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.

A Trip Down Soap Lane
General Hospital’s Luke and Laura – Part 3: 1980-1981

There was a time when daytime soap operas were a huge deal. The wedding of General Hospital’s Luke and Laura in 1981 was watched by 30 million viewers and was such a cultural landmark that Elizabeth Taylor guest-starred on the show just to be at the fictional ceremony. A Trip Down Soap Lane takes listeners back to when such soaps dominated the television landscape. Hosted by a man known only as Henry, Soap Lane sets out to chart the history of American soap operas from the 1950s to the present. This episode deals with the outrageous storyline known as the Ice Princess Saga where Luke and Laura team up with Australian secret agent Robert Scorpio to stop a madman from conquering Earth with his freeze ray. Henry provides both historical context as well as audio clips from the show itself to bring to life this fever dream of television that captivated millions. [Anthony D Herrera]


Carrier
Breakdown

“This is not a podcast. This is not an audio book. This is a dimensional experience.” Carrier asks listeners to put on headphones for each episode, to better immerse themselves in the auditory experience created by Dan Blank. The story follows Raylene (Grammy, Tony, and Emmy winner Cynthia Erivo), who finds herself carrying mysterious cargo across the country’s winding highways. Problem is, whatever is bolt-sealed into the truck she’s driving begins to grow and growl. Erivo drags listeners down to the depths of her desperation as Raylene fights for her life on the road. She ends up alone with the truck’s cargo, which seems to be killing her slowly. The finale will be released August 20, so now is the best time to join Raylene on her drive and find out if she survives it. [Nichole Williams]


Hell In A Cellphone
SummerSlam - August 3, 1997

Let’s take it back to August 1997: a simpler, sweeter time, when ordinary Americans with pay-per-view could turn on the TV and see Bret Hart and The Undertaker beating the snot out of each other. This was SummerSlam, a World Wrestling Federation bonanza, and the hosts of Hell In A Cellphone are here to break down every moment. Seasoned wrestling fans Aaron Benoit and Bobby Hankinson, along with newcomer Eric Silver, spend two hours recapping SummerSlam in all its pyrotechnics, pathos, and sweat. If you’re not a pro wrestling expert, Hell In A Cellphone is best paired with a highlight reel. But the visual aids are less for showcasing the technical skill on display at the ’Slam and more for visual confirmation of the sight of it all. Dresses! Dog food! A casket full of one-dollar bills! As the hosts outline SummerSlam’s universe of good and evil, they analyze how the WWF’s “Attitude Era” has aged and the ways in which pro wrestling has changed since. [Adrian Jade Matias Bell]


Parklandia
The Oscars of Rivers - Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Taking a trip to Cleveland might not be on your bucket list, but this episode of Parklandia will bump the recently rehabilitated Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the top of your places to visit. Hosts and married couple Brad and Matt Kirouac traded in their Chicago condo for an RV to explore the national park system. Digging into the Cuyahoga Valley’s pollution-rich history, its importance to the native community, and robust conservation efforts, Parklandia provides a comprehensive history of one of the newest national parks. Highlighting the best places to view the falls, a spot for a post-hike glass of rosé, and a recommendation of a dumpling-like product somewhere between ravioli and pierogi, Matt and Brad help you experience the park like a local and plan the perfect visit. [Morgan McNaught]


Stuff Mom Never Told You
The Dutiful Daughter

There are some critical areas of expertise that our elders might have forgotten to impart to us, so Anney and Samantha are standing in to dole out the lost lessons of childhood. On this episode, Anney opens up about the death of her father. They unpack the idea of the “dutiful daughter” and all the things no one tells you when preparing to take care of a parent in their old age, which Anney learned when her dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The hosts break down what it’s like to lose a parent, how books about grief don’t always provide the answers you need, and what it looks like to begin the process of healing. While this episode covers a heavier topic, both women provide light and hope to listeners through their lived experience. With the help of Anney and Samantha, the idea of going through the unthinkable becomes more bearable. [Vannessa Jackson]


The King James Virgin
Saul/Paul Is Blinded By The Light

On The King James Virgin, hosts Adam and Alan narrate Bible stories to their friend Nick, who is hearing them for the first time. On deck this episode is the tale of Christianity’s second most important figure, Paul the Apostle, whose story arc begins with him as a tent-making scion persecuting Jesus’ followers under his Hebrew name, Saul of Tarsus. After his conversation on the famed road to Damascus, he begins a life of ministry shaded in with thriller elements, such as the time he cheated certain death by way of a basket. The tone is somewhere below reverence yet above outright dismissal, almost as if the two experts are pitching their friend a Paul biopic. Discussions of Paul’s theological legacy touch on the fascinating Muslim view of Paul as corrupter of Jesus’ message, but the show is at its most entertaining when it leaves both Biblical text and effect behind to enter the realm of folklore, where we encounter conflicting accounts of Paul’s appearance (bent legs, hot bod, pale vs. pomegranate complexion) and his whimsical, R-rated death scene. [Zach Brooke]


The Story Behind
Cotton Swabs

Few things are as satisfying as carefully shoving a cotton swab in your ear to scoop out your body’s disgusting buildup. Though you probably shouldn’t be doing that, because you’re basically shoving microorganisms into your brain and depleting your ear’s bacterial defense system. But if you can’t stop, it’s probably because humans take pleasure in the sensitivity of certain parts in our ears that we can’t seem to scratch without the help of a Q-Tip. (The “Q” in Q-Tip stands for quality, by the way.) These are just a few of the facts peppered into the latest episode of The Story Behind, where host Emily Prokop explains the origin of the cotton swab in a fast-paced yet easily digestible podcast that feels like skimming the best parts of a Wikipedia page. Prokop gives the entire history of the cotton swab in less than five minutes over some tranquil music. Allow this micro-lesson to graze your eardrums and serve as a breezy palate cleanser. [Kevin Cortez]


The Two Beer Queers
Sexy And Sad At The Same Time

Hosts Josh and Tom started The Two Beer Queers podcast with the goal of inviting diverse voices to speak on equally diverse topics. In this episode, the two discuss the ways depression and anxiety affect day-to-day life—for instance, the effect depression has on memory. The coping mechanism of staying busy makes it even more difficult to keep track of things, but their recorded conversations let them make memories they’ll be able to revisit. From there, the two dissect the joyful queerness of the new Sam Smith music video and the recent success of other queer artists, as well as the enshrinement of gay female icons from a gay male perspective. Opening with their conversation on anxiety and memory allows Josh and Tom to unpack life as queer individuals whose mental health provides context for who they are, but in a way that shows just how prevalent mental health problems can be. [Jose Nateras]


Twenty Thousand Hertz
Stradivarius

Twenty Thousand Hertz tells the stories behind the noise and harmonies that surround us. On this episode, host and sound designer Dallas Taylor takes a closer look at the Stradivarius violin, an instrument that has been written about and discussed with the type of language people usually save for animals on the verge of extinction. Increasingly rare, exorbitantly priced, and with its sounds now digitally archived under pristine conditions, the violin bears the name of its creator, Antonio Stradivari. Christian Lloyd, managing editor of The Strad magazine, touches upon Stradivari’s craftsmanship, from the type of wood and varnish used to the chemistry and alchemy of his woodworking. His violins are believed to have a superior resonance to all others, so things get really interesting when, in one study, violin maker Joseph Curtin has several highly skilled violinists play new and Stradivarius violins side by side, with neither the violinists nor the researchers knowing who is playing what. The results shake up previously held notions, but despite debates concerning this research, no one denies that Stradivari remains the G.O.A.T. of violin makers. [Jason Randall Smith]

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