Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
A pile of rescued e-scooters after their recovery from the seawater, along the coast of Marseille, France. Since their launch in the city, electric scooters are regularly found in the sea, and they are recovered by volunteer divers or rescuers.
Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP/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.

American Girls
Winter Of Their Discontent: (Nothing) Changes For Josefina

The historical-fiction doll zeitgeist of the ’90s is dredged for feminist close reads, biting commentary, and batshit fanfic on American Girls. These expensive and aspirational dolls replete with period looks, accessories, and bedrooms (hello, Samantha’s canopy bed) were must-haves for young people with access to disposable income. Professional historians and pop culture aficionados Allison Horrocks and Mary Mahoney are reliving and re-reading the corresponding book series in chronological order, establishing which of the American Girls are narcs, which of their stories might just be recycled Full House plot lines, and which actual historical events provide context for each girl’s journey. You might have missed Josefina, a late addition to the original collection, but she was the first Latinx American Girl, representing the history of Santa Fe when it was still under Mexican rule. From caretaking in a way a 9-year-old shouldn’t to running from manifest destiny and a murderous Tia Dolores, Josefina has it rough. This incisive and biting episode featuring the sixth and final book in the series proves this winter tale might be the darkest book in the American Girl canon. [Morgan McNaught]


Best Movies Never Made
Tobe Hooper’s White Zombie

The 2014 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune told the story of the birth and death of a visionary film that would never be. Now, one of the documentary’s producers, Stephen Scarlata, has joined with screenwriter Josh Miller to present more tales of doomed film productions in Best Movies Never Made. This week, they are joined by screenwriter Jared Rivet (Jackals) to discuss the two years he spent with legendary horror director Tobe Hooper as they tried, and failed, to get their remake of the Bela Lugosi classic White Zombie off the ground. Rivet recounts his working relationship with Hooper and the many changes their script made to the 1932 original. There was going to be a darkly comic undertone that would feature attacks on the health food industry and introduce the concept of sexually transmitted zombieism. Rivet really gets listeners excited about Hooper’s and his vision for the film, which makes the inevitable production meeting where they are told to change literally everything about it that much more heartbreaking. The production died like so many others. Years of effort came to nothing. But at least now Best Movies Never Made is offering a glimpse of what might have been. [Anthony D Herrera]


Broken: Jeffrey Epstein
Lady Ghislaine

It’s been just over a month since convicted sex offender and American financier Jeffrey Epstein allegedly killed himself in a federal prison, and the media is still neck-deep in various narratives surrounding his death. Thankfully, this new podcast series from Adam McKay and Three Uncanny Four Productions is serving the public with a helpful companion piece to all of the case’s day-to-day updates, with weekly episodes shedding light on the man’s legacy of sex trafficking and abuse. Hosted by The New Yorker’s Ariel Levy, the podcast’s second episode singles out disgraced British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who investigators and journalists believe aided Epstein in luring minors. Reporter Daniel Bates of the Daily Mail speaks with Levy in the episode’s first half to describe Ghislaine’s father, Robert Maxwell (whom Bates describes as “a combination of Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump”), and what influence he might have had on the partnership between Jeffrey and Ghislaine. The latter half sees Miami Herald reporter Julie Kay Brown hypothesize Ghislaine’s current possible hiding place, which according to rumors might be somewhere in Key West, or somewhere in the ocean aboard a submarine. [Kevin Cortez]


Flyest Fables
Golden Roses

One well-known joy of childhood is the bedtime story, when a tale transports you elsewhere. Flyest Fables seeks to capture that sensation in audio, with stories created to represent and support Black children. A magical storybook travels around, passing from hand to hand, as it provides comfort, escape, and strength to children and teenagers facing personal challenges. “Golden Roses” follows the next step in the stories of Clarence, trapped in prison under false accusations, and Imani, used as an example to her nation. Creator Morgan Givens voices every character with astonishing clarity and skill, giving them each their own timbre and rhythm. The voice of his storyteller is exactly the voice of the man at the bedside, keeping people enthralled long past bedtime with a deep, calm tone. The stories tackle all kinds of topics, from bullying to having a parent in jail, addressed via a fantasy parallel, and the linked stories of Clarence and Imani address the injustice of the legal system rooted in a long history of oppression. Givens’ deft writing and Jayk Cherry’s lush sound engineering create an incredible sense of hopepunk. There are reasons left, still, to fight for liberation. [Elena Fernández Collins]


How Have You Not Seen This?!
Mad As Hell

This film review podcast might leave some couples feeling insecure about their relationship. The show’s hosts are the Carlsons (film critic Daniel and photographer Tracy), two people who obviously like each other and have the sort of affectionately smart-alecky chemistry that you thought only existed in rom-coms. Each episode consists of one spouse every week picking a movie the other hasn’t seen, and they chop it up for an hour. They close out their debut season with Network—or, as Tracy glumly calls it, “one of Daniel’s ’70s movies.” Needless to say, she didn’t dig the Oscar-winning media-satire classic as much as her husband. (She saw it on Friday the 13th during that rare harvest moon, which she says made her a cranky, crazy mess.) But since she’s just as much of a seasoned cinephile as her other half, she does appreciate the film for its bleak, cynical, startling-for-its-time vision of what television would eventually become. They also manage to slide in how Aaron Sorkin ripped off the movie for his notoriously awful show Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Film geeks who also know their bad TV are a match made in heaven. [Craig D. Lindsey]


Passenger List
Traffic

Passenger List is a new serialized fiction podcast from Lauren Shippen (The Bright Sessions) and John Dryden (Tumanbay) via Radiotopia. The story follows a woman trying to investigate a flight from New York to London that went missing without a trace while her twin brother was on board. There’s some Limetown inspiration in the concept and tone, but what Passenger List deals in is grief. As protagonist Kaitlin Le tries to unravel what happened to the flight, she finds herself wrapped up in conspiracies, not knowing who she can trust and which leads will take her somewhere. What she knows is that there’s more to the mystery than anyone is letting on, and she doesn’t buy the common narrative that has to do with a flock of geese. While the cast of Passenger List does have some celebrity names—Kelly Marie Tran and Patti Lupone, among others—Shippen and Dryden are some of the bigger stars in the fiction podcast world, and their work here does not disappoint. Passenger List is strange, intriguing, and deeply emotional off the bat, primed to be some of the most exciting fiction this year. [Wil Williams]


Pessimists Archive
Scooters (And Roller Skates)

This fascinating look at the history of technological advances shows that, for every premature embrace of questionable inventions, there’s a similarly foolish retrograde lurch away from bona fide innovations. Scooters, first called autopeds, were actually innocuously received upon their debut about a century ago. For one thing, the technology was so bad it never threatened to become widely adopted, save for a few years during World War I when material shortages inflated their value. More importantly, by the time scooters debuted, a massive debate over the purpose of roads had played out in the wake of several waves of new short-range transit options. Much of the friction was driven by class. Roller skates, for instance, have a particularly snooty history that once involved dress codes. Expert interviews are interwoven with superbly acted readings of scandalized old-timey news accounts to spin a tidy, engaging thread that ends with the host’s take on the latest white-hot war over scooters, electric versions of which are once again swarming many of the world’s major population centers. [Zach Brooke]


Preach
Glynn Washington On Leaving A Cult, What Comes Next

Lee Hale’s faith walk as a Mormon became a philosophical stumble when he began the process of investigating his own church. Preach is his way of working through a divine dilemma with the help of others on similar spiritual paths. Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington spent the early part of his life as a member of The Worldwide Church Of God. Now defining himself as agnostic, he’s coming to terms with the idea that there are certain beliefs he’s held onto that are far bigger than the organization he left behind. Hale’s interview with Washington uncovers lots of parallels between their experiences, from key Bible verses that emphasized their special place in the world as believers to the apostolic ambition that they both shared as God’s disciples. The more that Washington was encouraged by his church to study the Bible, the more he came to question certain aspects of his church, an interracial dating ban and the purity of whiteness being prime examples. Preach provides a sacred space for us all to engage in the process of rethinking and reclaiming spiritual concepts through secular means. [Jason Randall Smith]


Vintage Books
The Testaments Book Club ᛫ Atwood’s New Novel Discussed By Helen Lewis, Sanne Vliegenthart, Bookseller Jessica And Leena Norms

The Vintage Books Podcast opens up conversations about literature with various guests and authors, and this week they join host Leena Norms to discuss Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Many of the hosts are struck by Atwood’s use and exploration of language, and they appreciate the novel’s themes regarding female access to education—words and language become symbols of the power that an education provides. One guest even shares a fascinating anecdote on the origins of the word “testament.” Considering the fact that the novel is devoted to the female struggle for liberation from an oppressive male state in a dystopian society, rooted in the problems of today’s society, there’s a lot to dig into i both the original novel and the modern sequel. The panel brings a fascinating and nuanced perspective to the table, and they’ll make the listener want to read and reread these books themselves. [Jose Nateras]

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