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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spared By A Volcano
Being imprisoned in a solitary confinement cell for the possible crime of drunkenly stabbing a guy might not sound at first blush like a stroke of good luck. But that’s what it turned out to be for Ludger Sylbaris, a 27-year-old laborer on the Caribbean island of Martinique. When the active volcano Mount Pelée erupted on May 8, 1902, sending a wave of 350-degree toxic gas into the town of Saint-Pierre, Sylbaris had the good fortune of being sufficiently shielded from the blast to merely sustain third-degree burns over most of his body when the rest of the population succumbed to death of one grisly sort or another. He also managed to parlay the experience into a career of sorts. It’s a strange story, relayed artfully by co-hosts Greg and Sharon Ross. Aside from the novelty of Sylbaris’ unlikely survival, this episode offers a glimpse into the hell-like final days and moments of a city on the edge of demise. Later in the episode, to cleanse the palate after a barrage apocalyptic imagery, the married couple presents a lighthearted lateral thinking puzzle about some dead people whom nobody wants to collect.
Mother, May I Sleep With Podcast?
Britney Ever After
Molly McAleer’s examination of Lifetime original movies returns with a so-bad-and-ridiculous-it’s-good biopic of Britney Spears, Britney Ever After. What makes this episode especially entertaining is McAleer’s obsession with Spears: While discussing the film with author and screenwriter (not the screenwriter for Britney Ever After) Andrea Seigel, McAleer is quick to compare the onscreen scenarios with what happened in real life based on her years of following the career and personal life of the bubblegum popstar. Mother, May I Sleep With Podcast? has a tendency to delve into dark subjects—let’s face it, most Lifetime movies are about women in potentially deadly situations—and often the episodes are spent skirting appropriate ways to joke about murder, eating disorders, and sexual assault. With Britney Ever After, McAleer is able to focus on pure pop culture fluff without worry. Sure, Britney goes off the rails over the course of the film, giving viewers the beautiful melodramatic moments that TV movies are known for, but McAleer’s devotion to the singer, and the knowledge that Spears comes out on top in the end, makes it all the better.
Do we sanction racism in this country? Wait, don’t answer that. Perhaps a better question to ask is: How far should the government go to protect the free speech rights of those monetizing terms others find offensive? That’s the central question at the heart of Lee v. Tam, a long-running court case that pits rock ’n’ roller Simon Tam against the U.S. Trademark Office. It all started back in 2010, when Tam applied to secure a trademark for his band, The Slants. Tam and his band mates are Asian-American, and saw the name as an ironic reclaiming of a racist slur. The trademark office disagreed, citing Urban Dictionary to claim the name was offensive and not eligible for trademark—unlike, say, Ego Testicle, Flea Market Hookers, and Fupa Pouch (all approved). Tam sued, and appealed subsequent rulings all the way up to the Supreme Court, where it’s set to be decided any day now. The SCOTUS ruling could have a broad impact other controversial trademarks, including that of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, which has been in limbo since 2014 in the face of escalating hostility toward the name.
Small Screen Casualties
On the May 24 episode of Small Screen Casualties, host John Bilancini is joined by Amy Bilancini, Alex Fleming, and Coree Spencer to discuss the show Babylon Fields. Originally shot as a pilot for CBS in 2007, the show failed to get picked up and apparently was pretty awful. Per their usual form, the hosts all rewatch the failed pilot on mute while providing commentary to listeners, then compare the episode to another pilot that ultimately did get picked up by its network—in this case, HBO’s The Leftovers. Babylon Fields tells of a town in New Jersey after the dead rise and the population attempting to return to their daily lives. NBC later brought back the original writers and director to take a second crack at the same show, filming another pilot for Babylon Fields in 2013. It again failed to be picked up to series. This podcast has fun expounding on the show’s shortcomings, political subtext, and the notable performances of the cast, like Amber Tamblyn and Ray Stevenson.
Co-hosts Amanda McLoughlin and Julia Schifini are joined this episode by comic book writer Greg Rucka of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman: Rebirth. Diving into the story’s historical and mythological roots, McLoughlin and Schifini dissect the Amazonian source material, from literary appearances in the Trojan War and the trials of Hercules, all the way to contemporary regions of Ukraine and Iran. The fact that the Wonder Woman character was inspired by Amazonian mythology makes it a good fit for Spirits, which bills itself as “a boozy biweekly podcast about mythology, legends, and lore.” The daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta (mythological queen of the Amazons), Diana (a.k.a Wonder Woman) is a demigod, warrior, and princess. In Rucka’s Rebirth series, he canonically establishes her as a queer woman while taking into account sexist double standards the character often faces. With the recent release of the Wonder Woman movie, McLoughlin and Schifini offer some great insight and background on this familiar character.
The McElroy Brothers Will Be In Trolls 2
The McElroy brothers have a dream, and they will stop at nothing to achieve it. That dream is quite simple: they want to be—and insist they will be—in Trolls 2. The McElroy Brothers Will Be In Trolls 2 follows their very real journey to make this goal a reality. In this short-but-sweet second episode of the show, they call their agent Joel with high demands to get the ball roll rolling. With a bold confidence after the success of My Brother, My Brother And Me on Seeso, the trio hilariously badger Joel with different ideas on how to embark on this mission, from padding their resume with easily achievable gigs like voice-over work for The Simpsons, to offering to be in the movie for free. The concept of this episode is so ridiculously simple—and the brothers’ shared dynamic would surely be enough to carry it—but Joel’s own sense of humor and chemistry with the boys (and Justin McElroy’s Serial-style editing and narration throughout the episode) make it all the more enjoyable. But perhaps the funniest thing about the whole project is that it’s not just a bit, and in all likeliness, the McElroy brothers will, no joke, end up being in Trolls 2.
Perhaps the most talked-about aspect of the new season of The Bachelorette is that the 15-year-old franchise finally has a person of color as the lead. But in this interview, Rachel Lindsay tells Paul Scheer that she’s sick of people asking her how it feels to be the first black bachelorette. She spends the rest of Turn It On proving that people should instead be talking about the fact that she is probably the most genuine and likable person to ever hand out roses on ABC. In this shake-up of the Indiewire podcast’s usual format, Bachelor and Bachelorette superfan Scheer sits down with Lindsay to ask burning questions about what really goes on behind the scenes of the reality show, and gets to the bottom of how many bad kisses she had to put up with before making it to the end of her “emotional journey.”
Twenty Thousand Hertz
The Wilhelm Scream
Star Wars. Toy Story. Howard The Duck. The Lord Of The Rings. What do these films have common? All of them, and hundreds more, make use of the “Wilhelm Scream,” a sound effect circulating Hollywood backlots since the 1950s. Steve Lee of the Hollywood Sound Museum takes us through the history of this high-pitched cry of distress. Named after an unfortunate private Wilhelm in the 1953 feature The Charge At Feather River, the scream was actually recorded a few years earlier for the 1951 release Distant Drums. Audio from the original recording session is played, revealing the surreal and mundane experience of a director coaching an actor in a sound studio to scream like he’s being dragged out of a boat by an alligator. The scream took off as a popular in-house audio effect after inclusion in Star Wars, and many audio experts worked to sandwich the effect into their projects in a bid to join the select club of Wilhelm disciples.