Michael B. Jordan
Photo: Ian Gavan (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.


Can I Pet Your Dog?
Martha Kelly And The Estrela Mountain Dog

This podcast is for people who enthusiastically greet a pup on the street without ever looking its owner in the eye. Hosts Allegra Ringo and Renee Colvert give updates on their own dogs, Tugboat and Pistachio (both of whom make a barking cameo or two throughout the show), and go into detail on all their encounters with new dogs during their week. The duo’s undeniable enthusiasm for not only their own pets but also every animal they hear about from listeners and guests makes for a charming hour of bark talk. But the show isn’t just about showering pups with praise; it teaches listeners a thing or two as well. Mutt Minute explores different dog breeds and their temperament, and Ringo and Colvert offer great tips on walking, diet, and sleep patterns throughout. Comedian and fellow dog lover Martha Kelly stops by this episode to bond with Tugboat and discuss her time as a dog walker, her philosophy on what attracts certain dogs to certain people, and her own rescue dog, Rosie. The story of Rosie’s troubled past and her relationship with Kelly’s cats is a heart-wrenching reminder of why we love our pets so much in the first place. [Brianna Wellen]


Disgraceland
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes: Hit Me Again And I’ll Burn Your House Down

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The Disgraceland podcast combines rock ’n’ roll with true crime, detailing some of the more suspect exploits of musician types. This week, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC is the focus, particularly the time she burned boyfriend Andre Rison’s mansion to the ground following an argument over some sneakers. Host Jake Brennan recounts the tale in a style that could be described as NPR-sploitation, leading listeners through Lopes’ odd relationship with her father and drinking to her untimely death in 2002. It’s less an attempt to understand or explain Lopes’ wild child ways than to shed light on her as a person, beyond simply being “the crazy one” of TLC. Brennan explores the influence of the Atlanta group throughout the hip-hop explosion of the mid-’90s via their lyrics and subject matter. Was Lopes crazy? Her alter-ego, Nikki (whom Lopes blamed for her bad behavior), might say so, but Brennan argues that that’s just “a pop star being a pop star.” [Mike Vanderbilt]


Personal Best
Jackie Chan’s Sleeveless Turtleneck

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“A self-help podcast for people who hate self-help” is how this CBC show bills itself, or at least self-help in the form of vague wellness platitudes posted by the Instagram influencer du jour. Reinforcing this commitment to measurable (and entertaining) outcomes, each episode assists subjects with a quirky goal that holds deep personal significance—like this one, about a grown-ass man wanting to do a backflip just like his childhood hero, Jackie Chan. It turns out the man in question, Yaw, is physically fit enough to master the move, but also recovering from an injury that’s destroyed his confidence in his athletic abilities. The hosts decide his backflip stumbling blocks are mental and set out to improve his self-esteem. They start by making Yaw feel good about what he can already do by drafting vulnerable-looking old ladies to approach him with unopened pickle jars. Then the hosts kluge together a cheap VR headset that lets Yaw visualize himself completing the flip, accompanied with verbal support from an Avengers stunt coordinator. Finally, they script an action scene where Yaw, playing the hero, must perform a backflip to save the day. [Zach Brooke]


Sandra
Hope Is A Mistake

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The second new serialized offering from Gimlet this week, Sandra is an audio fiction drama that centers on Helen, a woman stuck in a town she hates and a marriage that’s on its last legs. In the first episode, “Hope Is A Mistake,” Helen gets a new job as one “cell” of Sandra, an Alexa-like virtual assistant that’s actually just a bunch of office workers answering questions and playing fast and loose with the browsing histories and purchasing data of their customers. Ostensibly, the selling point here is the cast—Alia Shawkat! Kristen Wiig! Ethan freakin’ Hawke!—and while they’re all good, it’s actually the moments of surreality that make Sandra a compelling listen. If you can get to the end of the first conversation between Helen (Shawkat) and her supervisor (Hawke) without feeling just a little bit bewitched, you’re a hard sell. And that’s an appropriate turn of phrase, because Sandra’s most frustrating element is its frequent hard sells. While there’s much effort made to ensure that the ads in “Hope Is A Mistake” comment on the story in some way, the ad-to-content ratio feels a little nuts. It’s worth it, but better to have your eyes open. [Allison Shoemaker]


Speaking Over The Mountains
Queer Appalachia

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Podcasting from the heart of Appalachia, hosts Meg Moore-Hubbard and Drew Hubbard provide an insider’s view of the region’s cultural quirks and people. Meant for both Appalachians and outsiders, it’s a must-listen, as it offers a welcome and warm perspective on a part of the country often misrepresented through myths and distortions of the isolation, temperament, and behavior of its inhabitants. This week continues a two-episode focus on the Queer Appalachia collective and the organization’s first zine, Electric Dirt, which seeks to “celebrate queer voices from Appalachia and the South,” with guest Mamone. Chatting about everything from limited resources available for queer people dealing with addiction to what accountability and restorative justice looks like in the region, Speaking Over The Mountains is an imperative education on the United States—its value priceless in the fight for equality. [Becca James]


The Habitat
This Is The Way Up

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Gimlet Media just showed up to the party with a pair of serialized podcasts. One of two new offerings this week (see Sandra reviewed above), The Habitat follows “six volunteers secluded in an imitation Mars habitat where they will work as imitation astronauts for one very real year.” Narrated by host Lynn Levy, who has been communicating with the volunteers from the start through audio diaries detailing “their discoveries, their frustrations, and their evolving and developing relationships with each other,” The Habitat is a “true story of a fake planet” and is worth the seven-episode binge. It’s reminiscent of Survivor, which was an undeniably addictive show in its heyday. The isolation is painfully evident from one episode to the next as an undercurrent of varied personalities threatens to pull the weary astray. Meanwhile, listeners are treated to the intrigue, excitement, and innovation provided by the courageous few who hope to prepare us for the day we finally blast off. [Becca James]


The Katchup
Sneaking Into Disneyland Headquarters

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Hosted by Foodbeast co-founders Elie Ayrouth and Geoffrey Kutnick, The Katchup is a “safe place for people to talk about food without all the bullshit.” It’s that straightforward approach that allows for an earnest look at the food industry and its most hardworking members. Take, for example, the subject of this week’s episode: Chef Christina Orejel went from being a dishwasher to running Disneyland’s Central Bakery, which provides 90 percent of Disneyland’s and Disneyland Resort Hotel’s baked goods each day. That’s a massive amount of treats that not only have to taste good but also need to be on-trend and Instagram-ready, like Orejel’s Rose Gold Macarons, filled with strawberry compote and lemon verbena buttercream and shaped in the Minnie Mouse silhouette. The episode taps into the secret society of one of the most recognized brands in the world, as Orejel provides an exceptional account of Disney’s inner workings. [Becca James]


Thirst Aid Kit
The Evolution Of Michael Bae Jordan

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Less than a minute into this episode and the thirst trap is set with a reading of some particularly salacious erotic fiction. The official intro from hosts Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins leaves barely enough time to clutch your pearls before doing a diving headfirst into the appeal of current blockbuster megastar Michael B. Jordan (“the B stands for ‘bae’ in this studio”). But this show isn’t just about singing the praises of certified hotties. Adewunmi and Perkins discuss how pop culture shapes who is considered attractive and the double standard of how men and women are allowed to express lust. They’re also not afraid to examine the flaws in those they drool over and go beyond the surface, or in this case explore Jordan’s acting choices and comments on race, admitting that he can be clumsy in interviews and has some growing up to do. That being said, they spend a good chunk of the episode watching scenes of Jordan working out in Creed while uttering things like, “Oh my god, I feel pregnant.” With the way these two talk about the objects of their desire, if you’re not already obsessed with each episode’s bae, by the end of the show you will be. [Brianna Wellen]