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.
I would never, ever argue with Devin Faraci or Amy Nicholson. As film critics for Badass Digest and L.A. Weekly, respectively, it’s Faraci and Nicholson’s job to be opinionated. But it’s rare that you’ll find a pair as stubborn and combative as these two. Of course, this is exactly what makes a podcast centered around them so much fun. The Canon, a brand new podcast from Wolfpop, is ostensibly a discussion about whether revered modern films deserve, in Faraci’s words, “to endure forever.” What the podcast truly is, however, is a chance to hear these two duke it out. Like Rocky and Apollo, there’s clearly a deep respect between the duo, but that doesn’t mean they pull punches in this “discussion” of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Faraci loves it, Nicholson doesn’t, and each aggressively exploits every chink in the armor of their opponent to make their points. At its best, The Canon offers thought-provoking arguments both in favor of and against “untouchable” films; at its worst, it’s a couple of hotheads trolling each other, such as when Nicholson takes issue with Henry Hill’s interest in cooking. In the end, they call upon the fans to settle the score, but that feels unnecessary. As with Goodfellas itself, The Canon is about the journey, not the destination.
Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period
Wolfpop, the new podcast network from Earwolf, brings some interesting players to the scene like Leonard Maltin, Susan Orlean, and even Sylvester Stallone. Perhaps no two voices are more necessary, though, than W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery, hosts of Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period. Bell, late of the subversive FXX show Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell, along with Avery, a writer for the equally subversive Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, bring a dose of black perspective otherwise absent from the celebrity podcast scene. The episode focuses on Washington’s most recent film, The Equalizer, which the hosts see as Washington’s attempt to break into the lucrative world of “old man action franchises“ otherwise ruled by Liam Neeson. Bell dives deep on the stigma surrounding being a black man and leaving a movie before it has ended, though he is simply fulfilling familial responsibilities. Washington’s use of Craigslist to open the door for potential sequels sends the hosts reminiscing on their regrettable days using the site for dating purposes. A system for ranking the ‘Denzelishness’ quotient is introduced, on account of Washington being among the ranks of actors, like Robert De Niro, whose outsize personalities overshadow those of their characters. With the system still in development, the hosts call on their new listeners, the delightfully named ‘Denzealots’ to help out.
The Flop House
300: Rise Of An Empire
Last month was Shocktober, and before that was the inaugural Smallvember/Smalltember. Where do The Original Peaches go from there? It’s hard to imagine them going up, and they don’t exactly, but they hardly go down either. Instead the episode—covering 300: Rise Of An Empire—is like a reasonably sized portion of comfort food to get fans through the haze of their post-theme-month hangover. This is especially true in light of particular show-centric tangents like one on The Noid and the avoidance thereof, one involving an old-time gold prospector from ancient Greece, and another that’s quite literally just the hosts singing the theme songs of various sitcoms. The Peaches have done better before and The Peaches will do better again, but their baseline of quality remains so high that even this slightly lesser episode is strong enough to hold up to repeat listens.
I Was There Too
There Will Be Blood With Paul F. Tompkins
Let’s face it, sometimes we don’t care why our favorite actors started acting. Sometimes we don’t care about their families or personal lives. Sometimes we just want them to talk about that one role, to tell us every detail about what it was like to be around that actor or that director. I Was There Too, a brand new podcast from the Wolfpop network, understands this, and devotes itself to actors, famous or not, who were present during the iconic scenes of our favorite films. “Name dropping is encouraged and bragging is applauded,” says amiable host Matt Gourley, who, in the inaugural episode, invites comedian Paul F. Tompkins to discuss his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in There Will Be Blood. Tompkins admits to feeling like an imposter on set, and offers hilarious insight into just how method Daniel Day-Lewis gets. Some might find the magic of these scenes diminished through such an intimate glimpse at their inner workings. But by speaking to those who operated on the fringes of brilliance, Gourley is able to tap into the genesis of that brilliance, the moments of spontaneity and flat-out luck that resulted in some of cinema’s greatest scenes. That, and stories about the funny sounds Daniel Day-Lewis makes between takes.
Nate Corddry Presents: Reading Aloud
Aimee Mann, Brian Stack, Steven Weber
Bookworms, rejoice! It’s launch week for Paul Scheer’s new Wolfpop podcast network and Nate Corddry (Childrens Hospital, Mom) hosts what’s being billed as a “literary variety show,” an outlet to present live readings, interviews where people talk about books, and any other opportunities to generally appreciate the written word aloud. The first segment is Brian Stack reading/performing Simon Rich’s “Guy Walks Into A Bar” live at Upright Citizens Brigade Los Angeles, and it’s an amusing little story where the crowd is certainly appreciative. The middle portion of the episode presents a lengthy interview with musician Aimee Mann, who is a game participant and digs into her love of reading, her inability to retain book titles, why e-readers just don’t work for her, and the madness that sets in during a grueling tour schedule. But the real reason to tune for this premiere episode is to hear Steven Weber’s amazing rendition of a heart-wrenching yet beautiful letter written by Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) following the 1984 death of his son. If Corddry can continue to walk this tightrope, presenting a variety of content with one running thread—reading the written word is a great thing to do—this may be the podcast bookworms have been waiting for. Interested parties can even participate in Reading Aloud‘s book club, whose November pick is John Darnielle’s Wolf In White Van.
No Such Thing As A Fish
No Such Thing As A Clairvoyant Chicken
The first ever No Such Thing As A Fish Halloween Special is full of delightfully spooky research topics to unravel, and is still a great listen some time later due to Halloween traditions having exceptionally strange origins. The holiday itself was once on the much less spooky May 12th, for instance, because it came before All Saints Day and that holiday did not stay in one place. But in addition to the research the chemistry on the podcast is truly starting to bloom. While it holds a lot in common with the fantastic American podcast Stuff You Missed In History Class, No Such Thing As A Fish is capitalizing heavily on its recent live show in a pub. The hosts are much quicker to dig into each other’s theories and opinions than they were only a few months ago when their podcast started. Anna Ptaszynski doesn’t just introduce a story about Kesha and her habit of having sex with ghosts, she teases her cohosts with the question of whether everyone knows who she is, so by the time she’s read her Kesha ghost sex tidbit her cohosts are ready to go with riffs about mythological succubi. Stories about bobbing for apples as a way of selecting a spouse are also delightful, and perhaps most entertaining is the fact that witches once had the tradition of using the end of a broomstick to apply hallucinogenics anally, hence “flying on broomsticks.” The dark facts combined with the funnier than ever pacing make this a heck of an installment.
Off The Cuff: Andrea Martin
There’s a lot more discussion of Andrea Martin’s breasts, and her willingness to show them off, in this interview for #Pretapodcasts than you’d probably expect. The comedy legend and current Broadway star sat down with host Jessie Katz to promote her new comedic memoir, Lady Parts—though, the Steve Martin-suggested Perky Tits was apparently its working title—but that’s really just a jumping off point for Martin to explain the roundabout manner in which a shiksa from Maine became a cast member on the seminal Canadian sketch show SCTV and how she feels about the four-decade career that followed. A notable highlight of the half-hour conversation comes when Martin reveals her longtime struggle with bulimia and how it was helped along by a seemingly “glamorous” weight-loss tip from fellow comedian Gilda Radner. Martin seems good-natured and grounded as she talks to Katz, which gives the interview a comfortable conversation quality.
It’s not often that Radiolab dabbles in the supernatural, but for Halloween they put out a short episode with enough ghosts to last the program years. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich set the stage a little skeptically, ensuring a good ghost story is just around the corner. Instead, Matthew Kiely brings in Dennis Conrow, a friend of his who had a tough time adjusting to his 20s, with a somber story. The story builds slowly as Conrow moves home after college and ends up staying for a decade. Just around that time, his mom falls ill and dies and his father follows suit not long after. Things get odd when Conrow suspects his house is haunted. Through a very emotional segment, Conrow ends up in a bedroom speaking to three flashlights, supposedly being influenced by his parents’ ghosts. Radiolab is careful not to side too hard with the emotional pull, and after the story ends Radiolab sets out to explain the flashlight phenomenon, which of course has an explanation. The greatest part about this episode though, is that it does not condemn Conrow for believing in the moment. What Conrow went through wouldn’t have been possible with just hard science.
Finally tackling the disease that has dominated the news all year, Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin have plenty to say about it. Most importantly they want to pull apart the panic that is developing and as a podcast whose introduction warns listeners not to treat the show like WebMD, there is probably no more fun and educational place to look for information on ebola. Both hosts admit they attempted to avoid this topic, because the podcast is more about historical diseases, allowing room for jokes without hurting anyone by being too dismissive. But by explaining away their concerns they also reveal their strengths. Joking that she was once a “fan” of these types of fevers, Dr. Sydnee decided to be a doctor at age 12 after reading The Hot Zone which dramatized the real stories of Ebola’s origins. And as scary as it is, it represents one specific strain called the Zaire strain, and though the two mock the dark seriousness of the disease (and as an intelligent doctor with compassion one of them is uniquely qualified to joke about it) they also debunk how airborne it is, how relatively new the deadliest current strain in West Africa is, and how it came to spread so quickly in local villages. Their ability to be smart and assuage listeners on this topic should indeed win the two hosts some kind of award. The episode sounds a bit like the news reports most Westerners wish they were getting.
Piecing Together The Puzzle Of Insect Evolution
In order to solve the mysteries of insect origins on Earth, a team of scientists hunkered down and analyzed 144 species to determine how bugs learned to fly and why they are shaped the way they are. Guest and assistant curator of the California Academy Of Sciences Michelle Trautwein starts off with some quick recaps of how arthropods work- crustaceans are related to dragonflies, which is worth noting- then quickly dives into the deep end of this massive new evolutionary study that has changed the way we think of insects forever. Wings for instance developed about 400 million years ago appeared right at the same time as plants. Nothing else was in the air at the time, no birds, no flying reptiles. They effectively took over the air. So in a classic “was it the chicken or the egg” scenario it turns out plants and insects collaborated in drawing all of life up and away from the flattened surface of the Earth. Though she was a part of a huge scientific team, Trautwein is a particularly personable and expressive guest, keeping everything seeming raw and chatty. And as the episode revels new and crazier links between insects she seems like the ideal person to be describing them.
Scientists Sniff Smelly Comet
A study of Comet 67P/C-G has turned up the surprising data that the comet has overwhelming odors including sulfur, almonds, and rotten eggs. Basically, it smells like a horse stable. The molecules, analyzed by ROSINA scientists in Bern, Switzerland from both samples on hand as well as ones still in space, give off billion-year-old scents older than any volcano, as old as our solar system. And as gross as the smells sound it’s stunning to believe their raw odor is older than anything in our galactic neighborhood. Special guest Kathrin Altwegg of the Bern lab points out that 67P/C-G in particular contains more than the usual amount of sulfur (the source of the horrible egg scent) and that it is an interesting subject to search for organic material. Altwegg comes short of suggesting that comets are what delivered the first sulfur to Earth, but is quick to express her delight in how smelly the comet really is. Apparently it swings a far distance from our sun to be so rich in chemistry. The probe her lab is sending is also remarkable in that it anchors itself to the comet with a harpoon to collect data. And the data sounds like it could be extraordinary. The first experiment of its kind, Altwegg hopes there won’t just be sulfur but in fact some surprises that no-one on Earth will expect.
Our criminal justice system acts as though it has the market of guilt and innocence cornered, that a verdict is an absolute. In many ways it has the right of things, yet there exist several stratified layers of judgment beyond the perception of guilt. Serial is a show obsessed with these layers, attempting to divine the factual guilt or innocence of its central persona, Adnan Syed, from the stink of both his perceived and adjudicated statuses. In this week’s episode host Sarah Koenig backs into a situation that just might lead to such an explication. A call from Syed leads Koenig to a case not unlike Syed’s whose wrongful conviction was later overturned by the efforts of Deirdre Enright, a lawyer from the University Of Virginia’s Law School and head of their branch of the Innocence Project. Koenig meets with Enright to discuss the problems surrounding the investigation and trial of Adnan Syed. Eventually Enright decides that she and her students will take a look at the case, find its flaws, should they exist, and possibly move for a retrial. For once, listeners are given several outside opinions on the case, but it should come as little surprise they only add more layers through which to sift.
Stuff You Should Know
Can Nuclear Fusion Reactors Save The World?
Inspired by recent scientific advances in the news, hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant analyze whether we can actually solve the worldwide energy crisis by using nuclear fusion, something we’ve been hustling to create as a race for over 50 years. Perhaps most charmingly, they compare it to building the Pyramids of Giza and boil it down into the idea that what we are truly doing is “creating stars on Earth,” which obviously sounds incredibly dangerous as well, and is. The sun creates enough energy every second to power New York City every 100 years, and we’re more than capable of creating a similar nuclear reaction. The problem is containing, storing, and harnessing it without spending the majority of the energy just trying to make that miniature star in a box happen. And though we can replicate the temperatures at work on the sun, we could never replicate the density. Even if we could, Earth might fold in on itself. But hosts Clark and Bryant never shy from the crazy science at play, constantly using the most friendly and accessible language they can for grand plasma containment problems. If you’ve ever dreamed of solving civilization’s pollution problem or climate change, this is more than worth a listen.
Donald Fagen: Eminent Hipsters
As far as ’70s-era, sardonicism-infused, rock/jazz fusion bands with strong sci-fi influences go, Steely Dan is a rather polarizing one. So, the prospect of hearing one-half of the band’s creative core pontificate on movies and music likely makes a healthy percentage of The Treatment’s potential audience somewhat itchy. But for another equally healthy percentage, it’s the interview for which they’ve spent years been waiting. Donald Fagen—the band’s keyboardist and lead vocalist—has never been a particularly forthcoming guy. In fact, he credits the minute sliver of autobiography that got packed into his first solo album, The Nightfly, as contributing to the anxiety that left him creatively blocked for much of the ’80s. However, the years appear to have mellowed him, and he seems quite comfortable talking to Elvis Mitchell about how he and his writing partner Walter Becker made the leap from semi-professional songwriters to classic rock radio station mainstays. One of the best chunks of conversation comes in the show’s latter half, as Fagen describes the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-quality of his childhood in suburban New Jersey and how it informed musical sensibilities.
“My fact this week is that witches used broomsticks to put hallucinogenic drugs up their bums.
“[Long pause.] What?!”—Dan Schreiber and James Harkin lament the real life origins of the witch myth, No Such Thing As A Fish
“It’s so cellular. Creativity is just what I’ve done. It just feels like brushing my teeth, and if I didn’t brush my teeth, I’d feel gross all day, and if I didn’t have a place to create, I would feel that I was living.”—Andrea Martin, #Pretapodcasts
“This thing is going to cost approximately fifty billion dollars when its completed. They started in 1993, they’re hoping to turn on the switch in 2020, but it’s looking like 2023 or 2024. And it won’t be starting to produce anything until the 2040s at the earliest.”
“So… what’s the point?”—Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant ramping up to the ridiculous payoff that would be involved in harnessing nuclear fusion for the first time, Stuff You Should Know
“We were looking for some kind of authenticity and looked elsewhere… I found it in jazz and science fiction.”—Donald Fagen on the urge to rebel against his suburban upbringing, The Treatment