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.
Be Kind Rewind: Bustle's Podcast For 90s Movie Fans
Hosts Rachel Simon and Kelsea Stahler are joined by Bustle’s Pretty Little Liars podcaster Sam Rullo to discuss The Parent Trap, the 1998 Nancy Meyers remake of the 1961 Disney film about twins separated in infancy by their divorced parents, each girl unaware of the other’s existence. Our hosts wisely wait until the halfway point to dwell on the unspoken implications of such a scenario, and how a real-life version of this story would probably land both parents in prison, or at least cause some irreparable emotional damage in its wake. There is, after all, so much more to discuss about this lighthearted family comedy! Why, for example, would Chessy the nanny fall for Martin the butler when she cohabitates with certifiable hottie Dennis Quaid? Do butlers remotely reminiscent of Martin’s goofy servant caricature actually exist in the modern era? Why wasn’t the girls’ summer camp investigated for negligence after abandoning two warring preteens in a remote cabin for seven weeks? Via the retro framing device of Two Truths And A Lie, we also learn that both Mara Wilson and Scarlett Johansson also sought the part(s) of Hallie Parker and Annie James, but that their respective ages just barely missed the mark.
On the latest episode of Beginnings, Andy Beckerman chats with exciting comedian on the rise, Cole Escola (Difficult People), in an episode that is less about his chronological path to becoming a comedian, and more about the building blocks that make him who he is as a person. They discuss his childhood obsessions, using words as weapons, and how pop culture and television played into knowing his identity as a gay man. The outline of core questions that help guide the episode are refreshingly interesting in and of themselves, and open up a Pandora’s box of anecdotes that help give a panoramic view of Escola’s life, as well as a fly-on-the-wall approach that gets to know him as a person, rather than just an entertainer. Beckerman isn’t insistent on digging deep, and allows Escola to open up candidly in a way that feels real, without being constructed. There’s a joy about the way the two peel back each other’s layers that feels unique to the show and makes the episode not only interesting to those who want to know more about this rising comedy star, but also purely entertaining.
Bruce Lee Podcast
Be Water, My Friend.
This new podcast from the Bruce Lee Family Company focuses on the philosophy of the martial artist and actor who took the world by storm in the ’60s and ’70s. Hosted by Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, the Bruce Lee Podcast is as meaningful an exploration for listeners as it is for her. Her co-host in this episode is Sharon Lee (unrelated), and she begins by focusing on one of Bruce Lee’s most famous and mysterious quotes: “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” Shannon decodes the quote with ease, and she also suggests life moments that may have informed her father’s quote. “He was constantly sort of hitting his head up against this wall and being told, you know, ‘you can’t be a star in Hollywood; that wouldn’t be accepted by American audiences’” she explains. “And so he said, ‘Well, what’s the way around this rock or this boulder that’s landed in the middle of my stream?’” Forty years after his death, it’s evident that Bruce Lee was more than just an action star.
After a week of watching red-faced public figures shriek about immigrants, homosexuals, and minorities in only the most cursory of coded language, it may be a tad difficult to understand that the philosophy of conservatism wasn’t always like this. Believe it or not, there once was a time when a thinking, thoughtful citizen could deliberate between which two major candidates would be less disastrous for the country. It seems crazy, yes. But for any disillusioned voters out there who need a digestif to calm the dyspepsia of the Republican Nation Convention, listen to Ezra Klein’s conversation with conservative intellectual political analyst Yuval Levin. While many progressives might assume that his time spent working under George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich would disqualify him as being someone whose opinions should be sought, he speaks in a language of intelligent reasonableness such that it almost seems possible that he could help a staunch partisan empathize with the other half’s worldview. Let’s not get crazy, right? At any rate, it’s nice to imagine that he might be the harbinger of some genuinely productively debates. Oh, and he wants absolutely nothing to do with Donald Trump.
RNC: Nate Silver Meets John Dickerson
CBS journalist John Dickerson’s podcasting typically finds him playing capable middleman between David Plotz and Emily Bazelon on Slate’s Political Gabfest or delving into the history of American presidential campaigns on Whistlestop, so it’s nice to see him play interviewee to Nate Silver’s enthusiastic host. The two are obviously admirers of one another’s fastidious bodies of work on presidential elections, and it’s only unfortunate that so much of their brief interview was given over necessarily to the previous evening’s plagiarism allegations concerning Melania Trump’s RNC speech. Dickerson isn’t convinced that this gaffe speaks to the larger campaign in any meaningful way, not when the rulebook for presidential campaigns has been thrown out the window as it already has. As he explains to Silver, his key consideration in any election is: What does it take, at this precise moment in American history, to be president? Only by defining that can we assess a given candidate’s fitness for the role. Both pundits agree that journalists should be exceedingly careful in the way they cover the theatrics of the convention, and not allow showy frills to obscure extractable data from this pivotal moment of the campaign.
I Was There Too
(More) Grease: Jamie Donnelly
For nearly an entire generation of moviegoers—and probably a lot that came afterward—moments from the 1978 film Grease are seared into their brains. So the description that the “brush-a brush-a brush-a” lady is the guest on this week’s I Was There Too is enough to tell them exactly who to expect. Jamie Donnelly, who was about 30 when she was cast as a high school senior in Randal Kleiser’s venerated musical, appeared on the show once before (along with co-star Barry Pearl), but much of that conversation focused on her time performing as Jan in the show’s Broadway run. Here, she gets to go in depth into what it was like filming in the sweltering L.A. heat. The most fascinating story she shares is the existence of a very subtle romantic narrative between her Pink Lady character and the amiable T-Bird Putzie that was quietly woven into the year-spanning story. This new information might even give diehard fans an unnecessary excuse to pop the DVD in again. Stick around until the end to hear about her experience on the set of Black Mass, and what it’s like to have Johnny Depp kiss every single one of your fingers.
Improv Nerd With Jimmy Carrane
Improv Nerd With Jimmy Carrane is a live podcast where comedian and noted improv teacher Jimmy Carrane interviews influential figures in the world of improv comedy about their creative process. This week he talks to Mike Birbiglia about improv, friendship, success, and how they culminate in Birbiglia’s latest film Don’t Think Twice. The film is about what happens when a member of a popular New York improv group finally gets a big break, which expresses interpersonal dynamics that Carrane clearly has a real-life connection to. Carrane’s adoration and evident understanding of the film allows for a very personable conversation between the two about the themes explored in the film, and the solidarity found when communicating embarrassing inner qualities like jealousy. They discuss how Birbiglia found his comedic voice through honesty, and the process of transforming tragedy into comedy. Carrane expertly balances being conversational with an ability to ask the harder questions, which help unravel Birbiglia’s inner workings, like how he’s uncomfortable talking about jealousy and would prefer to just make a movie about it. Some of the most relatable tangents, though, happen when they discuss improv as a broader idea, like when Birbiglia explains the parallels between improv and friendship.
Sarah Sherman And Murderers
With The Irrational, host Charlie Rohrer seeks out the media-inspired phobias of his guests. Joined this episode by comedian Sarah Sherman, we learn that her fear of murderers can be attributed to watching The Shining at a young age. There are plenty of twists and turns in how this fear has affected her life, and Rohrer remains constantly fascinated by it. “When you grow up as a little girl, your parents and your authority figures are constantly warning you that someone’s gonna try and kill you or rape you,” Sherman explains, so The Shining triggered something that made learning about murderers an obsession. Rohrer’s empathy in these discussions makes the podcast more than what could be a mocking exploration of what frightens people and something that is almost therapeutic for his guests. By tapping into the odd power that books, television, radio, and film have over our imaginations, The Irrational is a great way to examine whatever your latest Netflix binge left unresolved in your unconscious.
Preacher Insider Podcast
Preacher Insider Podcast Episode 107
Preacher is a show with a lot to unpack. Every episode is overflowing with intriguing details and evolving characters in an expanding world. The Preacher Insider Podcast, hosted by assistant editors Will Blank and Monica Daniel, aims to break things down episode by episode with help from some of the people that are integral to its success. Ricky Mabe (who plays human khaki mayor Miles Person) and executive producer and showrunner Sam Catlin stop by to discuss episode seven, breaking down the exact scene where Miles Person reveals his inner darkness, Jesse Custer’s character evolution with regards to his relationship with Genesis, what made Odin Quincannon lose his faith in God, and the experience of filming in Albuquerque. Mabe is charming as he recounts a story of getting lost on a hike a day before shooting, and what it’s like to act with Jackie Earle Haley. Catlin, consistently an endearing and compelling guest, provides insight on the always-shifting internal character motivations that push the show’s stories forward. For a show that is constantly one-upping itself at a breakneck speed, the Preacher Insider Podcast is a perfect companion for fans wanting even more.
Talking about money isn’t easy, yet at the top of each Spent episode, Lindsay Goldwert finds a unique entry point to the world of money management. Her guests range from former reality show contestants to, in this case, comedian and dogwalker Andrew Collin, who made $250,000 in the early 2000s and then lost it all (hence the dog walking). Collin studied finance in college and graduated in 2002. “I didn’t learn anything. I cheated on everything,” he notes. His rise and fall hits all the comedic notes of a Charlie Chaplin film. Spent isn’t packaged the way most financially themed programs are, instead functioning as more of a money-themed storytelling show. With this model, Goldwert allows listeners to learn from the mistakes of others, and usually laugh at it in the process. If you’re suffering from money woes, it would be a mistake not to listen.
The “Don’t Sell Out, Brother” Edition
There are multiple angles to tackle the issue of diversity in media, and Slate’s new Represent podcast shows a promising effort to bring all of those perspectives to the table. Host Aisha Harris describes herself as our “guide through this safe space of discussion,” and welcomes actor, filmmaker, and comedian Robert Townsend as her very first guest. Harris’ guest co-host is Another Round producer Antonia Cereijido, and they kick things off with a light hearted discussion on the latest entertainment topics, focussing mainly on the Ghostbusters reboot. Townsend’s 1987 film, Hollywood Shuffle, is one of the most thought-provoking comedies of its era for heightening the real absurdities black actors face trying to make it in the industry. Harris focuses on what makes that film as relevant today as it was nearly 30 years ago. “It opened up a conversation about images of people of color,” says Townsend. He recalls talking to a French journalist who said, “You don’t want to play the pimp, the mugger, the jive-ass, but that is all we see of the black actor.” By understanding the importance of images, exploring the tough topics, and shining a light on people making a difference, Represent is one of the most relevant podcasts today.
Sorry I've Been So Busy
“I’ve just been so busy lately!” It’s a refrain old enough (and overused enough) to mean nothing. But Matt Goldich and Andrew Goldstein refuse to let the question lie: What are people so busy with, and what does their average day look like? This interview conceit lends itself particularly well to artists and comedians, who flit between projects too fast for the average fan to follow. This week the hosts are joined by Judah Friedlander, published author and frequent feature in a spate of TV shows, indie films, and stand-up tours. The 30 Rock actor describes his daily routine mainly in terms of how hard it is to get himself out the door each day, because more and more responsibilities crop up at home, at work, and everywhere in between as he ages and inhabits more corners of the comedy world. Where once his pockets were full of joke ideas and idle doodles, he says, to-do lists have since taken over. His illustrated book If The Raindrops United was an exercise in returning to the creative and anxiety-reducing space offered by drawing. The hustle becomes less urgent as a comedian gains success and fame, but the workload, it’s clear, only increases.
Spirits: A Drunken Dive Into Myths And Legends
In Spirits: A Drunken Dive Into Myths And Legends, Julia Schifini and Amanda McLoughlin investigate and unravel folklore from various cultures, talking all things witchy, demonic, and otherworldly. But, because we live in the age of Drunk History where everyone agrees that history is much better consumed whilst consuming alcohol, they’re also drinking as they wax poetic on all the things that go bump in the night. In their words: “We drink spirits, and we talk about spirits.” Their latest episode focuses on Chinese Demonology, and in addition to a brief segment at the top about Gremlins, they get into clam monsters, zombies, and baku—supernatural beings called upon by children to devour nightmares. They walk that fine Drunk History line, never getting too sloppy past the point of coherence but definitely loosening up and getting silly as the alcohol courses through them. It’s controlled chaos, and both McLoughlin and Schifini are just so delighted by everything that they talk about that it’s easy to be delighted while listening. They make demons fun, and their palpable passion for mythology radiates throughout the conversation, making a podcast about dark and mysterious forces rather ebullient.
[Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]
Unless you’re gazing directly at an itemized list of his professional achievements, it’s very easy to forget just how much James L. Brooks has accomplished over the course of his 50-year career. If you focus on short but (mostly) acclaimed list of films—like Terms Of Endearment and Broadcast News—you’re liable to forget that he was at the forefront of modern television comedy, having created groundbreaking series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi. And if you focus your mental energy toward considering his ’70s-era TV empire, you run the risk of forgetting how he helped to reinvent television once again in the ’90s as the co-creator and executive producer of The Simpsons. You’d think that a guy with a CV like that would be entitled to a little bit of pomposity, but absolutely zero is on display in this two-hour-long conversation with Marc Maron. The 76-year-old college dropout walks the WTF host through his convoluted pilgrimage from CBS page to filmmaking guru, never missing an opportunity to point out the absurd luck he was afforded at each vital juncture. He also, surprisingly, revels in dissecting some of his most embarrassing failures, including the circumstances surrounding the ill-fated would-be musical I’ll Do Anything.
We see what you said there
“If we’re talking about Dennis Quaid, we have to just talk about Chessy, his housekeeper/babysitter.”
“Is her name not Jessie?”
“It’s not Jessie. It’s Chessy, with a ‘C-H.’”
“Wait a second. No it’s not. Wait.”
“If you put on the subtitles, it says C-H-E-S-S-Y. Not even ‘-I-E,’ which would make sense, because it’s like Jessie.”
“Your mind has just been blown.”
“What? What is that short for?”
“Chessica.”—Rachel Simon, Kelsea Stahler, and Sam Rullo, Be Kind Rewind
“It just felt one note. Like that was my whole goal, everyday was the lie. Like being an actor in The Truman Show. I just had to like, lie. That was my goal, that was my existence, was not being gay.”—Cole Escola on life before coming out, Beginnings
“[As journalists] we shouldn’t be theater critics, except for the fact that we’ve got a four-day piece of theater here. And that’s something we all have to wrestle with in terms of how we cover this and how serious it is.”—John Dickerson, FiveThirtyEight Elections
“The themes of improv that are mentioned in the movie, you know, improv happens in a moment and it disappears, all that stuff, is applicable to friendship. Friendship never is going to stay the same.”—Mike Birbiglia, Improv Nerd Wit Jimmy Carrane