Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Robin Williams
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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.

Knowing: Robin Williams
The Robin Show

When news of Robin Williams’ suicide broke in 2014, his fans had to contend with the fact that the comedian they loved so dearly, the actor who had entertained them and filled their homes with laughter for so many years, was a veritable stranger. They knew his public persona, the face he put on for the crowd, but they didn’t really know him or his inner struggles. In their new podcast, Kristy Westgard and New York Times reporter David Itzkoff try to remedy that. Using some previously unheard archival audio, they’re chronologically exploring the life and career of Robin Williams in an attempt to understand how one of the world’s most popular entertainers could feel so consistently isolated and alone. Their second episode takes a look at Williams’ first real brush with fame, the moment he was propelled from the stand-up club stage to television screens across America. While the financial stability of success was certainly welcome in Williams’ life, the bright lights of Hollywood also illuminated the insecurities that would plague him for years to come, even as his star continued to rise. [Dan Neilan]


List Envy
Top 5 Algorithms That Changed The World

Mark Steadman invites rotating guests to collaborate on a top five list of any subject of their choosing. Sometimes this results in topics everyone and their mother has an opinion on, but just as often will veer into esoteric worlds. Steadman and his guest each supply their own lists and then argue about what selections to chuck and the final top picks. As for algorithms, it’s certainly weird how ubiquitous and epoch-defining these formulas are while remaining virtually anonymous. Most people, when pressed, could probably clock Google search results as an algorithm (officially called PageRank), but how many could name the obscure-sounding turbo code, essential for 4G phone networks, or the LZ 77 compression, which gifted us .zip files? Listeners can delight in arguments over whether the sequence that paved the way for automatic braking systems should trump the sequence that automatically adjusts volumes to keep speakers from blowing out (my vote: Lord Palmerston). There’s a wonderful bit at the end where the guest host and self-described accidental mathematician Sophie Carr distinguishes between numeracy and math. [Zach Brooke]


Midnight Son
Chapter 8: Back To The Land

No matter how many true crime podcasts you’ve binged, you have never heard a court case like this before. Midnight Son, an Audible Original hosted by James Dommek Jr., the great-grandson of an Inupiaq storyteller, explores the haunting story of Native actor and indie film darling Teddy Kyle Smith. Following the mysterious death of his mother in a firearms incident, and a strange encounter with the Iñukuns, a mythic Native tribe, Smith goes on the lam. Out in the Alaskan wilderness for 10 days, subsisting only on berries, he evades a manhunt, and then the story gets even stranger with an attempted double murder. This chapter sifts through the post-trial fallout, trying to make sense of Smith’s violence and how his encounter with the supernatural altered him. Retracing Smith’s treacherous route through the arctic wilderness during bear season on a quest for the elusive Iñukuns, Dommek learns that the truth might be stranger than he imagined. A wild look at the intersections of the American justice system and cultural beliefs, Midnight Son is storytelling at its best—intimate and strange. [Morgan McNaught]


The Orbiting Human Circus
Naughty Till New Years: Firstly, The Janitor

Night Vale Presents’ most underrated podcast, The Orbiting Human Circus, returns with a whimsical, dreamlike introduction to its second season: “Naughty Till New Years.” The series follows Julian—played by the podcast’s creator, Julian Koster of The Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel—a shy, anxious janitor for a radio show on top of the Eiffel Tower. The episode weaves scripted dialogue between members of the radio show, musical performances, and Julian recounting his memories in improvised, almost stream-of-consciousness tangents. Koster’s vision takes these disparate forms and combines them into an episode that’s wholly unique and deeply rooted in imagery. It’s a podcast that gives you a sense of aesthetic despite the lack of visuals, with a similar tone to works like Little Nemo In Slumberland, Big Fish, and Amélie. Reality and the imagined blurs. Listeners who want to experience the strange adventure of The Orbiting Human Circus should be able to jump into this second season without catching up on the first—the core details are explained via narration—but the first season is just as lovely. [Wil Williams]


The Underculture With James Adomian
Falkor & Greta Thunberg (w/Matt Besser)

Who else but comedy treasure James Adomian would think to bring to life the exquisite anti-chemistry that could only exist between a 16-year-old climate warrior and a mystical creature that washed out of Hollywood 30 years ago? Such is the unique pleasure of The Underculture, which features candid interviews between unlikely pairings of celebrities, politicians, and beasts as performed by Adomian and a special guest. This week’s pairing comes straight out of the magical world of The Neverending Story as Falkor The Luck Dragon welcomes activist Greta Thunberg to his podcast. Thunberg, portrayed by UCB founder Matt Besser, takes Falkor to task for being a fictional character who will easily escape the ravages of the climate apocalypse. Falkor tries to find common ground with Thunberg but ends up revealing dark secrets about himself, including having eaten children in the past and the sexual thrill he gets from flying. Adomian and Besser throw each other several absurd curveballs, and it’s an absolute delight to hear the two master improvisers try to make sense of the chaos. Also, if you’ve ever dreamt about a Johnny Cash cover of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” then The Underculture’s got you covered. [Anthony D Herrera]


Waypoint Radio
Waypoints 41: The Gang Solves Capitalism

As a part of Waypoints, Waypoint Radio’s series, the Vice Games crew of Austin, Patrick, Rob, and Cado take two hours to pick apart one of our nation’s biggest enemies: capitalism. The episode heavily cites a recent report by the People’s Policy Project, which discusses overworking and labor issues in America while upholding the importance of leisure time for workers: vacation days, sick leave, parental leave, and more. Basically, Americans need to work less and rest more, despite self-shaming or the possibility of appearing lazy for doing so. This episode plays out as one of the crew’s most deeply personal recordings to date. Early on, Patrick recounts the work/life issues he encountered while switching jobs from Kotaku to Waypoint, while expecting the arrival of his daughter with a heightened anxiety over finances and asking for time off. Later, Austin recalls his early family life with instances of federal assistance, while Cado explains that food stamps aren’t just for those buried in poverty. The empathy and reason the Vice Games crew constantly bring to podcasting is at its peak here, making this episode an essential listen. [Kevin Cortez]


WTF With Marc Maron
Kate Nash

After catching up with listeners and decrying the trend of middle-aged guys pushing themselves too hard physically in an attempt to be “alphas,” Marc Maron goes on to admit at the top of the episode that he didn’t know much about his GLOW costar Kate Nash’s previous career. Before their interview, Maron avoided watching the 2014 documentary Kate Nash: Underestimate The Girl, so by discussing the project, the two are able to delve into her first couple of years in the U.S., including her personal struggles during that time. Their conversation tracks Nash’s discography and background while Maron owns up to how little he knows about England, which allows him to ask simple questions and opens the door for Nash to dive into her family life and youth, including a life-threatening heart condition and obsessive compulsive disorder. Listeners get the pleasure of witnessing these compelling individuals grow more familiar with each other in real time. [Jose Nateras]

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