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 email@example.com.
This episode digs deep into the history of palm trees as a symbol of “otherness” in Western civilization. Host Roman Mars has become quite adept at taking a small modern story and blowing it out backwards hundreds of years. In this case he examines how one group of shady individuals attempt to steal a valuable Canary Island date palm in bustling Los Angeles, symbolizing the end of California’s journey for identity. Landscaping in Los Angeles is not just about the palm, but about which kind needs to end up where in order to make Los Angeles seem exotic, like the dream-come-to-life it originally set out to be some 100 years ago. From hotel lobbies to the L.A. suburbs to the cities that line the coast all the way up to San Francisco, the foreign plants began to supplant the original countryside. The amount of history zipped through is impressive, detailing how thousands of species were transplanted to California. But their current cost is also surprising (tens of thousands of dollars) and it is both poetic and sad how this has become the current chapter in the palm’s place in imagination. The ongoing record drought in the state, combined with the economic climate, seem to hint that it will all soon drift away.
Doug Loves Movies
Simon Rex, Ben Bailey, Eddie Pepitone, Jordan Rubin
A canceled live show and the timing of Caribbean’s 311 cruise left Doug Loves Movies fans without a new taping for over two weeks, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed during this week’s “shithead” reading. Back in Los Angeles at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Doug Benson ends the hiatus with a short but solid episode that makes up for its lack of gameplay (the panel exhausts the Corrections Department in an otherwise simple Morgan Freeman-themed round of Last Man Stanton) with on-point, witty conversation about movies in and out of theaters. Eddie Pepitone riffs about his unironic love of Paddington, Ben Bailey chats about how brilliant Bill Murray is even when he’s doing nothing of interest in the credits of St. Vincent, and Jordan Rubin expands on his How Did This Get Made? thoughts on Safe Haven. Even as a self-admitted stoner, Simon Rex is a bit of a flaky outlier, at least until “Mark Wahlberg” (Dan Van Kirk) arrives and makes magic out of his inability to recognize The Little Mermaid lyrics.
I Was There Too
The Exorcist With Eileen Dietz
By nearly all accounts, the making of The Exorcist was a harrowing experience. It’s been reported that director William Friedkin slapped actors, fired a gun on a set, and filmed the climactic bedroom exorcism inside a giant freezer. Actress Eileen Dietz confirms all of this and more in her interview with I Was There Too’s Matt Gourley, but reveals that it wasn’t until the film wrapped that she suffered her greatest trauma. In the film, she plays two roles: the (terrifying) face of the demon Pazuzu and, in a few select moments, the possessed Regan—she’s the one vomiting up pea soup, not Linda Blair. The latter role is one the studio didn’t want the public to know about, however, something Dietz chalked up to the pending Academy Awards, because they wanted voters to believe Blair did it all herself. This, according to Dietz, led to misunderstandings, which led to attacks on her character and a meeting in which Friedkin told her she would “never work in this town again.” Dietz can occasionally come across as an unreliable narrator, someone who’s perhaps obfuscated certain facts as a coping mechanism, but that’s ultimately part of this interview’s appeal, as is a fresh batch of making-of lore for Exorcist superfans.
IRL With Nev Schulman
Just to prove he’s not catfishing you, Nev Schulman breaks down the barriers of the show—and his life—with this podcast. In this episode, former Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf discusses her time filling in for Schulman’s sidekick and, we can all hope, life partner Max Joseph during his five-episode absence from Catfish. It is completely necessary in the world of online harassment and relationship building to get the perspective of a young girl, so it’s refreshing to hear Wolf’s take on her time on the show as well as her personal experiences with meeting men online—she’s had her fair share of “creeps” in the past. Things get really interesting when Schulman moves beyond the topic of the show and gets into the dark world of beauty pageants with Wolf, with some stories being far more terrifying than anything that’s ever happened on Catfish. But the most entertaining takeaways are the personal tidbits about Schulman: his years as a ballet dancer, his dream of becoming an ice skater, and his love for women’s feet. Get out the sandals, ladies!
Love + Radio
The Living Room
Living in a major city where life occurs constantly in such unnaturally close proximity, voyeurism becomes less a taboo and more a simple fact of existence. The tale told on this week’s Love + Radio touches on this propinquity with a particularly affecting tale from Diane Weipert. What starts quite unassumingly over the course of the episode gains a surprising depth that to say too much would ruin the experience for new listeners. Weipert tells of a time when, after 15 years in her apartment, a new set of tenants moved into an apartment across the street and didn’t hang curtains, giving her an unimpeded view into their bedroom. Weipert and her husband were raising a young child at this time and felt a certain resentment toward the lithe young couple; their freedom and libidinous ways being broadcast into Weipert’s living room through the unadorned window serving to underscore their relative absence in her life. The access turned over time into an obsession of sorts, though for fairly good reason. The story shifts unexpectedly, not in some Rear Window way but one that is more somber, showing the chasm stretching between being present for something and being a part of it.
New Yorker: Fiction
Etgar Keret Reads Donald Barthelme
In the New Yorker: Fiction podcast, a guest writer chooses a short story from the magazine’s archive to read aloud, and the reading is bookended by a conversation between the writer and the magazine’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. This month’s guest, Israeli author Etgar Keret, reads “Chablis,” a very short story by Donald Barthelme that appeared in The New Yorker in 1983. “My wife wants a dog,” reads Keret after a few minutes’ chat with Treisman. “She already has a baby.” At first Keret’s accent threatens to distract from the story, but a good writer often makes a good reader, and Keret delivers Barthelme’s short, spare sentences with an easy manner that complements the story’s quiet anxiety. The prose does a lot of the work; it’s hard not to be taken by a phrase like “This kind of dog, my wife says, is a Presbyterian, like her and the baby.” After the reading, Keret and Treisman continue their conversation about the difficulty of writing a work that seems so effortless and improvised. Keret compares writing to surfing: “The idea is to keep your balance and stay on top of the board.”
Brooks Wheelan Returns
This week Probably Science welcomes former host and noted fucking redneck Brooks Wheelan into the backyard to talk science and catch up. Wheelan opens up to hosts Jesse Case, Matt Kirshen, and Andy Wood telling great stories about auditioning for, landing on, and eventually getting fired from Saturday Night Live in a remarkably open fashion. It is particularly interesting to hear about the stress of trying to get a sketch on air, especially coming from someone with a stand-up comedy background. The science stories are lighter in comparison to previous episodes, mostly because Wheelan often loses patience with the topic at hand. The blue and black dress (or is it white and gold?) is brought up ever so briefly, as well as smelling hands after handshakes, and tattoo-removal cream. Things fall apart in the middle of the show when Case describes a prank backfiring over his use of the word “retard,” sending him into a spiral as he attempts to justify the satire that others missed; it mostly reeks of flop sweat, though, rather than any malicious intent. Things end on a high note when Wheelan talks about acing a New York Post interview only to have them find the most specious way of turning him into the villain.
This week Rembert Browne invites Pitchfork senior editor Jessica Hopper onto the podcast to talk about her upcoming book The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic. This proves to be an excellent jumping off point for several conversations, none more so than that of Hopper’s coverage of R. Kelly’s long, turbid history of sexual conduct with minors. The story amounts not just to a harrowing tale of the lives that his actions affected, it, on a larger scale, acts a further indictment against the willful cultural blindness paid to celebrities who have attained a certain intractable fame. Browne and Hopper transition away from that place of woe to perhaps the farthest thing from it, namely Montessori schools, of which both were previously students. Hopper proceeds to wow Browne by talking about the idea of a “Montessori Illuminati,” stating that stars Beyoncé and Taylor Swift were Montessorians. The episode ends with a great look at the particulars of the Atlanta and Chicago hip-hop scenes, with regard to their depiction by outside media and their potential for growth. Browne and Hopper are quite knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their respective home turfs making for a spirited conversation.
That Awful Sound
Second Chance Symphony Parts 1 And 2
The podcast is exceedingly casual, but its intro (a mashup of one hit wonder chunks slammed together in one epic thud) sums it up well, and the discussion is nonetheless interesting and a part of the music world that rarely gets media attention: how a musician has a hit, then goes behind the scenes strictly as a songwriter. Part one also focuses largely on host Alexander Edward’s strict Bill Hicks—inspired criteria on when it’s okay to sell out. There’s also a lot of surprisingly awkward and personal talk about what song the host and his guest Cahn Curtis lost their virginity to. Part two digs into the progression of 4 Non Blondes’ Linda Perry and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson. Edward seems to have a genuine appreciate for the quality of ’90s kitsch and how striped socks and leather top hats may have informed his formative years. Though he and Curtis seem to be unsure exactly how badly they want to rip the lesser qualities of their subjects to shreds, they do succeed in taking a long view and putting them into perspective with the history of American music. It’s a new podcast only a little over 11 episodes into its run, however, and if the wide perspective can overtake the snark it could hold its own as an original take on music discussion.
This Is Really Important
Pantyhose With Kay Cannon
Jeffery Self, the host of This Is Really Important, is something of a firecracker, inviting listeners into his overactive mind as his attentions careen wildly from one tangential thought to the next. This never comes close to feeling like exercise, more like a one-sided phone conversation with an hilarious friend, down to his exhortation for listeners to visit the Wikipedia entry for pantyhose that he has just landed on so that they can commune over the unappealing photo choice. 30 Rock and Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon is Self’s guest this week, and the pair have a nice, wide open conversation about Cannon’s comedic beginnings in Chicago, meeting and befriending Tina Fey, and the various struggles attendant with writing a follow-up to Pitch Perfect. Cannon is very down to earth and friendly in interview that it is infectious. Self has a funny story behind his inability to rewatch Pitch Perfect, on account of having eaten a giant pot brownie before viewing it, resulting in a huge panic attack and giving rise to the fear of traumatic flashbacks. Also great is Cannon’s account of appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show three times, without Oprah being at all aware of her existence.
Broad City’s John Gemberling swings by Who Charted? for the first time this week to talk about the hip-hop charts and the top movies at the box office. Gemberling turns out to be a perfect guest for the podcast, as he’s able to keep up with Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack and is delighted by Kremer’s weird turns of phrase. A discussion about songwriting credits segues into chunk about gift giving and Kramer tells a hilarious story about a misguided attempt to woo an ex-girlfriend by surprising her with a pair of shoes by burying them in a pile of laundry. The most memorable moment comes when Gemberling responds to a Matty Bevers-inspired listener question about bad roommate experiences. While he has never had a roommate quite as bad as his Broad City character, he did live in a disgusting New York City apartment. Gemberling has generated great comedy from gross out stories in the past—check out his great appearance on Doodie Calls—and this story about the disgusting state of his apartment is notable for grossing out the usually unflappable maintenance men of New York City.
We see what you said there
“Honey baby, they didn’t just take that one. They took six other ones.”—Brent Green interviewing locals about the theft of $20,000 trees, 99% Invisible
“You talk about the ups and downs of dating and that kind of thing, and I can relate; I spent time of course as a lot lizard on the Pennsylvania turnpike, so I know what it’s like to be hustling for a basket of pretzel nibs and a swig of Mr. Pibb.”—James Bewley as Dale Seever on intimacy, Dale Radio
“She’s gonna have knives for feet? Hopefully we talk about that. And of course no one at any point talks about the fact that she has knives for feet. And it’s like, oh okay, that’s the reality? The reality is that she has knives for feet? Okay. Remember when movies were The Apartment? Do you remember Rear Window? Nobody had knives for feet in that.”—Jeffery Self on Kingsman: The Secret Service,This Is Really Important