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.
Black On Black Cinema
There exists a subcategory of movies in black cinema that are quietly important, those that push the culture forward in ways that are incredibly valid, perhaps even revolutionary, but that don’t trumpet out their own merits. These are not your Colors Purple, or your Malcolms X, but more surprising entries like Boomerang, and this week’s topic, Brown Sugar. The hosts of Black On Black Cinema, Jay, Micah, Terrence, and Rob, provide great personal insight in what sets the movie on this pedestal, namely its commitment, like Boomerang, to displaying total blackness. Given that the movie is set in the world of hip-hop, and features cameos and performances from Jermaine Dupri, Mos Def, Common, Slick Rick, it gets the guys asking how hip-hop music has gotten so bad in the last decade. Their various attempts to explain are hilarious, slagging the democratized culture of fame that the Internet sells, as well as positing that buffoonish southern rap is why racism exists, and that white people not knowing what good rap is has lead to the ruin of the genre. The show ends with its hosts taking the time to consider whether the movie passes the Bechdel test.
The Adventure Zone
A relatively new role-playing-game podcast from the hosts of My Brother, My Brother And Me, The Adventure Zone takes an eager, but not overly serious approach to playing Dungeons & Dragons. Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy have invited their father, Clint, who adds immeasurably to the chemistry, both as baby boomer and gaming noob. Adventure Zone is only eight episodes deep, and it’s a great time to dive in. Moonlighting is a segue of sorts, closing the books on their pilot adventure, and setting up the approaching campaign (recovery of six magical relics). The episode gets going once it dispenses with exposition, and drops the adventurers into one of gaming’s signature treats—the combat-based puzzle. Separated in an arena, the team must cooperate to beat three powerful ogres. The McElroy brothers have found their groove, and it’s a treat to hear the interplay between impulsive fighter Magnus Burnsides, earnest cleric Merle Highchurch, and Taako, the delightfully inept wizard. Griffin is also getting comfortable behind the DM screen, pushing the team to the edge with an initiation trial that forces them to think creatively. It’s enough fun that’s you’ll want to go back to episode one (and you maybe even pick up your own D&D starter set).
The New York Times Magazine column The Ethicist has been renamed The Ethicists, and said ethicists (novelist Amy Bloom, law professor Kenji Yoshino, and media writer Jack Shafer) have a new podcast in which they discuss the week’s reader-submitted questions. Either the readers aren’t submitting interesting questions, or the selection process needs improvement. The first question comes from a man whose brother was left out of their father’s will because of a dispute over money. Yoshino and Schafer agree that this is not an ethical question, but a legal one. Bloom declares that it’s not even a legal question, because there’s a clearly written will—she chose the question to make an example of it, as a case in which someone mistakenly thinks they’re caught in the middle of an ethical dilemma. Another question, from a person who throws out the official NRA magazines that a gym patron leaves for others to read, is cited as an example of someone who thinks they’re being ethical when they’re just being self-righteous. Despite these dead-on-arrival scenarios, Bloom, Yoshino, and Shafer manage to include some actual ethical debate. The conversation is stimulating, if not lively, and the podcast’s bare-bones production is a refreshing break from the noise of more overproduced shows.
The Filip & Fredrik podcast
Scouting For death
It can often be so engrossing listening to foreign observers’ views on American pop culture, especially the more worthless aspects of it, like award shows. It is made all the better when they are incisive and hilarious, so it is a particular treat getting to hear Swedish entertainers Filip Hammar and Fredrik Wikingsson discuss last week’s Academy Awards ceremony from such a level of remove. Hammar is presently resides in California while Wikingsson is in Stockholm, so it falls to him to report back to Wikingsson much of what occurred during the Oscars and he proves quite the critic. Hammar explains that he finds the Common and John Legend song “Glory” to be almost terrible, and that it served to weed out—in Hammar’s words—the stupid populists in attendance from the rest of the audience. For this, Chris Pine is singled out as being the shallowest person in all of Hollywood, to hilarious effect. The pair also talk about the idea of adults over 40 actively scouting for places in which they’d like to die, only to have things turn around when they notice that people over 70 suddenly find themselves scouting for any kind of life, even if it involves cheap plastic furniture.
Guys We Fucked
You Like Earning Pussy?
This “anti-slut-shaming podcast” provides an empowering, candid, and entertaining conversation about sex. Right off the bat the ladies, Krystyna Hutchinson and Corinne Fisher, rave about being tied up during sex with such enthusiasm that it makes you want to turn off the podcast and find somebody to bang right then and there. Michael Che joins the ladies later with his take on relationships and drinking alone in public. Things get a little heated when the gals confront Che about a cat-calling joke he made on Twitter, and while things feel tense for a while, it ultimately leads to an insightful discussion about the difference between men and women’s perceptions of interactions with strangers of the opposite sex. And while the podcast is all about sex-positivity, that doesn’t mean Hutchinson and Fisher aren’t open-minded about other attitudes: They thoughtfully address an email from a 15-year-old Muslim listener who is saving herself for marriage.
Henry & Heidi
Black Flag is the first band that most people associate with Henry Rollins. And while Black Flag’s place as one of history’s great hardcore bands is well established at this point, it was with Rollins Band that Rollins found mainstream success. Speaking with his long time assistant Heidi May, Rollins goes through the history of his second band, beginning with its formation in the aftermath of Black Flag’s 1987 breakup and ending with an ill-conceived (to hear Rollins tell it) reunion tour in 2006. In between, Rollins, in full-on raconteur mode, talks about how the band’s intense work ethic and relentless touring eventually landed them not only on a major label, but also onstage at Lollapalooza and the Grammys. This is a history punctuated with stories from the road that feature Perry Farrell, Ian MacKaye, Iggy Pop, and Gene Simmons. The effortless rapport between May and Rollins brings it all together; after working closely with him for a decade, May is quick to make Rollins laugh, and is an enthusiastic fan who is just as eager to hear his stories as any Rollins diehard.
The premiere episode of David Sims and Sonia Saraiya’s (both A.V. Club alumni) podcast that reviews two of the best things in the world: television and cheese. While this episode is a little all over the place as it finds its footing, Sims and Saraiya’s radio chemistry is delightful to listen to, and they certainly know their stuff when it comes to entertainment and dairy goods. In the premiere they casually bounce from subject to subject covering civic engagement plots in HBO shows, the state of the film and television industry in Chicago, and ’shipping TV characters. The loose, candid conversation makes for an engaging hour, and while the cheese review was brief (Sims devoured the string cheese within the first two seconds of the show), it was still deliciously in-depth. A word of advice: Have some cheese on hand. You will get hungry.
Kyle Gest first met Jeremy when Jeremy enrolled as the new kid at his elementary school and a teacher assigned Gest to give him a tour. Little did he know that this chance encounter would forever change his life, as Jeremy quickly went from a new friend to abuser. Gest’s piece, which closes out this week’s great episode, starts as a relatively run-of-the-mill story about bullying but becomes increasingly ominous as Jeremy’s actions escalate from menacing to criminal to chillingly sociopathic. The narrative delves into the psychological effects that Jeremy’s actions had on him over years, giving a voice to the anxiety, fear, and powerlessness that victims of systematic abuse end up living with in their everyday life. The story goes into dark and disturbing places, especially during the tragic culminating incident that finally took Jeremy out of Gest’s life. While hearing about how much Gest has suffered because of Jeremy does make it hard to get through the story at parts, listeners who do are rewarded with the kind of honest, open, and fearless storytelling that makes RISK! so consistently unforgettable.
La Mancha Screwjob
Lingo is important to wrestling fans. Face, heel, mark, shoot, work—each carries a special meaning that exists only in the world of professional wrestling. And, in that world, the “Montreal Screwjob” carries the same weight as, say, Watergate does in modern culture. What it’s referring to is an incident when WWE owner Vince McMahon discreetly manipulated a match between Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Shawn Michaels, resulting in Hart’s unwitting and unwilling loss of the World Heavyweight Championship in his home country of Canada. Who was involved? Who wasn’t? Was it all a ruse? An elaborate act of revenge on Hart for signing a contract with WCW? Conspiracy theories abound. The first half of this Radiolab episode explores the incident with writers like The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz and Grantland’s David Shoemaker, the latter of whom describes the “Montreal Screwjob” as when, “real life came and tore a hole in the fiction” of professional wrestling. As the panel discusses how professional wrestling changed in the incident’s aftermath, greater themes emerge—namely, the razor-thin tightrope professional wrestling walks between fantasy and reality. These ideas are explored further in the episode’s final 20 minutes, when a Miguel De Cervantes scholar delves into similar themes in Don Quixote. The comparison is everything pop culture critics love: unprecedented, yet completely logical.
The PDX Carpet Love Story
The former Destination DIY is now Rendered, “a show about getting creative, making meaning, and breaking rules.” It’s Maximum Fun’s answer to 99% Invisible, a comparison only exacerbated by a delightful appearance from Roman Mars on this week’s episode. Mars and host Julie Sabatier take a look at Portland International Airport’s world renowned carpet and the strange subculture that has built around it in the past five or six years: socks, T-shirts, posters, growlers, bicycle helmets—even people—emblazoned with the carpet’s distinctive accented teal pattern can now be seen all around the City Of Roses. The carpet is even the subject of countless active fan accounts across social media dedicated to rounding up the “foot selfies” of others. According to Sabatier and Mars, many Portlanders seem to associate the carpet with adventure and the swelling feeling of wonder and excitement they haven’t experienced in an airport since they were kids. But sweet as the sentiment may be, PDX has already begun ripping out huge sections of the carpet to make room for a new, barely modified design that impossibly signifies an end to youthfulness for an entire generation.
Stuff You Should Know
Why Do Lefties Exist?
Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant love a scientifically meaty topic, and nothing is quite as complex as anthropology. But dissecting why humans favor one hand only 10 to 15 percent of the time has vast contemporary relevance—the least of which are Simpsons and MC Hammer references. Historical references to cultures that have refused to accept lefties are abundant. Are lefties clumsy? Creative? Evil? Left-handedness has been associated with nefarious impulses on such a deppened level that it even defines the origins of the word “sinister.” But the meaning is both simpler and more complex than that. Though the alternate hemispheres are simple enough to explain, it is less simple to explain whether evolution chose that side for a reason, or whether 85 to 90 percent of us favor that hand because of one silly mutation. But as superstition is stripped away the lefties seem to be making a comeback. And other, more primitive primates such as lemurs and macaques favor their left. The idea that we may be “devolving,” however ridiculous, begins to creep in as the science is revealed, and by the end listeners may wonder if this rather insignificant genetic footnote may actually be a signifier of something huge and nearly impossible for us to grasp.
We Hate Movies
Podcasting isn’t exactly a medium known for smothering itself in maturity, but this week’s We Hate Movies finds a moment to devolve into a certain stripe of juvenilia so pure as to achieve the sublime. It comes in a throwaway tale from co-host Stephen Sajdak, who is initially hesitant over whether the story is worthy of telling on the show. Sajdak goes against his better judgement, and it proves to be to the benefit of all listeners. The story concerns—not to put too fine a point on things—his witnessing a balance-crippling fart, and it gives the entire episode a certain necessary inertia otherwise lacking from this week’s movie. The film in question is 2005’s Michael Keaton-starring kind-of-a-horror movie White Noise, whose derivative plot and lack of stars doesn’t inspire joking so much as a mad dissection of its lazy mixing of elements from more successful films into an uninspired, confusing mess.. This is not to suggest that the proceedings are boring, as there are certainly some inspired bits to be had. Notably, when discussions turn toward the film’s central phenomenon, EVP, and it is adjudged that it stands not for electronic voice phenomenon, but for Elliott Gould Vs. Predator.
Worst Idea Of All Time Podcast
The final episode of The Worst Idea Of All Time’s first season makes almost no sense whatsoever—and that’s the point. Following their last screening of Grown Ups 2 at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, hosts Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt delight the sold-out crowd with an overextended intro, a made-up Steve Buscemi vehicle that sounds worse than the movie they just watched, and anything else that stalls them from actually having to discuss the film at hand. Listeners won’t glean any new insights about Adam Sandler’s goon squad (thank God) or about anything at all, really, but when playing this episode right after any of the dread-laden ones that came before it, you can’t help but revel in the duo’s unadulterated, slap-happy joy. This is the sound of being released from prison. This is the sound of having survived watching Grown Ups 2 every week for an entire year. Let’s hope Montgomery and Blatt can make it through next season with just as much humor and perseverance. But considering Sex And The City 2’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour run-time, we’re not counting on it.
“And that’s what makes wrestling so powerful: the never-ending search for the reality in the unreal.”—David Shoemaker, Radiolab
“Stuff that’s carried out in the left hemisphere is going to manifest itself on the right. So if you’re shaking someone’s hand using your right hand, the left hemisphere is blowing up. If you’re taking in visual information with just your left eye, because you got your right eye closed or because it got poked out by a seagull or whatever, your right side is active.”—Josh Clark on how sides of the brain are activated, Stuff You Should Know