Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Dolly Parton
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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 Elections: Wicked Game
1796: The First Contest

The political discourse in the United States is enough to make anyone yearn for the days when politics wasn’t so personal, when gossipy rumor mongering and baseless accusations weren’t part and parcel of the electoral process. But there’s one small problem with harkening back to these civil days of yore: They never really existed. To underscore this point, the Wondery network’s new history podcast is reexamining every presidential election in the nation’s history, one episode at a time. As it turns out, these country-wide popularity contests were always pretty vicious and were really more of a measure of who could dig up the most dirt on their opponent. But the nasty partisanship really got going in 1796 after the universally respected George Washington voluntarily opted out of a third term, ushering in the country’s first truly contested election, between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. This was in a time when the very idea of campaigning for office would make the most liberal politician clutch their pearls, and yet these two men at the head of opposing political factions laid the groundwork for the shady political maneuvering we see today. [Dan Neilan]


Dolly Parton’s America
Sad Ass Songs

This new nine-part series goes big on Dolly Parton’s life with an emphasis on her unique status as a universally beloved icon. Fortunately, the angle is not belabored—Dolly on Dolly is fascinating enough without workshopping her into a talisman that unites a divided America. The opener transcends biography in favor of mapping her journey from walking boob joke to a symbol of empowerment. A possible hint can be found in her approachability: The reason this show exists is because she is nice enough to sit for interviews with the son of a doctor who treated her following a minor car accident. That this kind of personality resides within a criminally underrated songwriter who’s sassy enough to drop “tits” and “ass” in conversation (but still holds so much back) goes a long way in explaining the appeal. But perhaps not the entire way. For the rest, host Jad Abumrad (Radiolab) turns to conversations with authors who are prodded to reveal more about themselves than they bargained for, and whose connection to Dolly is so deep it seems she’s the one who knows them rather than the other way around. [Zach Brooke]


Moonface
Moaning

Moonface is James Kim’s response to the severe lack of complex, emotional stories about Asian Americans in traditional media, and it is sweet, heartbreaking, and intimate. Paul is a young Korean American working what feels like a dead-end job as a waiter and hiding his sexuality from his mother. When life begins to tumble forward, Paul begins learning Korean in order to come out to his mother, who doesn’t speak English, and navigates his way into his dream job in radio. His attempts to bridge the language gulf that was brought on by the desire to blend in with his dominant white surroundings are an agonizing process of coming to terms with his lost heritage. Moonface wraps discussions of racism into Paul’s exasperation with the explanatory comma and his childhood memories of kids teasing him about his mother’s food, elegantly dovetailing all the microaggressions that build up over the course of a life. [Elena Fernández Collins]


People’s Party With Talib Kweli
Robert Glasper Talks Kendrick Lamar, Hip-Hop Collabs, And Lauryn Hill

This Uproxx-produced podcast is just a few months old, but has already presented itself as the more dignified alternative to Drink Champs. Instead of clumsy clanging bottles and slurred interviews Noreaga pulls out of rap gods, People’s Party is a loungy experience, with hip-hop veteran Talib Kweli and his guest sipping on a cocktail and shooting the shit. (Chipper millennial co-host Jasmin Leigh is on the sidelines, occasionally chiming in.) Kweli gets some good gab from this ep’s guest, Grammy-winning, genre-bouncing jazzman Robert Glasper. He and Kweli go way back—at one point, they break into a playful argument about how Kweli jacked a song Glasper sent to him after Kweli’s memorably heated, televised debate with Don Lemon. Glasper talks about working with some of Kweli’s fellow Soulquarians (Erykah Badu, Common, Bilal) as well as straight-up legends (Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin). He also doubles down on his opinion of former employer Lauryn Hill and has some choice words for Branford Marsalis, who thinks Glasper has limited musical knowledge simply because he often mixes in hip-hop with his jazzy grooves. [Craig D. Lindsey]


PTSDiva
S Is For Suicide: Pt 1

It makes sense that Scott Thompson (The Kids In The Hall) would host a comedy podcast about pain and trauma. His résumé of traumatic experiences includes surviving cancer, witnessing a school shooting, having his house firebombed, and the suicide of his older brother in the ’90s. That last event is the focus of the latest episode of PTSDiva in which Andy Richter joins Thompson to discuss his outrageous and increasingly troubled appearances on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in the aftermath of that tragedy. His shocking interviews caused guests to walk out and tapings to be halted, and led directly to his firing from the NBC drama Providence. Thompson freely admits that he was so twisted up that his behavior was born out of his desire to end everything without actually killing himself. Most of the fun of this episode comes from Richter’s reactions to this trip down memory lane and his realization that he and Conan allowed a nervous breakdown to be nationally televised for years. Thompson has always found tragedy to be fertile ground for comedy, and with PTSDiva, he’s inviting listeners to join him in laughing at the horrors of life. [Anthony D Herrera]


Reset
Biohacking: Rules Of Engagement

Vox and Recode’s latest podcast series, Reset, kicked off this past week with a fiery story on biohacking, the loosely defined science of conducting experiments outside of traditional lab settings. There’s no better way to introduce the topic than by interviewing Josiah Zayner, the man best known for using CRISPR gene therapy on himself to increase his body’s muscle mass (which did not work) and for “transplanting” his entire microbiome by sterilizing his body and then popping pills full of a friend’s feces to introduce a new gut bacteria to relieve ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (which did work, according to him). Hosted by journalist Arielle Duhaime-Ross, this first episode of Reset features a raw, mostly uncut interview with Zayner on the ethics of biohacking, such as whether he considers at-home experiments to be a moral issue, and if any valuable experiments can actually be conducted in an FDA-regulated laboratory setting. Later, Duhaime-Ross discusses legislation around biohacking, and how other biohackers are trying to enforce their own code of ethics at home. Biohacking is a (mostly) unregulated and illegal business, and Reset presents its ever-changing story. [Kevin Cortez]


She Makes Money Moves
You Lost Your Job. Now What?

She Makes Money Moves invites young women to start talking not just how much they make, but how it affects their personal lives. Host Samantha Barry, editor in chief of Glamour, interviews women from all walks of life about their financial lives, past and present. In episode five, Barry interviews mother, wife, and breadwinner Brandon, who details the chaos her life was thrown into when she and her husband both lost their jobs unexpectedly. She discusses how they were faced with dwindling savings, the choice to sell their home, and bills piling up around them. Brandon’s interview, like all the others in this series, is raw and unscripted, which leads to an unfiltered view of how stressful money can be. In the second half of the episode, Barry talks with financial expert Tiffany Aliche about what people can do when they find themselves without a job, what they can do to prepare just in case, and how to move forward in the midst of debt piling up. She Makes Money Moves raises the voices of women who are often left out of financial discussions, making this a refreshing advice podcast. [Nichole Williams]

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