Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Jameela Jamil (right) with producer Marti Noxon at the Girlboss Rally on April 28.
Photo: Rich Fury (Getty Images for Girlboss)
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.

#MeToo Is Here To Stay


Bitch Media editors Dahlia Balcazar and Amy Lam have an easy and playful chemistry. They kick off each episode of Backtalk arguing about things like the worst Mark Wahlberg film, yet they’re still able to tackle serious and complicated issues like the #MeToo movement when necessary. This episode finds them discussing the movement’s integrity in the face of allegations against one of its leaders, Asia Argento. Balcazar and Lam navigate the nuances of the issue, making the point that there is no binary between the accusers and the accused. They also acknowledge the hypocrisy of those who preach to always believe the victim, but don’t necessarily follow their own advice when recognized feminists are accused. The waters are murky, but the two editors deftly identify the roots of the problem. And as heavy as things might get, the episodes always end on the same fun note where they started, with recommendations for what to read, watch, and listen to that week, as well as a phone number listeners can text to weigh in on arguments; the hosts will respond with motivational messages and GIFs to stay connected between episodes. [Brianna Wellen]

Buffering The Vampire Slayer
4.08: Pangs


Hosts Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo take a close look at every single episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and sometimes that’s a less than comfortable task. “Pangs” is a particularly controversial episode that centers on a vengeful Native American spirit at Thanksgiving. Much of its plot, its portrayals of Native American characters, and the debates about the genocide of native peoples are, at best, problematic. Russo and Youngs decide to approach the subject by bringing activist Coya White Hat-Artichoker of the Rosebud Sioux tribe into the conversation and incorporating published critical commentary on Buffy’s messy, often clumsy handling of race. Buffering The Vampire Slayer usually features original songs inspired by the Buffy episode in question, but this time around, Russo and Youngs share a portion of a speech by Standing Rock Elder Phyllis Young. It’s an amazing way to create a space for and give voice to a community whose historical and contemporary disenfranchisement is often relegated to a plot device. It’s a prime example of well-executed commentary, and manages to stay entertaining throughout. [Jose Nateras]

Family Ghosts
Keeping The Wounds Raw With Thi Bui


“Every house is haunted,” asserts Panoply’s Family Ghosts. It’s the perfect tagline to draw people in. What keeps them there are the gripping episodes that investigate family mythology to discover how the stories we pass from generation to generation “cast shadows over our lives in ways that might not be immediately obvious.” Enter Thi Bui, author of the illustrated memoir The Best We Could Do, and perhaps the most fitting guest to date. Bui shares what it was like to interview her family about the hardest part of their lives: escaping to America after the fall of South Vietnam. “Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family,” the memoir is successively harrowing and healing with its intimate stories sharing universal themes, which Bui and producer Jennifer Lai discuss at length. But it’s at the end of the conversation that layers of storytelling are pulled back to reveal the most vulnerable center, confirming Family Ghosts’ tenet that “by engaging with each others’ legends, perhaps we can see each others’ realities more clearly.” [Becca James]

Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast
The Lebowski Property Tax Break


The average person isn’t that interested in hearing about inherited property tax law. That’s understandable. It can be pretty boring. But what if this very unsexy political discussion were infused with a little Hollywood scandal in the form of one Jeff Bridges? This episode of CALmatters’ housing crisis podcast kicks off with an ambush-style interview of Bridges in which the hosts attempt to air a bit of his dirty laundry to drum up discussion around Proposition 13. What’s Prop 13, you ask? It’s a little-known piece of California legislation passed in the 1980s that puts a cap on how much a person’s property tax can increase year to year as long as they live in the same house. (Pretty exciting, right?) Over the decades, this has deprived the state of billions of dollars in tax revenue. Worse yet, some beneficiaries like Bridges (a Hollywood celeb—this is some juicy gossip!) are getting these tax breaks on inherited homes they don’t even live in, but rather rent out for outrageous prices. It’s an enticing angle on an important topic that, of course, results in a debate over Bridges’ best film. [Dan Neilan]

Master Manual
Helga Cruciform


There are a lot of actual play podcasts out there. Generally, these podcasts can range from fantastic to “You guys know this is being recorded, right?” But the quality of each individual show is almost always tied to the quality of the group’s dungeon master (or game master, if you’re not the dungeoning type). They’re the puppet master, the fast-thinking improviser, and ultimately the one driving the narrative for the players. All in all, it’s a role that sounds hard as hell. Master Manual is here to help. The new tabletop role-playing advice podcast from resident Harmontown DM Spencer Crittenden and game designer Cohen Edenfield is all about helping DMs everywhere be better at their jobs. Each week, they answer questions from listeners, teach you how to improvise names for non-player characters, and ad lib alternative lore for fiction’s most notorious monsters. It will come as no surprise that most of the problems DMs run into are social in nature. Dungeons & Dragons is a social game, after all. But Crittenden and Edenfield always find entertaining ways to arrive at the same answer: “Uh, try talking to each other?” [Dan Neilan]

Ways To Change The World
Jameela Jamil


Coming from Channel 4 News, Ways To Change The World host Krishnan Guru-Murthy is joined by one guest a week to “explore the big ideas influencing how we think, act, and live.” His most recent guest brought the show to the forefront of social media simply by challenging the Kardashians. The resulting and unintentional headline-grabbing aside, Jameela Jamil (The Good Place) makes an impassioned argument against what she calls “double agents of the patriarchy,” or women who are benefiting from and profiting off of selling a patriarchal narrative to other women. Jamil goes on to explain how her own eating disorder as an adolescent was a direct result of being “bombarded with a narrative that had no alternative,” largely through women’s magazines. Up top, the takeaway is how important constructive criticism is within feminism, and that’s just one of myriad ways to change the world that Jamil highlights. As with any conversation, certain sections beg for more exploration, but what’s provided here is a catalyst for further frank discussion. [Becca James]

Welcome To The Teachers’ Lounge
Mr. LaCasse


Welcome To The Teachers’ Lounge host and educator Jon Lemay usually titles his episodes using the first names of the teachers he’s interviewing, but this episode gets a slightly more formal designation. That’s because the guest is actually Lemay’s own high school music teacher, Randy LaCasse, a.k.a. Mr. LaCasse. As always, Lemay leads a thoughtful conversation about the joys, difficulties, and realities of being a teacher. Only this time around, the conversation is even more personal because of the unique connection Lemay and LaCasse share. As LaCasse opens up about his teaching philosophies, Lemay is able to comment on how he experienced them as a student. Meanwhile, LaCasse offers up some delightful memories about Lemay’s shaggy-haired teen days. The clear affection the two men feel for one another keeps the conversation warm, lively, and honest. Key to both of their education philosophies is the importance of teaching kids life skills beyond the ability to pass an exam. As back-to-school season gets underway, this podcast—and this episode in particular—serves as a great reminder of the importance of teachers. [Caroline Siede]

Within The Wires
Season 3, Reel 1: July 3, 1953


If one wanted to map the world of podcasting onto that of music—that is to say, identifying the aesthetics of different podcast networks and matching them with analogously inclined record labels—then Night Vale Presents must surely be the Elephant 6 Collective of narrative audio. It’s not just that Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel has a show on its roster. Like that vaunted indie label, the network’s shows radiate an experimental and eclectic spirit, flouting conventions of the medium to create something wholly original and transcendent. The unlikely standard bearer has proven to be Within The Wires, a narrative fiction program written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson, which places the listener in the unfamiliar position of being somewhat between the story. Each season tells a tale through found sound documents where the audience only receives one side and is forced to fill in the gaps on their own. Already off to a great start, this season is a political thriller set in the ’50s, unspooling across a series of dictation tapes from a Chicago-based bureaucrat to his secretary. Unsettling details of the show’s alternate history utopia-cum-dystopia are carefully rationed out, ingeniously building intrigue. [Ben Cannon]

Worst Case Scenario
The Jung Pope (With Shereen Lani Younes)


Doughboys listeners will recognize Yusong Liu as the lovable intern-turned-producer-turned-patsy for all culinary mishaps suffered by Mike “The Spoonman” Mitchell (the most recent flavor flashpoint: cheesecake and green tea ice creams). Those fans would do well to also check out the podcast Liu launched in January with co-host and fellow sketch comedian Rebecca Steinberg, in which the duo take light-hearted, frank, cathartic looks at their own mental health. Each week, Steinberg and Liu alternate choosing one recent event in their lives that caused them worry, then read a sketch depicting its hyperbolic “worst case scenario.” It’s a clever, simple format that effectively defangs a stressor by turning it into fodder for comedy, and also serves as a jumping-off point for discussing topics ranging from medication to professional challenges to social anxiety. Recent conversations have included a bit on how grimy it feels to network—despite being an industry necessity—and how, for them, even the darkest depressive funk can be temporarily lifted by learning choreography from K-pop videos. In the most recent episode, Ethnically Ambiguous co-host Shereen Lani Younes stops by to discuss imposter syndrome. [Dan Jakes]

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