Vanessa Marano of Gilmore Girls (Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images)

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 podmass@avclub.com.

Conversation With The Big Guy
The Wellness Policy, Pt. 1

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Ryback’s departure from the WWE last year made headlines, though not for the circumstances of the split so much as his response to it. Not afraid of angering the sports entertainment juggernaut, Ryback was outspoken and quick to highlight what he found unfair about WWE’s backstage machinations. He started this podcast not long after, and soon his riffs on John Cena, Triple H, and Vince McMahon began fortifying the dirt sheets. The Big Guy’s podcast is a little bit of everything: sometimes he tells stories, sometimes he talks fitness, but mostly he talks about the industry, whether it’s his time in the WWE or his current career touring the indie circuit. In this episode, he touches on the WWE’s wellness policy, which is notable considering that MMA fighter CM Punk dubbed Ryback a “’roid monster” on Colt Cabana’s Art Of Wrestling podcast. Here, Ryback addresses the misconception, then debates the pros and cons of the wellness policy with co-host Pat Buck, outlining why marijuana shouldn’t be an offense and bristling at performers who aren’t held to the same standard. Most entertaining is his and Buck’s discussion of the Whizzinator, a fake penis used by wrestlers to provide false urine samples, and how it’s caused the drug testing process to become that much more humiliating. [Randall Colburn]

Distraction Pieces Podcast
Rob Parker

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Last year was a banner one for U.K. musician-turned-podcaster Scroobius Pip as his excellent interview podcast Distraction Pieces expanded into an eponymous network of shows, covering everything from wrestling to drug policy, as well as the publication of a tie-in book. In the new year, Pip is poised to continue riding this wave of positivity, starting with a role in the much ballyhooed FX series Taboo starring Tom Hardy. On this week’s episode, Pip has a ripping chat with Taboo co-star Rob Parker, a former Rugby league player and slightly apprehensive actor. What follows is precisely the type of conversation that makes Distraction Pieces such a joyous listen. The pair brim over with an underdog sense of enthusiasm as both Pip and Parker regale each other with stories of making the transition into acting, while still managing to have a frank and inspiring discussion on substance abuse. Especially not to be missed is Parker’s tale of kismet that landed him on Taboo, one that involves a Formula 1 race, the wrong airport, Manchester United, and catfishing a stranger. As ever, Distraction Pieces shows itself as a continually surprising and rewarding program. [Ben Cannon]

Earwolf Presents
A Night Called Tomorrow

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The latest episode of Earwolf Presents is like a New Year’s gift to listeners, teasing one of their subscriber-only series for those who aren’t yet members of Howl Premium. A Night Called Tomorrow, a comedic noir set in 1950s Hollywood, features the dulcet tones of James Urbaniak as a lowly announcer and the charming Azure Parsons as a struggling actress with big dreams. The episode opens at the premiere of the film Objection Overruled, instantly pulling in the listener with its rich landscape of both atmospheric sound and musical score. The dialogue is quick and self-aware, with a distinctly noir rhythm, and the characters are well established with endearing quirks. The show boasts not only a high level of production quality, but also a cast stacked with the likes of Andy Richter, Weird Al Yankovic, Guy Branum, Molly Quinn, and others sprinkled throughout the episode. It’s meticulously crafted, lays the groundwork for an intriguing and genre-mashing story, and is bound to attract a returning audience with its cliffhanger ending. [Rebecca Bulnes]

FiveThirtyEight Politics
Data Under Trump
One of the most Orwellian moments of the 2016 election was Donald Trump surrogate Scottie Hughes’ blasé dismissal of empirical realities on The Diane Rehm Show: “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, any more as facts.” That sentiment, beyond being cynical to the point of self-parody, is just not so: Military, nonprofit, and private corporate interests rely every day on scientific data and economic indicators, often obtained through the hard and expensive work of local and federal governments. In a concise, easy-to-follow episode, Clare Malone and Jody Avirgan discuss with their FiveThirtyEight colleagues the minutiae of what a fact-obstructionist administration might look like. Good news—like how difficult it actually is to uncouple politically sensitive research from its nonpartisan applications—is sparse but illuminating. From the perspectives of environmental science, economics, and law enforcement, Ben Casselman, Maggie Koerth-Baker, and Carl Bialik lay out the first lines of defense against misinformation, ranging from small measures like tallying department reports per year to more dystopian ones like uploading troves of climate science data to Canadian servers. [Dan Jakes]

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Gilmore Guys
Gilmore Gabs: Vanessa Marano

Everyone may have long since finished watching Netflix’s new Gilmore Girls installment, but that doesn’t mean the Gilmore Guys are backing down. In their first episode following their Year In The Life recaps, they talk with Vanessa Marano, the actress who plays Luke’s long-lost daughter April, to dig even deeper into the mythology of the television show. Marano, a fan of the show before being cast, knew going in that April would rile up fans, but as a 13-year-old she had no idea how much hate the fans would throw her way. She reflects on the drama with maturity and good humor, further chatting with hosts Kevin T. Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe about Gilmore Girls Fan Fest, the wonder of show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, and the ups and downs of homeschooling. Marano is charming the whole way through (sorry, April haters), but the highlight of the episode is hearing Porter and Adejuyigbe riff and speculate even after Gilmore Girls’ much mythologized “final four words” have been spoken. [Brianna Wellen]

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Here To Make Friends
Season 21, Episode 1

The Bachelor is a tricky watch for feminists. It has long embraced outdated, patriarchal ideas of femininity, often favoring a Stepford mindset over a diverse one. Luckily, the show seems to be growing more self-aware, perhaps because of podcasts like Here To Make Friends. Hosted by Huffington Post staffers Claire Fallon and Emma Gray, the podcast explores the show through a feminist lens that culls humor from contestants’ awkwardness, cluelessness, and fashion rather than taking tired jabs at their intelligence or promiscuity. In this episode, the hosts team up with former Bachelorette contestant Michael Garofola to break down what might be the most anticipated Bachelor premiere ever. Bachelor Nick Viall is viewed by many as a villain due to his stints on Andi and Kaitlyn’s seasons of the show, but Fallon and Gray, having interviewed him previously, have a more sympathetic view of the hunk. They name their favorites of the current crop, contend with the giant age gap between Viall and most of his prospects, and do their best to decipher how one contestant, an “aspiring dolphin trainer,” didn’t realize she was actually dressed like a shark. To enjoy The Bachelor franchise is to simultaneously invest in your own relentless mockery of it; there’s perhaps no other podcast that embodies that balance so well. [Randall Colburn]

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In Your Dreams With Chris Gethard
Episode 4: We Talkin’ Butts (With Janelle James)

Who could’ve predicted that a mattress company would bring about one of the most delightful new Earwolf shows? In Your Dreams, a podcast presented by Casper, sees hosts Chris Gethard and Gary Richardson attempting to unscramble the often puzzling dream world of the everyday listener. Fans call in and leave messages describing their dreams, which Gethard and Richardson tackle in short and sweet episodes that have already featured an impressive guest list. Comedian Janelle James joins them this week to discuss her own “horny dreams,” analyze one with its own theme song called “The House Of A Thousand Fears,” and contemplate religious themes in a dream about growing up. The shared dynamic of the hosts is seamless, as Gethard is characteristically sincere in his attempts to navigate listeners’ thoughts, while Richardson (who actually has experience studying dreams) plays off his co-host with effortless charm. Though early in its run, the podcast makes the most of its unique and accessible source material, and its hosts are sure to continue complementing one another. [Rebecca Bulnes]

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The Projection Booth
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

While the films of Russ Meyer have a slightly higher cultural standing than in years past (or at least no longer require scrounging through a porn shop’s dumpster to be acquired), they’re still almost universally appreciated for their cheese value. With breakneck pacing, laser beam tone, and exquisite cinematography, these are not “so bad they’re good” movies—they’re just so good. That’s why it’s exciting to see one of the greater pieces of the Meyer canon getting the tall pedestal treatment on this episode of The Projection Booth. Guest hosts Beth Accomando and Miguel Rodriguez join weekly fixture Mike White to break down the 1965 proto-punkabilly and oddly feminist cult film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! into its component parts and admire each of them in direct sunlight. As they point out in numerous ways, this is a film that most people have probably ingested in one form or another, even if they’ve never seen a frame of it. In the back half of this two-hour-plus episode, White is joined by the authors of two separate books on the artistic life and obvious obsessions of the film’s idiosyncratic creator. [Dennis DiClaudio]

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SModcast
Goodnight Sweet Princess
Kevin Smith could have easily fallen into the trap of memorializing Carrie Fisher as nothing more than his boyhood crush on Princess Leia. Instead, he shares the evolution of his relationship with the recently deceased actor, one that took him from hating Paul Simon (Fisher’s flame during Smith’s adolescence) to meeting Fisher and admiring her for the strong and inspiring woman she was. From Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, finding a female hero in Fisher’s Star Wars character to his business partner Jason Mewes identifying with Fisher’s battle against addiction, the impact she made in the lives of Smith and his loved ones is clear. Fighting back tears, Smith remembers the time Fisher told him, “Don’t waste my time or yours worrying about what everyone says. You know who you are,” essentially giving Smith what he calls the “greatest gift [he] ever could have gotten from his childhood love: adulthood.” It’s a necessary release toward the end of a royal requiem delivered by Smith and co-host Scott Mosier that resets the podcast, allowing for a few more laughs before the hour runs out. [Becca James]

Up And Vanished
George Harrison

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In 2005, Tara Grinstead, a teacher and beauty queen in small-town Georgia, mysteriously vanished. The case was never solved, and had for the most part faded from the country’s collective consciousness. Up and Vanished host Payne Lindsey initially sought to make a documentary about the case, but soon embraced the podcast format as it allowed him to investigate and report his findings in real time. The result combines everything great about true crime television (intrigue, eeriness, armchair detective work) coupled with a real sense of stakes: Not everyone in Grinstead’s orbit is happy with Lindsey asking questions. Across the podcast’s 10 episodes, Lindsey has navigated the cold shoulders of locals, as well as situations involving police conspiracy, arson, suicide notes, and even anonymous intimidation. In this latest episode, Lindsey touches on some of the latter after following up on a number of leads, one of which throws everything he’d assumed about the case so far up in the air. He initially said the podcast would run just 12 episodes, but here he announces that he’s extending it to 18. With everything he’s stumbled upon thus far, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the podcast ran on indefinitely. [Randall Colburn]

WTF With Marc Maron
Bruce Springsteen

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Bruce Springsteen’s recent autobiography, Born To Run, stands apart from other rock bios for how the artist views his past, present, and future through the lens of talk therapy. The book doesn’t just recount tales from the studio and the road, but also the reasons he’s conducted his life as he has—the good, the bad, and the ugly. In that way, his discussion with Marc Maron serves as a companion piece to his book, delving further into many of its themes with uncanny self-reflection. Most notable is how Springsteen’s control-freak personality ended up suppressing a great deal of darkness while also giving him the fuel to become a mythic rock and roll hero. Far from merely rehashing Springsteen’s memoir, Maron applies The Boss’ emotional education to his own life. Both guys are from New Jersey, both have found fame in the entertainment industry, and both have had complex, often strained relationships with their fathers. Even if listeners don’t have these life experiences themselves, chances are there’s something to be learned from the episode. Isn’t that the point of rock bios, and to a lesser extent, the podcasts that accompany them? [Dan Caffrey]

We see what you said there

“Dim lights. The lights are low. What else are low, on the body? I’m talkin’ butts. And when he’s 14 the lights are on and he can see everything. Everything’s clear, crystal clear. What else is crystal clear? Crystal Pepsi. What is Pepsi? A cola. Where is cola from? I’m talkin’ Atlanta, Georgia—that’s Coca Cola, but it’s still a cola product. And what’s Atlanta? Home of the big booty.” —Chris Gethard and Gary Richardson analyzing a listener’s dream, In Your Dreams

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“He’s hard as hell on himself. And I started thinking about the difference between being hard on yourself and beating the shit out of yourself. They’re just different… If you beat the shit out of yourself, you’re just driving yourself into the ground. If you’re being hard on yourself, you might get better. You might drive yourself to get better. But it’s a very fine line.” —Marc Maron introducing Bruce Springsteen, WTF