In Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends 10–15 of the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Most Introverted Sasha Fierce
Another Round hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton don’t need a reason to talk about mental health in their podcast—in fact, the topic has been present in nearly every one of their episodes, through self-care tips and honest discussions about their struggles with depression and anxiety. But Nigatu and Clayton use Buzzfeed’s Mental Health Week as an opportunity to put together an incredible show that examines mental health from all sides—from the practical, with tips from Buzzfeed staffer Arianna Rebolini that help demystify the overwhelming and sometimes expensive process of making a first therapy appointment (based on her fantastic piece, “A Beginner’s Guide To Starting Therapy”), to the hilarious, in an interview with comedian and Late Night With Seth Meyers writer Aparna Nancherla. The comic talks about impostor syndrome, her “love/hate relationship with comedy” due to her struggles with anxiety and depression, and one of her worst dates ever—with a guy who reached across the table to force her mouth into a smile with his fingers. Other highlights of the episode: a list of meditations for you to remember the next time you use public transportation, and Clayton’s discovery, thanks to Nancherla, that trail mix is more than just a great snack—it’s a state of mind.
Arby’s With Vanessa Ramos
It took a good deal longer for the Doughboys hosts to get to Arby’s than anyone would have guessed, but they may have been waiting to get just the right guest for it, and if so, that plan paid off handsomely. Superstore writer Vanessa Ramos is very opinionated about a lot of matters relating to Arby’s and other fast food chains, just like hosts Mike Mitchell and Nick Wiger, and it’s fun to hear her scrap with them about a wide variety of topics, even putting herself in the middle of that famous Spoonman versus Burger Boy rivalry that most guests are too intimidated to wade into. The conversation gets derailed at points, but it’s safe to say most Doughboys listeners are just as anxious to hear the hosts rank fast-food fries (among other items) as they are to hear them talk about roast beef. One could argue that the Food Court segment goes on a little too long, as Wiger brings up one contentious food-related topic after another, but if anything, the length serves to highlight just how brilliantly absurd and strange the whole premise of the bit is in the first place.
Dr. Gameshow Episode 50: Good Bird Great Bird. With Special Guests Charlie Hankin and Matt Porter. Manolo is still actively looking for an intern. George is making progress. from Dec 7, 2015
Dr. Gameshow has a universally fun premise: Listeners send in their most ridiculous game ideas, and can even call in to compete against host Jo Firestone’s guests. Part of Firestone’s undeniable charm is that she seems to view fun as a truly important thing, and it’s helped inform who she is as a performer. This week she is joined by comedy duo on the rise, Charlie Hankin and Matt Porter, otherwise known as Good Cop Great Cop. Not only do the two have their own Comedy Central webseries, New Timers, but are also roommates, which they discuss on air. Perhaps it’s because they live together that Porter and Hankin are so in sync, their quick wit lending itself perfectly to the style of the show as they dive head first into the first game, “Make It Christmas.” Hardly missing a beat, Hankin describes his gingerbread sewer grates and Porter his DMV nativity scene. Much of the gold in the episode comes from the comedians’ interactions with callers though, where even a kid named Lily acts as their equivalent while competing in the game “Prove That Bird.” This episode is without a doubt one of the most hilarious and endearing pieces of podcasting out there, and it’s impossible not to grin throughout.
But I’m A Gilmore: Matt Mira
Kevin T. Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe are so good at their jobs as dedicated Gillys that sometimes having a guest on the show almost seems inconsequential. Of course, there are standouts like Jason Mantzoukas that consistently elevate the show to new heights, but it can be hard to find someone who has the same level of expertise and chemistry that the hosts have developed throughout the podcast’s run. This week, pro podcaster Matt Mira (Nerdist) reminded us what a guest is there for. Mira is probably one of the only guests in recent memory to reach the compatibility found in the Mantzoukas episode, and effortlessly gets into the rhythm that follows all fan favorites. The Guys instantly connect with Mira’s ideas, as Adejuyigbe continuously exclaims, “You’re saying all the right things!” The episode is hardly hindered by the trio’s like-mindedness, as they still delve deeper into analyzing the characters without conflict. It’s by no means a No Bit Zone, as tangents are a natural occurrence in the show. They seamlessly find the sweet spot, balancing between comedy and a smart episode breakdown that fans have come to love and expect.
This year Improv4Humans has played with its format a lot; one episode was based on Whiplash, another drew inspiration from the poetry of Dan O’Brien, and there were more musical episodes than ever. This holiday episode continued that trend with a meta setup that puts Matt Besser into the Scrooge role for holiday past, present, and future at Earwolf Studios. Perhaps one of the greatest surprises in this episode was Earwolf engineer Brett Morris and booker Ele Woods getting a chance to show off their comedic chops; both played themselves and worked hilariously off of Besser. Improv4Humans regulars Armen Weitzman, Jon Gabrus, and Amanda Sitko round out the episode, poking fun at themselves and taking jabs at Earwolf, podcasting, and improv. It was a bold move to mix up the structure of the podcast so much, and it really worked, especially rewarding longtime listeners with inside jokes and callbacks. And don’t think those rants about Podmass and the A.V. Club went unnoticed; it’s nice to know that someone cares so much.
Never Not Funny
Very few Never Not Funny guests are more perfectly attuned to the show’s sensibilities than Dave Holmes. He’s consistently pleasant, earnest, engaging, and funny, and his knowledge of and affinity for a lot of the same pop culture that Jimmy Pardo has a knowledge and affinity for, which makes the discussion of his upcoming pop-centric memoir (which sounds great) fit all the better. Part of the appeal of Never Not Funny is just how long it can be, but once in a while a more succinct conversation works even better. This episode’s running time—well under two hours—works very well for this particular appearance, and at no point does it feel like there’s merely air time being filled. If anyone were to fill Pat Francis’ former position as a regular guest appearing several times a season, one could easily argue that it should be Holmes.
Note To Self
Marina Abramović’s Method Blew Our Minds
When was the last time you were late to a movie? Or the last time you didn’t put your phone away until the very last second before the opening act of a play? Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović, who has fans in personalities like Lady Gaga, confronts these bad habits with her show “Goldberg,” which seeks to reform the way our busy, tech-obsessed culture consumes art. Abramović is well aware that often our overwhelmed brains are too distracted by our phones and busy lives to properly appreciate art—so for this show, she requires participants to leave their phones, watches, and other devices in a lockbox and sit in the dark wearing noise-canceling headphones for a full half-hour before the start of Igor Levit’s fully memorized performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. At first, Note To Self host Manoush Zomorodi is openly skeptical of the idea—but on the show’s opening night, she pushes her nervousness to the side and tries it out for herself, finding that she’s pleasantly surprised by the experience. “All concerts should be like this,” she says. “I felt like my senses were being used in a way I ignore them a lot.”
Cultural arguments concerning the “true” rationale for Christmas can get very tiresome very quickly, due to both their pedantry and the frequency with which they spring up this time of year. And that’s where this episode of the skeptical podcast Point Of Inquiry seems to be heading in its early moments. However, once host Lindsay Beyerstein and philosophy professor David Kyle Johnson get past the obligatory “Christians really stole Christmas from pagans” assertions that everyone not named Kirk Cameron has long since internalized, the conversation gets informative and interesting. Johnson cuts down the common belief that Santa Claus is a holiday character of long-standing tradition, and lays out how he was created, practically from whole cloth, by “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (colloquially referred to as “’Twas The Night Before Christmas”) author Clement Clarke Moore in 1823. Later, he makes a pretty compelling case for why St. Nicholas—the fourth-century Bishop Of Myra who is supposedly the basis for Santa Claus—is himself a non-historical invention of the Catholic Church, based upon bits of Norse mythology. The info contained here should piss off a lot of aunts and uncles at Christmas dinner this year.
In its first season, Serial was a sleeper hit—that is, insofar as any podcast sprung from the storied pedigree of This American Life can be considered such. The show’s meteoric ascent provided an entry point for millions of new listeners into the world of podcasts, on the strength of what is ostensibly a very small story. So then, as the program begins its second season, the question hanging heavy in the air is how host Sarah Koenig and her team hope to stay ahead of the curve they themselves created? Serial innovates not simply by following a larger story this time, but by choosing one that already exists in the broader public consciousness. Off-season whispers prove to be true, and Serial season two tackles the enigmatic tale of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl. Perhaps the most famous deserter in Army history, Bergdahl walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009 only to spend five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. Koenig sets out to explore not just Bergdahl’s potential motives for desertion but also whether his account of the events can be trusted. This week’s episode is all about place setting, building the complex world of the outpost in Afghanistan from which Bergdahl surreptitiously walked away. The members of his platoon are welcome participants, giving their impressions of Bergdahl and painting a portrait of the often brutal mundanity of life in the forward operating base. Serial’s decision to dig into Bergdahl’s case is a canny move, ensuring once again a central narrative rife with conflicting information, leaving listeners with a rather nebulous picture of the truth. Gone though is last season’s marquee feature of direct conversations between Koenig and her subject. In their place are interview tapes of Bergdahl informally conducted by writer Mark Boal that maintain that fly-on-the-wall quality pioneered by Koenig, lacking only the subtle erosion of investigational objectivity. This remove serves to add a patina of inscrutability to Bergdahl’s already muddy story, signaling a season of simply must-listen audio to come.
What The Crime?!
When Suspects Turn Themselves In On Facebook
The Investigation Discovery network is usually the first stop for true-crime fans who can’t get enough of true stories about serial killings, stalkings, kidnappings, and other violent crimes that are as fascinating as they are disturbing. Recently, ID has branched out into the podcast world, with podcasts like Detective and The Mind Of A Murderer. In their latest audio offering, What the Crime?!, hosts Ami Angelowicz and Will Johnson take a more lighthearted look at the darker sides of human nature by examining the most bizarre details of crime stories. This week, they explore the different ways social media often plays a part in criminal behavior: from the woman who turned herself in because she thought her mugshot was unflattering, to the parent who took a photo of their baby holding a gun, to the guy who killed a friend because he didn’t like that the friend “poked” his girlfriend on Facebook. Angelowicz and Johnson also discuss a U.K. study spelling out the six personality types of “Facebook murderers”—killers who had less-than-reasonable reactions to social media interactions than their non-murdering peers—and the many ways Facebook and YouTube accounts can be gold mines for police officers looking to catch a criminal.
Who Stole What?
The Force Awakens To Star Wars Music Steals And More
Since around 40 percent of all cerebral activity worldwide is currently being devoted to hype for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rory and Tristan Shields have decided to just go with the current and make this week’s episode all about the massive amounts of thievery that went into making cinema’s greatest space opera saga. Since Who Stole What? is generally music-oriented, the co-hosts begin with a pretty impressive primer on how John Williams pillaged the legacy of orchestral composer Gustav Holst to create one of the most beloved and easily-identifiable movie scores of all time. From there, they shift their attention to George Lucas and his original screenplay, with its abundant character and narrative similarities to the films of both Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. As with many of the subjects the brothers call out for conceptual larceny, these movies are clearly very close their hearts, so the exegesis comes off more as a playful razzing than an accusatory tirade. Unfortunately, they didn’t even crack the ice on all the elements Lucas lifted, practically unaltered, from Frank Herbert’s Dune and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter Of Mars series. There’s enough material there for an entire second episode, so maybe they’re holding that for the release of next film.
Adam Resnick is a very neurotic person, probably even more neurotic than Marc Maron himself, and frankly it’s a surprise Resnick didn’t come on WTF a lot sooner. In theory, he’s promoting his darkly funny collection of humor essays, Will Not Attend, which was released last year, but even more than the talk about the book itself—and even the high praise Maron doles out for it throughout—it’s the less funny but utterly fascinating stories Resnick tells about himself and about his upbringing that will bring a listener to pick up a copy. The experience of being raised to distrust and even outright hate fellow Jews, thanks to his father’s horrific childhood, is unlike that of just about any other WTF guest Maron’s ever had, and it’s terrifically interesting. He’s also remarkably candid and vulnerable in his discussion of his professional successes (working on Letterman) and failures (directing Cabin Boy), and while he comes across as rather angry at points, he is unfailingly both very funny and very human.
“We are living very busy lives. We are living in New York; New York is a hell. You are arriving from the subway, you arrive late, you’re taking a taxi, you’re concerned you’re not on time, you are answering your phone, last phone calls, and so on, and you’re arriving, and you sit down, and you hear the concert. You’re not ready to hear anything. You’re just too busy. So I’m giving this time and space to the public to actually prepare themselves. If Igor could have the enormous discipline, to learn by heart, Goldberg’s Variations, which is 86 minutes, and play in the most incredible, magic way, we could at least have a little discipline to honor this and to have a new experience.”—Performance artist Marina Abramović explains the significance of her new show, “Goldberg,” Note To Self
“I think one thing that I always find kind of strange is when people don’t wanna take any accountability for what they’re saying. I understand free speech, but I don’t understand the idea like, ‘Yeah, I’m allowed to say anything I want and no one is allowed to have an emotional response to it.’” Laughter is an emotional response! [That attitude] contradicts what art is about—‘you can only have this very specific reaction to anything I say.’”—Aparna Nancherla on one of her biggest comedy pet peeves, Another Round
“[Trail mix] can really be anything you want. Trail mix is really a state of mind. That’s probably why I say that I like it, because it can really be anything.”—Aparna Nancherla, Another Round