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.
Obsessives of Noah Hawley’s bloodied snowscape TV adaptation of Fargo, rejoice, because Minnesota Public Radio has finally delivered a Hardwickian recap show. MPR staffers Tracy Mumford and Jay Gabler’s new half-hour podcast about the comings and goings of the intrepid family Solverson and their smooth talking foes is clearly a niche product, with around half of each program spent recounting major plot points from the week’s episode, but those are followed up with meatier interviews with experts. This time, Mumford and Gabler call on correspondent John Enger sheriff’s deputy to get to something resembling the bottom of season two’s most divisive element: the unidentified flying object—or objects—seemingly monitoring Rye Gerhardt from diner massacre to meatpacking. Enger wrote a piece for MPR in August detailing the strange case of sheriff’s deputy Val Johnson, whose squad car is said to have been hijacked by a ball of “very bright, brilliant light” in 1979, the very same year of Fargo’s proverbial Sioux Falls Incident. Johnson, a folk hero among UFO enthusiasts, reconnects with Enger for a minor cross examination with Mumford and Gabler. Whether this real-life mystery actually served as a muse to Hawley and his crew may become clearer as Fargo progresses, but Johnson’s story stands on its own.
Cannibal Holocaust: Sam Zimmerman
During its run, The Canon’s done a nice job of oscillating between blockbuster, zeitgeist-defining films, and obscure—yet quietly influential—fare. Sometimes, those latter episodes can represent an entire genre—recent episodes on The Searchers and the silent film Sunrise are great examples—leading to larger discussions about that particular genre and how it resonates in the modern film landscape. By choosing Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust as their Halloween week selection, hosts Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson open themselves up to a discussion that’s not about horror so much as it is about exploitation. Sam Zimmerman, horror hound and mind behind the horror-exclusive Shudder streaming service, joins the duo for a spirited conversation that takes a sharp right turn when Nicholson tells Faraci and Zimmerman—both huge Cannibal Holocaust fans—that she found the film more boring than shocking. They clearly weren’t expecting that and, as such, need to construct new lines of defense in their arguments. The result is a smart, funny, and in-depth conversation about a film (and genre) that’s rarely discussed in such an academic fashion. Also, it’s revealed that an astronomical number of cats and dogs were killed during the filming of cute kid flick The Adventures Of Milo And Otis.
Am I Boring You?
We didn’t even have a term for boredom until the 17th century. The byproduct of industrialization was free time, and those who failed to capitalize on it found themselves languishing in a new, fortunate kind of torpor. Stephen Dubner discusses the phenomenon with a great range of researchers, all of whom have differing views on the economic effects of boredom. There was hope that this episode might touch on the Betty Draper mantra that “only boring people are bored,” but alas, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are studies to support the idea that boredom results from a wide range of factors like education level, retirement age, marital status, opportunity cost, and something called the scarce-capacity theory, which is the brain’s ability to know they have somewhere better to go. There’s nothing funnier than hearing researchers strain to quantify dullness via tedious computer programs, repetitive writing exercises, or other strategic removal of stimuli. Boredom will never have the same causes or thresholds for any two people, making it a slippery concept to wrangle. In this week’s Freakonomics, though, a call-in listener named Ryan, three years sober, actually had the most poignant take: “Boredom is a B.S. cover-up word for loneliness.” Well said, Ryan.
Paul F. Tompkins And Joe Wengert Present Brandon Content, A WolfCool Exclusive Character
As Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport put it, around this time of year, “Ghouls, goblins rule the earth, Frankingsteins, witches, it’s monsters on parade.” So what’s the spookiest thing on this week’s Hollywood Handbook? The scary good return of the Teaser Freezer. The hosts breakdown the trailer for Burnt, which stars Bradley Cooper as a “badass” chef, and it’s easily one of their best segments yet. Hayes is on top of his game when poking fun at engineer Brett and succinctly summarizing how Burnt “breaks the rules” with, “plates are for food-on… not wall-throw.” In one of the most childishly hilarious bits, Sean and Hayes also break the rules, and stick their tongues out at the mics, which sounds stupid, but is funny. Later, the episode calls back Joe Wengert and his accidental character “Brandon Content”, but with Paul F. Tompkins actually in-studio to play him, as joked about in a previous episode. Tompkins, however, is interrupted by the hosts each time he attempts to become Brandon Content, and it’s a genius move. Wengert also streamlines another bizarre plot line, in which he speaks to and is personally attached to a garbage can apparently named Douglas. The episode is chock-full of quotable moments, and everyone involved is at the top of their game, perfecting their place in the Hollywood Handbook universe. It’s an instant classic.
I Was There Too
Halloween With P.J. Soles: Jay Cheel
On this past week’s I Was There Too, P.J. Soles gives Halloween super fan and self-professed fraidy cat Matt Gourley plenty of great insider stories from John Carpenter’s career-making film. For instance, she got to pick the actor who played her boyfriend (she settled on John Michael Graham because she knew she could boss him around) and the scariest person on set was actually Donald Pleasence, who would stay in character as he ate lunch separately from the rest of the much younger cast. But the most entertaining part of the episode finds filmmaker Jay Cheel (The Film Junk Podcast) taking Gourley on a tour of the various shooting locations in South Pasadena, California. There’s something unsettling about hearing the chirping birds in the background—part of Halloween’s terror is that much of the film takes place in broad daylight—and when they stroll by the movie’s iconic hedge, they run into a fellow horror buff dressed as none other than Michael Myers. Gourley tries to keep it together as he conducts a jokey interview with The Shape, who of course responds with dead silence, but you can hear plenty of palpable grown-man terror beneath the laughter.
Jordan, Jesse GO!
Dark Millionaire With Dan Deacon
Musician guest spots can be hit or miss when it comes to podcasts. Sometimes they lack anything cool or funny, but that’s okay because it isn’t a musician’s natural medium. Thankfully, though, Dan Deacon just happens to be that cool, funny guy who slips effortlessly into the comedic cadence of Jordan, Jesse, Go! The trio talks getting comfortable saying “dope as fuck,” discussing Deacon’s upcoming tour with Miley Cyrus, and sharing what their ideal situation would be if a “dark millionaire” propositioned them. The episode is bit-heavy from the start, and Deacon plays along like a pro. Every comedic stroke by the hosts initiates a real life story from Deacon, like the one where he spent time in a sensory deprivation tank. The guys also talk fake Las Vegas billboard DJs (“DJ Five Camels at the Icebox”) and which Disney song would “get shit the nastiest… up in da club,” which is a hilarious bit if only because of how white everyone sounds. The combination of a great guest and the easy flow in and out of interview and comedy, proves Jordan, Jesse, Go! is in its prime.
For perhaps the first time throughout this series, the cold open on “Episode 4” of The Message makes the audience forget they’re listening to promotional sci-fi theatre. Only the muffled sounds of a hospital PA system are audible as codebreaker Tamara lies inexplicably comatose after relistening to The Message, or the supposedly cursed recording of an alien broadcast. Tamara’s tenuous condition leads to an ideological split among the Cyper team: If The Message has the potential to physically harm its listeners, then do they owe it to their fallen comrade to continue studying it, or to make sure no one does? “Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a discussion.” Severe team leader Robin orders a full ban on the recording, commanding Nicky to remove her popular Cyphercast episodes from iTunes, lest listeners find themselves in a similar danger. Now halfway over, this podcast has managed to pack a lot into its 10-minute installments, but more than anything, hacker Mod is the one carrying the show. They (Mod’s preferred gender pronoun) are always their uncanny, sardonic self, always armed with crucial plot-thickening information and never ready to tell you how they procured it. The final moments of “Episode 4” even employ Mod’s hacker skills as an instrument of Nicky’s downfall, leading to an ending as cold as its opening. The latter half of The Message is bound to ramp up quickly—because as Mod says, “You can’t put the shit back in the donkey.”
The New Flesh
There are those for whom horror films are not a genre to be celebrated year ’round, but treated as an October analog to Christmas films, only to be watched around Halloween and never else. Then there are people like Joe Avella and Brett Arnold, dyed-in-the-wool horror-film fanatics and hosts of The New Flesh podcast, a recent entrant into the world of movie podcasting. Avella and Arnold have a nice dynamic as hosts, displaying a shared lackadaisical charm and sense of humor which spills over into their conversations. Though the show seems to skew toward a slightly older audience, cribbing its name from the 1983 David Cronenberg film Videodrome and featuring music beds from The Misfits, the pair manage to keep things relevant by tearing apart the Saw sequels, just like the kids today. This week’s episode is the first entry of a series wherein Avella and Arnold discuss all of the films of the Halloween franchise, starting with films one through three. The pair get rather nostalgic looking back on the first movie, deeming it one of the most artful pieces of horror filmmaking. Avella and Arnold’s obvious enthusiasm for the genre, crossed with their hilarious irreverence makes for an engaging podcast.
On The Media
Bacon Bits: Ivan Oransky
As you have no doubt been informed by numerous co-workers, Facebook friends, aunts, uncles, and fellow commuters standing near you at the bus stop, eating hot dogs, ham, and bacon is essentially the same thing as injecting a squeeze bottle of malignant cancer cells directly into your bowels. Or something like that. It’s hard to figure out the exact timbre of dread we’re all supposed to be experiencing as assorted websites and news reports report on the World Health Organization’s findings on processed meats vary in volume of panicked ululation. What everyone can agree on is that the WHO said something. What they can’t agree on is what that something is and precisely how it will make us all dead. In this new mine-episode of WNYC’s superlative anti-obfuscation program, host Brook Gladstone and science journalist Ivan Oransky disassemble the popular narrative and try to figure out what should truly be taken away from this story, and how scared we should actually be. Gladstone also includes a guide to deciphering breathless health news reports, which was originally included in a previous and equally interesting episode on health fads.
At the center of the latest episode of Only Human is the charming, upbeat 24-year-old comedian, poet, and Columbia University writing teacher Max Ritvo. He recently married his wife Victoria after meeting her 11 years ago at philosophy camp. In his early 20s, he was collecting accomplishments, from receiving writing awards to working on his manuscript, all the while dealing with the deadly cancer Ewing sarcoma, which he was first diagnosed with at age 16. The shocking diagnosis led to a move to New York for intense chemo treatment and the freezing of his sperm at his mom’s suggestion, so that in the future having kids could still be on the table despite the sterility the chemo would cause. After a few years of treatment, the cancer goes away. Ritvo thinks his sickness is gone for good, and he goes to college. But in his senior year, around the time he starts dating his future wife, he finds out that the cancer has not only returned, but is spreading. He starts chemo again, loses his hair as well as some of his friends, and starts negotiating with his less-than-good prognosis and uncertain future. Despite the uncertainty, Ritvo does his best to live in the present as much as he can while still looking toward the future and his plans for a family with his wife.
One has to give credit to any mixtape that can credibly pull off the deft footwork needed to include “Dueling Banjos” alongside Dolly Parton, as well as a cut from Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music for good measure. But to pull off the aforementioned task and also provide detailed justifications on how each specific track maps to the prospective fortunes of every team in the NBA is on another level entirely. That is precisely what the Open Run podcast is doing at this point; presenting intelligent analysis of all things basketball-related in a wonderful manner, easily blending humor, intelligence, and pop culture. Hosts Jesse Williams and Stefan Marolachakis are joined by perennial special guest, musician Dave Hartley—of The War On Drugs and Nightlands—with each taking turns selecting tracks for their season preview mixtapes, and the results are predictably amazing. Tracks and analysis range from a rather deep reading into how Teddy Pendergrass’ role in Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes is akin to Damian Lillard’s position with the Portland Trail Blazers, to the quiet majesty of “A Gift Of Thistle,” the main theme from Braveheart, and how it relates to the L.A. Clippers. In this darkest timeline, where the sun has set on Grantland, Open Run’s idiosyncratic blend of sports and culture is ever more necessary.
Point Of Inquiry
Sarah Posner: Trump, Carson, And The Religious Right In 2016
If it’s Republican primary season, then that must mean it’s time to talk about faith. Who believes what, and to what degree do they believe it? Do they believe it with sufficient fervor to qualify them for the secular position of President Of The United States? It’s a lot to work through, especially given the excessive number of candidates vying for citizens’ faith-based votes. Sarah Posner—correspondent for Religion Dispatches and aficionado of conservative God-baiting—joins Point of Inquiry‘s Josh Zepps in an attempt to make sense of two of the field’s biggest anomalies: Donald Trump, who looks about as comfortable holding a Bible at campaign stops as he does shaking supporters’ germ-infested hands, and Ben Carson, the celebrated Seventh Day Adventist brain surgeon who thinks that evolutionary theory is a Satanic plot. The only real problem with this discussion of the doctrinal convictions and affectations of the current two front runners (and how they’re bearing fruit in the polls) is that at a half-hour, it’s not nearly long enough. This could have easily been expanded to a full hour at least, maybe even making time for analysis of some of the other candidates’ belief systems.
The Law That Sticks
This week’s Reply All is about a law called the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act (CFAA) that has been around for more than 30 years—a law that has been in the news recently because of reporter Matthew Keys. Three weeks ago, Keys was convicted on hacking charges after giving his old work user credentials to members of the hacker group Anonymous, allowing them to publish a fake story on the Los Angeles Times website, in an attempt to avenge the Tribune Company for his firing from a news affiliate years earlier. Despite the fact that the fake story went largely unnoticed to the general public, Keys faced a conviction that could land him in jail for years based on the Tribune Company’s claim that the hacking cost them $5,000 in damages to “diagnose and fix” the error—an amount of money that makes his crime a felony instead of a misdemeanor. That amount was eventually raised to nearly $1 million, which could mean five years in jail for Keys. The heart of the law used to prosecute Keys, the CFAA, criminalizes innocuous behavior that almost everyone who uses the internet could be found “guilty” of every day, like using a fake name on Facebook or logging into someone else’s Netflix account, and is regularly used by prosecutors to get charges to stick to individuals, most of which aren’t technically “hackers,” they want in prison. It’s also the law that almost landed 26-year-old Reddit founder Aaron Swartz in jail for 35 years for downloading millions of academic articles from the academic database JSTOR, before he killed himself—and the law that the Obama administration has been actively working to broaden recently, veiling the expansion as nothing but a valiant effort to safeguard the privacy of American citizens.
This week on the New York Magazine’s Sex Lives podcast, Maureen O’Connor, Allison P. Davis, and David Wallace-Wells discuss the 150 brand new emoji unveiled with iOS 9.1 and the new emoji that could be used in place of the eggplant that is usually an emoji standby in sexting. The three hosts agree the hot dog emoji is too obvious, and although the exploding champagne symbol could refer to “a very particular moment,” the eggplant wins out again as the best option for all sex-related texts, thanks in part to the fact that the fruit is rarely ever mentioned in any other context. “There’s literally no use for the eggplant in my lexicon other than dick,” O’Connor says. “It’s not a thing I discuss!” O’Connor and Davis are also adamant they will not use the new taco emoji to signify “vagina.” According to Davis, who is offended by the suggestion, “There’s too many toppings!” They go on to discuss a recent Lithub piece about the 19th century tradition of Nantucket sailors working in the whaling industry to gift their wives with hand-carved whalebone dildos called “he’s-at-homes” to encourage their fidelity while they were away for years at a time. They end the show with a discussion we can all relate to: What to do when we notice an ex still using our Netflix password. Everyone on the show agrees that although Netflix can be a handy tool to verify an ex’s misery based on the amount of Law & Order SUV episodes showing up in your Recently Watched list, the second you notice you’ve been paying for your ex to watch CW shows with another girl, it’s time to change the password.
Few people working in music today are as smart, well spoken, or hard-nosed as Steve Albini. The engineer who produced everything from In Utero to The Breeders’ Title TK, Albini has long been one of the more interesting interviews around, just because he’s not only sharp, but willing to lay it all on the line. Those characteristics were particularly evident this week when he stopped by Marc Maron’s garage to talk about how he got into punk, his philosophy on recording, and the rapid evolution of rock and roll. Albini does most of the talking this episode, thankfully, even firing back at Maron when the host insinuates there aren’t really music “scenes” in certain cities anymore. It’s a fascinating chat, and should—hopefully, at least—make a lot of podcast nerds want to dive a little deeper into Albini’s illustrious career.
“If you talk to people about Val Johnson, it seems like he’s really hard to find. The nearest reference I could find is a reference in the Pioneer Press years ago that says, ‘We think he’s living somewhere in Wisconsin.’ But actually he’s just in the White Pages. You can just look him up.”—John Enger on Val Johnson’s real-life UFO story, Aw Jeez
“Guillermo asked me, and I said, ‘Well here’s your pull quote’ and he goes ‘Did you like it?’ and I go, ‘Yeah, I was Crimson Freaked.’”—Sean Clements on Crimson Peak, Hollywood Handbook
“Halloween is my superhero origin story, but my shitty superpower is that I’m just a human alarm clock.”—Matt Gourley on his fear of the original Halloween, I Was There Too
“Something that scares me a lot is my wife having to deal without me, but I’m hoping that the kinds of things I’m teaching her are things that would last if I wasn’t there, the same way if something were to happen to her—I would have grown so immensely from my exposure to her. In the worst-case scenario, I want to write, and I want her to be okay. That’s it.”—Max Ritvo on life after himself, Only Human
“I am completely willing to turn the male anatomy into a cartoonish punchline, but if anybody attempts to do such a thing while talking about my vagina, then I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I hate you! It is not a taco, it is not a pink tulip, forget that shit!’”—Maureen O’Connor on the use of emoji innuendo, Sex Lives