Britney Spears performing at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards
Photo: Scott Gries (Getty Images)

In 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.


Art Of The Score
James Bond - Part 2

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“Iconic” is a word people often use to describe the music of James Bond. Like the clothes, cars, and gadgets of the early films, John Barry’s original 1960s arrangements feel like immutable elements of the franchise’s titular character. It just isn’t Bond if you don’t hear that certain chord progression. In the second part of their heroic effort to analyze every James Bond score, the hosts of Art Of The Score contend with the fact that these seemingly unchangeable musical motifs changed quite a lot when Bond moved into the Roger Moore era and producers doggedly chased down every pop culture trend from Blaxploitation to Star Wars. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, compositions from Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, and, the fifth Beatle himself, George Martin, underscored the international super spy’s antics with funky synths and tight horn arrangements. As co-host Dan Golding says, “This is where James Bond discovers his groove.” But while each score has its own unique, era-specific feel to it, those original Barry-arranged motifs are still identifiable, marking each film as undeniable Bond. [Dan Neilan]


Doughboys Double
Mission: Impossible With Ben Rodgers

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Doughboys hosts Mike Mitchell and Nick Wiger lent their Taco Bell expertise to The Action Boyz a few months back for their Demolition Man breakdown episode, so it’s only fitting that Ben “Dr. Runtime” Rodgers returns the favor on this week’s Double. The Los Angeles–based comedian presents a convincing case for why film series like Kingsman and Tom Cruise’s reliable Mission: Impossible franchise are the true spiritual inheritors of the 007-style spy thriller, at least since Daniel Craig’s James Bond entries became a labored slog. After a quick rundown of the culinary scene of Rodgers’ Buffalo, New York hometown roots, as well as the joyful phenomenon of restaurants with names like Just Pizza being famous for dishes other than pizza, the gang compare their personal fan rankings of M:I up through Rogue Nation. The fact that the bit-filled banter is so funny makes it easy to overlook how in-depth all the pretension-free movie criticism is here on one of Hollywood’s most enduring genre franchises. Fans of the primary Doughboys feed who’ve been on the fence about spending $5 a month to get behind the Patreon paywall would do well to treat themselves, as the Double has been on a roll for months. [Dan Jakes]


Gonads
Dana

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Over the last two months, Radiolab has embarked on what they’re calling a “multi-episode journey deep into the parts of us that let us make more of us.” Helmed by Molly Webster and christened Gonads, the last five episodes have focused on the human drive to reproduce and its various results. Specifically, the most recent episode, “Dana,” follows Dana Zzyym, an intersex Navy veteran, as they go through the process of applying for a passport. This offers a practical look at biological realities and the power of words as Zzyym is unable to answer what the American government is trying to demand they determine: Are you male or female? Through Zzyym, listeners are let in on a very human story about the struggles present in a society that in many cases still clings to outdated and damaging ideas surrounding gender. [Becca James]


Hollywood Handbook
Triumph At Comic-Con

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Usually when a comedian bombs, they do their best to forget the whole experience. But, as they’ve proven over the past five years of doing their podcast, Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport don’t do things like normal comedians. That’s why, rather than forget the fact that their live show at Comic-Con this year was met with a mix of stony silence and confusion from the audience, they decided to relive the excruciating experience along with their listeners and provide a running commentary. The result is one of the most hilarious episodes they’ve ever produced. Initially, Clements and Davenport frame the disastrous live show—in which they and guest Moshe Kasher pitch a new Avengers movie to a crowd of uninterested attendees—as a triumph, claiming they absolutely crushed and the audience is only silent because they’ve been struck by a catatonic fit of joy. But this ironic conceit falls away about halfway through as the hosts squirm uncomfortably, laughing to the point of tears at the pure brutality of their onstage implosion. For them, it’s cathartic. As a listener, it’s just damn funny. [Dan Neilan]


Iconography
Reaching Mars

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This “time capsule” episode—an update of the host Charles Gustine’s earlier attempt at a similarly themed podcast—starts with noting how our collective picture of Mars has changed in the past 30 years. But the meat of the episode deals with how Mars movies (and space movies in general) have always sifted down into one of four archetypes. First is space as a vast, empty pit of horror. Race-against-time tales like Gravity, The Martian, and Apollo 13 languish on harshness and isolation. Second: space is great for teamwork. Star Trek, and to a lesser extent Star Wars, require sophisticated collaboration to get anything done. There are limits, though, as seen in Alien, where almost everyone is doomed despite the unity. Third: Mars is where we let our scientific imagination run wild. Decades removed from the space race, many now marvel at the extraterrestrial exploits of Elon Musk and the pop lectures of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye. This has encroached on the fourth trope, Mars as a fantasyland, and arguably muted Mars films. Before the rover arrived, Mars could very well have been a planet filled with Venetian-style canals or Santa kidnappers. Still, there’s always more to discover. [Zach Brooke]


Imaginary Advice
Four Or Five Weddings And One Or Two Funerals

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Podcasting’s detractors often claim that the medium doesn’t successfully capitalize on the openness of its format. Too many shows are a group of buddies around microphones with only a modicum of personality between them. Ross Sutherland’s captivatingly malleable and playful podcast Imaginary Advice is one of the strongest refutations of that complaint. An accomplished writer and poet, Sutherland’s non-serialized storytelling podcast is infused with an inventive spirit. On this, the show’s superlative 50th episode, Sutherland partakes in a bit of “postal chess” with fellow writer John Osborne, taking turns at telling brief segments of a single narrative. The pair hew closely to the chess motif, with both writers actively “playing” the story against each other, attempting to shape it to meet their own predetermined outcome, one angling for a tragedy, the other a tale of love. Such a novel premise makes the episode an easy recommendation for its experimental format alone, but the resulting story helps it reach sublime heights. Sutherland and Osborne tell an alternate reality of Hugh Grant on the set of Four Weddings And A Funeral, where an ancient evil may well be afoot. It is a thrilling and unique piece of audio. [Ben Cannon]


The Indiana Jones Minute
The Last Crusade 113: Down The Hatch!

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The Indiana Jones Minute has a simple mission: Every week, hosts Tom Taylor, Pet Mummert, and Gerry Porter analyze a single minute of one of the movies in the franchise. Proceeding in chronological order, this episode arrives at minute 113 of The Last Crusade, which, yes, means that there have been well over 300 episodes, released on a near daily basis. Joined by guest host Doris Weiss, the cohort focuses on the moment where Donovan takes a big gulp from the false grail and meets his grisly end. After starting off with some discussion of St. Phocas the Gardener (the patron saint of hospitality and watermen), there’s an entertaining exchange on whether the contents of the grail matter; Donovan could be drinking water from the font or Dr Pepper, but his death by rapid aging is a direct result of sipping from the grail Elsa chose for him. The hosts bring up some cool observations on Elsa’s facial cues to Indy, and Weiss, who hails from Germany herself, offers some great insight into the German lines and dialects from the film. Fans of the Indiana Jones series are unlikely to find a more in-depth look at the films than this. [Jose Nateras]


We Need To Talk About Britney
Baby One More Time With Mandy Moore

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That teenage Jen Zaborowski developed an obsession with Britney Spears in the late 1990s isn’t unusual. That Zaborowski’s obsession with Spears has continued into adulthood is what makes her uniquely qualified to host a podcast all about the pop icon. For her first episode, Zaborowski lands the perfect guest in former teen pop star and current This Is Us actor Mandy Moore. As a pseudo-contemporary of Spears (the two have never actually met), Moore shares some fascinating insights into what it was like to be a teen idol in the late ’90s and early 2000s. To hear Moore describe her more sheltered but still whirlwind early career drives home just how much pressure Spears was under from an incredibly young age. Though it’s loosely framed around Spears’ first album Baby One More Time, the conversation mostly sticks to Moore’s own origin story, including her time spent touring with ’N Sync and her desire to model her career after, of all people, Bette Midler. Moore is genuine, gracious, and just the right amount of self-deprecating about her pop star past. Meanwhile, Zaborowski’s enthusiasm—both for Spears and for Moore—keeps the conversation lively, funny, and constantly hovering between sincere and ironic. [Caroline Siede]