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.

70 Million
Marching Toward Reform In New Orleans

While season one of 70 Million examined the roadblocks impeding criminal justice reform, season two opens with a focus on the work toward solutions within local communities. The season premiere takes place in New Orleans as reporter Eve Abrams investigates a prison system largely funded by the impoverished, their inability to pay bail the only thing keeping them behind bars. A New Orleans cook named Albert shares his story with Abrams about how a minor traffic violation caused an outstanding warrant for drug possession to catch up with him. Although he couldn’t post bail, his time was reduced thanks to the New Orleans Safety And Freedom Fund, a group that has been able to use anonymous donations and revolving bail funds to free more than 200 people. It’s a noble effort, but one that pales in comparison to the number of yearly arrests in the city. Between interviews with former judge Calvin Johnson and Operation Restoration founder Syrita Steib-Martin, it becomes clear that last year’s federal cases against the New Orleans criminal court couldn’t force judges to turn away from a bail-money-based system. 70 Million offers a fascinating and sobering look at the slow-turning wheels of justice. [Jason Randall Smith]

Autopilot Off

Somewhere in the distant future, a human and an AI team up to trawl through artifacts of late-2000s news reports for answers about why their world’s networked information technology failed. The reports focus on “collisions between humans and complex informational systems,” and they are all real events, interviews, and facts from our modern era. Bellwether is narrative nonfiction journalism wrapped inside a science-fiction serial, composed of reporting by creator Sam Greenspan over the course of two years. Cass and Icarus are the artificial intelligence and human who serve as commentators, criticizing the reporting and the situation, taking it apart through the lens of a possible future. “Autopilot Off” tackles the 2018 death of a pedestrian in an accident involving an Uber self-driving car. Cass and Icarus call out things like autonomophobic language whenever the word “robot” is used and bias in advertising that emphasizes leisure over safety, while also sending a letter to their moms so that they don’t worry too much. Greenspan’s long-form reportage is thorough and respectful, with humor that gives it a voice that feels close to home instead of distant and clinical. This experimental speculative journalism provides a fascinating, immersive avenue for thinking about our future. [Elena Fernández Collins]

Everything Is Alive
Scott, Stethoscope

Have you ever wondered why soft-spoken NPR-style presenters are so damn chill? The answer might lie in the latest episode of Everything Is Alive, where host Ian Chillag reveals to his interview subject, a hospital stethoscope named Scott, that his resting heart rate is 30 beats per minute. Although he could be on the edge of death, the earnestness that Chillag brings to the absurd premise of interviewing inanimate objects makes Everything Is Alive a complete delight. What really makes this particular episode shine is the performance of comedy treasure Scott Adsit (30 Rock) as a stethoscope who loves the taste of earwax. Adsit’s entirely improvised interview as a piece of medical hardware is filled with insights both touching and absurd, and the high point is when Scott the stethoscope describes his idea of what a heart looks like: a fist-sized head with a human face. The existential panic he feels when he learns that the heart is just meat and has no teeth is so funny and somehow relatable that you’ll suspect Everything Is Alive is doing more than just making you laugh—it’s putting you under its spell. [Anthony D. Herrera]

Feeling My Flo
Just In Time For Lola

No one really knows how to talk about periods—at least, that’s what host Kamilah Kashanie heard on the street. A few sound bites at the top of the episode reveal that the basic function and biological purpose of periods remain a mystery for people of all genders, who aren’t quite sure how periods work but feel vaguely uncomfortable discussing them. Kashanie offers a brief rundown of what listeners can expect from this new series, which will include conversations on gender, period stigma, and common misconceptions that complicate the everyday reality of being a person with a period. In this short and sweet first episode, Kashanie speaks with high schooler Lola Blackman about being a “late bloomer” and what it’s like to feel left out of this major puberty milestone. Strong cultural ties between periods and “womanhood” make it difficult for girls like Lola, who waited while her friends all started their periods and worried there was something wrong with her body. Feeling My Flo producer Mia Warren joins Kashanie for a quick look into what researchers know about “normal” development in people with periods, explaining that everyone’s timeline is different, each perfectly normal for their body. [Sofia Barrett-Ibarria]

Naked Beauty
Defining “Cool” Ft Recho Omondi

Before iPhones and Instagram, early aughts fashionistas got inspiration from random LiveJournal accounts or window displays at Abercrombie & Fitch. Designer and fashion critic Recho Omonodi joins host Brooke DeVard on this special live edition of Naked Beauty to discuss building a personal style while growing up in the Midwest and how her family’s transient nature helped her develop a strong sense of self. Omondi, whose eponymous brand is a cult favorite worn by Solange and Issa Rae, takes us back to her high school fashion roots. Cheekily describing her teen style as “white girl/black girl,” inspired by the blog Olsens Anonymous and Britney Spears’ Miss Sixty and Diesel campaigns, Omondi opens a portal to a very specific and strange time in fashion. The cute live question-and-answer portion is full of low-key advice to help you define your personal style, discover what’s cool to you, and realize that enjoying fashion doesn’t mean you only value looking pretty. [Morgan McNaught]

Noble Blood
The Second Death Of Marie Antoinette

It’s fairly common knowledge now that certain bloody scenes in George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series are based on real historical events. But even upon learning that fact, there is a natural tendency to think Martin (and, in turn, HBO) were amping up the gore for the sake of a bigger reaction. Noble Blood, a new podcast hosted by author Dana Schwartz and produced by Aaron Mahnke (Lore), is here to remind you that real history makes even the most stomach-churning scenes from Game Of Thrones seem tame by comparison. Schwartz spends the first episode discussing Marie Antoinette, the queen of France before and during the Reign of Terror who is best remembered for making proclamations about cake but whose grisly death at the hands of revolutionaries was anything but whimsical. The horrific executions performed at the street tribunals, the brutal reeducation forced upon the royal children, and the final months of Antionette’s prison stay in a damp, dark dungeon, are relayed in visceral detail, reminding listeners that these people were more than static images in history books. They were living, breathing, bleeding royals. [Dan Neilan]

Pop Culture Happy Hour
Los Espookys’ Is Good And Weird

NPR’s weekly pop culture podcast always has its finger on the pulse of what’s hot in entertainment, so of course they had to break down their thoughts on HBO’s groundbreaking series Los Espookys, featuring a group of friends who turn their love for horror into a strange business. Pop Culture Happy Hour hosts Glen Weldon and Stephen Thompson are joined by Felix Contreras and Shereen Marisol Meraji to give their take on the series, which comes from the minds of Fred Armisen, Julio Torres, and Ana Fabrega and is one of the only series on TV in Spanish with English subtitles. This is something that both Contreras and Meraji agree is revolutionary and adds to the hilarity of the series. Not only do the characters speak Spanish, but they comfortably use an exciting mix of Spanish slang, bolstered by the show’s portrayal of the beauty and culture of Mexico City. While the hosts agree that it’s not exactly gut-busting humor, it does provide consistent cleverness and delight. It’s a silly, culturally relevant show that both entertains and breaks down barriers. Los Espookys is as much of a must-watch as this podcast episode is a must-listen. [Vannessa Jackson]

Probably True Podcast

Scott Flashheart Elliott is a U.K.-based writer, editor, and audio producer who uses his Probably True Podcast as a means of continuing his work giving voice to the LGBTQ+ experience. In this episode, Flashheart tells of visiting his former school as a Career Day speaker. His experience returning to this world of secondary education as a now 36-year-old gay man offers him the opportunity to reflect on how times (and young people) have changed. Flashheart manages to interweave nostalgia, perspective, and wit with just enough references to masturbation and dad-screwing to merit a scolding from the school administrators and laughs from listeners. Few folks get such a chance to revisit the schools that shaped them in their youth, let alone do so with the purpose of speaking to the generation currently being shaped. With a remarkably short runtime under 10 minutes, this episode of Probably True will leave listeners wondering what sort of advice they would have for a younger version of themselves. This question can hit deep for many members of the LGBTQ+ community, considering the often fraught road to self-acceptance so many of us face. [Jose Nateras]

Fake News Is Solvable

There’s just no other way to put it: Reading the news these days sucks. And with a contentious election on the way, online vitriol, disinformation, and blatant propaganda are only going to get worse. But take heart; Solvable is a podcast that tackles intractable problems (like homelessness and food waste) and tries to solve them. This week, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Anne Applebaum interviews internet expert Renée DiResta about fake news, discussing the ways Russian operatives, anti-vaxxers, and bots creep into our feeds and what we can do about it. DiResta’s unsettling examples show how easy it is to “manufacture consensus” in a post-truth era in just a few clicks. These manipulations have real-world consequences, influencing incidents of violence, election results, and vaccination rates. According to DiResta, the responsibility for correcting bad algorithms lies with companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, who can set up solutions akin to the spam filters we have for our email. But ultimately, it’s up to us to find trusted sources, call out the fakes, and eat a healthy media diet rich in calcium and critical thinking. [Amber Cortes]

The Amelia Project

Have you ever thought about starting over and coming back as someone else? The secretive company the Amelia Project can help with that. Each episode of this fiction podcast focuses on a client for the company who wants to fake their death and come back as someone new. The unnamed, eccentric Interviewer speaks to each client about why they want to leave and how they want to return—clients like an amusement park owner, or a politician, or an AI who’s become sentient. The podcast is bizarre, hilarious, and energetic, but in “Venerio,” the first episode of its second season, there’s a beautiful sense of solemnity. In this episode, the last true mask maker in Venice doesn’t just want to fake his death; he wants to avoid Death altogether. What do we hold onto when our city is sinking? The conversation is strange and whimsical, but with a dash of artful philosophy. While each episode does work on its own, be sure to listen to this podcast from the beginning; it’s looking like season two will be headed to strange and exciting places. [Wil Williams]

Water Cooled Potato

It’s gotta be hard to invent a product and bring it to market. That being said, it’s a genuine shameless joy to laugh along with the hosts of Water Cooled Potato at some of the most ill-conceived business mishaps of recent history. Contrary to the perception that logical tinkering bestowed us with our modern space-age society, this show reveals how the technological path to the present includes many headfirst dives into a ditch. Case in point: Flexplay, an idea conjured up during the video rental era that liberated the masses from the burden of returning movies by giving them self-destructing “eZ-D’s.” The secret was a reactive dye that would render the discs unreadable 48 hours after being exposed to oxygen. Price point, environmental concerns, and general consumer disinterest doomed the endeavor, but not until after Disney and Staples had been roped in for trial runs. The podcast is a bit analog—just two guys with not the best mics cracking wise at yesterday’s follies, asking for listener mail but not really expecting any. The episode is winding down when it first dawns on them to search YouTube for hot Flexplay-in-action content. And who could find fault with the series’ cover art? [Zach Brooke]

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