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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lit Like Bic
One of the two podcasts currently offered from BuzzFeed, Another Round is something of an anomaly in the best way possible. Though the platform oscillates between respectability (Looking your way, Gregory Johnsen) and the ever-shallowing pool of nostalgic listicles, it is great to see that the site hasn’t lost its power to surprise. That surprise comes from Another Round hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton, two BuzzFeed staffers and friends, who are hilarious and opinionated black women. Their presence at the head of such a show is a real delight, one which is made all the more enjoyable by their insights. Case in point, when Clayton likens her feelings toward Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations to a scene from Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit. This serves as an humorous entree into a weighty discussion of real issues the pair have with Clinton. Clayton and Nigatu then cover their burning questions about white people. The amazing comedian Desus Nice comes on the show to talk about his rather meteoric rise to success. Nice is as interesting a listen as they come, impressively quick witted and—just as he espouses—you gotta hear both sides, as he also reveals his secret desire to become the definitive biographer of Richard Wright.
Death, Sex & Money
W. Kamau Bell Wonders How Much Is Enough
When asked by Anna Sale about his feelings toward money, W. Kamau Bell summarizes it this way: “Money is great, but I’ve never been in love with it.” It’s an attitude rooted in his personal history. Growing up poor in Mobile, Alabama, Bell lived with his father, a man who only started finding financial and professional success after taking a job as a bank teller in his mid-30s. And while his family background is an important factor in shaping this relationship to money, it’s clear that there are other things at play. For Bell, money and wealth are also closely linked to his sense of integrity as both an artist and a person. Unlike many working in show business, Bell is less interested in becoming a gazillionaire than he is in reaching a point where he has found enough success that he can remain proud of the body of work he’s created (his role model here is Bill Watterson of Calvin And Hobbes fame). Sale’s questions about race and racism focus on the ways that Bell’s integrity has been questioned solely because of his skin color and size, and it leads to the strongest moments of an outstanding episode.
I Was There Too
Groundhog Day: Stephen Tobolowsky
Groundhog Day is as moralistic as it is funny, so it’s appropriate that Stephen Tobolowsky—an accomplished character actor and podcaster in his own right—doesn’t limit his conversation with Matt Gourley to wacky anecdotes about playing pesky insurance salesman Ned Ryerson. As it turns out, having to replicate the weather conditions of the same exact day hundreds of times over made for a difficult shoot, and Bill Murray, while an incredible scene partner, wasn’t the most convivial person to be around on set. Tobolowsky, ever the nuanced storyteller, also talks a lot about director Harold Ramis, who he considers to be one of his four heroes in life—a sentiment made all the more reflective given Ramis’ death last year. Like the script itself, his recollection of being involved with one of the greatest comedies of all time is humorous, sweet, and just a little misty-eyed.
Maltin On Movies
Stars Directing Themselves
Populist conversations online have been chipping away at the high authority of syndicated capital-C film critics for a long time, but the biggest symbolic de-crowning may have come last year when it was announced Leonard Maltin’s 2015 Movie Guide would be his last. The author, television personality, and historian seems to be embracing the shift, though. To listeners of Doug Loves Movies, where he’s a frequent guest, or the new Wolfpop podcast that bears his name, it’s clear Maltin always seems more in his element chatting extemporaneously about arcane nuances in an actor’s or director’s work than deeming new releases “Hot” or “Not” in short segments. This week, he and cohost Baron Vaughn discuss the “egomaniacal” tendencies of actors who direct themselves and the brilliant performances, like Ed Harris’ Pollock, they can uniquely create, before taking down Kenneth Branagh’s unbelievable Dead Again. There are a few remnants of criticism from yesteryear, like the almost comedic level of tip-toeing around spoilers (as if listeners are worried about hearing basic plot elements of I Love You Phillip Morris), and a lack of guests, save for a one-off bonus episode with Stephen Tobolowsky. The frequent deep cuts, though, make it a must-listen for movie buffs.
This right here is precisely what the world of basketball podcasting has needed for some time. A true shaggy dog show, Open Run has managed to carve out a space for itself over the course of only a dozen episodes, mixing intelligent analysis, insider-adjacent status, and a great deal of humor. Credit is due to the easy chemistry of hosts Stefan Marolachakis and Jesse Williams, who are savvy enough to allow the show to sometimes be only tangentially about the sport. Williams, the soulful-eyed actor who plays Dr. Jackson Avery from ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, and Marolachakis, a musician and writer, are charming hosts whose connections run deep enough to snag an interview with Karl Malone, but whose tone is more jocular than serious. This is on full display as they spend most of the episode breaking down the current NBA playoff slate with friend and indie sensation Dave Hartley of the band The War On Drugs. The trio go in on the dire state of nicknames in the league, the marketing potential for Anthony Davis’ unibrow, and Kevin Love’s hidden connection to The Beach Boys. The latter discussion leads Marolachakis to sing out a, “I guess I just wasn’t meant for this team” joke. Pet Sounds and Cleveland Cavaliers jokes? Bravo, sirs.
After a terrific first season, StartUp returns to tell the story of another fledgling company trying to get off the ground. This time around the focus is on Dating Ring, a matchmaking service co-founded by three young women—Lauren Kay, Emma Tessler, and Kate Bambino—that promises to do for online dating what Uber has done for taxis. It’s a bold claim for any new business to make, but it’s exactly this kind of big, audacious thinking that makes Dating Ring perfect for StartUp. With co-host Lisa Chow handling most of the reporting, Dating Ring is introduced with audio of a very composed Kay making a pitch from the stage of Y-Combinator. Chow then takes a step back to focus on how the co-founders came together (itself a tale of matchmaking success) and the tense, stressful negotiations surrounding the initial equity split. It’s a compelling introduction, even if it’s a bit straightforward. The episode concludes with a montage of scenes that promises another season of highs and lows, victories and missteps. But the part that has the greatest potential to distinguish this season from the last is the Dating Ring co-founder’s experiences with sexism, one part of the business world that Alex Blumberg never had to deal with.
Talk Is Jericho
Monday Night Wars - Bischoff Vs. Prichard
There’s no shortage of scholarship on the Monday Night Wars, a period from ’95 to ’01 that found the WWF and WCW battling for ratings dominance, sometimes underhandedly. For starters, there’s James Dixon’s Titan Sinking, which explores the WWF’s growing pains, as well as Bryan Alvarez and R.D. Reynolds’ The Death Of WCW, a comprehensive look at the rise and fall of Ted Turner’s spandex empire. What this episode of Talk Is Jericho offers that the books don’t, however, is a real-time conversation, a chance for WCW’s Eric Bischoff and WWF’s Bruce Prichard to compare and contrast what things were like on the front lines. All the landmark moments are covered–Lex Luger’s first Nitro appearance, Medusa’s defection, the arrival of the nWo, and even the Montreal Screwjob–but this is no mere recounting; Bischoff and Prichard are quick to share the strategy behind each maneuver, and even quicker to acknowledge how badly some of them tanked. Still, the episode oozes nostalgia for that era, which brimmed with more big ideas than any other era in professional wrestling history. There’s even a touch of melancholy in Bischoff’s voice when he remembers the infamous incident when DX arrived outside a Nitro taping in a tank; “I would’ve loved to let them in,” Bischoff says. “It would have been some good freakin’ television.”
We Hate Movies
At this point, Jim Belushi (or, more accurately, the Jim Belushi impression) may as well be a fifth cast member on We Hate Movies. So it’s no surprise that the gang elected to cover the Belushi/Arnold Schwarzenegger buddy-cop film Red Heat for their landmark 200th episode. Compared to past Belushi installments, it’s a more measured skewering of the podcast’s favorite cinematic asshole—just as interested in breaking down why a specific action scene doesn’t work as it is in rattling off impersonations. That’s not to say there aren’t some absurdist gems though. Where else are you going to hear Belushi and Ah-nuld doing their own version of the Gozer, Keymaster, and Gatekeeper business from Ghostbusters? This balance of film analysis and unabashed goofing off shows how We Hate Movies has perfected its formula over the years: The show is articulate but never too snobby for a “caaanonball!” or “fun-bag patrol!” or whatever other dumb Belushism is being lampooned.
Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?
While most of the other network political Sunday shows are beginning to look and sound like their belligerent cable competitors, viewers of CBS’s unapologetically sober Face The Nation received reassuring news this month: Bob Schieffer’s soon-to-be vacant host seat will be filled by the network’s political director and chief political correspondent for Slate magazine, John Dickerson. In the meantime, the new host’s mini-podcast, now in its seventh episode, feels like a delightfully nerdy side project that takes a step back from day-to-day scandals to highlight dramatic or absurd moments in American campaign history. This week, Dickerson delves into the love-child scandal that rocked the late stages of Grover Cleveland’s 1884 presidential campaign, cited as one of the nastiest in American history. Per usual, Dickerson takes special interest in the overtly editorial way politically-affiliated newspapers covered the story, including the Chicago Tribune, who described Governor Cleveland’s age as “as a man of 40 lusty summers.” There are plenty of obvious parallels between then and now—slut-shaming, transparent damage control, party in-fighting, conspiracies—and just about everyone gets their hands dirty. Listeners don’t need to be political junkies to get sucked in, and even episodes on the most abstruse tidbits have a few big takeaways.
Womp It Up!
Spotlight On: Dr. Lionel Drioche
Jessica St. Clair’s breakout Comedy Bang! Bang! character Marissa Wompler finally has her own regular vehicle: the highly anticipated, joyously insider spinoff Womp It Up! St. Clair is joined by longtime collaborator Lennon Parham as Wompler’s deranged mentor Charlotte Listler, and the two lead a supporting cast of Jason Mantzoukas (as Wompler’s ex-love Eric Gutterman) and Seth Morris (as the debuting high school theater teacher Dr. Lionel Drioche). The inclusion of Morris drives the show through its middle stretch, continuing to build on the freakish Marina Del Ray folklore that Parham and St. Clair have built through previous Earwolf appearances. Mantzoukas’s Gutterballing segment—a gossip report ingeniously read like closed circuit morning announcements—takes it even further, dishing on names both new and familiar to the host’s ire. At the heart of it all, Parham and St. Clair’s renowned chemistry anchors the ever-expanding circle of unusual characters that revolve around Wompler, a disinterested teenage intern turned successful podcast host before our very eyes.
You Must Remember This
Why John Wayne Didn’t Sign Up
If you’re like most casual cinephiles, you probably have an image in your head of John Wayne as a large and bulgy, crankily avuncular capital-M-man. Sort of an anthropomorphized American flag bumper sticker. In reality, that concept was constructed in approximately equal parts by the Hollywood studio system, director John Ford and a skinny, narrow-hipped, fiercely careerist kid named Marion Morrison. This is all laid out in Karina Longworth’s crazily addictive podcast You Must Remember This, which presents the real lives of Hollywood stars. While some of the humans behind the personas come off as genuinely admirable (Marlene Dietrich), others appear as top-notch scumbags (Frank Sinatra), though most just seem flawed and sad (Rita Hayworth). John Wayne is somewhere in between the last two, and not because he misrepresented himself as a tough guy. Believe it or not, The Duke—the idealized image of an American—did everything he could to avoid military service during World War II. That itself wouldn’t be terrible if he didn’t immediately grab a pitchfork after the war ended and start ruining the lives of suspected communists with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation Of American Ideals. It’s a fascinating perspective on a cinematic icon.
We see what you said there
“It takes so much more energy to be nice than to be a jerk.”—Stephen Tobolowsky remembering Harold Ramis, I Was There Too
“Oh, it would’ve had to improve a lot to just be horseshit.”
“So the idea was to prove a legal point [by creating] horseshit television?”—Bruce Prichard and Eric Bischoff discussing one of WWF’s most regrettable storylines, Talk Is Jericho
“Last weekend at Hill 16 there was a kegger. Jessie Joseph, Candy Ferris, and Kat Striker all kissed each other in front of the boys.”—Jason Mantzoukas during his gossip segment Gutterballing, Womp It Up!
“I mean, right?”—Karina Longworth on pictures of a young and handsome John Wayne, You Must Remember This