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.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
7th Anniversary: Jason Mantzoukas, Paul F. Tompkins, Horatio Sanz, Neil Campbell, Mike Hanford, Tim Baltz, Drew Tarver
Comedy Bang! Bang! celebrates its seventh anniversary by giving listeners an episode piled high with fan favorites—from classics like Horatio Sanz as Shelly Driftwood, to newer characters like Mike Hanford’s John Lennon—all of which are zany and charming in their own ways. In particular, John Lennon, who Hanford plays as a bumbling idiot with nothing but nice things to say, is a bright and refreshing character who pairs well with Comedy Bang! Bang!’s mainstays. Playing to his comedic peak, Scott Aukerman baits Shelly Driftwood to give exhaustingly detailed driving directions, which end up working as the highlight reel of the character. Also in on the fun are Maxwell Keeper with exasperated cadence and perfect timing and Neil Campbell with a strong and spontaneous delivery. It’s an endlessly entertaining episode that showcases some of the most lovable character avenues Comedy Bang! Bang! has carved out, and it’s the perfect way to celebrate seven hilarious years.
During this wholly interesting episode of Design Matters, listeners can’t help shake the suspicion that celebrated contemporary classical composer Nico Muhly is actually a character from a Wes Anderson film come to life. Perhaps it’s in the quiet grandeur of his profession—Muhly is easily the most well-known classical composer in decades—or in his upbringing as the son of a painter and a documentary filmmaker, or perhaps it is his quirky fascination with the development history of ligature sorts used in frontispiece printing. It mostly comes through in Muhly’s enthusiastically erudite discussions of musicology, including his obsession with Steve Reich and opera, especially when one considers that he is still rather young at 34. The best moment comes when Muhly injects a bit of pedestrian relatability into the conversation, explaining to host Debbie Millman that his critically lauded opera Two Boys shares as much in common with Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte as it does with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The conversation between the two is chock-full of similarly engaging moments, giving listeners a window into a world they are otherwise not privy to; another wonderful listen from this most assured of podcasts.
The Dinner Party Download
Jessica Williams, Dick Cavett, Michael McKean
The Dinner Party Download has fast paced segments that keep listeners interested in everything they need to survive the dinner party conversations of a given week. Hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam navigate us from the subjects of history and food to an excerpt from Jen Kirkman’s new book I Know What I’m Doing—And Other Lies I Tell Myself. Kirkman reads a piece that involves blackmail and a relationship on the rocks with a skillful level of emotion and nuance, but the crux of the episode is the hosts’ live conversation with Jessica Williams and Dick Cavett. Cavett, who has probably talked to every prominent figure since 1968, is asked to describe his thought process as an interviewer. When talking to Williams, Gagliano and Newnam unveil an aspect of her career that she has tried to keep hidden: a co-starring role in a 2006 Nickelodeon kids show Just For Kicks. Their third party guest, Michael McKean, describes his shift from playing comedic characters to those of a villainous nature. This podcast downloads an astonishing amount of information into the brains of its listeners, and the most important piece of advice for dinner party survival comes from Dick Cavett. His response on how to navigate interviews is, “Try to listen to what the guest is saying.”
The Olive Garden: Christine Nangle
One of the very best, yet largely unremarked upon, aspects of Doughboys is that almost every one of their guests—no matter how well known or not so well known they are—is an actual fan of the podcast. It’s a joy to hear in and of itself, but it also means the guests know all of the various segments of the show and can play into the brilliantly antagonistic dynamic between its hosts and its ever increasingly ridiculous mythology. Kroll Show and Inside Amy Schumer writer Christine Nangle is a true exemplar of this, bearing intimate knowledge of episodes both early and recent, and even her own introductory sound drop. Every other element of her episode also brings exactly what listeners want and expect from Doughboys: hyper specific and sometimes slightly sad childhood stories; a plethora of food-related memories; and a very thorough, even-handed review of Olive Garden. Nangle may not be as into food as the ’boys are, but she makes for a terrific guest and the (nearly) two-hour episode flies by.
“Driving Miss Gilmore”: Jason Mantzoukas
With only one episode left until the Gilmore Guys venture into the dark and mysterious territory that is the seventh season of Gilmore Girls, this live show is a bittersweet celebration. Fan favorite Jason Mantzoukas elevates the energy in a recklessly fun way, and it’s oddly cathartic to listen to. Sprinkling in his hilarious hopes for season seven, which all include Dean being dead, Mantzoukas sets an atmosphere that allows the podcast to go to the most ridiculous of places. There’s a healthy amount of genuine Gilmore Girls episode breakdown, with discussion about Emily manipulating Lorelai to be with Christopher, Rory lacking an understanding of journalism, and the Palladinos writing their last episodes. But this episode is at its best when the hosts allow pure fun to take over, as Mantzoukas places Gilmore Girls in the Harry Potter and Game Of Thrones universes, meticulously categorizing the characters in different houses and families. Mantzoukas is also the only person who can declare Dean is a Hufflepuff and make it seem like a tremendous insult. It’s the show at its nerdiest, and it’s the perfect way to prepare everyone for a dive into uncharted land.
The new season of The Heart premieres with the story of Mariya Karimjee, a survivor of female genital mutilation. Mariya details her childhood in Karachi, Pakistan and the procedure her family forced her to undertake at 7. She eventually moves to Texas and grows up like a typical suburban kid until the approach of puberty forces her to remember “the bug” that her mother had warned needed to be cut out when she was a child. The anger she directs toward her mother and birthplace are palpable as she details the disconnect between her new, Westernized lifestyle in college and the limitations placed on her body by a ritual that’s viewed as shameful and limited to third-world countries. She eventually finds the strength to confront her mother—only to realize they share a similar rage toward a culture that failed them. As Mariya works to forgive her mother, the episode moves beyond one particularly horrific event and instead becomes an in-depth look at the generational resentments many of us carry. When Mariya’s mother makes a guest appearance in the episode—reading excerpts of the Harlequin novels they both would use to fantasize about the sexual freedoms they lost—The Heart proves again that even our most isolated, intimate experiences are more relatable than we imagine.
Wait, Was That Warsan Shire?
Mostly Lit is a British podcast from Alex Reads and Reckless Rai that connects the dots between literature and black popular culture. Beyoncé’s Lemonade concept album, being the perfect combination of the two, is their subject for this episode. It kicks off as Rai reads an excerpt from poet Warsan Shire, whose work narrates the record. Once they settle their opinions on the music, they dive into their main segments (Who’s Lit, Diaspora Reads, Lit Shade, and Quote Of The Week.) Reads and Rai have smooth chemistry guided by concern for each other’s thoughts, and a playful energy that leaves every talking point open for potential laughter. It’s also exciting to hear some perspectives on Lemonade from people of color outside of the American blog machine. The hosts draw parallels between the album and other pieces of work that add to the black narrative. When asked by Reads to express her opinion on the album’s theme, Rai says, “I want to say ‘black-girl magic,’ right? But at the same time, for me, it really encapsulated different identities of black women.”
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The Mysterious Secrets Of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium has established of a narrative tapestry that lampoons Victorian sexual inhibitions, Linnaean classification, and the foibles of aristocracy. Set against this robust backdrop are the adventures of Lord Joseph Banks (Jemaine Clement), a bumbling, pleasure-hating nobleman set on completing the legacy of his botanist-uncle Bertram Banks. While previous episodes drew the Lord Joseph toward his goal, episode eight appears to be a pivot point, where the characters begin questioning their motives. Joseph is confronted with what he ostensibly most despises: a lurid plant capable of providing extreme carnal pleasures. Meanwhile, his nephew falls prey to the temptations of exotic snuff, which threaten to undermine his identity as a hopeless romantic, and Joseph’s manservant Solander discovers that he is appreciated by others as a man of compassion. Clement and company are in rare form, bringing to life the fully realized, completely ridiculous world of the “Gravy Islands,” where botanists, even the worst ones, occupy the highest social and academic strata. While Uncle Bertie’s alone might not be enough to pay Howl.fm a monthly subscription, it’s one of the best scripted podcasts currently in production, and is worth signing up for the network’s trial subscription.
Someone Else's Movie
David Bezmozgis On Holy Motors
On this week’s episode of the intelligent celluloid love-fest Someone Else’s Movie, host Norm Wilner puzzles over Leos Carax’s masterfully surreal 2012 French film Holy Motors with Canadian author and filmmaker David Bezmozgis. The film at the center is one of almost phosphorescent creativity, burning brilliant with white hot imagination, anchored by the chameleonic Denis Lavant. Bezmozgis admits that he sees his own limitations as a director in watching the film, as he could never replicate its singular blend of emotional and creative ingenuity. The discussion naturally flows from the film into the realms of other art forms, exploring the dreamlike works of creators from Caravaggio to Dennis Johnson and even Louis CK. Where a film like Holy Motors feels like a once-in-a-decade occurrence, Bezmozgis and Wilner go back and forth over whether the structures exist for others to follow in Carax’s footsteps, making unbridled passion projects which resist easy classification or decoding. Reality sets in, however, when Wilner brings up the counterintuitive push by Hollywood’s major studios, paring back their output of original intellectual properties in the wake of Batman V Superman. Someone Else’s Movie proves to be among the best destinations for deep, expert film discussion.
Songs You're Sick Of
“Rock You Like A Hurricane”
There are a lot of songs that a lot of people have deep-down bone-marrow familiarity with despite having never once actively chosen to listen to them. They simply enter the consciousness through a process of cultural osmosis and burrow themselves into the crevices of our psyche where they are largely immune from criticism. Songs You’re Sick Of is a podcast that makes its business of dragging such songs out into the light where they can be properly examined. In this episode, host Joe Dator and guest host Susan Kruglinski spend a full half hour dissecting, via playful and sometimes rambling conversation, Scorpions’ 1984 hit “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” One of the things they discover is that while this ode to aggressive sex is the German band’s first major U.S. hit, it actually comes from their ninth studio album—the band formed two decades earlier in 1965. Another thing: The band’s uncomfortable history of misogyny, which resulted in one album cover that should definitely not be Googled by law-abiding citizens. Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” and Toto’s “Africa” receive similar treatment in earlier installments.
This American Life
Prom has permeated our culture in such a universal way that it’s hardly ever looked at with an artfully specific eye. Instead, it’s often deemed an evening involving tipsy teens awkwardly slow dancing in gaudy outfits, culminating in nothing more than a notch in one’s cultural belt. This week’s episode of This American Life, however, focuses on stories where prom changes lives. The first act follows the story of the small town of Hoisington, Kansas, where in 2001, “a night to remember” was redefined, as unbeknownst to attendees, a tornado ripped through one-third of the town. The teens struggle to conceptualize why the tornado hit when and where it did, if it was fate that they were kept in the dark, and how the storm taught everyone a lesson in a town where “nothing ever happened.” The episode ends by providing contrast with a story of Racine, Wisconsin, where prom includes parades, red carpets, and its own TV program. Revealing carefully how much of the hype surrounding prom relies on the restless feeling that it’s the night where anything can happen, This American Life truly captures the moment.
A Man Of His Generation
Slate’s editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg often makes the point that it is his sincere hope that the Donald-centric podcast he hosts several times a week is short-lived. Multiple times after the past few months, based on the conventional wisdom of pollsters and pundits, he’s happily reported that the existence of Trumpcast might soon lose its necessity. Unfortunately for him, and for everybody else in America, it appears that he will continue pumping out episodes into the November. Now, with Trump stands triumphant atop the Republican mountain with all of his vanquished foes heads at his feet, Weisberg welcomes Slate’s critic-at-large, Stephen Metcalf, to discuss his recent cover story “Donald Trump, Baby Boomer” to better understand how the real estate mogul is an almost cartoonishly spot-on manifestation of everything that is ugly and excessive about the 1980s’ philosophy of me. It’s illuminating to learn what effect the war in Vietnam had on Trump’s worldview and business practices, despite the multiple student deferments he received. Be forewarned though, this podcast is not wrestling with the question of Trump. Its mind was very much made up in its first episode back in March. This is best listened to by people who can’t help but fiddle with open sores.
With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus
Chris Gethard: Anonymous Stories From Beautiful People
That neither Lapkus nor the temporary host know what to expect is what makes With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus exciting. The genuine unpredictability of this week’s episode, for example, finds Chris Gethard hosting his actual Earwolf show Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People (slightly altered into Anonymous Stories From Beautiful People), with Lapkus acting as the anonymous caller. Gethard plays the entire episode with the utmost sincerity. Lapkus plays a caller whose father left home because of, as it’s slowly revealed, the many convoluted pranks her character put him through. As in actual episodes of the show, Gethard engages with the caller intimately and hardly ever makes it about himself, which allows him to push Lapkus for details, prompting her to come up with increasingly ridiculous specifics about the torment she put her father through. With every absurd reveal, Gethard masterfully navigates the improv to allow Lapkus to shine, reveling in the most unbelievable of storylines, while he remains the perfect, grounded foil. His ability to play the show straight ends up being equally as hilarious as Lapkus’ elaborately sadistic character.
“Christopher is Dumbledore?! No! No way. Christopher is maybe Lupin. Maybe.”—Jason Mantzoukas on who Christopher is in the Harry Potter world, Gilmore Guys
“I’m finding it very hard to tell if you are a quiet girl or a sad boy.”—Chris Gethard on Lauren Lapkus’ character, With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus