Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Molly Cheek, Eugene Levy, and Jason Biggs in American Pie
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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.

Dream It Real
Selena Gomez On Authenticity

On the first episode of Coach’s Dream It Real podcast hosted by comedian Heben Nigatu, Selena Gomez helps usher in the pod as its first official guest. The musician is there to talk about this week’s theme: authenticity. Gomez knows a thing or two about the topic, discussing her recent social media hiatus and the negative effects Instagram had on her self-esteem. In her most open interview to date, Gomez shares how growing up in the entertainment industry forced her to adopt a persona that wasn’t always authentic to who she was. As she’s gotten older and dealt with some serious issues, she’s learned the importance of stepping back from the spotlight to focus on her mental health. Both she and Nigatu stress the importance and benefits of therapy that everyone should take advantage of, and how crucial it has been to have a strong support system. Of course, Gomez didn’t let her “Selenators” down, teasing her upcoming album and chatting about what she learned working with Cardi B. If this episode is any indication of what’s in store for Dream It Real, then it’s sure to be a weekly must-listen. [Vannessa Jackson]

Fantastic Worlds
Oh Deer, Not ALL The Gold

When Fantastic Worlds launched last August, its creators were stepping into a fairly crowded field of actual play podcasts. Since then, they’ve managed to set themselves apart from the pack and slowly grow their fanbase because of their ability to perfect one important element: balance. Each episode of their continuing Pathfinder campaign (for the uninitiated, that’s basically D&D) contains virtually equal amounts of world-building, character development, and high-stakes action, which is broken up by those all-important moments of levity where these five friends can just goof around a table (or Skype call, as it may be). Is it still a little rough around the edges? Sure. But the sheer amount of heart being put into this imagined world will charm you into really caring about the fate of Team Torta as they battle with the fey, seek assistance from local clerics, and dangerously over-tip the waitstaff. As with most actual play campaigns, it’s always best to start with episode one, but conveniently enough, this episode begins with each character restating their objectives and current mood. Once that’s out of the way, you can dive headlong into this creepy yet playful adventure. [Dan Neilan]

Headlong: Running From COPS
The One-Celled Amoeba

COPS is still on television. The show still airs new episodes, and old ones run in syndication up to 20 times per day. It’s the longest-running reality show in history, older than fictional entities The Simpsons and Law & Order. With a legacy like that, former reality show producer turned podcaster Dan Taberski (Missing Richard Simmons, Surviving Y2K) wants to know how much of COPS reflects real policing and how much of real policing reflects COPS. His podcast promises a hard look at the show’s social impact, but this first episode is mostly concerned with backstory. Piggybacking on the success of America’s Most Wanted, COPS scandalized mainstream audiences when it debuted in 1989, its politics and pathos steeped deeply in the urban crime wave and war on drugs. The original pilot featured a murder. One former Fox executive calls COPS the simplest, best format in the history of television. From a technical standpoint, Taberski says there’s very little sleight of hand taking place. That makes its distortions all the more pernicious. Police departments have control over the final edit, and supposedly ironclad evidence is later exposed as suspect far from the glare of primetime. [Zach Brooke]

Motherhood Sessions
Not Cut Out For Motherhood

In Motherhood Sessions, a new podcast from Gimlet Media, reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Alexandra Sacks turns the therapist’s office inside out, walking mothers through the radical shift in identity that comes with having kids. Sacks and her anonymous guests—who are not her clients, but volunteers who agreed to have one-time conversations about their struggles—put vulnerable conversations about the transition into motherhood out in the open, with the hope that they might spark discussion about the parts of parenting that run deeper than sleeplessness and diaper changing. In this episode, a 32-year-old woman referred to as Anne struggles with the feeling that she betrayed herself by having a child, something she only did because of the external pressure on her to raise a family. With Dr. Sacks’s help, Anne outlines her own life, from her relationship with her self-sacrificing immigrant mother to her aspirations for the 1-year-old daughter she truly loves, even as she struggles with her fears about parenting. The conversation’s intimacy is both jarring and refreshing. Dr. Sacks is a gentle presence throughout, and Anne articulates struggles that will hit hard for many listeners, mothers or not. A reflective, cathartic listen. [Jade Matias Bell]

The AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook
Shuhei Yoshida Of Sony Interactive Entertainment

For the last few years, Insomniac Games CEO and founder Ted Price has been interviewing some of his biggest contemporaries in video games in a podcast presented by the Academy Of Interactive Arts & Sciences. The latest offering from The AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook is an hour-long interview with Sony Interactive Entertainment producer Shuhei Yoshida. Price guides the podcast with ease as Yoshida lays out his career history, detailing his start working for Sony’s manufacturing field and going on to become one of the major figures involved with launching the original PlayStation—at a time when Sony hadn’t entered the video game field at all. Yoshida also sheds light on his duties as a producer, which include overseeing budgets, tons of travel, and respectfully shooting down ideas that simply don’t work. Most interesting is Yoshida’s thoughts on the current state of virtual reality and just how much the development process mirrors the passion and creative freedom felt with the early PlayStation. This episode is as much an informative guide for those who aspire to work within the game industry as it is ear candy for those curious to learn about the inner workings of gaming. [Kevin Cortez]

The AM Archives
People Like You

Longtime cult favorite The Bright Sessions details the inner lives of super-powered therapy subjects, and from creator Lauren Shippen comes a new spin-off. The AM Archives follows old and new characters alike as they navigate the bureaucracy of possessing their special abilities. The debut comes exclusively through Luminary, a new podcast app offering both free shows and flagship originals available only to paid subscribers. In this first episode, Shippen sets the scene through masterful writing and compelling character interactions; the balance between familiar characters and fresh voices keeps listeners on their toes while a dramatic situation unfolds, and there isn’t a dull moment. Producer Mischa Stanton’s sound design is completely immersive and a cut above the already excellent soundscape of The Bright Sessions; Stanton brings the story to life in a way that sounds natural and effortless. Whether you’re a fan of the original series or just discovering its universe now, The AM Archives is worth a listen. [Alma Roda-Gil]

The Only One In The Room
Troy Byer Is The Only Celebrity In Anger Management

The Only One In The Room is a podcast for anyone who has ever looked up, scanned their surroundings, and felt complete isolation. Host Laura Robbins initially wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about being the only black woman in the room at a writers’ retreat. Since its publication, she has received an outpouring of stories from people of all backgrounds with similar experiences. Now she has people share those stories on her podcast. This week, Robbins sits down with Dr. Troy Byer, who is best known for her role on Dynasty in the late ’80s. After a downward spiral, Byer found herself arrested and handed the maximum sentence of anger management. When she first sat in that classroom with the other women, she thought they were all beneath her. However, as the classes continued she found herself learning she was not just equal to all these women, but she was every woman in that room. As she recounts her lesson in humility that led her to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology, listeners are taken on a journey of struggle, triumph, and healing. [Nichole Williams]

The Pay Check
The Pregnant Pause

Pregnancy discrimination can affect virtually every aspect of employment, including hiring and firing decisions, promotions, layoffs, assignments, wages, and benefits—which is both unethical and technically illegal, thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. However, in this episode of The Pay Check, hosts Claire Suddath and Jordyn Holman present two recent cases that suggest pregnancy discrimination isn’t exactly a thing of the past. Guest Nicole LaPointe shares a voicemail from a potential employer who rescinded a job offer upon learning LaPointe was pregnant, evidence that she brought before Minnesota’s Supreme Court. News anchor Brittany Noble Jones also shares her story of being pushed out of her job once she became pregnant. Now in its second season, The Pay Check is an in-depth investigation into the personal and political reality of the gender pay gap, with interviews from legal experts and women working to change the system. As this episode reveals, pregnancy in particular can have a devastating, long-term effect on women’s earning power as many employers still struggle with treating pregnant women fairly. [Sofia Barrett-Ibarria]

The Stakes
The People vs. Dutch Boy Lead

It’s a well-known fact that lead paint is bad. Particularly in children, it can create learning disabilities and behavioral problems, leading to a lower IQ and hyperactivity. But how did lead paint become so popular in the first place? On the premiere episode of WNYC Studios’ latest series, The Stakes, Kai Wright tell us: It was, ironically, the work of children. At least, that’s part of it. Wright delves into the compelling story of the early lead industry and its spread of misinformation into the public consciousness, and how Dutch Boy Paint, a pioneering company within the industry, created a mascot aimed at children that literally told them to get their parents to purchase their product. When the company was confronted with the fact that lead is a public health risk, it placed the blame on the victims within Puerto Rican and black communities of New York City. This tale of a public health crisis is one full of shock and marketing, and Wright makes the case of the people versus lead paint one of the most exciting stories in recent journalistic podcasting memory. [Kevin Cortez]

This Is How We Die
Los Angeles: Let Them Drink Almond Milk

People are fascinated with the end times, as Roland Emmerich’s vast empire of apocalyptic blockbusters proves. There’s just something fun about watching how all the shit might go down. Seriously, though, impending climate doom is on its way, things are going to get weird, and we’d best be prepared for it. In each episode of This Is How We Die, emergency preparedness and infrastructure nerds Meghan and Megan pick a U.S. city and discuss the worst-case scenario most likely to kill us all—and how we might actually survive it. Their latest episode features Los Angeles—home of mega droughts, dirty water, and fire-nados. Luckily, it looks like we can blame most of this “slow-moving car wreck” of an environmental disaster on suburban lawn lust and the public’s unquenchable thirst for almond milk. You’ll walk away from this episode with survival tips that include everything from the ridiculous (a giant collective tap dance; kidnapping Matt Damon) to the practical (how to make a DIY desalination kit; voting for water-supply-diversification policies). [Amber Cortes]

Unexpected Fluids
A&E with Dr. Alex George

Sex can be dangerous, yet people still insist on doing it, and the BBC podcast Unexpected Fluids is here to chronicle all the ways in which physical intimacy can end in disaster. Sex educator Alix Fox and author Riyadh Khalaf are your guides through this world of “sexual fails.” They’re joined this week by reality TV star and emergency room physician Dr. Alex George to talk about his firsthand experiences with the aftermath of calamitous fornication. The stories range from a tale of a young man unwisely using a Brillo pad to exfoliate a very sensitive part of his anatomy to a striptease that somehow ended in a bloodbath. While these stories are hilarious and embarrassing, the hosts don’t turn it into salacious spectacle. Their main aim is to show that stuff like this can happen to anyone and that no one should feel shame, especially about seeking medical treatment. There’s also plenty of useful advice. They recommend that men get the HPV vaccine to avoid esophageal cancer and urge people not to use household items in lieu of purposefully constructed sex toys. Come for the stories, stay for the advice, and try not to end up in the hospital. [Anthony D Herrera]

Unravel
Roundtable: Rebrands, Kayne West & Walmart?!

This week, hosts Dana Goodin, Jasmine Helm, and Joy Davis move a bit away from the usual Unravel format. While still maintaining elements of their typical roundtable discussion style, they take a more theoretical approach to the ideas of both fashion and rebranding. Helm is a fashion scholar, Goodin is a conservator, and Davis is a scholar of history and fashion, and as expected, their areas of expertise lend a fascinating depth to their take on a subject that has a widespread and unfair reputation for being shallow. In reality, clothing and fashion touch our lives in ways people are often unaware of. Even the subject of Kanye West’s clothes and the rebranding of his image might sound like fodder for E! News. (Specifically, his choice to wear the red MAGA hat, and then the things he wore once he saw how people responded to that.) Unravel is a fascinating and intellectually stimulating sartorial discussion that makes full use of the three hosts’ deep scholarly and creative knowledge. [Jose Nateras]

When Angels Visit Armadillo
A Bit Of Both

In 1988, Maggie Waters witnesses the inexplicable disappearance of Cassidy Summers in Armadillo, Florida. When Angels Visit Armadillo is the story journalist Sam Byrd uncovers as she retraces what happened, centering Maggie’s voice as a fierce, out lesbian living in the deep South, and uncovering a potential religious conspiracy: Was it aliens or angels who took Cassidy Summers away? In this episode, the midway point for the eight-episode limited series, Sam finally talks with Cassidy about what happened and digs deeper into Maggie’s histories—not just about the facts, but about Maggie’s views, her feelings, the way she sees Cassidy and the world of Armadillo. WAVA is told in binaural audio design that evokes the experience of memory: When Sam’s interviewees describe their stories, the background becomes a slow river of sounds that represent that moment in time, like the sharp wail of a police siren when an FBI agent arrives in Armadillo or the tsunami of mutterings when a rumor takes over a church congregation. WAVA uses the work of an investigation—phone calls, interviews, recordings—to show how our perception of the truth, and of good and evil, can be distorted according to the lens we use to look at it. [Elena Fernández Collins]

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