrete piece of her investigative jigsaw puzzle: a source identified only as “John” who now holds a position within the church and can recall details from his own demonic possession. As he plays the video of his late-’80s exorcism for Reagan and a skeptical Dr. Strand, listeners are treated to the best sound editing The Black Tapes has yet offered: John’s moaning and screaming is on par with The Conjuring, and the poor audio quality of the VHS tape contrasts brilliantly with Strand’s calm, crystal-clear voice as he observes it. Whether or not the show is building toward a climactic season finale, it’s a thrill to meander in these truly chilling moments.
The Podchowski Casters: Sense8
Griffin Newman and David Sims are in the last stretch of their Wachowski miniseries, and what a miniseries it has been. They decided early on that the Wachowskis’ core artist statement is that everyone should be nice to each other, and their Netflix series, Sense8, is no different. The two binge-watched the Wachowskis’ 12 hour-long episodes in just a few days, and they are noticeably exasperated by the series. It’s hilarious to hear them pick on the filmmakers a bit as they exhaustively go over the many plot points and characters of the show, pinpointing what does and doesn’t work. They break down how the Wachowskis translated their ideas in a new format, and analyze peak TV through the lens of the show. Newman and Sims are great at allowing themselves to be eloquently frustrated by aspects of Sense8 while maintaining an evident affection for it. The episode thrives when they are truly excited by something though, as those moments balance out the more critique-heavy segments. As smart as their analysis is, it’s always fun to hear the hosts call characters “cutie patooties.”
Every Detective Starts As A Rookie
Detective begins its second season with a new pair of eyes to explore the world of fact-finding. Produced by Investigation Discovery and narrated by Garnsey Sloan, this audio-documentary series is grounded by its focus on the real life experiences of Detective Garry McFadden. Though similar in tone to the Serial podcast, Detective doesn’t focus on a single case; instead the show’s only goal is to expand our understanding of the people tasked with solving them. McFadden, who has worked over 27 years as a homicide detective for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, shares how a dare between college grad buddies led to him entering the field. “We all decided to apply for law enforcement. I think every one of us got denied, and we did not know why.” As it turns out, the fact that McFadden and his friends were black trumped their college degrees and clean records. This only made him want the job more. Sloan’s narration seamlessly weaves this detectives stories into something that feels like the full picture, but also leaves listeners yearning to know more. There is a lot of promise in the new season. Here’s hoping it pays off.
This autumn, it’ll be 15 years since Wes Anderson’s follow-up to the indie success story Rushmore arrived in theaters. The Royal Tenenbaums wasn’t technically a sophomore effort, but since so few people had seen Anderson’s feature debut Bottle Rocket at that point, it was treated as such. The sprawling family comedy-drama—borrowing heavily from J.D. Salinger’s Glass family stories and loaded full with wry whimsy and barefaced artifice—was a critical success and is now generally considered a classic. But does it truly hold up after a decade and a half or is it just remembered with the kind of glassy-eyed nostalgia that’s weaved into its narrative? That’s what Josh Larsen and Adam Kempenaar (both fans upon its initial release) attempt to find out in this sacred cow episode of Filmspotting. And just to make things interesting, they invite the show’s former co-host and current producer Sam Van Hallgren (originally a Tenenbaums skeptic) into the conversation. Later, the three cinephile fathers trade suggestions for good non-kid-centric films that parents might want to expose to their children. The specific lists, though full of quality options, wind up being less interesting and useful for moms and dads than the reasoning behind them.
How To Be Amazing
This week, Michael Ian Black is joined by Dan Savage, host of Savage Lovecast and the famed sex advice column Savage Love. Together they discuss how the Savage Love column came about and how the questions Savage receives have changed throughout the years due to the culture’s ever-growing understanding of sexuality. To grasp how Savage became such a renowned figure in the sex advice community, Black asks him about how coming out to his Catholic parents allowed him to relate to others that were confused, and at times scared, by their own sexual desires. Savage is everything you’d want him to be—smart, funny, eloquent, and unfiltered. He’s an open book and Black skillfully turns the pages. The inspired musical edits help to elevate the episode, making it distinct among all the other countless interview shows. Together the two discuss assumptions about sexuality, religion, and monogamy, Black’s unafraid and curious interview style getting the absolute best out of Savage, though he hardly needs coaxing to tell a story or provide some wisdom. Together they provide a consistently compelling episode ripe with quotable moments.
I Was There Too
Grease: Jamie Donnelly, Barry Pearl
An iconic film with iconic characters, Grease is the perfect choice for I Was There Too. Matt Gourley lucks out by scoring not only a Pink Lady, but a T-Bird as well. Jamie Donnelly and Barry Pearl played Jan and Doody, and are just as lively as their characters, consistently joking with Gourley and eager to tell story after story. They discuss how they got their roles in the Broadway production of Grease (which includes Pearl asking an actor to feign illness so he could take his spot in the show) and how those experiences translated into the hit film. Both are charming as they talk about shooting long dance scenes in the hot gymnasium, flying in “Beauty School Drop Out,” and maintaining the spirit of their characters in the adaptation. The two reveal that as veterans of the original show, director Randal Kleiser was open to their input, and many memorable cinematic moments happened because of them. One gets the sense that their stories could go on for hours, and as Gourley notes, this episode barely seems to scratch the surface.
It Came From The Depths Of Netflix
Cowboys Vs. Dinosaurs
So many bad-movie podcasts are appealing for the righteous anger of the hosts, which can become fuel for creating their own universe (see We Hate Movies) or freaking out over the ludicrousness at hand (see How Did This Get Made?). It Came From The Depths Of Netflix—where the hosts dissect a cinematic turkey currently streaming on the site—takes a decidedly calmer approach. During their unpacking of Cowboys Vs. Dinosaurs (a title that also functions as its own sub-genre), pals Dan Brooks, Pablo Hidalgo, and Sean Haeberman sound more curious than pissed as they unpack the story’s many left-field idiosyncrasies, including Ron Jeremy’s turn as an innuendo-spewing buckaroo. Given that the filmmakers are probably self-aware, it makes sense that the guys would commit to an academic kind of criticism—it would be too easy to trash this movie with loudness and profanity. Still, self-awareness doesn’t automatically make for a good movie, and the creators of It Came From The Depths Of Netflix make sure to critique Cowboys Vs. Dinosaurs’ gross sense of imbalance, entertaining as is. This mixture of bemusement and rationality will most likely satisfy the scholar and schlock-lover that hides in the soul of every film fan.
Leave a Message After the Tone
Train Of Fools
[Subscribe on iTunes]
Voicemails aren’t exactly an obsolete part of communication yet, but they do seem more and more like a rare treasure. Leave A Message After The Tone, a new podcast from Zoe Stahl and Melanie Kruvelis, understands the peculiar power of voicemails. The premise is quite simple: Listeners call in and leave a message on the week’s topic. For the show’s first episode, callers share their favorite public transportation memories. Stories about missed connections, perfect moles, a tray of cupcakes, and a radio-ready 1 train conductor unfold in the just-over-four-minutes-long episode, woven together in a way that brings all the strange and crackling emotions of the messages to the surface. It’s a sonically rich podcast, the serene music and transition sounds—which, in the case of this episode, are specific to the public transportation theme—work with the voicemails to create an immersive few minutes. Like the best kind of voicemail, there’s humor and a touch of anxiety to the episode. In the words of the creators, the podcast is “inspired by the intimate nature of voicemails and the everyday moods they capture.” Bite-sized and soothing, Leave A Message After The Tone is like a piece of salt water taffy melting on your tongue.
[Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]
Conventional wisdom says that Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson will cut the larger divet out from the unusually disappointed Republican electorate. But after spending an hour listening to the former governor of New Mexico talk through his philosophies and politics with Politico‘s Glenn Thrush, many Democratic listeners might start feeling a bit anxious. Johnson is currently polling at around 11 percent in national polls, putting him just a few points short of the 15 percent floor required for inclusion in presidential debates. However, it’s not at all hard to imagine his extremely liberal views on issues like drug legalization and immigration could ultimately net him another 4 percent once Bernie Sanders concedes and releases his young and largely independent supporters into the wild. Of course, the further one gets into this interview, the more evidently the economic disparities between him and the senator from Vermont come into relief. However, with the Libertarian Party now, in the hour of Trump and Clinton, facing its best (albeit still rather slim) chance ever for a White House win, the remarkably affable and grounded Johnson could be quite tempting for potential Green Party voters looking to bolster the concept of third parties as viable options.
The ParentNormal Comedy Podcast
McSweeney’s Internet Tendency Editor Christopher Monks
ParentNormal, an online hub for self-aware moms and dads who “laugh so they don’t cry,” has hit its stride as a weekly podcast too. Segments such as ParentNormal News lend perspective and levity to toddlers’ antics by framing them as late-breaking bulletins, while parenting Q&A with host Chris Cate provides a forum for parents who might otherwise be tempted to go on frustrated Facebook rants. In this week’s interview portion, Cate speaks with Christopher Monks of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a humor website featuring a diverse array of modern comedic voices. Monks details his careful curation process, dissecting what separates a good parenting joke from the abundance of corny ones swirling in the internet ether. (Reading submissions can be a minefield of clichés: picky eaters, stressed single moms, and back-to-school woes usually don’t make the cut.) As a father of two, Monks ultimately gravitates toward pieces that comment on a singular moment in a child’s development, seminal events with some fractured twist—which isn’t surprising, given his own extended anecdote about encouraging his non-competitive son to play baseball to disastrous results.
The Projection Booth
Apocalypse Now is perhaps the best example of a filmmaker wrenching staggering success from the maw of a demoralizing, humiliating defeat. When Francis Ford Coppola emerged from the jungles of the Philippines after 14 months of filming, $17 million over-budget with a dump truck brimming with tangled piles of raw footage, even his most optimistic supporters were likely bracing for a debacle. Instead, what they got was a transcendent, myth-infused meditation on the horrors of war and the dark primal roots of humanity. It was an instant hit with critics and film lovers, and currently stands at #28 on AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest American Movies Of All Time. On this episode of The Projection Booth, the co-hosts devote nearly three hours to detailed analysis not just the alternate versions of the film, but also Hearts Of Darkness, Fax Bahr’s incredible making-of documentary that is nearly as immersive and affecting as its subject. Any podcast that runs longer than 90 minutes is clearly intended for a niche audience, and this is no exception. But the kind of person who is inclined to seek this out will walk away fulfilled and energized for another viewing of this classic.
On the Inside, Part IV
Reply All has spent the last four episodes serving up a Serial-inspired, long-form, true crime investigation, complete with a convicted murderer whose guilt is called into question. Interested listeners are strongly advised to catch up on the three preceding episodes before streaming the concluding chapter. Reply All’s Sruthi Pinnamaneni began her story as an attempt to understand Paul Modrowski, a prolific blogger who is serving a life sentence for a 1992 murder. From there, Pinnamaneni is sent through a labyrinth of conflicting accounts, questionable prosecutorial conduct, and colorful personalities that are very reminiscent of Serial’s first season. It’s worth noting the similarities between the two stories, because of the stark differences in their ultimate episodes. While Sarah Koenig wound down her full-season investigation in a denouement of cerebral questions, Pinnamaneni finds herself in a tense stand-off that delivers an emotional gut-punch. Modrowski claims he’s been unfairly punished, and only suspected because of his autism; prosecutors maintain that he’s a cold-blooded sociopath who can’t be trusted. As Pinnamaneni reaches the end of her story, a more complicated answer is revealed in a chilling real-time exchange that rivals HBO’s The Jinx.
Rumble Strip Vermont
There is this somewhat divisive notion that podcasts are meant to be “snackable” content. Which is to say, bite-sized pieces of interesting, humorous, easily digestible audio, which continually keep their audience returning for more. By that measure, listeners most likely aren’t drawn to a podcast to have their ideas of the world tested, to feel the spiritual crush of the finite, or to have that experience reveal its true, breathtaking beauty. Those people aren’t listening to Rumble Strip Vermont, Erica Heilman’s preternaturally excellent podcast exploration of life in all its fluid states. This week’s story is one of raw emotional power, and one which benefits from the organic discovery of its events. It is, briefly, a tale of two adult male friends—Rob Mermin and Bill Morancy—and how their friendship helps guide them through the most difficult decision a person is ever likely to face. The production is spare but effective, adding to the experience through subtraction. The plainspoken openness with which the episode’s tale is told is superbly engaging, ultimately making the tale that much more affecting. With this, and every other expertly crafted episode, Rumble Strip Vermont is quietly making its case as one of the most excellent podcasts recording today.
“There’s one thing about Max Riemelt’s character that really works, and I love it-”
“Yeah, he’s got a beautiful penis.”—David Sims and Griffin Newman on Wolfgang in Sense8, Blank Check
“Monogamy is literally the only human effort, endeavor, practice, where we regard any failure, even a moment’s failure, as proof that you were terrible at that thing all along. And you know, Shaun White can be the world’s greatest snowboarder and fall on his ass and get up and be the world’s greatest snowboarder. The world’s greatest chef can burn an omelet and still be the world’s greatest chef.”—Dan Savage on monogamy, How To Be Amazing
“The way raptors kill people in this is that they kind of effeminately touch them.”—Sean Haeberman on Cowboys Vs. Dinosaurs, It Came From The Depths Of Netlix
“Are there any topics you’re just tired of seeing in your submission pile?”
“Trump! Donald Trump! I’m done with Donald Trump!”—Chris Cate and Christopher Monks on the McSweeney’s slush pile, The ParentNormal Comedy Podcast