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.
Anna Faris Is Unqualified
Jason Mantzoukas is one of the most beloved names in the comedy podcasting world, so it’s no surprise that he’s zany, and at times hilariously inappropriate, on Anna Faris’ relationship advice show. But what many might not expect is how compelling and sincere he is with callers. Other interview-based podcasts have delved beyond Mantzoukas’ outrageous comedic persona, but this episode completely exposes how compassionate, authentic, and wise he truly is. Rather than making jokes at the callers’ expense—save for the occasional bra cup size riff—Mantzoukas takes each advice seeker seriously, and it’s evident he cares about helping them. Together, and eager to offer wisdom, Faris and Mantzoukas address tricky situations about unsupportive best friends and parents. Mantzoukas’ charm takes over the show, as listeners quickly discover he is just as magnetic when he’s being genuine as he is on a purely comedic level.
This week Blank Check’s Griffin Newman and David Sims continue their shift from the notorious M. Night Shyamalan to their venture into the oeuvre of the Wachowskis. In episode two of the miniseries—aptly titled The Podchowski Casters—excitement is high, because they’re taking on The Matrix. In a community where “bad movie” podcasts flood the internet, it’s insanely refreshing to hear two guys absolutely laud the hell out of a movie, especially one so deserving and universally known. It’s relatable and endlessly fun to listen to, as Newman and Sims get passionate about the film’s sheer perfection, every exclamation of praise tinged with nostalgia. The hosts talk about the film’s immense cultural impact, the best one-scene performance from Gloria Foster as The Oracle, the casting, and how damn handsome Keanu Reeves is. It’s like falling into a 1999 time warp with your friends, if your friends happened to have an encyclopedic knowledge of film. Newman and Sims are able to simultaneously feel endearingly familiar, while still maintaining their status as true movie buffs with consistently impressive expertise. It’s a delicate balance, and they master it.
Chapo Trap House
The Prince And The Egg: An Anil Dash Adventure
It’s not a matter of whether the hosts of a new podcast will have a period of marked self-consciousness in their hosting, but rather of exactly how long that period will last. The Chapo Trap House crew isn’t an exception—though, in their case, an unabashedly amateur approach ended up being an asset—but that period seems to have mostly passed at this point, resulting in a consistently funny and engaging 80 or so minutes each week. Episodes are still clearly segmented—the seventh one covers, in detail, the recent New York primary, some very strange attempts at propaganda by the Turkish government, and self-aggrandizement under the guise of Prince mourning at the hand of well-known and well-regarded people like Anil Dash—but there’s an unmistakable flow to them as well. Improved sound quality doesn’t hurt, and it also hasn’t at all taken away from the raw energy and urgency that has fueled the show from the get-go.
Death, Sex & Money
Diane Guerrero On Debt And Deportation
As Maritza Ramos on Orange Is The New Black and Lina on Jane The Virgin, Diane Guerrero skillfully brings depth and complexity to characters that could have been written off as secondary. As Guerrero details her life, it’s easy to understand where this depth comes from. Her parents were deported when she was 14, leaving her to take care of herself while hiding the truth of her situation from friends. The stories of financial difficulty and emotional hardship she faced make this a classic episode of Death, Sex & Money. Guerrero cracks jokes about Fannie Mae while opening up about her history of self-mutilation, making the episode at once personal, accessible, and hilarious. While Orange Is The New Black receives a lot of praise for its depiction of diverse subjects on screen, Diane Guerrero reminds us that the casts’ offscreen experiences also speak to realities that are often overlooked. “Hard work doesn’t embarrass me,” she states plainly. After hearing her story, it’ll be exciting to see what she brings to the next season of Orange Is The New Black, returning to Netflix on June 17.
When Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson first discovered Prince, he had to hide the sexual and linguistically adventurous records from his religious parents. By the time he got to know the Purple One, Prince was preaching to him about God. There are a lot of full circle moments like that as Terry Gross navigates through his musical lineage in front of a live audience in Philadelphia. Thompson’s father, the late Lee Andrews was a renowned doo-wop singer, and for a long time there was a mystery as to whether Questlove’s grandfather was gospel singer Beachy Thompson of The Dixie Hummingbirds. It turns out that the Hummingbirds singer was indeed his grandfather. “Musically you’re from this harmony family,” Gross points out. Her genius as an interviewer is her effort to connect the dots and find the big picture. Noting how Thompson’s father didn’t enjoy hip-hop, she asks, “Did your grandfather not like your father’s music?” The Tonight Show band leader answers each question thoroughly with vibrant stories, and by the end even exclaims, “God, this is like therapy!”
Hello, From The Magic Tavern
Hello, From The Magic Tavern carefully questions reality this week, molding a story arc with enrapturing twists and turns. The pivotal episode begins with Dr. Ward, played effortlessly by Chicago improviser Shane Wilson, joining Arnie, Chunt (Adal Rifai), and Usidore (Matt Young) to talk about his job as a clinical psychologist. As Arnie continues to prod and pry, the completely non-mystical Dr. Ward begins to hint that perhaps there is no magical land of Foon and that Arnie has experienced a psychotic break. As the episode switches back and forth between “reality” and Foon, all three improvisers draw parallels between the two worlds, causing delightful and hilarious confusion. In the “real world” they validate details within Foon, using clever wordplay, like “loony ward” and “lunar sword,” or in Chunt’s case, “change shifts” and “shape shifts.” Highlighting each improviser’s talent, the episode furthers Foon’s mythology while maintaining the comedic spirit of the show.
The home-sharing service Airbnb makes it easy for travelers to find inexpensive places to stay in other cities, but as we find out on the latest episode of Hidden Brain, it doesn’t make it easy for everyone, particularly the site’s users of color. Quirtina Crittenden started the hashtag #Airbnbwhileblack to express her frustrations after her requests to book rooms would repeatedly get denied by hosts. She started suspecting she was getting denied because she is African American, so she staged an experiment to see if she would have more luck on the site with the name “Tina” and a photo that didn’t show her face, and she hasn’t had a problem on the site since. Researchers from Harvard Business School who investigated this phenomenon also found that Airbnb was plagued with racial discrimination due to unconscious bias—they think many of the users who discriminate aren’t fully aware they’re doing it. The solution isn’t as simple as removing names and photos, explains the company’s director of diversity and belonging, because it’s an important safety feature of the site, and legal options are scarce for users who have experienced discrimination. Hopefully Crittenden’s hashtag, which gives users a viral platform to share similar experiences, will put more pressure on Airbnb to find a better solution.
Rounding out the Mortified miniseries on secret crushes (which has so far included the vice principal and the janitor, respectively), listeners are treated this week to the lilting brogue and heartwarming diary entries of Layla McKay, a Scottish woman whose mid-’90s teen years were spent ever so slowly coming to the conclusion that she just might be a lesbian. At London’s Leicester Square Theatre, McKay reads entries that teem with cautionary doubt: “18 June ’95: A great deal of my life is about admiring and idolizing other people—always female, because I can relate to females.” The way she’s always quick to qualify her attraction to women and couch her crushes in mere “admiration” is, in retrospect, bittersweet. The attitudes surrounding homosexuality in 1996 so thoroughly permeate the pages of her private diary even as she giddily struggles to contain her love of the unattainable Elizabeth. And in a rare moment for this podcast, the “postmortem(fied)” interview segment might actually surpass the stage show portion. Twenty years of perspective make McKay’s story even more endearing as she recalls coming out to her family and the jumble of doubt, anger, and acceptance that followed.
My Brother, My Brother And Me
The Three Hundredth One
It’s the end of Volume One of the My Brother My Brother and Me journey, and what better a way to celebrate the McElroy’s 300 episodes than to answer questions about magic tricks, hot tub invitations, and what pilots dream about. The episode begins with Justin McElroy singing “Send In The Clowns” in its entirety, ignoring Griffin McElroy and Travis McElroy as they complain about his voice, which feels like the perfect way to start an episode that celebrates the wonderful silliness of the show. Sprinkled throughout the episode are clips from past Guestperts and friends of the show like Bill Corbett, Cameron Esposito, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, jokingly thanking the brothers for the immense impact they’ve had on their lives and careers. The episode honors all that the fans have been drawn to for the last six years, ending with a surprisingly moving compilation of clips from listeners talking about how their lives have changed since they started listening to the show. It’s a sincere reminder of how a show about three goofball brothers can create a beautiful community of people around the world, all laughing together.
Fans of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! would not be shocked to learn that its host, Peter Sagal, is a nerd. It’s actually part of his charm. That understanding, however, might not fully prepare them for the experience of hearing him luxuriate in his nerdiness while discussing the latest episodes of HBO’s Game Of Thrones with regular Nerdette co-hosts Greta Johnsen and Tricia Bobeda. While Johnsen is a self-described “reticent” viewer of the violent, nudity-heavy fantasy show, the other two are clearly huge fans of both the show and books. Sagal, in particular, is gleefully geeked at the opportunity to indulge every week in the sort of pedantry that only true devotees can muster. There is no shortage of podcast options for GOT recaps and reviews, but this one stands out as being especially inviting to newcomers to this genre of post-game discussion—all three participants are trained NPR voice talents and know how to keep the conversation, however dorky, zipping along. This week, they devote a decent amount of time to the question of just how shocking the season premiere’s shocking ending actually was before spending some time discussing who is not the Donald Trump of Westeros.
The One With Lawrence Kasdan
It’s astounding to consider the fact that the guy who wrote modest and thoughtful adult-themed films like The Big Chill and Body Heat is the same guy that wrote Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, two critical and financial mega-successes that helped define the modern definition of blockbuster. What’s even crazier is that now, three decades later, he’s a creative force behind some of the biggest movies of all time, The Force Awakens and the as-yet-untitled Han Solo prequel. You would think that a writer with those kinds of bona fides would talk about his craft with at least the level of self-satisfied assurance projected by your average artisanal cheesemaker. However, in this hour-plus live conversation with Scriptnotes hosts John August and Craig Mazin—two accomplished screenwriters themselves—he comes off about as modest as possible while recalling what it’s like to write a Star Wars movie with J.J. Abrams as they ambled through the streets of Paris. Whether the listener is a struggling filmmaker or simply a fan of cinema, there are plenty of valuable nuggets to be mined from this casual collection of anecdotes and advice.
This American Life
In Defense Of Ignorance
Ira Glass has a head cold. A bad one, from the sound of it. Barely recognizable without his typical high, crisp register, our host trudges into work nonetheless, congestion be damned, to do his job “like an adult,” he throatily asserts. This entire episode highlights the occasional bliss to be found in ignorance, and is infused with the same conviction Ira has: Although an obstacle in our lives might seem less than ideal, simply handling it is the only choice we’re left with. For example, Lulu Wang beautifully recounts in act one how her terminally ill grandmother wasn’t told her prognosis, a means of protecting the matriarch from any undue stress. The family’s efforts to bear this grief themselves—to keep Wang’s grandmother in the dark, really—are the most loving gestures they know to perform. Conversely, the final act depicts various people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) discussing their struggles with an acute inability to be ignorant, unable to forget painful memories as quickly as others can. But as Ira’s hoarse voice reminds us, the sum total of what we know, remember, and deal with isn’t always ours to decide.
“Morpheus is sitting in a chair, right, like a comfy sort of armchair. Now, that might sound like an inactive choice. ‘Oh, boring, sitting in a chair, that’s a lazy man’s position. This guy is sitting the shit out of that chair… he sits so fucking hard in this film.”—Griffin Newman on Morpheus in The Matrix, Blank Check
“I kept on musing that maybe I’m just making this up. You know, maybe I’m being a bit of an attention-seeker, even though I’ve not actioned it yet. Maybe I’m preparing to be an attention-seeker. Is this definitely real? Is it just some silly thought I’ve had?”—Layla McKay on trying to pin down her sexuality as a teenager, Mortified
“Denial usually gets a bad rap. Compartmentalizing your feelings, keeping it all inside, pretending things never happened—these are not signs of psychological health. What they’re signs of is adulthood. If you do those things, basically, you’re an adult. Because being an adult means sucking it up. Getting on with it. Going to work even if you have a cold—because you’re an adult. You do your job. I’m not complaining. In fact, today’s entire show is a defense of not thinking about it, of not knowing. A defense, in short, of ignorance.”—Ira Glass on denial, This American Life