LeVar Burton reads from copies of his book The Rhino That Swollowed A Storm in 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Gary Miller/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.


30 For 30
A Queen Of Sorts

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The ESPN Films group 30 For 30 recently expanded its long-form sports profiles into the realm of podcasts. One of its first episodes deals with a controversial casino haul that is still being litigated. After wealthy Chinese player Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun was imprisoned over a nonpayment of a $100,000 marker at the MGM Grand in 2008, she swore revenge. She spent the next four years studying the backside prints of common decks of playing cards. She was looking for minute irregularities in the design that corresponded with the face of the card. In essence, she learned how to distinguish individual cards from behind. She became the Queen Of Sorts. Armed with this technique, she teamed up with the “Michael Jordan Of Poker,” Phil Ivey, to gain access to high-stakes baccarat tables at premier casinos. At Crockfords in London, the pair won $12 million in two days. Then came another $10 million haul at a different casino in New Jersey. The two casinos eventually figured out their methods, however, and refused to hand over the money, claiming the pair had cheated. Ivey sued both gaming houses, only to lose both cases. He’s currently appealing the decisions.

[Zach Brooke]


Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend
Demi Adejuyigbe

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This week Alison Rosen is joined by the mega-talented and charming Demi Adejuyigbe, formerly of Gilmore Guys (R.I.P.). Instantly comfortable on his second time around, Adejuyigbe opens up about his anxieties, his time writing for The Good Place, relationships, and how he conceptualizes successes and failures. Rosen is eager to know how he has achieved so much at such a young age (he is only 24 years old), which leads to talk of the Twitter world, going viral, and how—aside from his attachment to the internet—he feels like an old man on the inside. Rosen is just as candid as one would hope her guest would be, and that openness is infectious. Adejuyigbe is compelling not only because of his willingness to share on the same level as Rosen, but also because he consistently allows even the most trivial aside or fan question to lead him somewhere fruitful. He details his experiences and perspectives in a refreshing manner, and this carries through even when he’s touching on heavier topics like the importance of having voices from people of color in media, and how his attitude surrounding the issue has changed over the years.

[Rebecca Bulnes]


Classical Classroom
Mozart’s Death Demystified (No Really!)

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You can be forgiven for assuming Mozart was murdered. Besides the misleading plot of Amadeus (a retread of the fictional murder tale penned by Alexander Pushkin), Mozart himself had at one time claimed he was being poisoned, and alleged murderer Antonio Salieri confessed to the crime while hospitalized during a bout of dementia. Salieri later recanted, but the seed had been planted. Mozart’s “mysterious” death remains a cottage industry to this day. The truth is that, months before his 36th birthday, the composer faced a daunting array of personal and professional challenges. For starters, he was broke: War between Austria and the Ottomans sharply curtailed arts spending, and his musical style was currently out of fashion. His marriage was breaking down as the couple mourned the loss of three children in five years. The accumulation of these stresses led to a fatal recurrence of rheumatic fever—or at least, that’s the consensus opinion in 2017. There are certainly competing theories.

[Zach Brooke]


Homecoming
Terminated

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Homecoming, the scripted psychological/conspiracy/strangely believable thriller from Gimlet Media, is back with an enrapturing season two premiere. With a star-studded cast including Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, and Catherine Keener, all backed by world-building production quality, Homecoming takes full advantage of its medium and elevates narrative podcasting to the level of prestige television and beyond. The show’s first season left listeners with many questions and few answers, but “Terminated” sets up the season ahead with just enough exposition, mystery, and an excellent cliffhanger. The performances instantly envelop listeners, and the commitment to these roles sets the show apart from other podcasts attempting this kind of storytelling. Schwimmer’s Colin Belfast exhibits a desperation that edges toward a full mental breakdown, and Amy Sedaris returns as Belfast’s sharp-tongued boss, Audrey Temple—a role tailor-made for her. At the heart of the story is Heidi Bergman, the former Homecoming Initiative caseworker turned waitress, played with quiet exhaustion and impeccable realism by the brilliant Catherine Keener. Piecing together the narrative puzzle is certainly exciting, but the multidimensional characters bring a unique sophistication to this must-listen series.

[Rebecca Bulnes]


How Have You Not Seen
Eyes Wide Shut

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Closing out the first season of How Have You Not Seen, hosts Carl Burgason and Carson Betts discuss Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. As ever, one of the hosts picks a movie the other hasn’t seen and the two discuss it, then they watch the film in question and discuss it some more. As a couple of friends and theater artists based out of Ohio, Burgason and Betts have the sort of fun and casual rapport that allows them to chat about orgies (not to mention mutual acquaintances who’ve participated in them) without it getting weird. Eyes Wide Shut is fitting for this season’s final episode, particularly since it’s also Kubrick’s final movie, and giving it a listen will definitely spur interest in the rest of the season—as well as the production of the film. Because most movie buffs have probably said the phrase “How have you not seen…” at some point, Burgason and Betts achieve the relatable tone of two friends sharing a cinematic experience that at least one of them deems worth sharing.

[Jose Nateras]


Leave A Message After The Tone
Lost In The Sauce

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Although it’s been previously recommended here, for those not in the know, Leave A Message After The Tone is a very short-form podcast “inspired by the intimate nature of voicemails and the everyday moods they capture” that stitches together voicemails to create a collective story. This week, on the season finale, listeners call in to share their thoughts on sauce, tackling tough questions like, What exactly makes a sauce different than a dip? Where do condiments fall on the sauce continuum? Is there a more Midwestern export than ranch-dipped pizza? Callers do their best to help, getting lost in the sauce and sharing some personal musings pertaining to food and its accoutrements, including this sound advice: “Any food that is not already a dip is better dipped.” At just a little over three minutes, you can give it a listen while heating up some sauce in the microwave or contemplating the continuum yourself.

[Becca James]


LeVar Burton Reads
“Graham Greene” by Percival Everett

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Reading Rainbow is back, baby! Or rather, not exactly: More like the guy from Reading Rainbow is hosting an eponymous podcast where he reads short stories with mild cursing and adult themes. Yes, LeVar Burton Reads is the rare podcast that can be described in full by its three-word title. Each episode Burton retells a different work, drawing on his well-(La)forged skills in narration to evoke the layered moods etched into the prose. He does voices, there’s background music—the whole effect is quite atmospheric and captivating. The readings are bookended by bits of context and author analysis from Burton. In “Graham Greene” by Percival Everett, he tells listeners that the author has a habit of keeping readers off-kilter and throwing them at the conclusion. The story is a mystery of sorts, which kicks off when a 102-year-old woman, in the last week she has to live, tasks a man she barely knows with tracking down the 82-year-old son she hasn’t seen for 30 years. All the man has to go on is a name, Davey Cloud, and a youthful photograph of a man resembling Graham Greene. Not the author, but the Native American actor.

[Zach Brooke]


The Hilarious World Of Depression
John Darnielle Of The Mountain Goats

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John Darnielle is not known for holding back on his emotions. The Mountain Goats singer-songwriter has made a career of crafting sometimes joyously, sometimes painfully honest songs. Although his lyrics may be florid and he may have humor in abundance, the raw feeling that drives his character sketches and quirky narratives is never more than a few millimeters beneath the textual surface. So, when The Hilarious World Of Depression’s John Moe asked listeners to share their favorite music for enduring bad spells, The Mountain Goats came up a whole lot. In this abbreviated episode, Darnielle joins Moe to discuss why his discography might be such a go-to for the world-weary. The 50-year-old childhood abuse survivor is equally blunt and pensive in his recollections of the ways he has dealt with depression and anger in his life, why he’s spun those experiences into the hundreds of songs he’s conceived, and how he sees the humor in them even if many others can’t. There’s one great anecdote about how he came this close to hobbling one of his most popular songs, “This Year,” off of 2005’s The Sunset Tree in an effort to make it more conventional.

[Dennis DiClaudio]


The Nod
Hunter Green Thong

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There are probably a lot of folks who slept on Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings’ celebrated independent podcast For Colored Nerds, but with the high-profile launch of the pair’s new Gimlet Media podcast, The Nod, one would have to be willfully ignorant in order to miss out. Like a leveled-up version of their previous show, The Nod is an artfully idiosyncratic exploration of the kaleidoscopic spectrum of experiences that make up black life in America. The show is a natural evolution of For Colored Nerds and a positive move by Gimlet, for as podcasts have grown in popularity, their diversity on mainstream networks has lagged behind. Anchored by the easy rapport and amiable charms of Luse and Eddings, the show’s debut looks into the ways black sexuality has been reduced through media portrayal and how it’s being reclaimed. They speak with YouTube sex educator Tyomi Morgan, a.k.a. Glamazon Tyomi, as well as the majorly successful erotica author Zane. Both women’s commitment to honest portrayal and celebration of black female sexuality have helped to inspire generations. With this auspicious debut, The Nod is doing great work to help deepen and strengthen that conversation.

[Ben Cannon]


Wrong Reel
The Highs And Lows Of The Robocop Franchise

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Film critic Skye Wingfield drops by Wrong Reel to chat with host James Hancock about Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop. The brutal sci-fi satire recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and is a favorite of Wingfield’s, who has seen it more than 40 times. The guys dive into the making of the film, as well as their personal experiences with it growing up. Hancock admits to thinking it looked hokey when the film was hitting theaters in his youth, which was one of the problems the writers had when they were trying to sell the flick: People thought the whole concept was ludicrous. The majority of the podcast is dedicated to the original film, which notably only had seconds of violence and gore cut, a choice that the hosts muse actually weakens the comedic elements of the film. Upon its release, the hyperviolent film was certainly appreciated by youngsters and action fans, who can now appreciate the slick satire of Reagan’s America and ’80s greed. While Robocop is now a Criterion selection, time has not been as kind to its two sequels. Wingfield and Hancock touch on the sequels, what worked, and what didn’t. But it’s mostly what didn’t.

[Mike Vanderbilt]