Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
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.

A Podmass series spotlight
Conviction

It’s a clever detail that one might not notice at first, but the title of Gimlet Media’s brand-new podcast miniseries has a double meaning. While it might outwardly appear to be a show focused on the abysmal state of the criminal justice system, at its heart it is actually an investigation into a much more personal kind of confinement, one of hubris and myopia. What must it be like, the show inquires, to have a conviction that burns so hot it seems to have cauterized one’s common sense as a result? That question is a sort of leitmotif that runs through this propulsive, engaging tale, profiling dogged private investigator Manny Gomez as he tries to get a case against his teenage client stuck in Rikers Island dismissed.

Gomez, it should be noted, is something of an audio producer’s dream—hilariously brash, complex, and totally candid. In a medium already brimming with colorful personalities, Gomez stands out like a gilded peacock. Provided with so much good tape, it feels as though veteran journalist and Conviction host Saki Knafo had no choice but to turn his reporting into a podcast (a version of this story appeared in The New York Times Magazine last month). Knafo’s solid presence as host helps to ground the series. In a story where so many players are potentially unreliable, his perspicacious insights keep the conversation moving in meaningful directions.

As an aside, with Conviction arriving hot on the heels of its printed relative, the two function as a neat case study for attentive podcast listeners who are curious about the different approaches to narrative construction for audio documentary versus the written word. Produced from the same source material, the pieces employ decidedly different beats as they build toward the same inevitable moment of hamartia. [Ben Cannon]


Homophilia
Max Mutchnick

Homophilia hosts Dave Holmes and Matt McConkey have a bountiful conversation with this episode’s guest, Max Mutchnick. Mutchnick, the producer and creator of the iconic television show Will & Grace, is remarkably open about pretty much everything. What starts as a conversation about what he’s watching on TV leads to a no-holds-barred discussion of his relationship to the news, the dynamics of his marriage with his husband, the trials and tribulations of coming out, and also some insight into the process of rebooting Will & Grace. Mutchnick is candid about some of the sadder realities of life as a gay man, just as often as he is wryly entertaining regarding behind-the-scenes showbiz stories, like sitting next to actors as they lose Emmys and his encounters with Kevin Spacey. Not many people can smoothly transition from personal anecdotes of hosting former presidents and Hollywood A-listers at their home to meeting their husband in the lobby of a drag show, but Mutchnick is more than capable of doing just that. With hardly any prompting from Holmes and McConkey, Mutchnick takes listeners on a fascinating, absorbingly intimate journey. [Jose Nateras]


Invention
Roads

This podcast from the creators of Stuff To Blow Your Mind is all about origin stories. Who designed the first pair of sunglasses? Where did toothpaste come from? Was there really ever such a thing as a death ray? These are all questions that Invention attempts to answer. But this episode on roads is a bit different because, unlike the saxophone or the guillotine, there’s no one person that the invention of roads can be traced to. Rather, roads and other engineered pathways evolved somewhat organically alongside the human beings who used them. Beginning with the earliest, most meandering hunting trails that mirrored animals’ migratory patterns, roads changed over time to be more direct and efficient. They also changed as technology advanced; the advent of the wheel required a purposefully engineered path that was not only flat but somewhat weather-resistant. Unlike some newer, less universal inventions, the history of roads is really the history of humanity. They’re what literally connected us to each other for centuries. Interestingly enough, as we look to the future, it’s becoming more apparent that where we’re going we don’t need roads. [Dan Neilan]


Obscura: A True Crime Podcast
Corey Feldman’s Controversial Fight Against Pedophilia

In this episode, Justin Drown abandons the bedrock certainty of settled case law that’s so comforting to true crime storytellers, opting instead to wade into the murky waters surrounding Corey Feldman’s various accusations of pedophilia against Hollywood insiders. On the one hand, Drown presents a legacy of child abuse in Hollywood dating back at least as far as Judy Garland, and evidence of child molesters handed powerful roles post-conviction. Then there’s Feldman’s claims, which start with himself, extend to deceased colleague Corey Haim, and mushroom out to grand conspiracy proportions. Alternatively, others connected to the specific people Feldman speaks for, like Haim’s mother, decline to back him up. And Feldman continues to dangle names in his quest to raise money for a rumored documentary, even as his bandmates accuse him of sexual misconduct. Drown seems to believe Feldman is telling the truth about himself. There are too many details to discount, and the man is all kinds of fucked-up. But Drown wonders whether any Feldman documentary, if one ever happens, will be some great unmasking, or just another survivor’s tale of enabled monsters preying on victims in relative isolation. [Zach Brooke]


The Lonely Palette
Behold The Monkey

Seven years after an octogenarian parishioner took it upon herself to transform a crumbling Jesus fresco into a sandblasted fuzzy monkey, Tamar Avishai returns to the piece with the intent to tease meaning out of the ordeal beyond “this painting sucks.” What she offers isn’t exactly contrarian—objectively, monkey Jesus is bad. But her larger point connects. Art changes over time. Not art styles, but the actual pieces assume different forms throughout ensuing centuries. Even the most closely tended objects succumb to the ravages of time, while many, like Ecce Homo, are altered at the hands of interlopers, and add an extra layer of meaning to work for future generations to grapple with. How can anyone talk about the Liberty Bell without mentioning the crack, or the giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan without noting their 2001 demolition by religious extremists? And compared to the Taliban, is the pious lady who only wanted to give a crumbling Jesus a badly need face-lift really that bad? Seven years later, the Spanish town where the work resides might consider her efforts a success, if a slightly embarrassing one, as the site has become a profitable pilgrimage for irony-loving internet addicts. [Zach Brooke]


The Sporkful
Dan Savage Recommends A Polyeaterous Lifestyle

If you drill down to the heart of any romantic relationship, there’s one issue you’ll find that affects everything else. It’s not sexual compatibility or shared ideology. It’s food. We spend an immense amount of time staring across the table watching each other masticate. It only stands to reason that what gets cooked, how it’s cooked, how it’s eaten, and how much of it is eaten accounts for a hefty chunk of home politics. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that this popular culinary program would invite Dan Savage to give his thoughts on how eating and cooking play into a healthy relationship. Anyone who’s ever heard The Savage Lovecast, his long-running sex advice podcast, knows that Savage is not only eminently listenable but an eerily astute observer of humanity and its many foibles. Here, he somehow manages to effortlessly wrap up the etiquette of copulation and food preparation in the same neat bow, and damn it if his advice doesn’t seem destined to stick with you. [Dennis DiClaudio]


The Writer’s Voice
Emma Cline Reads “What Can You Do With A General”

Anyone not subscribed to The New Yorker—or any subscribers who too often find their issues stacking up on the coffee table unread—should tune in to The Writer’s Voice. Presented by fiction editor Deborah Treisman, this podcast consists of nothing more than authors reading their own short stories that recently appeared in the magazine. And it’s great. In this episode, Emma Cline (author of 2016’s The Girls and winner of The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize) reads her new story “What Can You Do With A General.” It’s told from the perspective of John, an aging father struggling to connect with his adult children returning to their family home for Christmas. More than a meditation on generation gaps, the story is about the emotional distance that inevitably comes with the passage of time. John doesn’t command the respect he once did (“The kids just laughed now if he got angry”) and is at a loss for what his role in the family is now. Cline is certainly an author to keep an eye on, and this simple yet emotionally resonant story is a great introduction. [Dan Neilan]


Why Won’t You Date Me?
Dealing With Creeps W/ Trixie Mattel

Host Nicole Byer is joined this week by Trixie Mattel, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3, and the discussion starts on wigs before segueing into a really insightful chat on Byer’s stand-up special and stand-up in general. Byer, whose material often focuses on her weight, offers a great response to critics who would argue she’s “not helping the body positivity movement”; “I’m not trying to,” she says, and adds that she should be able to talk about her body however she wants to. Trixie brings up a joke Byer told where the audience’s response revealed that audience’s supreme whiteness, opening up a great discussion about comedy, audience interactions, and the importance of representation. Byer was a child when she first saw Whoopi Goldberg perform, and points out how important it was for her to see someone like her on stage, yet that didn’t necessarily make her proud to be herself or proud to black; she was already proud to be herself and black. As ever, amongst all the laughs are numerous thoughtful gems. [Jose Nateras]

Share This Story