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.
It can be argued that Antonin Scalia’s death will be remembered as the most consequential political passing in several decades. Two weeks have now elapsed since the 79-year-old Supreme Court Justice died in his sleep while on a hunting trip, but the details and repercussions of his death continue to dominate national headlines and will likely play a major role in the upcoming presidential general election. So, because Scalia’s presence isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it’s worth the effort to look back on his life and his career and try to discern how much the Ronald Reagan appointee’s Constitutional originalism has impacted the country. On this episode of Slate’s SCOTUS-centric podcast, host Dahlia Lithwick talks first to legal scholar Akhil Reed Amar about just how closely the justice adhered to his legal philosophy when it interfered with his political ideologies, and later to NYU Law professor Rachel Barkow, a self-described Democrat who clerked for Scalia in the late-’90s and has nothing but positive experiences to show for it. As the battle for soul of the Supreme Court is sure to be a major talking point for at least the next year, this entertaining and informative podcast will likely get added to more and more personal playlists.
Phil Matarese And Mike Luciano
On Beginnings, host Andy Beckerman explores the creative origins of different writers and performers, examining the way their artistic life has unfolded and how it connects to what they do now. On the latest episode, Beckerman chats with Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano, the charming creators of the fantastic new HBO show Animals. The two are extremely laid back and easy to listen to, likable and honest throughout. Beckerman’s interviewing style is poignant and refreshing, as he asks questions about the first time they felt something greater than themselves existed, or the first time they experienced absurdity. His questions aren’t predictable or cliché, and they allow the guests to dig around in the memory of their childhoods and discover within the conversation new things about what was important to them then and what is important now. Whether it’s Matarese’s childhood bond with South Park, Luciano’s grandfather who was an opera singer, or both of their passion for punk music, connections are made. Their journeys are relatable, and it’s fun to hear the stories of this young and exciting generation of creatives. Fans of Animals will recognize how their personalities informed the atmosphere of the show, whether it be their music choices, aesthetic choices, or their voices.
Of all the entertainers to guest on Box Angeles, Echo Kellum has a journey to success that feels the most all-encompassing. Raised in Chicago, he started out in the city’s enormous yet still under-the-radar theatre scene before moving to Los Angeles and eventually landing the role of Mr. Terrific on the CW’s Arrow. But that came after years of toiling away at the working-actor grind, and Kellum credits his success to a variety of factors rather than just a single method or big break. Best of all, he looks back on all of this with a lack of pretension and zero hippy-dippiness. When he talks about mediation, it sounds private and practical. When he muses on his improv training, it’s with humility and admiration. And when he credits a large part of his career to right-place, right-time happenstance, it’s not as much of a humble-brag as it is an actual brag, and that somehow makes it more humble. Then again, none of this should be a surprise. This is Box Angeles, after all, and despite its successful flirtations with more famous figures such as Scott Aukerman, it continues to stand out for its showbiz pragmatism as opposed to any kind of shallow Hollywood glad-handing.
Election: Paul Rust
When Tom Perrotta wrote the novel Election in the mid-’90s, he drew inspiration from the relatively recent 1992 three-way presidential contest between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ross Perot. What neither he, nor filmmaker Alexander Payne who adapted the social satire for the screen in 1999, could have guessed was to what degree it would presage the political and electoral chaos of the 21st century. The book and film were both written prior to the calm before the Monica Lewinsky scandal storm that would lead to Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial and a tight presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush that was ultimately and controversially decided by the Supreme Court. As The Canon’s hosts Amy Nicholson and Devin Faraci joke with their guest Paul Rust (of Netflix’s new series Love), had Payne’s film come out a just a few years later, audiences would have rolled their eyes at how on-the-nose the absurdity of the narrative was. Over the course of the irreverent and conversational episode, many interesting points are made about what this film reveals about our political system and why any formidable female candidate is inevitably compared to Reese Witherspoon’s memorable portrayal of female lead Tracy Flick.
Return Of The Mac
Shane McMahon’s breathtaking return to Monday Night Raw last week to interrupt the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy Of Excellence Award ceremony didn’t just make that show better. The entire pro wrestling podcast world—even Stone Cold Steve Austin—took that energy and marked out in hugely enjoyable recaps. David Shoemaker smartly takes charge in the beginning to give their listeners a crash course on Shane-o’s history both on and off camera, from his legendary leaps of faith off the Titantron to his innovative ideas about online streaming that went so unheard by his father that he moved to China in frustration. Peter Rosenberg, too, is more engaged than he’s been since winning Podmass’ Most Improved Award, as evidenced by how he doesn’t once stop to play an unrelated theme song. They resist the urge to fantasy book the upcoming Hell In A Cell match too much, though their argument about the potential ramifications run the gamut of possibilities for the springtime Wrestlemania fallout. Art seemed to imitate life in the latest McMahon family drama, and Cheap Heat showed they’re at their best when appraising the right pieces.
Wendy’s: Paul Rust
There are absolutely perfect pairings of podcasts and guests, and then there is Paul Rust on Doughboys. At this point, the dynamic of hosts Mike Mitchell and Nick Wiger is strong enough that every episode feels like roughly the same mix of earnestness, silliness, and ungentle ribbing. But with Rust on hand, that dynamic becomes perfectly crystalized, and over the course of the episode, the earnestness, silliness, and ribbing all ascend to brand new heights—and suddenly there’s the best episode of Doughboys to date. The fact that he’s also genuinely passionate about fast food—and Wendy’s in particular—means he and the ’boys are a match made somewhere that’s better than heaven. And while the ratings segment helps make the episode extra satisfying, it’s hard not to wish that Rust could be a permanent third chair on the show, if only he wasn’t so busy being the incredibly successful comedy writer/actor/producer/etc. that he so rightly deserves to be.
At the intersection of food, science, and history, Gastropod is hosted by award-winning journalist Cynthia Graber and author Nicola Twilley. On this week’s show, Graber and Twilley discuss the science behind humans learning how to eat and the hidden history behind baby formula.Gastropod’s first-ever return guest Bee Wilson tackles the former, expanding on the research in her new book to explain the best time to introduce foods to a child’s diet—children are most receptive to new tastes, she says, between the ages of four and seven months, despite parallel wisdom saying that babies should be breastfed for the first six months of their lives. In fact, when most parents begin introducing a variety of flavors at around 18 months, children are actually at their least receptive. In addition, University Of York professor Annie Gray explains how baby formula came to be through a bizarre combination of convenience, the sexualization of women’s breasts, and American nationalism that exploded in the post-World War I advances in technology. Gastropod is a rare science show that actually has answers for every question it poses, an important quality for a topic as ubiquitous as food.
How Did This Get Made?
Teen Witch: Deanna Cheng
The 1980s are a decade ripe for How Did This Get Made? fodder because it was a time before the idea of a so-bad-its-good movie really caught fire the way it has in recent years. There’s a sincerity to the films that makes the ridiculous moments feel more nostalgic than over-the-top. Perhaps that’s why the HDTGM? gang, Jason Mantzoukas in particular, can look back fondly on Teen Witch in this episode despite the unusual occurrence of dance numbers, the faulty logic behind the actual witchcraft, and the film’s complete lack of a moral center. Hosts Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, and June Diane Raphael are joined by Raphael’s sister and host of the OMFG podcast, Deanna Cheng, to talk about the impact Louise the witch (or, as Scheer refers to her, Luis Guzman) had on their young lives. As usual, the discussion is lively, but filled with more affection than the snark of other episodes, and genuine praise for the talents of Joshua Miller, who plays Louise’s little brother Richie (and incidentally was the writer of the recent horror-comedy The Final Girls). In the words of Teen Witch’s infamous rap, “You can do all that you can but you’ll never top that, top that.”
How It Got In Your Mouth
Food anthropologists Katherine Spiers and Erin Mosbaugh have only recently entered the world of food podcasting with How It Got In Your Mouth, and their easy chemistry and relatively quick episodes are already making waves. Each week, Spiers and Mosbaugh focus on a different and usually common dish from the cheeseburger to the chicken and waffles combo to the unassuming tater tot—or rather the spud puppy, as Spiers and Mosbaugh explain that the phrase “tater tot” is trademarked by its innovator, the Ore-Ida company. Perhaps most surprising is the hosts’ recounting of conversations with restauranteurs who explained to them that the conspicuous absence of tater tots on most menus is because, as they put it, “It takes like 90 minutes to make four tots.” Still, Mosbaugh says that Americans eat 70 million pounds of potatoes per year, and Spiers posits that statistic may be thanks to the reach and influence of the potato lobby that once successfully argued for unlimited tater tots in school lunches long before pizza became a vegetable.
Kevin Pollak's Chat Show
On this weeks Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, character actor extraordinaire Clint Howard stopped by to chat about his life and career. Howard delves into his childhood, recounting growing up in a family of actors—his parents Rance and Jean Speegle moved Clint and his older brother Ron out west from the East Coast because an agent suggested to his dad that that’s where the work was—and how he made his way into the biz himself. Howard recalls working with Red Skelton at a very young age as well “drinking tranya” as Balok on the Corbomite Maneuver episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. The actor shares a few tales from working on his first theatrical starring role in 1981’s cult-classic Evilspeak. Howard recalls working closely with director Eric Weston and cinematographer Irv Goodnoff on the film, even pulling his first 24-hour day. Howard also reveals that he may have lost his virginity while working on the film. He also shares a story about Eddie Murphy telling the actor how much he loved Gentle Ben growing up while at a Hollywood party in the ’80s. Along the way the actor offers a look into his newfound enthusiasm for building snow globes.
Oh No Ross And Carrie
Ross And Carrie Audit Scientology (Part 2): We Stand Tall
Following up on the groundwork from last month’s episode, Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy return with more good news from the front. Blocher begins by going more in-depth into the various courses and seminars he continued to be hastily signed up for and eventually receives his first certificate announcing that Ross Blocker [sic] has successfully completed the Personal Efficiency Seminar. Blocher shines explaining the surreal Scientology texts with their pedantic, David Foster Wallace-style footnotes defining simple things like “dispensable” and “take a walk” to replace them with buzzwords from L. Ron Hubbard. Meanwhile, Poppy’s boyfriend Drew was thankfully game to accompany her, albeit underdressed, to a black tie New Year’s gathering. The capacity crowd was there mostly to film a propaganda video with the chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center himself, David Miscavige. As they sat through a few performances of ’90s hits like Jesus Jones’ “Right Here, Right Now” and sang the Scientology theme song, “We Stand Tall,” together, Poppy counted at least 27 standing ovations in the three hour taping—including one “to the very idea of banjos.” The one message Blocher and Poppy always take pains to impart is the overwhelming sincerity of their subjects, and Scientology might be chief among them.
If you’re a person with the internet, you probably saw the video that went viral last year of a rat carrying an entire slice of pizza down the stairs to a New York City subway. It was an amazing moment that seemed too good to be true. This week’s episode Reply All asks: Was pizza rat too good to be true? Alex Goldman interviews NYC-based actor Eric Yearwood, who received an email from a mysterious person named Zardulu asking him to help fake a similar video—that video, known as “selfie rat,” also ended up going viral. But what kind of person would spend so much time faking viral rat videos? And why? The more Goldman talks to Yearwood, the more it seems like Zardulu—who said selfie rat is just one piece of a series of illusions she plans to unleash across New York City—could be responsible for almost any strange thing happening in the city, including the pizza rat video. At the very least, the story of Zardulu certainly has Goldman thinking twice when he sees something strange on the subway.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
The Crayola Crayon Story
Self-conscious about the grim anecdotes they have unleashed in recent episodes (the Vanport Flood, the Schoolhouse Blizzard), Holly Frey and Tracy V. Wilson vow to charm listeners with the origin story of Crayola crayons. Crayola giants Joseph Binney and C. Harold Smith wandered somewhat incidentally into crayon production along a path cluttered with professional success. They first proved capable of producing bold pigments on an industrial scale: Their iron-oxide-tinted red paint was a ubiquitous shade on Northeast barns throughout the late 19th century, and automakers craved their patented carbon black for car tires. The duo’s slate factory similarly improved upon pencils, and led to their award-winning invention of dustless chalk for classrooms. But the rise of the kindergarten movement ultimately rolled out the red carpet for an inexpensive creative tool for children. Smith and Binney capitalized on this by dying liquid paraffin with vibrant, child-safe pigments, though their first customer wasn’t schools but the U.S. government, who shipped the crayons to Native American reservations. This meandering history is arguably more captivating than one “eureka” moment. Instead, innovations sprouted one out of the other like matryoshka dolls, culminating in perhaps the most brilliant creation of all: the built-in sharpener on the box.
William Friedkin comes from a school of directing that’s becoming rarer and rarer these days—a Hollywood that produces hard-living, uncompromising, unstable, often difficult auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah, and himself. That kind of hyperbole, while more than earned, can also lead to fury and self-righteousness when it comes to the talent and question, and had Marc Maron interviewed Friedkin 40 years ago, perhaps that would have been the acclaimed raconteur’s demeanor. But it’s 2016, and Friedkin, who turned 80 last year, has a gentle nature about him these days, even has he doggedly sticks to his often bleak cinematic vision. This makes for a conversation that’s convivial while still cementing his status as a maverick. Some of Friedkin’s views—like his love of digital cameras over film—separate him from his 35mm-loving peers, and others—like his recollections of putting everyone in danger during The French Connection’s iconic car chase—are exactly the kind of gritty tales that you’d expect from Tinseltown in the 1970s. And that’s only a fraction of what he and Maron touch upon throughout the two-and-a-half hour discussion, their talk ending on a heady exploration of Jesus that goes far beyond The Exorcist. Cinephiles will come for the movies, but stay for the religion. After all, filmmaking’s a religion, too.
Yo, Is This Racist?
Miles Davis Vs Kanye West: Langston Kerman
Yo, Is This Racist? is the smart daily podcast in which host Andrew Ti tackles the social dilemmas of callers who just want to know, “is this racist?” This episode, Ti and comedian Langston Kerman answer a question from a white caller who felt uncomfortable when her boyfriend (also white) compared the Miles Davis and Kanye West and opined that Davis had a more important contribution to the culture as a whole. The comparison is not surprising; both have been in the news because of the new biopic, Miles Ahead, which Don Cheadle directed and stars in as the famous trumpet player who created havoc among critics with experimental albums like Bitches Brew, and West’s new record The Life Of Pablo had its own mini controversy over his use of the word “bitch” in his lyrics. Ti and Kerman use humor as they explore the concept of cultural appropriation. Ti points out that the jazz essentially become “white music” by today’s standards and both he and Kerman express their discomfort with white dudes who act as an authority on hip-hop. The consensus between the hosts seems to be that it’s okay to know the facts, but one must be careful when assuming to know the impact that an artist has on a culture and community you’re not a member of.
“It’s a full arena pop. And it’s not a basketball arena, it’s a football arena. It sounds like Wrestlemania, when it’s a gigantic pop at the beginning and then it crests and ebbs just a tiny bit and it just keeps going in waves because the entire room is coming to this realization in shifts, right? You pop because the person next to you is popping, then you’re just, like, ‘Holy crap, this thing is happening right in front of my eyes.’ It’s a whole arena going through ecstasy in different ways at different times.”—David Shoemaker on the crowd reaction to Shane McMahon’s return to Monday Night Raw, Cheap Heat
“In Scientology, another word for reality is havingness. Sure. Let’s just have another word for that.”—Ross Blocher on Scientology jargon, Oh No Ross And Carrie
“Our breasts are perky, our baby food is smooth. Who needs an A-bomb when you have that combination?”—Nicola Twilley on the patriotic origins of baby formula, Gastropod
“I understand the libretto, but I may not be able to order a ham sandwich.”—William Friedkin on opera and his Italian-speaking skills,WTF