Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Napoleon Abdicating in Fontainbleau, Paul Delaroche
Image: Universal History Archive/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.

Crime In Sports
Dogs, Weed & Ladies Of The Night – The Consequentialness Of Nate Newton

Two comedians plumb the seedier side of sports with the subtlety of AM talk radio and none of the FCC oversight. The nearly three-hour episode somehow ratchets up the energy the longer it runs, even as its subject mellows with age and religion. A large man even by contemporary NFL standards, Nate Newton was relentlessly mocked for his weight, which once reached 400 pounds. The Dallas Cowboys’ own media guide said food was all that held him back, and this obsession with his size blinded many to his considerable athletic gifts. On the other hand, he lost out on an $80,000 contract incentive and free Jenny Craig counseling when he took off to Rhode Island to win a rib-eating contest. Never graced with a squeaky-clean image, Newton nonetheless avoided major consequences during his playing days, beating successive drunk-driving arrests and charges related to dogfighting. As for his family life, it’s enough to know that his ex-wife wrote a book called Silent Cry. It was only after his NFL career ended that Newton committed the crimes for which he is best remembered and which landed him in prison: transporting hundreds of pounds of marijuana. [Zach Brooke]


Expeditiously
Killer Mike – The Atlanta Way

T.I. kicks off this episode by sharing that his conversation with Killer Mike spanned five hours, the first three of which are featured in this two-part episode—and it quickly becomes clear that these two longtime friends have a lot to chat about. First, they get into a new business venture they’re pursuing together, which moves the discussion toward the ideas of jealousy and not competing with your brother, but rather focusing on collaboration. They unpack the importance of hard work and why it’s necessary to hustle and motivate yourself and others to build a life on your own terms, and T.I. also discusses his hilarious experience at Kanye West’s popular Sunday Service. Throughout, the two keep returning to their hometown of Atlanta and everything they’re doing to uplift and serve not only their community, but also the Black community as a whole. It’s an engrossing chat between two people at the top of their game, sharing the ups and downs of how they got there, giving listeners the chance to laugh along the way. [Vannessa Jackson]


School Colors
Old School

Half of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a historically Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, is situated in School District 16, which has a higher percentage of Black teachers than any other district in the city. However, the culture of the neighborhood has shifted in recent years, and now fewer than half of its residents are Black and students are rapidly exiting the district. This led School Colors hosts Mark Winston Griffith (community organizer) and Max Freedman (educator and journalist) to research the exodus, and they discovered the reasons for student departures were complicated, involving segregation, gentrification, class, and power. The hosts’ complex findings are being presented across eight episodes, and in this first one, Griffith and Freedman guide listeners through the rich history of Brooklyn’s schools. They cover how hard communities fought to desegregate schools, and how that fight (and their frequent defeats) has influenced Bed-Stuy today. With interviews of individuals who have witnessed this journey firsthand, this podcast brings New York’s past and society’s present together in one beautifully produced series. [Nichole Williams]


The Hilarious World Of Depression
Mara Wilson Had Great Opportunities And Difficult Challenges

Ex-Wits host John Moe is currently rolling out a fantastic fourth season of The Hilarious World Of Depression, a podcast by American Public Media and Make It OK that features conversations with celebrities and entertainers on the topics of depression, anxiety, and various issues related to mental health. The latest episode features Mara Wilson, the child actor introduced to a world of fame after landing roles in Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle On 34th Street, as well as playing the titular character in Danny DeVito’s 1996 movie, Matilda. Now a writer at 32, Wilson unveils all for Moe by shedding light on her earliest memories of struggling with her mental health, describing her younger self as a “crying, anxious mess” whose imposter syndrome made her believe that nothing she did mattered. When Moe asks her when that anxiety first arose, she candidly replies, “It… It always was.” Alongside Moe, Wilson details the pain and hardships endured throughout her life that gave her a new perspective on living with OCD, depression, and anxiety. She puts her lessons simply: “Mental illness is not an excuse, it’s an explanation.” [Kevin Cortez]


The Open Ears Project
On How We Listen

In a world where people are constantly talking over each other, listening has become both a valuable skill and somewhat of a lost art. The Open Ears Project has been on a daily mission to celebrate the joy of listening by picking the brains of authors, actors, and musicians for their favorite classical music selections. This episode features Joe Young, a U.S. Army soldier and band member searching for purpose and fighting off depression while on duty in Texas. Because he was often called upon to blow the “Taps” bugle call in honor of fallen soldiers, his life became a repetitive medley of death, sorrow, and shaken confidence. A random grab from the CD bin introduced Young to Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians, a piece that he describes as “a beautiful, calming space to live in.” An unofficial score for long drives, this composition became the sonic second wind that Young had been looking for. “Not only did it change how I listen to music,” Young confessed, “it absolutely changed how I listen to people.” [Jason Randall Smith]


The Re-Solved Mysteries Podcast
Totally Nake S2E2

How many of today’s most popular podcasts owe a debt to NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries? An entire generation grew up with the show’s eerie theme song seared into their brains and sat mesmerized as host Robert Stack presented tales of true crime and the paranormal. Those kids are now adults and are either making or consuming podcasts that are often about those same exact stories. Re-Solved Mysteries hosts Eliza, Alison, and Karlin are going right back to the source by covering the series episode by episode and bringing fresh eyes to these cases. The standout segment of this episode deals with a supposed miraculous crucifix in a Pennsylvania church whose Jesus appears to blink. The trio earn their nickname of “Sisters In Snark” as they tear their hair out trying to understand how anyone could fall for such an obvious hoax while also highlighting the dubious talents of the show’s re-enactors. The hosts also do their own detective work and provide new information that has come to light about each segment since the Unsolved Mysteries episode originally aired. While the podcast might lack the comforting presence of Robert Stack’s trench coat, it has a knack for making those old mysteries seem new again. [Anthony D Herrera]


This Particular Album is Very, Very Important To Me
Sun Kil Moon’s Ghosts Of The Great Highway With Lauren Lapkus

Music makes us feel a certain way and often becomes the soundtrack to certain key experiences and formative times in our lives, and the hosts of this podcast understand that certain music can shape us as people. Joel Spence and Deborah Tarica are joined each episode by a guest who walks them through a specific album that they hold dear, and in this episode, that guest is actor and comedian Lauren Lapkus sharing her history with Ghosts Of The Great Highway by Sun Kil Moon. The great thing about the podcast is how it manages to be both supremely personal and specific while tapping into something universal: Our own associations with a vaguely familiar song can be revisited in the context of someone else’s enthusiasm, and at its best, this enthusiasm inspires us to listen to something or someone completely new. As Lapkus, Spence, and Tarica discuss discovering new music and developing their tastes and identities as young people, listeners can’t help but consider the development of their own identities through this medium. [Jose Nateras]


You’re Dead To Me
Young Napoleon

If history class was never your thing and most history documentaries seem drier than burnt toast, this new podcast from BBC Radio might be the lighthearted entry point you’ve been waiting for. Each episode, host Greg Jenner brings together a comedian and a historian to discuss a fascinating historical figure or movement in a way that even the most fidgety student can enjoy. The discussion this week focuses on history’s favorite punchline to any short joke, young Napoleon Bonaparte, who, it must be said, was not that short! He was, however, quite an oddball. Comedian Dan Schreiber confesses to only having a passing knowledge of the Little Corporal’s life before getting schooled on the finer points by Dr. Laura O’Brien, who maps Napoleon’s trajectory from a middle-class upbringing on Corsica to the head of the newly formed French Empire. Their re-examination of history through a comedic lens serves as a good reminder that in amongst the dry facts and dates there were real people wearing funny shoes and acting awkward at parties. Plus, there’s no test at the end of the week. [Dan Neilan]

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