Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Tom Cruise in Risky Business
Photo: Warner Brothers/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.

Blood Ties
Family Business

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There are perhaps no podcast subjects more beloved than rich people problems and ripped-from-the-headlines true crime stories. Wondery marries the two in its new scripted drama Blood Ties. Siblings Eleanor and Michael Richland—voiced by Gillian Jacobs and Josh Gad, formidable in their respective departures from comedy—head to the Caribbean for a holiday. When they receive news their parents have died in a plane crash and are told to begin making arrangements, the sinister underbelly of their father’s legacy is revealed. The series investigates the conflict between responsibility to one’s family and to the greater good, following both siblings as they grapple with the sprawling ramifications of their father’s actions. You’ll find yourself wanting more of the story after six brief episodes. [Morgan McNaught]


Ghosted! By Roz Drezfalez
Ever Mainard

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Drag queen comedian Roz Drezfalez is wishing a happy New Year to ghosts and only ghosts on the latest edition of her paranormal podcast. Each week, Roz reads listener emails about supernatural encounters and welcomes special guests to recount their true-life run-ins with the unknown. Joining Roz this episode is comedian Ever Mainard, who takes listeners back to her childhood in rural Texas, where she had several inexplicable experiences in an abandoned farmhouse that looked like it could’ve been the setting of a chainsaw-based massacre. Mainard also proves that looking for a new place to live is far more stressful than living with a ghost, as she has rented not one but two haunted apartments. Although it is a very funny podcast, Roz and her guests take the supernatural completely seriously. There is never any attempt to look for a “logical” explanation. If you’re a skeptic, debunker, or professional eye-roller, this one’s not for you. But for believers or those who just enjoy good creepy stories, Ghosted! is a fabulously spooky time. [Anthony D Herrera]


Highsnobiety Podcasts
Why It’s Cool #12: Ray-Ban Wayfarers

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How did it happen that Ray-Ban Wayfarers became the most timeless sunglasses known to man? Sure, James Dean sporting them in Rebel Without A Cause helped push them into the limelight, as did Tom Cruise wearing a pair in Risky Business. But as Highsnobiety host Ian Servantes will tell you, their origins are far more surprising. Originally designed for the Army, Ray-Ban’s Wayfarers established themselves as classic cool, outlasting decades of general interest and somehow morphing into a fashion and pop cultural staple. Servantes dives deep into Wayfarers’ enduring cultural significance in just under 11 minutes, touching on the sunglasses’ celebrity appeal with stars like the Olsen twins and Bruce Willis. [Kevin Cortez]


Life Kit
Making Art Is Good For Your Health. Here’s How To Start A Habit

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Creating is therapeutic. By making something—a piece of writing, a finger painting, a loaf of bread, a dumb doodle—you relieve stress while giving yourself the opportunity to self-reflect, boost your mood, and lower anxiety. If you’re not already, your 2020 resolution should be to simply make art. If you’re not sure how to start, NPR’s latest episode of Life Kit will give you the primer on making the time to do so. Through interviews with people like Oakland poet and comic author Trinidad Escobar, New Yorker cartoonist Liana Finck, and Girija Kaimal, a professor and art therapist, Life Kit provides the hints you need to extend your own artistic expression throughout the week, treating the practice as you would any other healthy habit, like exercising or dieting. You might not feel able to create a masterpiece, but as Kaimal explains, “Everyone is capable of creative expression,” and by simply creating, you’ll feel better in the process. [Kevin Cortez]


My Year In Mensa
IQ And The Average Girl

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Jamie Loftus, co-host of The Bechdel Cast, writer for Robot Chicken, and stand-up comedian, planned on taking the Mensa admission test just to write about it. When she passed it, she laughed, wrote an article poking fun at herself, and thought that would be the end of it. However, she then got a message about an unmoderated right-leaning Facebook group endorsed by Mensa and joined to get an inside look. Online harassment in a variety of forms followed. Instead of quitting the group, she accepted an invitation to a weeklong conference in Arizona, where she met her harassers in person. Throughout this four-part series, Loftus doesn’t just critique Mensa; she also takes an in-depth look at the origins of high-IQ societies, the culture of unmoderated forums, and the power of online trolls. She also addresses where she made unfair assumptions, which brings unexpected balance to her personal narrative. My Year In Mensa is vulnerable, anxiety-inducing, informative, and hilarious. A perfect combination with which to start the New Year. [Nichole Williams]


Ok Stupid
A Brief Correspondence On Hinge With Sabina Meschke And Avery Friedman

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Starting the year off with a bang, Caroline Doyle and Emily Knob begin this episode of Ok Stupid with a story about overhearing Emily’s girlfriend’s roommate having sex. The hosts then brainstorm ways to make more money in 2020 and list various Christmas gifts received. Per Ok Stupid’s premise, the hosts play matchmaker and facilitate a date/conversation between guests Sabina Meschke and Avery Friedman. They discuss twins, astrology, the struggles of communicating via text and dating app messages, their favorite euphemisms for sex, and more; the four of them riff in a fun, charismatic exchange that might make single listeners hope for friends who will set them up on such energetic dates. The juxtaposition of an extended conversation about orthodontia and finding lost retainers with a segment called “First Kiss, Worst Kiss” makes for a fun bit of nostalgia. In particular, it’s interesting to hear young queer individuals reflect on their first kisses, which happen to have been heterosexual encounters, and then consider their first queer kisses in comparison. [Jose Nateras]


Scene On Radio
Rich Man’s Revolt

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“Yesterday’s ‘normal’ was not good enough,” says Scene On Radio host John Biewen near the beginning of this episode. He’s speaking about the idea held by many that, in the Trump era, American democracy has strayed too far from its idealistic roots. Since this is Scene On Radio, however, listeners are primed to expect a hard look at the true nature of things. Over the last three years, Biewen has proven to be one of the most interesting agitators in podcasting, using his program and position of privilege to pick apart the accepted myths of modern American society. Following the show’s previous critically lauded seasons, “Seeing White” and “MEN,” this latest series, called “The Land That Has Never Been Yet,” might prove to be its most interesting to date. In it Biewen is joined once again by Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika—his co-host from the “Seeing White” series, and of the Gimlet podcast Uncivil—and the two dissect the hidebound myths of American democracy. In this opening entry alone the pair examine Native American egalitarianism through the lens of the Cherokee and take the near godlike status of the founding fathers down a few pegs. [Ben Cannon]


The Explorers Podcast
Hernán Cortés And The Conquest Of Mexico - Part 1

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Here’s another independent history podcast created by a man with a lot of time on his hands and a passion for the past. The Age of Exploration is host Matt Breen’s particular poison, and while Cortés’ foray into Mexico is not so much scientific discovery as it is coldblooded conquest, since no one in Europe knew about the Aztecs prior to his exploits, it technically qualifies. Cortés is given new life through detailed narrative more concerned about the how’s and why’s of his actions than the what’s. There are specifics on the young Cortés’ rise to prominence in Spanish-dominated Cuba, technical accounts of the Spanish arsenal brought onto the Mexican mainland, and sketches of all major military action. One interesting granular detail otherwise lost in a general summary of events is the supreme importance of a couple of translators who stumble into Cortés’ path, the first being a Spanish friar who could speak a Mayan dialect followed by a slave fluent in the region’s widely spoken tongues. [Zach Brooke]


WTF With Marc Maron
Brad Pitt & Leonardo DiCaprio

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When celebrities have been famous for as long as Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio have, their sense of self-preservation often prevents them from speaking candidly during interviews. Especially when it’s the height of awards season and they’ve already got their press-junket-ready answers locked and loaded. But Marc Maron’s ability to disarm people with his own neurotic, frantic energy has always been one of his biggest strengths, and it comes in handy during this episode, recorded on the fly in a back room at the Hollywood ArcLight Cinemas after a screening of Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood. The two A-listers are more than happy to chat about their early days in obscurity, their individual approaches to performing, and their newfound interest in producing while Maron sweats and curses at his malfunctioning audio equipment, wholly convinced the episode is a disaster from the beginning. It certainly helps that Pitt, a diehard fan of Maron’s IFC show, seems to have shown up just to witness one of the comedian’s patented meltdowns. Hearing the actor cackle with delight at Maron’s neuroses is worth the price of admission. [Dan Neilan]

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