Conan O'Brien
Photo: Kevin Mazur (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.


1Upsmanship
GoldenEye 007 (w/Greg Burke)

Video games often incite heated debate, but sometimes humor and civilized shouting can simmer the boil down into fun conversation. This is the epitome of Michael Swaim and Adam Ganser’s 1Upsmanship, a podcast that provides a glimpse into a significant video game, debates its strengths and flaws, and ultimately decides to either keep it or delete it from history. This recent episode takes on the N64 first-person shooter GoldenEye 007. Joining Ganser and Swaim in their fact-dropping debate is comedian Greg Burke, who, interestingly enough, doesn’t play video games, but distinctly remembers playing GoldenEye 007 throughout his childhood, going so far as to create cardboard cutouts to block his friends from looking at each other’s split-screen during multiplayer. While this entry plays like less of a debate than is typically heard on 1Upsmanship—the two-and-a-half-gamers unanimously agree on several things, but mostly that body parts reacting to gunshots is one of the greatest video game things ever—undeniable chemistry is what makes this 90-minute episode feel like a breeze. If the rule set “Temple, slappers only, no radar, no Oddjob” sparks anything for you, this conversation will be nostalgic bliss. [Kevin Cortez]


Heat Rocks
Tall Black Guy on D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” (2000)

On Heat Rocks, radio DJ and film/TV music supervisor Morgan Rhodes and veteran music critic/journalist/scholar Oliver Wang invite a guest to talk about an album that’s influential, usually soulful, and meaningful to them. On this recent episode, Rhodes flies solo as she speaks with Detroit DJ/producer Tall Black Guy about D’Angelo’s 2000 sophomore masterwork, Voodoo. Released five years after his equally audacious debut Brown Sugar (discussed in an earlier episode), that album was created and released during a time when artists like D’Angelo, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots, the late, great producer J Dilla, and others formed a collective known as The Soulquarians. This unit made New York’s Electric Lady Studios their home as they churned out classic albums like Voodoo, The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, and Common’s Like Water For Chocolate. The most intriguing part of this episode is how Tall mentions the several artists and producers who have obviously lifted the opening snare-drum beat from “Chicken Grease,” but he refuses to say the name of “the homie that don’t nobody like right now.” Is he talking about R. Kelly or Kanye? Either way, it’s likely somebody from Chicago. [Craig D. Lindsey]


I Don’t Speak German
The National Socialist Movement

For the past two years, Daniel Harper has been consuming the podcasts and other online media of the American far right and white supremacist movement, and now, on his podcast, he’s reporting back on all the fragile egos, baffling stupidity, and dangerous individuals he found. In this episode, Harper describes to co-host Jack Graham the history and some key figures that make up modern American Nazism. What is most surprising about I Don’t Speak German is just how much cringe comedy is involved in the lives of these racists. Most episodes have updates about a radio host who can no longer take calls on his show because he keeps getting pranked by other white supremacists. Then there’s the story of a neo-Nazi group that fell apart because one Nazi set up a sting operation to catch another Nazi sleeping with his wife which led to an all-out brawl. It can sometimes be uncomfortable, but Harper’s encyclopedic knowledge of the subject and Graham’s sharp insights make it compelling listening and bring some understanding of the humanity of these people without ever letting us forget their monstrosity or the very real threat they pose. [Anthony D. Herrera]


Inside Conan
Conan O’Brien, Ben Sinclair, Jordan Schlansky, José Arroyo

Anyone looking to learn how the proverbial sausage of late-night comedy is made should be tuning into this new podcast from Team Coco and Earwolf, appropriately titled Inside Conan. Each week, Conan writers Mike Sweeney (who has been writing for O’Brien’s late-night shows in some fashion for 24 years) and Jessie Gaskell (who has been with the TBS iteration of the show for five years) will take listeners behind the scenes of late-night for exclusive interviews, insights, and clips that never made it to air. They really come out swinging in their inaugural episode with entertaining interviews from fan favorite office weirdo Jordan Schlansky and, of course, Conan O’Brien himself, who psychoanalyzes the sadistic pleasure he experiences when a writer’s monologue joke falls flat. But fans of process will take special delight in hearing writer José Arroyo tell the story of a sketch he repeatedly tried and failed to get on the air. While this nuts-and-bolts talk might not be what entices the casual Conan viewer, for comedy nerds, it’s pure ear candy. [Dan Neilan]


Make-Believe
Lost Books of the Odyssey

Make-Believe Association is a Chicago-based production house currently producing their first season of Grown Folk Fables, where various writers reimagine old oral storytelling traditions, stories handed down through generations. These are live plays recorded in front of an audience and always followed by a conversation between executive producer Jeremy McCarter, the creator or director, other writers, and the audience, an absolutely crucial addition to help understand the nuances of what went into the play and what can be gleaned from it. This episode is an adaptation of Zachary Mason’s book of the same name, tilting through five different versions of Odysseus each played by a different actor. Every Odysseus speaks to the way we tell stories about ourselves and our families and friends, the journeys we decide to go on, and how we pass all these stories down in memory. When an older Odysseus tries to revisit the past and his memory seems to fail him, it is heartbreaking and resonant; when Odysseus, as a bard, creates his own Iliad, it is darkly hilarious, even in its tragedy. Odysseus’ new adventures are stories for our time, right now, while also honoring the past. [Elena Fernández-Collins]


Obsession
The Chemistry

A bad crush—the truly torturous, all-consuming, unrequited kind of romantic infatuation—can be a powerful force. In Obsession, host Alison Becker explores the emotional mechanics that turn a harmless crush into a romantic obsession, and the devastating consequences that follow. Through interviews with recovering obsessives, couples, and experts in psychology, mental health, and addiction, Obsession’s first two episodes covered the definition and psychology of unrequited love, including firsthand accounts of crushes that morphed from sweaty palms, jittery nerves, and involuntary blushing into relentless thought loops and breakups that almost ended in break-ins. Episode three breaks down the science and physiology of romantic obsession, revealing that it isn’t just an emotional state, but a complex physical reality. Becker speaks with Alexandra Katehakis, Clinical Director of the Center For Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, who explains that a budding romantic attraction triggers a flood of hormones and chemicals in the brain that can encourage irrational behavior, and may also explain why a jilted ex or secret admirer can’t just “get over it.” Romantic obsession and infatuation sometimes spiral out of control because, at least on a chemical level, it is out of our control—a conclusion that’s both reassuring and unsettling. [Sofia Barrett-Ibarria]


Poetry Off the Shelf
A Change of World documentary: Poetry and the Women’s Movement

Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are concurrent cacophonies and resonant codas to The Feminine Mystique in this special that explores the interplay between the Women’s Movement and women’s poetry. Narrated by Meryl Streep, the program sheds light on both the frustrated status of creative women and the power of poetry during post-WWII social unrest. Emerging in earnest in the 1960s, feminist poetry breaks through in 1974, when Adrienne Rich wins the National Book Award and makes a fiery acceptance speech flanked by Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. Despite the abundance of history lessons, the program is unbound by chronology and more than a biographical index. We are shown how successive artists, empowered by the first renegades, grew bolder, moving from writing about the banality of homemaking, to sex between women, to recounting abortions. A newfound present sparked a replumbed past, with historical giants like Emily Dickinson and Anne Bradstreet reinterpreted with a distinct feminist bent. Progress isn’t measured solely against the brilliance of a literary movement, however, and the still present barriers of publishing or securing tenure as a female poet are enumerated throughout the program both as hindrance and driver. [Zach Brooke]


Say More
Sisters & Menstrual Cups

Say More is the cool, socially conscious, inclusive slumber party you’ve been hoping to snag an invitation to. Hosts Olivia Gatwood and Melissa Lozada-Olivia, both internationally known poets and performers, have a lot of thoughts and questions about things that matter and are tackling them weekly, two issues at a time. What began as a shorthand to approach conversations with less judgment has evolved, creating a space where thoughts on anxiety, gender, and race have levity and mingle with musings on YouTube beauty tutorials and Kardashian gossip. The interview topics this week are menstrual cups, sisters, and why vagina-based feminism is so annoying. Whatever your birth order or astrological sign, they’ve got you pegged. If you have a sister that claps back, Melissa gets it. With endless amounts of humor and pleasure, they offer essential conversations about menstruation, the subtleties of language, and how to give an orgasm with a Diva Cup. The talk is real, the politics are dope, and the feelings of joy are contagious. If you didn’t have a sister before, you have two now. [Morgan McNaught]


Should This Exist?
Woebot: A virtual therapist powered by AI

On the first day of its launch, Woebot saw more patients in a day than a therapist could see in a lifetime. Fast forward to today, and nearly 2 million messages a week are sent to Woebot from 30 countries. What is a Woebot? It’s a therapist—in app form. This radical technology was created by Allison Darcy, a young psychologist with a passion for merging tech and mental wellness. On this episode of WaitWhat’s Should This Exist?, Caterina Fake—host of the podcast and co-founder of Flickr—brings on experts to challenge the possibilities and pitfalls of using 100 percent artificial intelligence in place of human connection. For Darcy, the app helps users examine their own thinking through cognitive behavioral therapy, but world-renowned therapist Esther Perel challenges Darcy’s invention by inviting her to consider that Woebot creates artificial intimacy. Instead of allowing people to emerge from self-isolation through human interaction, it could exacerbate the very issue it was designed to solve. Through laughs, tough questions, and staggering facts, Should This Exist? gives listeners the information they need and the critical analysis they deserve. [Nekala Alexander]


Snobs On Film
The Denzel Effect

On their podcast spin-off to The Music Snobs, hosts Arthur Turnbull, Isaac Perry, and Jehan B. explore movies and television in painstaking detail. This episode welcomes actor Omar Dorsey (Queen Sugar) to the conversation, which examines what the Snobs refer to as “The Denzel Effect.” Now that there are more black actors, writers, directors, and showrunners than ever before, does the Hollywood rule of “one black megastar at a time” still apply? The meteoric success of Michael B. Jordan is used as an example, with the hosts suggesting that the industry’s focus has placed him within the upper echelon of stardom. Dorsey relates his firsthand experience with Hollywood as he discusses changes in creative control over the black narrative during the last 20-30 years and the numerous platforms through which that happens now. Notable tangents include everything from the online fervor caused by the mere idea of Idris Elba as James Bond and tackling whether Hollywood diversity simply means sticking black faces in white screenplays. This idea gets turned on its head as the four play a game of Black Roulette, upending predominantly white shows and movies with the insertion of black actors in their signature roles with hilarious results. [Jason Randall Smith]


Spotless
Dust Ups and Royal Flushes

There’s an enjoyable meta quality to listening to podcasts while actually doing the thing the podcast is about. If you’re into that sort of thing, grab a sponge and listen to Spotless, because you will get shit done. Before Marie Kondo made tidying up cool, hosts Hanna Brooks Olsen and Andrew Walsh were initiating fellow “scrub jockeys” into the cult of clever (and, apparently, controversial) cleaning hacks like freezing your jeans and using vodka as a miracle cleaner. This episode is their most provocative yet, with hot takes on everything from dusting with dryer sheets to how to deal with that nasty “soup” on the bottom of toilet brush holders (which you don’t, and do, want to know all about). What makes this podcast shine is the hosts’ ability to get to the roots of their own psychological hang-ups related to cleaning: stressing out over matching bath mats and towels, recoiling when looking at piles of unread newspapers, or feeling guilt when your partner announces that, um, it’s really time to wash the sheets. Millennial burnout is real, but Olsen and Walsh tackle it with charm, making you feel like everything’s going to be okay—as long as everything is clean. [Amber Cortes]


Still Lives
The Quiet

Still Lives is a debuting fiction podcast with an interesting premise: 13 years after a mysterious apocalypse, the last five people on Earth are holed up on a farm. Their roles are clear-cut and they live in relative harmony, but their pastoral peace comes tumbling down when a sixth survivor knocks on their door. This debut episode centers the character of The Archivist as she chronicles their survival and grabs the listener immediately with the internal conflicts the protagonists face: when will The Kid be ready to hear about what really happened and why the world ended? Even though the setting is undeniably sci-fi, Still Lives features human relationships and characters the audience can relate to, and the writing reflects that—it’s warm and beautiful. The series shows that not every apocalypse has to be loud or come with a bang; it can be characters talking about chickens and how the winter might be harsh that year, too. [Alma Roda-Gil]


The Far Meridian
The Cascade

The Far Meridian is a serialized audio fiction that follows Peri, an agoraphobic young woman who learns to interact with the world when her lighthouse home appears in a new location every day. She’s joined late in season one by Benny, a charismatic, somewhat impulsive man, who acts as her foil, but also her friend and confidant. In season two, Peri’s lived through a lot and failed to find her brother. While the story usually follows her, this episode shakes things up and follows Benny, showing how he’s affected by Peri’s life. When Peri gets drunk for the first time, Benny has to deal with his frustrations about her and how she’s been handling her recovery of the events from season one. It’s exciting not only to see the protagonist in a new, more external light, but also get to know Benny better. As is always the case with The Far Meridian, it also sounds incredible. The acting, production, and sound design are all well-crafted and immersive. [Wil Williams]

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