Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
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PodmassPodmassIn 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.

Bad Gays

In gay history, little is known about the heroes but practically nothing is known about the villains. Each week, in an attempt to bring a more holistic view to this history, hosts Huw Lemmey (writer and novelist) and Ben Miller (writer, historian, and board member of the Gay Museum in Berlin) profile a different bad gay from history. This week, they explore the life of Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas (aka Bosie). Bosie is best known as Oscar Wilde’s lover who left him in ruin, but he gets cemented as a bad gay for becoming an anti-Semite and personifying “evil twink energy.” Outside the turbulent love between the two poets, Lemmey and Miller provide historical context, including what was happening in the world throughout Bosie’s life and the cultural perceptions that plagued the lives of gay men at the time. If listeners are fans of historical podcasts such as Behind The Bastards, Bad Gays is sure to be their next favorite. It has all the charm of a brand-new podcast, and with only two episodes to catch up on so far, now is an excellent time to join in on this journey through queer history. [Nichole Williams]

Broken Record With Malcolm Gladwell, Rick Rubin, And Bruce Headlam
Questlove Part 1 / Questlove Part 2

Questlove is more recently known as the band leader of The Roots on The Tonight Show, but the drummer is also one of the greatest musicians of this age. He takes a stroll down memory lane, recalling the moment his iconic drum style was born, and how he one day hopes to reach the level of discipline Quincy Jones has when it comes to producing. Beyond being one of the best drummers to date, Questlove also has a thriving DJ career, which he discusses with the hosts. One of the best gigs of his life, he says, was a six-hour DJ set he did for the Hamilton Tonys after party in Central Park. However, he used that same set list at a party for Obama’s last night in the White House, and it bombed—which led to Obama giving him one of the best pep talks you’ve ever heard. Beyond that, Questlove recalls how Obama’s eulogy delivered at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina following its mass shooting came to be. Questlove is an open book of stories, knowledge, and musical wisdom, and for almost two hours, he shares it all with the world. [Vannessa Jackson]

Films To Be Buried With With Brett Goldstein
Jameela Jamil

There’s a distinct and prideful pleasure one gets from following a podcast as it comes into its own. The grassroots nature of the medium engenders in listeners a sense of shared ownership. That feeling is all over Films To Be Buried With, a podcast that is almost too lovely for this world. Hosted by British comedian, writer, and actor Brett Goldstein, the show is a sort of fresh spin on This Is Your Life, except celebrity guests suddenly find out that they’ve died and must now examine their life through the lens of cinema, in hilarious and often surprisingly touching fashion. In addition to the show’s winning formula, Goldstein showcases an encyclopedic knowledge of the medium as well as an excellent knack for interviewing. This week’s episode is an absolute corker, featuring a wonderful conversation with The Good Place star Jameela Jamil that is by turns inspirational, raunchy, unexpected, and endearing. Before the pair even begin talking about film, Jamil has revealed what feels like the entirety of herself in a delightfully unabashed manner. It’s a testament to Jamil’s vibrant and fearless personality, as well as the convivial spirit that makes the show such a special production. [Ben Cannon]

Greater Boston
Division Signs

Greater Boston’s strength is in its love of characters, in their complex relationships and messy lives, in the lies they tell under pressure and moments of honesty in the face of strife. Now in its third season, the series follows Red Line, the city that formed on the red line subway after seceding from Boston and is facing upheaval under its new mayor. Citizens who participated in peaceful protest have been exiled from their homes and forced to create a refugee settlement in an abandoned amusement park. “Division Signs” returns to relationships that have languished in pain and healed wounds through Greater Boston’s expertly crafted monologues and beautiful dialogue. Gemma, who feels that she has failed her wife, Charlotte, for a long time, at last breaks down and tells Charlotte how much she means to her, and how Gemma is finally finding herself again through her love for Charlotte. Isabelle admits the secret she carried with her throughout her mayoral campaign to the refugees, her supporters, the people she loves and fights for. This is an episode about truths, often hard ones, featuring performances that will bring tears to listeners’ eyes. [Elena Fernández Collins]

Mission To Zyxx
Down with the Emperor!

Mission To Zyxx returns for a third season with literal fanfare—from a 55-piece orchestra, no less. The fully improvised sci-fi comedy picks up on the boisterous entertainment planet Holowood, with its protagonists abandoned by their own ship (The Bargarian Jade, voiced by a sharp, raspy Moujan Zolfaghari) after her rise to superstardom. Joined by new friend AJ (Winston Noel), a defector from an army of clones called the CLINTs, Zima warrior Pleck Decksetter (Alden Ford) must collect the members of his crew and rally them to return to the Zyxx Quadrant and fight back against Emperor Nermut Bundaloy (who, unfortunately, shares a name with one of the protagonists). It’s a lot of proper nouns to take in, but it’s worth it to hear the cast improv rapid-fire dialogue with clear and infectious delight. The show also boasts impressive sound design; the atmospheric depth and bizarre filters reward a listen with over-ear headphones. Some of Zyxx’s verve comes from its pure absurd energy and abundance of silly voices, but most of it comes from the clear passion of its team. It’s a worthy listen for fans of improv, sci-fi, or both, not least to see where its ambition takes it next. [Jade Matias Bell]

Pod Like A Hole: A Nine Inch Nails And Trent Reznor Podcast
In Conversation with Rob Sheridan

Every episode of Pod Like A Hole finds hosts Marc Alan, Steven Earl, and Eric Monroe coming together to discuss all things Trent Reznor– and Nine Inch Nails–adjacent. Their guest this time around is Rob Sheridan, former art director for the band. Before working with the iconic ’90s industrial rock group, Sheridan was just like the three hosts: a fan. Sheridan ran a NIN fansite called Above The Trees, which caught the eye of Reznor, leading to their collaboration. The podcast’s discussion of ’90s web trends is fascinating, especially considering how that aesthetic has become popular again; for example, the website for this year’s Captain Marvel movie (itself set in the ’90s) uses the same web formatting that was the norm during that era. It also turns out that the now infamous CGI dancing baby (featured on Ally McBeal in 1998) went viral due to Sheridan’s posting it on his site, making it one of the very first viral memes. Their conversation is insightful and covers a variety of topics, including but not limited to Sheridan’s current career in comics as the creator of DC’s High Level. [Jose Nateras]

Pop Culture Happy Hour
Hulu’s Shrill

Six episodes and a few cravings later, on this week’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, Hulu’s new dramedy, Shrill, is met with celebration. The NPR staff praised Shrill star and SNL performer Aidy Bryant, who capably fills the role of Annie Easton, a writer who is hilariously learning to step away from old habits, both professionally and personally. While the Hulu series is filled with plenty of slapstick laughs, it also visits heavier topics like crummy boyfriends and unplanned pregnancies with humor and affection. As Annie examines her situation and self-interests, the audience begins to see her blossom into a truer version of herself. On Shrill, there is no fat shaming allowed—not if Annie can help it. Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts Stephen Thompson and Linda Holmes praise Annie’s arc throughout the series as a “recalibration,” one made possible by Aidy Bryant’s development of the character alongside writers Ali Rushfield and Lindy West, the latter of whose 2016 book is the source material for the show. [Nekala R Alexander]

Meet the coders who hear you yell at Alexa

Prime(d) might just be the only podcast out there specifically dedicated to taking a good, long, sobering look at “how Amazon is changing life as we know it.” This episode explores (starting with a very unsettling robot voice montage) Amazon Echo, Siri, Alexa, and all the other AI “identities” who have been waging a winner-take-all war for our attention—and our personal data. One quarter of American households now have a smart speaker (and in the episode, co-hosts Carolyn Adolph and Joshua McNichols talk to a family who have one in every freaking room). But Adolph and McNichols wade even deeper into the uncanny valley of AI by interviewing some of the “foot soldiers of the wake word war”— the coders who are actually listening in on your convos for “quality assurance” purposes, and confirm that, yeah, they do actually “hear weird stuff” sometimes. In the end, Prime(d) proves that a smart speaker is not your friend, but a tool—and even as a tool, smart speakers like Alexa can sometimes be wrong, and, well, hilariously dumb. But above all else, they’re still creepy. [Amber Cortes]

Saw Something Scary
Jordan Peele’s Us

After a single viewing of Jordan Peele’s latest social horror film, Us, it’s difficult not to pick apart its multiple meanings. It’s dense, layered, and demanding of intense conversation. Luckily, horror fans Jeff Wright and Derik Zoo are exactly the two podcast hosts up for that sort of engagement, and they deliver insight by way of their podcast, Saw Something Scary. After the two dissect Us’ aesthetic details and technicalities—praising the film’s acting, composition, and story—the two hosts dive right into storytelling hot takes, theory debates, Corey Feldman Easter eggs, and Peele’s allusions and homages to other horror films you might’ve not even caught. Multiple Google searches and Reddit threads showcase theories and debates on Us in an echo chamber, but somehow, Wright and Zoo avoid repeating what we’ve already read and stay in their own lane of cohesive conversation. [Kevin Cortez]

Round Robin

Imagine if J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Brandon Sanderson teamed up to produce a single work of fantasy, each author penning a section before passing the manuscript over to the next with no instructions on how to advance. That’s what happened in the 1930s, when an association of British crime writers called The Detection Club released The Floating Admiral. The book was not the first mystery to employ a peculiar round robin format, as host Caroline Crampton painstakingly details all the way back to genre doyen Arthur Conan Doyle. Nor was it the first time this grouping of authors collaborated; that came years earlier, when the brand-new BBC asked for a serialized novel to broadcast as a radio program. But The Floating Detective was the most ambitious round robin project, bringing together 14 different writers working under a strict set of rules imposed by Dorothy Sayers. According to Crampton, who manages to summarize the tome virtually spoiler-free, it remains a fun read whose slipshod ending hangs together just barely, but the real thrill is the contrasting writing styles. [Zach Brooke]

Shweet! A Ladies Guide To Bro Culture
A Beautiful Bird

Comedian Jeena Bloom grew up playing video games and watching action movies like Fight Club and Rocky, and for the most part, she’s still a fan. As a trans-identifying woman, however, Bloom’s perspective on the world of male-oriented pop culture is unique. “For decades, I experienced everything that the male world had to offer, and I was into it. I still am,” she said. “Now that I’ve transitioned and most of my immediate social circle are women or assigned female at birth typically, they don’t have the experience of a lot of those things and they regard them with a certain curiosity.” In this new podcast, Bloom revisits the movies, music, and fandoms that defined “growing up male,” exploring the bro culture canon through a new lens and inviting her guests to experience traditional male culture for the first time. Joined by her younger sibling Carson Hyde and longtime friend Alan Fessenden in this inaugural episode, Bloom looks back at Roadhouse, the 1989 action classic starring Patrick Swayze. The three break down the tired action tropes and ’80s fight choreography, and critique the questionable lessons about masculinity and performing male identity in this “very important man movie.” [Sofia Barrett-Ibarria]

Start With This
Idea to Execution

Welcome To Night Vale is one of the biggest podcast success stories of the past decade, and creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor get behind the mic for the latest series from Night Vale Presents, Start With This. The two writers offer practical advice for finding fulfillment in your creative life, such as not becoming hung up on the idea of natural talent and getting in the habit of constant creation. They reason that by working on several projects, you increase your odds at making something that will strike a chord with an audience. What’s most interesting about Start With This is that Cranor and Fink give you homework every episode and provide a link to an online forum where you can share the results with other listeners. The goal, ultimately, is that by engaging with these episodes and assignments you will end up with a finished creation, whether that’s a podcast or a novel, and the forum is a place you can get feedback and possibly meet collaborators. But the focus at this point is on starting small. Night Vale began as a paragraph about strange lights in the sky above an Arby’s. Get your paragraph down. See where it takes you. [Anthony D. Herrera]

The Monster Hunters
The Scent of Fear

Roy Steel and Lorrimer Chesterfield have one job: to make sure London is safe from werewolves, monsters, and whatever Eldritch horror they face that week. The Monster Hunters, now under the Definitely Human umbrella (producers of beloved shows MarsCorp and The Infinite Bad), takes the listener along as Steel and Chesterfield make their way through blood, guts, and sometimes other unmentionable things to earn their pay, and it’s a delightful comedy that ably mixes horror elements with comedic cues to create a campy and outrageously fun series. The writing uses its 1970s setting to immerse the audience in the universe the hunters evolve in, complete with shady deals, unhelpful clients, and life-threatening situations—all set against the kitschy backdrop of the time period. This series is a love letter to the British horror genre and a must-listen for anyone who likes adventure fiction. [Alma Roda-Gil]

Whistlestop With John Dickerson
The Making of the American Presidency (Part 4)

With the nation on the brink of another 18-month election season, the American public is, once again, forced to ask themselves what exactly they want out of a president. That question can mean different things depending on your particular political philosophy or personal circumstances, but it was never more pressing than at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Over the last two months, CBS News’ John Dickerson has been delving into that formative meeting that took place during a sweltering summer in Philadelphia where the Founding Fathers outlined the particulars of the three branches of government, including the ambiguously defined executive branch. Given his undeniable public appeal and notoriously even-keeled temperament, it was a forgone conclusion that George Washington would be the first man to hold this new high office. The question then became: how would the union elect future presidents that held similar virtues and would prevent the country from slipping into either anarchy or despotism? Enter the much maligned Electoral College. Dickerson does a great job compiling primary sources and outlining the framers’ intentions for this completely unproven governmental structure, making this four-part series a must-listen for informed voters everywhere. [Dan Neilan]

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