Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: Lori Loughlin (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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.

What Is An Acceptable Amount Of Money To Spend On Pillows?

Adulting, the latest comedy podcast premiere from WNYC Studios, allows listeners to explore the difficulties of growing up while laughing your ass off along the way. Recorded live at Union Hall in Brooklyn, co-hosts Michelle Buteau and Jordan Carlos get to know the crowd right from the intro, eliciting responses to essential icebreakers like “Who showered today?” and “Make some noise if you’ve been to a sex party.” Their comedic peers pepper this first episode with startling insight, as evidenced by Naomi Ekperigin talking about everything from losing her virginity at age 19 to dealing with an absentee father. Reveling in finding someone to love, she defiantly declares, “Anybody worth your time will not have to be convinced!” Wyatt Cenac extracts the positives from the negatives as he reminisces on his dry season between King Of The Hill and The Daily Show, including apartment evictions, repossessed cars, and dogs that can smell the bad credit on you. Phoebe Robinson proves that she has her adulting game down, whether effortlessly recommending candles for when it’s time to poop while your significant other’s home or hosting a girl’s night and noticing that they all brought gas pills with them. [Jason Randall Smith]

Now or Never

To make a relationship truly go the distance, it takes a little something called commitment. On the podcast Committed, host Jo Piazza explores exactly what it takes for couples to stay together through thick and thin. Piazza talks to Caroline Van Hemert and her husband Pat about the grand adventure they took before having children. The couple details the exciting (and sometimes harrowing) tale of setting off on a six-month, 4,000-mile expedition from the Pacific rainforest to the Arctic coast. This wasn’t their first rodeo; on one of their first trips together they had learned how to completely rely on each other by surviving in a busted canoe and having to ration their food. Having weathered mosquitoes, winter storms, and even a predatory bear, they’ve managed to grow closer as a couple while surviving every obstacle in their path. It also taught them that maybe they could tackle the biggest adventure of all: parenthood. The two became parents to two sons and still consider themselves major adventurers. With hard work and a little commitment, there’s virtually nothing a good relationship can’t accomplish. [Vannessa Jackson]

Gangster Capitalism
The Dominoes Fall

This new podcast investigating corrupt capitalism dives in with a first season centered on the 2019 college admissions scandal. Nicknamed “Operation Varsity Blues,” this story serves as a timely jumping-off point for a discussion about the ways in which fame, wealth, and privilege factor into college admissions decisions. In this third episode of the series, host and documentarian Andrew Jenks focuses on Rick Singer, the so-called mastermind at the center of this unprecedented scam. The episode opens with a recorded interview from Justin Paperny, a professional consultant to individuals facing prison time for white collar crime, including someone directly involved in the scandal. “Rick Singer swept them in, exploited them, sold them on the idea,” says Paperny, who served time himself for federal securities fraud. Still, listeners will find it hard to feel bad for those he reportedly swindled. Taped phone calls between Singer and high-profile parents like Lori Loughlin played later in the episode reveal they were in on the scam. Jenks also speaks with journalist and author Caitlin Flanagan, who wrote a piece about the scandal for The Atlantic. Flanagan recaps some of the main players involved and explains how they all lead back to Singer. [Sofia Barrett-Ibarria]

Latinx On The Rise
Too Damn Young

Annabel Garcia Torres, an LA-based Latina podcaster, started her Latinx On The Rise podcast a year ago with the goal of uplifting the Latinx community. This episode, Garcia Torres is joined by Vivian Nuñez, a writer and founder of Too Damn Young, a resource network for young people going through the grieving process. As a college senior, Nuñez struggled to deal with arranging her grandmother’s healthcare and subsequent funeral while finishing school and graduating, and these experiences inspired her to share her story and illuminate the specific impact death has on young people. For Nuñez, who’d lost her mother prior to the death of her grandmother, shouldering the responsibilities and logistics alone was a huge hurdle. As a result, Too Damn Young provides the sort of support Nuñez knew young people experiencing loss might need: expert articles, personal accounts, and various creative outlets (such as fiction and poems), all intended to remind young people going through similar experiences that they’re not alone, especially considering the Latinx community’s propensity to resist discussing mental health issues. [Jose Nateras]

Lucille Valentine Talks All Things Holding The Door Open For Marginalised Communities

It’s no secret that the fiction side of podcasting is an ever growing pool of representation for marginalized voices, notably the LGBTQ community—but it’s not without its challenges. In this episode of Madiva, guest and voice actress Lucille Valentine discusses how we can foster a safe environment for transgender individuals. Host Sarah Golding has welcomed people from all sides of the podcast industry throughout this series, and her caring and compassionate approach to opening a dialogue is what makes MADIVA so enjoyable to listen to: Golding gives guests a platform to address topics that are often difficult, but always drive toward a willingness to be better and a discussion of how we can get there. Valentine speaks eloquently about how both podcast producers and listeners can make sure to include trans people in a thoughtful, welcoming way, and the conversation couldn’t be more pertinent as Pride Month rolls around. [Alma Roda-Gil]

Science Vs.
Placebo: Can the Mind Cure You?

We’ve heard about the “sugar pill effect” since the dawn of human clinical trials: a control group of patients is given a pill that they may or may not know is not actual medication. What follows is a strange phenomenon that mystifies scientists, and yet doesn’t surprise them, which is that recipients of the placebo are either cured, improved significantly, or partially recovered. It is, at the very least, a pure example of mental fortitude. In this new age of psychosomatic wellness where science is now looking at both the psychological and physical impact of chronic illness, the placebo effect has raised a few questions. On this episode of Science Vs., host Wendy Zuckerman asks three: 1. What does the placebo effect help with? 2. How does it work? 3. What are its limits? With a research scientist at Harvard, Zuckerman goes into the history of this astounding impact on medicine and explores its still shocking effect on the scientific community. It leaves one to consider: If the placebo effect is common, but also remains the elephant in the room, what does that mean for the future of medicine? [Nekala Alexander]

Talk Easy With Sam Fragoso
Pam Grier

Back in the ’70s, Pam Grier was the Queen of Blaxploitation. Gorgeous and usually Afro-ed, Grier starred in such vengeance-fueled action films as Foxy Brown and Coffy, successfully holding her own alongside the tough brothas who usually headlined those flicks. However, when she guests via phone on a recent ep of Sam Fragoso’s Talk Easy podcast, she talks less of her badass Blaxploitation days and more about her triumphs and tragedies. Fragoso, a film critic whose dulcet tones and tranquil, unimposing interviewing style shows he’s a student of the Terry Gross School of Broadcasting, occasionally gets Grier to open up by reciting quotes from her 2010 memoir (which Grier hopes to turn into a film at some point). And while Grier has had her share of great pain, she also looks back fondly at the loves she’s had and her memorable run-ins with other celebs. As someone who recently turned 70, Grier (who recently co-starred in Poms and ABC’s Bless This Mess) proves in this podcast that she’s just as brave, heroic, and unstoppable as the pistol-packing mommas she’s played onscreen. [Craig D. Lindsey]

The Big Picture
‘Booksmart’ Bombed. Why Couldn’t the Internet Save It?

On this week’s episode of the awesomely engaging film podcast The Big Picture, The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey and Amanda Dobbins analyze Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, the coming-of-age film Booksmart, and how it performed over its opening weekend against Disney’s Aladdin. (Spoiler: Aladdin won, big time.) Most interestingly, though, the two dissect the events leading up to Booksmart’s release and how its lackluster success could be blamed on the movie’s distributor (Annapurna Pictures), the internet and its users’ lack of theater-going, and Rotten Tomatoes scores. Fennessey and Dobbins run through each option with dense insight, aiming criticism at Olivia Wilde as well, discussing Booksmart’s release cycle rather than the context of the actual film (so no movie spoilers here, for those worried). After wrapping up the weekend’s box office performances, the two take a hefty amount of time to talk about the major debuts at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, as well as the premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s highly anticipated film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. This episode is the perfect TL;DR Cannes Film Festival companion for those wanting to add more films to their queue. [Kevin Cortez]

The Brown Girls Guide To Politics
Ruth Buffalo: “We Have A Long Way To Go.”

The Brown Girls Guide To Politics brings listeners political conversations featuring women of color changing the face of politics through both action and representation. This week, host A’shanti Gholar sits down with State Representative Ruth Buffalo, the first Native American woman to be elected to the North Dakota legislature. They have a candid conversation about running for office in a conservative state where few took her candidacy seriously and how women of color can feel intimidated running for office in more conservative areas. They also discuss her work around public health, criminal justice, and the horrifying rate at which Native American women are disappearing within North Dakota. The Brown Girls Guide To Politics is an inspiring podcast series for women of color, one where they can learn about the current state of women in politics and how to support others breaking into the political sphere. That said, it is also an informative listen for anyone who wants to hear politicians candidly discuss their experiences and their advice for anyone who wants to effect change. [Nichole Williams]

The Chernobyl Podcast
The Happiness of All Mankind

HBO’s Chernobyl is one of the most terrifying series ever produced for television, and all its creators had to do was simply tell the truth. In fact, it seems that the main point of the companion audio series, The Chernobyl Podcast, is to assure you that, yes, these events happened, and they were that horrifying. In each episode, Peter Sagal (Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!) speaks with Chernobyl series creator and writer Craig Mazin about adapting the story of the largest nuclear accident in history to the screen. While there’s some nuts-and-bolts talk about the filming of the series, the most fascinating parts of the episode are when Mazin explains why he felt the need to show the audience these terrible things. Each episode of the television series will leave most people in a state of shock wondering why they’re watching men literally melt from the inside out. For Mazin, this is the cost of lies and believing in lies. From that simple premise he has brought to life a story that has clear parallels to our modern political climate. It’s a brutal and exhausting story, but Mazin and Sagal more than convince listeners that it is one worth telling. [Anthony D Herrera]

The Sexually Liberated Woman
The Trauma Queen with Jimanekia Eborn

The Sexually Liberated Woman, hosted by sex educator and sexuality doula Ev’yan Whitney, is a sexy, tender podcast, generating expansive sex-positive, pro-black, pro-hoe conversations around pleasure and sexuality for women, femmes, and gender-expansive and non-binary humans. Looking at this series episode title by episode title, you can keep a running list of hard conversations you’ve deftly avoided or haven’t even thought to have. This week’s installment features sex educator and trauma expert Jimanekia Eborn, who discusses her work supporting survivors in their healing. The episode isn’t graphic, but bookmark it for later if the subject matter feels too tender. Exposing the issue of excluding trauma from sexual education, Jimanekia envisions an alternative, holistic approach to give folks more tools to have hard conversations. This discussion feels like big sisters catching you up to speed about what you should have learned during the sex talk but didn’t. Offering up wildly necessary resources on communicating with your partner(s), becoming an accomplice, and feeling yourself, Ev’yan provides a compass for finding your own cute path toward sexual liberation. [Morgan McNaught]

This Is Branchburg
Everybody Wants To See My Teeth

Anyone who has lived in a small town knows that a small town is essentially a loosely bound collection of quirks, weirdos, and passive aggressive politeness. Around every corner is a strange character, and every character has a strange story they’ll insist on telling you. This Is Branchburg takes that basic premise and escalates it to an absurd degree. Presented by Tim Heidecker’s Abso Lutely Productions, Branchburg is a new sketch comedy podcast from Brendan O’Hare and Cory Snearowski (who, full disclosure, previously wrote for and/or contributed to The A.V. Club’s sister sites ClickHole and The Onion). Each week, they invite you to meet the ridiculous residents of the town of Branchburg, a fictionalized version of the real Branchburg, New Jersey. There’s the man who covers the ground around his house with thousands of mints in anticipation of the first snowfall, the principal who rides to school every morning in a “motorcade” consisting of nine full-sized school buses, and, in this episode, a local business owner who will generously tie your tie for you. Even more impressive than the sheer number of sketches and monologues Branchburg fits into each 15-minute episode is the delicate balance this series strikes between absurdism, dark comedy, and genuine folksy charm. [Dan Neilan]

Wolverine: The Lost Trail
Among the Missing

Picking up after season one and Logan leaving Alaska, the second season of Wolverine will take listeners on an adventure to New Orleans and the bayou in search of Logan’s ex-lover Maureen, who has gone missing. This episode features the soundscape design introduced and solidified in season one, a fully immersive experience of the streets and bars Logan wanders into, and it shifts smoothly between past and present. Unlike the first season, which focused on discovering Logan through storytelling via the eyes of two detectives, The Lost Trail centers the listener with Logan at last as he searches for Maureen and meets Marcus, a teenager whose mother has disappeared. Embroiled at the center of this is Greenhaven, a secret refuge in the bayou for humans and mutants. Richard Armitage, after a limited amount of mic time in The Long Night, has room to breathe here as Logan, lending a gruffness and single-mindedness that is familiar to Wolverine’s character. Rodney Henry as the voice of Marcus shines in his first appearance: desperate, focused, convincing, and scared. This new tale promises a gothic-tinged story with more mutants than the first, and more of the noir, dangerous vibe that’s integral to Logan’s adventures. [Elena Fernández Collins]

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