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 email@example.com.
There Goes Bergen
On the show’s first anniversary, it’s hard to comprehend that there was ever a time before Bodega Boys. The brand is so strong that the show feels almost immemorial. For those who haven’t been rocking with the art over the past 12 months, the podcast is a singularly hilarious work of cultural commentary hosted by comedians Desus Nice and The Kid Mero. The pair’s (almost) weekly free-form conversations provide some of the most wildly funny, often problematic, and consistently insightful overviews of the week’s events as viewed through the lens of their Bronx experiences. In this week’s episode, Desus and Mero pinball wildly among topics, from Colin Kaepernick’s recent protests of the national anthem, the tricky calculus of having feelings for the first lady, getting into a street fight with Lin-Manuel Miranda (along with the Sesame Street muppets), and the development of a Bronx version of the Bible. In the realm of podcasts there is certainly no shortage of comic discussion shows, but the undeniable chemistry between Desus and Mero and their smacked take on barroom philosophy easily positions Bodega Boys leagues above the rest. Long may they reign.
Stand By Me
While half the country is already in full-gush mode over four ’80s kids wandering through the woods looking for creepy stuff, we might as well deflect a little bit of that adoration over to Stand By Me. Three decades after it was released, TV fans are currently appreciating Rob Reiner’s funny and affecting coming of age film through its undoubted influence on the Duffer Brothers’ surprise Netflix hit Stranger Things. But does the adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body—about a group of preteens who embark on an overnight expedition to find a dead body—hold up after all these years, or is it mostly memorable as the launching pad for a number of young actors (several of whom experienced tragedy that would rival the subject of the film)? The Canon’s Amy Nicholson and Devin Faraci spend a lot of time debating the merits of Stand By Me in this week’s episode, taking particular care to tease out how important nostalgia is in our modern-day appreciation of this movie as well as in its creation. (Reiner and King were both 12 in 1959, the year it’s set.) And don’t worry, Faraci makes certain to zero in on the homoerotic overtones that are supposedly at the heart of the story.
The Dirtbag Diaries
Mothers Have It Hardest - Kyle Dempster Tribute
This week’s episode of Fitz and Becca Cahall’s nearly decade-long exploration of all aspects of the “dirtbag” lifestyle—that indefatigable, at times reckless pursuit of living outdoors—is a heartbreaking work of reflexive audio. It acts as a tribute to the life of Alpine climber Kyle Dempster, who went missing on August 22 along with his partner, Scott Adamson, while climbing in Pakistan. The episode consists of a conversation between Dempster and his mother, Terry, recorded in 2014, as they discuss what life is like for a climber and their loved ones, who live with the ever-present fear of accidents befalling them. There is real joy found in listening to Kyle and his mother talking about his passion for climbing and the role she plays in it, but there are also moments of potent sadness given the lens through which they are now viewed. This is particularly true of the tale of Kyle’s first big climb, which cost the life of his cousin Drew, and his mother’s reaction upon hearing that her son had survived. While a sense of tragedy pervades the episode, it also exists as a concrete document of the love and understanding that the pair shared.
Don't Get Me Started
Lennon Parham, Danielle Schneider, Deb Tarica - Indigo Girls
This week on Don’t Get Me Started, hosts Anthony King and Will Hines are joined by a trio of funny women, Danielle Schneider, Lennon Parham, and Deb Tarica, to discuss their obsession with the Indigo Girls. The episode captures what it is to be “obsessed” in a way that consistently brings the listener into the fold, thriving on the familiar quality the guests provide. All three women represent that cool, older sister type, and their enthusiasm (there’s a solid 20 seconds of just singing and laughing that is rather infectious) carries the show as they discuss what it’s like to still relate (the three attend Indigo Girls concerts together yearly) to the teenage feelings that Indigo Girls so eloquently express. King, another Indigo Girls fan, is also able to relate, while Hines acts as surrogate for those who aren’t as well-versed. It’s Don’t Get Me Started at its most accessible, consistently building on a fly-on-the-wall atmosphere that allows it to feel less like a formal podcast and more like a casual recording of funny friends hanging out.
The Witch Who Came From Mars
The distinctly excellent futurology podcast Flash Forward has arrived at the end of its second season, and to mark the occasion host Rose Eveleth flipped the script on the show’s format. Instead of following the show’s weekly pattern, in which a futuristic scenario based on real-world developments is portrayed through audio drama, whose eventuality is explained by a group of experts, Eveleth has reverse-engineered this week’s episode by having an AI develop the scenario while those same experts attempt to parse how such a future might exist. Using a recurrent neural network, Eveleth uses a corpus of past podcast episode transcripts—along with other science fiction works—to generate an AI-written script for this week’s audio drama. This makes for a wonderfully weird segment, wherein a doctor is tasked with cutting off the hands of witches who live in a secret underground facility on Mars. But for all of that delightful quizzicality, it’s even more of a treat to hear Eveleth and her experts attempt to, and convincingly succeed at, decoding the otherwise batshit-crazy computer-scripted scenario. Over the past two seasons, Eveleth has shown a real talent for producing first-rate audio, and this episode will have listeners looking forward to season three.
The Great Debates
Great Debates Junior!
If Podcasts Are Wonderful has taught us anything, it’s that kids have an enviable knack for podcasting. This week, The Great Debates further proves that theory in an episode that Dan Medina introduces as a new favorite. Dave King and Steve Hely are joined by King’s niece and nephew, 8-year-old Kate and 11-year-old Ben, for a special 99th episode appropriately titled Great Debates Junior! This concept succeeds because, although Hely and King are consistently hilarious and surprising in their own debating, they’re adults with logical thought processes, which are easily followed by other adults, no matter how off-the-cuff. But with children, it’s harder to know what to expect, with their brains functioning in a way that is unfiltered, magical, and surprisingly wise. As they debate topics like whether PokémonGo is evil, what the best luncheon meat is, and if dogs should be allowed on the beach, Ben and Kate present ideas that are unsullied by a cynical adult world. This episode flourishes because King and Hely don’t treat the two like children and instead give their ideas the integrity they deserve, allowing them to feel free to fight for their stances with refreshing and hilariously sincere tenacity.
Judge John Hodgman
Julie would prefer that her mother, Amy, not work out alongside her at the gym. On its face, the litigation lacks profundity; Julie should suck it up and deal with her mom. But go beyond the open-and-shut case and its obvious verdict, and listeners will discover one of the best Judge John Hodgman episodes since “Do You Want To Hoard Some Snowglobes.” First, there’s the complex relationship that pervades the case—Julie is living under the roof of the same woman from whom she’s seeking court-ordered space. (Julie also exudes a level of Bronx chill so complete that Hodgman is moved to recount the time he went thrift shopping with Patti Smith.) Second, the gym they both work out at is owned by another relative. But Hodgman gives the case a lot of thought, considering both that Julie lives at home out of necessity, the result of economic conditions created by earlier generations, and that humans have a right to value and enjoy safe spaces. But as the defendant wisely points out, it’s not Amy’s job to comfort her daughter, and curbing her right to go to the gym when she pleases doesn’t help prepare Julie for the interpersonal challenges that frequently occur in adult life.
At the top of this premiere Loveline with Amber Rose episode, Rose explains that she’ll be talking about “sex, relationships, and self confidence.” The introduction has the feel of a highly produced late-night radio program, but once her conversation gets rolling with co-host Dr. Chris Donaghue, listeners learn that they are recording in her bedroom, not so different from budding podcasters around the world. Rose, whose career seems to always be on the frontline of the war against slut-shaming, talks about her first-ever threesome. It’s definitely the most enticing topic to center the episode around, but the story isn’t told in a way that goes for shock or awe. In this sense, her goal of empowering women to take ownership of their sexuality is achieved. The rapport between the hosts is natural and reaffirming. Although Rose did not enjoy the threesome as much as a one-on-one interaction, she learned something new, and through her so do her listeners. “We don’t think we’re controversial. We think we’re very normal,” Rose says of Donaghue and herself. “The world kind of thinks that we’re a bit controversial, which is cool.”
Back To School
No Joke Podcast stands out in the sea of other shows that entail their hosts simply catching up with each other because of its weekly themes and rapid-fire comedic pace. Comedians Adam Lustick and Billy Scafuri of the popular Harvard Sailing Team sketch group use personal anecdotes to entertain listeners on this episode’s topic: “Back To School.” You don’t necessarily have to know the hosts to get in tune with them, because their personalities shine through quickly. They know each other well given their history in sketch, the Sports Talkers show they co-host on Fusion, and now this. It’s almost as if Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street had a podcast. Breaking their show into three acts, Lustick and Scafuri discuss their relationship with the topic in terms of their past, present, and future. One example is their focus on wearing “cool shirts” in elementary school. “My cool shirt at least in the fifth grade was a flannel shirt,” says Scafuri “Like, a red and blue flannel shirt. But the sleeves were sweatshirt.” Cool is relative, and these hosts know it.
Three Proposals And A Funeral, Kind Of
As Bachelor In Paradise comes to a close, so does this period of the Rose Buddies adventure. Hosted by husband and wife Griffin and Rachel McElroy, this episode stands as a testament of why Bachelor fans, and even podcast fans with no interest in the franchise, keep coming back for more. What sets Rose Buddies apart from other Bachelor-centric podcasts is that there’s something undeniably captivating about listening to a real-life married couple talk about reality TV show love. Griffin and Rachel’s dynamic is endlessly entertaining, their marriage almost acting like a third host of the show. Every tangent and anecdote gives a wider view on them as a couple, while also allowing for a unique context to their commentary. Besides adding a new layer to the viewing experience of Bachelor In Paradise, the relationship heard on the show is downright endearing and easily becomes the main draw. The two discuss their love for “Grace”; the pressure Chris Harrison put on the fantasy suite dates; all of the high points of the season despite its rocky start; and what fans can expect as the podcast, thankfully, moves forward.
The Best (And Worst) Campaign Ads So Far
With less than two months before election day, many Republicans and Democrats can agree that we might all benefit from never hearing from either candidate ever again. But podcasts like The Run-Up sooth our frustrations by taking a fresh look at the campaigns and candidates. This episode compares ads by the Trump and Clinton camps, including Clinton’s shrewd spot “Role Models,” which features shots of children watching and reacting to a slew of Trump soundbites. Host Michael Barbaro invites New York Times chief culture critic Wesley Morris to discuss the relative effectiveness of the 2016 ads and the cultural context in which they operate. Later, Barbaro speaks with Russell Schriefer, the Republican ad-maker behind the memorable “Windsurfing” spot that reinforced the perception of John Kerry as an unreliable, goofy flip-flopper. Schriefer and Barbaro dissect the current ads as well as what makes ads memorable and effective, including the devastating “Willie Horton” ad, which (along an ill-advised tank ride) all but sealed the fate of Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. The two also discuss the transition of campaign spots from the self-affirming jingles of the mid-20th century as they gave way to the attack ads of the ’80s and ’90s.
Sooo Many White Guys
Phoebe And Constance Wu Invest In Mutual Funds
Is there anyone listening to this effortlessly charming and insightful show who hasn’t fallen for the interplay between show host Phoebe Robinson and her producer Joanna Solotaroff? One has to imagine that the answer is no, as the two have developed such a winning rapport that their opening conversations generate the most reliably delightful moments of every episode. That is, of course, to take nothing away from the show’s real bread and butter—interviewing dynamic artists, writers, and performers who are not white men. This week Robinson chats with superstar in the making Constance Wu of ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat, and their talk is equal parts informative, hilarious, and surprising. This is especially encapsulated in the pair’s conversations about Wu’s recent efforts to advance the public conversation about race, whether through her social media or the somewhat misdirected backlash that she received for equating the proposed CGI-enhanced yellow-facing of Scarlett Johansson for the upcoming Ghost In The Shell film to blackface. This even leads to an enlightening behind-the-scenes anecdote about Wu effecting a change on a Halloween episode of Fresh Off The Boat. In all, another great episode from one of this year’s best podcasts.
This inaugural episode of The New York Times’ Still Processing podcast is an incredible mix of personality, pop culture, and education. Writers Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris bring a jolt of energy to the show, which feels like old media finally embracing the new. Wortham and Morris take some time at the beginning to introduce what the show is all about, which is essentially them working out how they feel about current issues. What’s most compelling is how they connect the dots between those issues. For instance, Morris draws a connection between the negative response to Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest to Leslie Jones’ battles with racist/sexist internet trolls for simply starring in a film, and Wortham finds a correlation between some of the backlash from black people in regards to Kaepernick to a similar backlash against Jesse Williams after his BET Awards speech. Still Processing is still… (drum roll, please) processing its tone and purpose. But really, we don’t need an explanation for what the show is about. It’s entertaining, plain and simple.
Sleep Some More
“For best results, use headphones!” That’s the advice of The Truth’s creative team, who proudly produce short-format “movies for your ears.” In their first release back from summer hiatus, they don’t disappoint, using every ambient audio flourish in their arsenal. “Sleep Some More” is a fine example of what this Radiotopia podcast is capable of: a chilling story cloaked in the humor of relatable, everyday circumstances. College freshman Dan, who dreams of becoming the secretary of commerce, finds himself paired up with the annoying and clueless Tom, whose vocal performance recalls every listener’s worst roommate memories, complete with the crr-shick of oft-opened beer cans and the blaring of bad TV shows. But at night, when Dan slaves over his subpar English papers, Tom begins talking in his sleep, spouting genius theses on Shakespeare and Kafka, which Dan then cribs to advance his own career ambitions. It’s a story full of dark turns and black humor, driving right into the universal anxiety that our ideas are never truly original. Performed with a reliably talented corps of voice actors, “Sleep Some More” is another impressive entry in The Truth’s catalog, and one that knows how to make silence as loud as anything else we hear.
Billy Crystal is in many ways the quintessential show business celebrity. He’s a stand-up comedian, an actor, a performer, a writer, and a director (sometimes concurrently). He developed genuine friendships with some of the most talented and famous people on the planet, having eulogized both Robin Williams and Muhammad Ali. And he is considered the safe and reliable face for industry award shows like the Academy Awards, which he has hosted nine times. With that in mind, the phenomenal aspect of his appearance on WTF is that you kind of lose track of all that during the nearly two-hour conversation and get the sense that you’re listening to an enthusiastic kid from Long Island talking about his four-decade jag of mostly good luck. Part of that can be attributed to Marc Maron’s near-preternatural skills as an interviewer, and part of it is surely some form of well-rehearsed humility. As plain as it is that the 68-year-old comedian does enjoy talking about his successes and failures, it somehow doesn’t come across as an ugly strain of narcissism. He can recall an anecdote about Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty paying him a visit in his Oscars dressing room to tell him how great the show is going, and make you say, “Aw, isn’t that sweet of them?”
“I will say, I hadn’t listened to Indigo Girls for a while, and then we all started going yearly to concerts, and I pulled them out again. And I opened up one of my CDs, like, it had been that long, and in the Indigo Girls CD was a Melissa Etheridge CD.” —Danielle Schneider, Don’t Get Me Started
“Here’s the thing about PokémonGo. I mean, like, you’re in this beautiful place and, like, driving through a rainforest with beautiful birds of paradise and stuff, and then you, like, look at your phone and hear a buzz, and you’re, like, ‘Oh, my gosh! Look, it’s a level 500 CP Snorlax!’ or something. And you miss, like… and you totally forget about where you are and the beautiful things you’re experiencing in nature.” —8-year-old Kate on PokémonGo, The Great Debates
“In life, what you want to be is Patti Smith; I think that’s true for everybody.” —John Hodgman, Judge John Hodgman
“Five yards and a cloud of dust.” —Russell Schriefer, invoking football lingo to circumscribe the effectiveness of a Trump ad, The Run-Up