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.
We Pod A Cast—We Bought A Zoo
This week at the tail end of their dive into the work of Cameron Crowe, Griffin Newman and David Sims finally discuss the movie that inspired the miniseries name, the episode Blankies everywhere have been waiting for. A movie like We Bought A Zoo seems to present an obvious opportunity for the hosts to absolutely roast Crowe, especially after their takes on Elizabethtown. But what makes this episode unique to Blank Check, is that the hosts allowed themselves to be charmed by the movie, and rather than be weighed down by its imperfections, are lifted up by the joy of their shared fondness. Of course, they still make fun of the movie, because as Sims says, “It is about buying a zoo, and it’s ridiculous.” What makes it exceptionally listenable is that the two get so excited explaining all the dumb elements of the movie, but still manage to express a distinct affection for it. Even their inevitable tangents are hilarious and on brand as the hosts and producer Ben Hosley discuss the most embarrassing movie scenes that have made them cry—coincidentally, all dog themed. With just the right combination of distractions, bad jokes, post-breakup Newman material, Sims snark, and genuine optimism, it’s Blank Check at its best.
Anyone who doesn’t think that the details and politics surrounding Nate Parker’s directorial debut, The Birth Of A Nation, are confusing isn’t paying close enough attention. Let’s put aside the problematic matter (quite eloquently articulated by Snoop Dogg) of Hollywood seeming to go out of its way to highlight slave narratives. The current issue is that this a highly anticipated film with lots of award expectations was made by a promising young black filmmaker who has an alleged rape in his past. That his co-screenwriter on the film, Jean McGianni Celestin (also black) was found guilty of the very same crime, though later acquitted upon appeal, does nothing to clarify the controversy. And all this at a time when concerns of both racial and gender maltreatment are at the forefront of the national conversation. In this episode of Code Switch, Karen Grigsby Bates talks to a panel of thoughtful and accomplished journalists in an attempt to tease out what is to be done with a potentially great piece of art with immense social significance and a strong moral stance made by a flawed man with a blotchy past? Listeners may find their own opinions shifting as they make their way through the conversation.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Your Cousin Marvin: Jason Mantzoukas, Carl Tart, Neil Campbell
Jason “Heynong Man” Mantzoukas should be the official co-host of Comedy Bang! Bang!. Every time he’s on he not only brings enough entertainment to warrant his own solo bolo episode, but he’s great at pushing guests into embarrassing laughing-out-loud-while-listening-in-public territory. In this case even those on the podcast had trouble keeping it together, which is always the measure of great episode. Mantzoukas and host Scott Aukerman challenge Carl Tart as Marvin Phelps (cousin of Michael Phelps), pushing him to recall pop culture from specific years, before pushing him even further when it’s clear he doesn’t know anything about something like the movie Silverado. And when Neil Campbell pops in, things really go off the rails in the most wonderful of ways (like when a train conductor retires). It’s clear that he had no idea what character he was going to play or in which direction his backstory would go until the moment it comes out of his mouth—the entire episode devolves into Campbell repeating “bay-bee” with the howling laughter of Aukerman and Mantzoukas in the background.
The Deep Vault
Podcast duo Marc Sollinger and Dan Powell are back at it with The Deep Vault, an homage to the golden age of sci-fi radio drama, hot on the heels of the finale of their audio horror show Archive 81. We open on panicked trio Jeremy, Alex, and Carson as they escape the surface of a stormy post-apocalyptic landscape, driving toward an underground vault that they hope is more than an urban legend. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Archive 81: Jeremy has all the skittishness we saw in Dan, and the checkpoint guards carry themselves with the same sinister folksiness we saw in Mr. Davenport. The story is full of harried movement from the start, conveying as much ambiance as can be stuffed into one MP3: the interior of the trio’s car muting the sounds of swirling storms and shadowy manned checkpoints outside, the sounds of muffled voices they’re unsure whether to approach or avoid. Indeed, as the series unfolds, our sense of what’s down in the vault is going to hinge entirely on producers’ ability to paint it with an audio brush, though they seem well equipped and eager to take on the challenge.
Forecast Update—Correlated States
Though it’s no doubt difficult for many people to believe, there is a non-zero percentage of the FiveThirtyEight Elections audience who listen to the podcast panel of statisticians’ weekly conversations about voter data and opinion poll analysis and think to themselves, “If only this was a little nerdier.” It is is for those people specifically that the website’s audio wing is putting together this biweekly string of special episodes. Every other Friday, the show will drop an extra installment that Nate Silver estimates to be “30 percent wonkier.” In this debut installment, the rock star number cruncher has a one-on-one conversation with FiveThirtyEight‘s politics editor, Micah Cohen, in which the two men get very granular with the website’s three confluent aggregate models (Polls-Only, Polls-Plus, and Now-Cast), and for that non-zero percentage of the show’s audience, it’s extraordinary. Sadly, this means none of Harry Enton’s precocious cantankerousness or Clare Malone’s feckless attempts to keep the discussion from devolving into utter dorkery. In return, listeners are treated to a glorious half hour of two guys talking about how numbers bump up against each other and what that might mean for the future of democracy.
High And Mighty
Marriage: Kelly Hudson, Dan Klein
Los Angeles-based ASSSSCAT improviser Jon Gabrus is one of those comedians whose appearance on any podcast guarantees that episode a high baseline-level of quality. Matt Besser has repeatedly called him an Improv4humans MVP, an his Long Island intern character “Gino Lambardo” has been a recurring favorite on Comedy Bang! Bang! for years. Since launching his own outlet for shooting the shit with comedy writer friends on the HeadGum network last summer, the affable, self-described “meathead” has developed and honed a number of winning episode categories. Each one of Ben Rodgers and Ryan Stanger’s action movie-break down episodes—Predator, Bloodsport, Hard To Kill, Commando, Rambo: First Blood Part II—are all must-listens, and as a food critic, Gabrus’ hyper-articulate approach to drive-thru fare likeTaco Bell and Panda Express would fit in at the culinary section of The New York Times. This week, married couple Kelly Hudson and DanKlein chat about modern-age matrimony for folks whose career-artist lifestyles inherently push back on traditionalism. Porn consumption, casual drug use, shared finances, and communication all get entertaining, frank analysis.
The New Yorker: Politics And More
Jake Sullivan Talks To David Remnick About Clinton And Putin
Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s new campaign manager, came close to sounding cogent on one issue in particular during her media blitz last week: “You’d think the entire election is a referendum on [Trump.]” On that, she is correct. Granted, that’s because her candidate’s ever-changing platform and erratic behavior have totally eclipsed the less-tangible, less-sound bite-friendly nuances and questions about Hillary Clinton. Nowhere is that more apparent than in media’s coverage about the US’s future diplomatic relationship with Russia, which has largely been limited to Trump and former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s financial and professional ties to the Kremlin and ousted pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. This week, David Remnick talks with Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s top foreign policy advisor, about how the Democratic candidate plans to engage with Putin about the annexation of Crimea, hacks, Syria, and NATO. It’s a short, sober discussion that acknowledges the reality that dealing with foreign leaders is a lot more complicated than “being tough.”
No One Knows Anything
Seersucker Suits And Tiny Flag Pins
Can you imagine how demoralizing it would be to spend your entire adult life swimming against the cultural stream in defense and support of a strongly held ideology only to wake up one day and find that your movement has been hijacked by a con man who’s nurturing voters’ every ugly instinct in his attempted rise to power? If not, go ask a Republican friend or relative what it feels like, because that’s precisely what many of them are going through at this very moment. Or, if you don’t fancy rubbing salt into your conservative loved ones’ wounds, you can simply listen to this week’s episode of No One Knows Anything. BuzzFeed News’ McKay Coppins talks to his website’s politics editor, Katherine Miller, a former movement conservative writer for right-leaning publications like the Washington Free Beacon who has remained true to her political beliefs despite the alienation it caused with her mostly liberal peers. The despair in her voice as she discusses what Donald Trump and the alt-right movement have done to her party is unmistakable. The two also spend some time musing over how the GOP’s political shift this year does and does not compare to the one it experience with Barry Goldwater in 1964. This conversation is guaranteed to fill liberals with either empathy or schadenfreude. Possibly both.
MTV’s seminal ’90s sketch comedy series The State is a show often better remembered by today’s pop culture consumers for its comic progeny than its original incarnation. This is due perhaps to the complicated legal issues which held up the series DVD release for nearly 14 years, but also the near ubiquity of State performers in comedy since. It is then no small event when, to mark the 300th episode of the RISK! podcast, host and State member Kevin Allison devotes the show to tales of that legendary group. What follows is an absolute rush of nostalgia, even for those not present for The State’s original run. Much of the show is given to detailing the group’s foundation, as well as some of the wilder moments from their run together, with contributions from all eleven members and a truly hilarious encomium from Janeane Garofalo. The episode provides a wonderful look behind the scenes of one of American comedy’s most influential groups. Stories run the gamut from unhinged hilarity, like Allison’s tale of becoming a part of the group through stalking, to genuinely affecting, in Robert Ben Garant’s account of touring the country as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. In all it acts as a fitting way to celebrate the accomplishments of both this amazing group as well as Allison’s continually excellent podcast.
Sex With Strangers
Behind The Scenes At Kink.com With Quinn Quintana
Chris Sowa’s de-stigmatizing sex podcast, Sex With Strangers, may have been on hiatus since April, but his return episode is captivating and informative enough to forgive the long break. Accompanied by tour guide and comedian Quinn Quintana, he explores the labyrinthine corridors of the San Francisco Armory, a.k.a. the headquarters of kink.com. There are chains. There are padded cells. There are cages (the lanky, 6-foot-7 Sowa even tries to get in one). Unlike most episodes of SWS, which tend to focus on just one sexual subculture, the smorgasbord of fetishes practiced at the studio allows him and Quintana to talk about several, from cry-porn to the Public Disgrace sessions. Obviously, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for a company whose “tamest” website (as described by Quintana) is called Fucking Machines. Then again, to say that the episode is solely about kinky provocation would be to diminish Sex With Strangers’ entire reason for existence. As always, it’s about sexual education, about why human beings are drawn to certain fetishes in the first place. When Quintana traces her own sexual journey since getting hired by kink.com, she becomes a surrogate for the audience, helping demystify the taboos surrounding the site just like she does every day on her tours. That makes this installment the perfect substitute for anyone who can’t make a trip to the West Coast and see the headquarters for themselves. Consider this a free audio tour.
When Scream Queens Attack!
The definition of “scream queen” is deceptively simple. It just means an actress who’s starred in a few slasher movies, right? Maybe once upon a time. But as the years have gone by and the horror genre has become more diverse, so has the term itself. That’s the foundation of the latest episode of Shock Waves (formerly Killer POV), where the hosts welcome Tiffany Shepis (Scarecrow, Sharknado 2, Night Of The Demons) and Felissa Rose (most infamously the killer in the first Sleepaway Camp and its most recent sequel). The two performers, who are good pals in real life, track the evolution of the scream-queen movement over the better part of an hour, all while cracking jokes and taking entertaining detours into their social lives. Their most interesting observation revolves around self-awareness, how going from not even knowing what a scream queen was to fully embracing it has allowed for more subversive horror films to be made. Although neither of them was involved with a movie like The Final Girls, it’s doubtful it would have gotten made without them and their contemporaries owning their status as horror royalty. It’s also resulted in more women coming to conventions and becoming true-blue fans. Who would have thought that a movie like Sleepaway Camp—with its open-mouthed jolt of an ending—would end up making the genre more empowering?
The “Racism Is Solved” Edition
Larry Wilmore ended The Nightly Show with class after its sudden cancellation with a few well-placed jabs at Comedy Central and society as a whole. Though focused on different genres, Slate’s Represent podcast holds the same goals as The Nightly Show: to share the concerns and opinions of groups that are often underrepresented and misrepresented in the media. In this special mini-episode, host Aisha Harris talks to Wilmore after what must have been a tumultuous week for the former late night host. Wilmore and his staff had hoped to be around to cover the presidential election. “I was very excited. And I’m still very much looking forward to these debates. I think they’re gonna be crazy” says Wilmore. “I just couldn’t wait to cover them, so I’m very disappointed about that.” Wilmore’s honestly about The Nightly Show’s struggle with ratings combined with his years of experience in the industry makes this a must listen for those wanting to know more about how late night works and the continual impact of The Daily Show. In response to the suggestion that his show didn’t resonate with viewers, Wilmore states “There’s a difference between [not] quite [getting] the numbers and the show [not] connecting and starting to gel.”
As the first official rapper on Billboard’s Soul Sisters podcast, 23-year-old hip-hop artist Dreezy talks Chicago, the modern music industry, and the barriers she has to break as a woman in the game. “Everybody’s putting out bubblegum rap,” she says. Hosts Jesse Katz and Darah Golub keep things casual with the show which allows episodes to be a wonderful mix of small talk and insightful commentary. Dreezy, who now lives in L.A., hit a lot of people’s radar after the release of her remix of Nicki Minaj’s “ChiRaq” the day after the original version came out. “I went and recorded it and I dropped it. And I think that’s what made it get even more of a buzz too, because it’s like… What the fuck? This shit just dropped last night.” The song skyrocketed her from city buzz to world buzz. If you’re a fan of Dreezy’s you’ll be happy to learn about her jazz influences, and her evolution from poet and singer to the rapper we know today. Women in hip-hop, as in every other field, are often perceived as being at odds. Dreezy tries to stay out of that box, but admits, “If I’m working at McDonald’s, I’m trying to be the best burger-flipper in there.”
“What follows is precisely the type of conversation that got me into this podcast in the first place,” says Sam Fragoso in the intro of the latest episode of Talk Easy and it’s simple to see why. Fragoso’s mission for his show hinges on the idea of organic intimacy, creating a space that is less about career bullet points and more about the true people behind them. Melanie Lynskey is the perfect guest for that kind of show. A self-proclaimed over sharer, Lynskey easily opens up to Fragoso about being an intense and emotional person from an early age, how she found her own strength through experiencing her parent’s relationship, and going to extremes to receive external validation. The stories Fragoso gets from Lynskey become the foundation to understanding how she works as an actress, and though Fragoso may be an accomplished film writer (and A.V. Club contributor), his show actually thrives on his innate interest in people. His ability to open up to his guest in a way that allows for reciprocation is a quality specific to Talk Easy and one not easily found elsewhere. Lynksey takes to his emotional honesty and the episode flourishes as the line dividing interviewer and guest disappears and an element of mutual discovery is explored.
“It’s kind of like that thing when you’re a kid and like, the kid who gets picked on a lot wears some obnoxious nerdy T-shirt and you’re just like ‘Why is he doing that?’”—David Sims on the title ‘We Bought A Zoo’, Blank Check
“I don’t want my dad’s friends to jack off to me.”—kink.com‘s tour guide, Quinn Quintana, on why she won’t officially do porn, Sex With Strangers