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 email@example.com.
“Reefer” is a misdirect. This episode is about the shipping containers that are used to move nearly all goods from truck to train to ship. Infamous for their maze-like stacks on dockyards and their significance in the much-maligned second season of The Wire, this 99% Invisible episode takes the risk of covering something literally clunky with a great narrative reward, explaining how something that seems so drab and industrial can change the way a world eats. These containers become a refrigerated “reefer” container that can custom-ship all kinds of fruits and perishables, a move that has revolutionized the accessibility of everything. Bananas and frozen meat are only so accessible because of the science developed by people like Barbara Platt. At only 22 years old, she began using her physics background to build a mobile laboratory inside one of these shipping containers, using salt-resistant cables and hundreds of sensors to track all the containers in transit alongside it, and did so for seven years. Living in these shipments, Platt’s crew was able to turn mysterious shipping disasters into revolutionary science. The podcast doesn’t just focus on the design, either, as the producers trace the containers to how they are now repurposed by a society eager to take secondhand advantage of their innovation.
BuzzFeed's Internet Explorer
A Really Drunk Game Of “Would You Rather…” With The Reply All Guys
The world of internet podcasts got a bit smaller this week as Katie Notopoulos and Ryan Broderick welcomed Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt, the intrepid hosts of Reply All, to their show for a spirited discussion of, what else, the internet. Billed as a crossover, this is more like a meeting of the minds, albeit a loose, whiskey-soaked one. The foursome starts by answering a few listener questions before playing a delightful game of “Would You Rather…”, focusing on important questions like whether they would rather bcc each other on all emails or only be able to talk on the phone. The 40-minute conversation focuses mostly on the sorts of niche topics that are Internet Explorer’s bread and butter but are less regularly discussed on the more narratively driven Reply All. Not that this makes Vogt and Goldman any less eager to really get into My Little Pony fandom and Shrek-themed weddings. It’s always been easy to think of Internet Explorer and Reply All as different sides of the same coin, and this episode—complete with a closing declaration that their podcasts are “sister shows”—proves just how true this really is.
Death, Sex & Money
From Chaos To Sesame Street
This week’s Death, Sex & Money episode takes a look at the lives of one of Sesame Street’s most beloved human characters: Maria. Delving deep into the childhood of actress Sonia Manzano, who played the part of Maria for 44 years, “From Chaos To Sesame Street” shares how her adult life influenced the narrative of the character. For example, when she got married in her mid-30s and had a daughter, these events were incorporated into Maria’s life, providing fodder to explain concepts like falling in love and breastfeeding to young kids. Before Manzano, who is now 65 and retiring from the show this year, landed on Sesame Street, she had a childhood of her own in the South Bronx that wasn’t idyllic. With host Anna Sale, she talks candidly—and with an amazing sense of humor—about her mother’s turbulent off-and-on relationship with Monzano’s abusive alcoholic father and her parents’ subsequent divorce. She also details her first few years on Sesame Street as an early twentysomething, after being discovered in the original production of the off-Broadway Godspell, because the show wanted more of a Latino presence.
The Flop House
Guardian Of The Highlands
The Flop House has always unapologetically been more about the tangents inspired by discussions about bad movies than about the actual bad movies themselves. Sometimes it can be hard to follow the plot descriptions as they are constantly derailed by silliness. But even with that in mind, multiple close listens to the episode on the Sean Connery-as-skateboarding-vet animated feature Guardian Of The Highlands still don’t offer any clarity on what in the fuck is actually happening in the movie. Although it never reaches the mind-bending heights of insanity of the similarly poorly animated Foodfight!, the hosts’ listing the completely bizarre and seemingly unconnected events of the film alone is plenty entertaining. However, the aforementioned tangents find the Flop House hosts in very strong form. Jokes about Scottish culture abound; Stuart Wellington revives his Netflix bit; and a riff about Eugene Levy leads to a very darkly hilarious place, making for a great episode.
Every pro-wrestling fan gets to a point in a romantic relationship where it’s time to ease their significant other into their hobby. Kevin Mahon of The Attitude Era Podcast reached that point with his girlfriend Jo Graham just after Paul Heyman’s client Brock Lesnar conquered the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania. Luckily for Mahon, Graham is actually game for exploring the world of sports entertainment and having her crash course on personalities both legendary and contemporary recorded. The couple pored over the career of the former NCAA, WWE, and UFC Heavyweight Champion Lesnar through touchstones like his first win over The Rock, his unbelievable snoozer with Goldberg (which Mahon recounts in heartbreaking detail in the episode’s highlight tangent), and his world-crushing last win over the Deadman, and the resulting reflection is How2Wrestling’s most expansive episode yet. It’s a great primer for the Grahams of the world and an equally valuable review for the Mahons preparing to explain concepts like kayfabe and Lesnar’s frightening courtship of his wife Sable to their loved ones.
This episode appeals directly to its introverted listeners with the idea that nobody, even those who avoid social gatherings, likes to be alone. Often mythology has solved this problem for the rurally isolated, such as the Irish belief that the woods are filled with fairies like pooka who provide a warm, trickster-like mischief. The word “pooka” has variations in several other nearby cultures across Europe, even in Shakespeare’s character Puck. But as unreal and allegorical as these stories are, they have greatly affected the real world—and often for the worse. The novelty of hearing centuries-old tales of creatures living in the corn fields propels the beginning of this episode. And the episode builds up to stories of grief and fear that occurs when there are not enough real people nearby, and the sad but real choices these false creatures then influenced. Some people back up each other’s stories, as in the case of the Dover Demon, which helps make the tales believable. Whether it was a hairless moose calf or a joke is still unclear, but this episode is more about the convictions these stories instill in people. None of the dozen or so people who saw the Dover Demon in a one-week period have gone back on their story.
Never Not Funny
Perhaps more than anything else, Jimmy Pardo is best known for having one of the quickest wits in comedy—he’s always on his game, and opportunities for jokes seldom slip by him. That’s exactly why comedian Eliza Skinner’s debut appearance on Never Not Funny, in which Pardo can’t find his footing from the get-go and never really ends up finding it, is such a damn delight. It feels like a glitch has been found in the Jimmy Pardo matrix and nobody knows why he’s having so much trouble speaking, let alone making rapid-fire jokes. His struggles are funny enough in and of themselves, but Skinner—who has listened to the show before and totally gets it—and Matt Belknap pick up the comedic slack in terms of actual jokes. The supersized, 155-minute episode flies by. Bonus antics involving MC Lyte harken back to the 7-Eleven sign saga and are fun despite never really paying off.
The Rhino Hunter: Corey Knowlton
Radiolab really lucked out with the timing on its latest episode, “The Rhino Hunter.” Producer Simon Adler had been working on the piece focusing on the intersection of trophy hunting and conservation for months before the whole “Cecil The Lion” debacle, but then—boom—a high-profile lion gets shot and Radiolab stumbles into podcast gold. Granted, it helps that “The Rhino Hunter” is fascinating, with Adler following a hunter who paid $350,000 to be able to shoot an endangered black rhino in Namibia. That hunter, Corey Knowlton, is a surprising character; while he defends his right to hunt, he understands the objections and is more than happy to address them, albeit perhaps a little gruffly. While Adler doesn’t get to physically witness the hunter’s kill, he gets great tape all the same, including conversations with hunters, activists, and African government officials. It’s an interesting and fairly scientific look at what has always seemed to be a rather disgusting hobby, and a well-framed and researched podcast that could and probably should change a few minds.
How To Make Me Come
This week’s New York Magazine’s Sex Lives podcast, hosted by David Wallace-Wells, Maureen O’Connor, and Allison P. Davis, attempts to answer a basic sex question that seems to come (pun intended) up time and time again—“How long is too long?” Despite what the sex scientists had to say, the hosts were all in agreement about one thing: Sex can absolutely go on too long, and you don’t need any data to know when you reach that point where you’re just over it. Also discussed in this episode: the phrase “The Death Grip” and debunking the myth of whether a person can actually ruin their penis by masturbating too much or too aggressively. On a similar note, one can become a little too dependent on their vibrator. The lesson of the episode, though, seems to be that while there is a lot of research and information about the different way men and women, gay and straight, have sex and please their partners, only one thing is consistent through it all: No person or couple is the same in the bedroom.
Skip To The End
The Room Special: Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero
The magic of The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s sublime contribution to the bad movie canon, has faded somewhat over the years, but interviews with Wiseau himself remain as delightful as ever. In a chat with the U.K.’s Skip To The End podcast, the culturally ambiguous auteur pontificates on the film’s legacy, the possibility of a Broadway production, and the upcoming The Disaster Artist, a film adaptation of The Room co-star Greg Sestero’s excellent book about the making of the cult hit. The hosts also talk with Sestero, who proves himself a game guest when asked about a theoretical sequel to The Room. His hilarious take on the plot proves just how well he knows Tommy’s sensibility. But the real star here is Wiseau, who packs the interview with his trademark phrases (“You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other”), stubbornness (“Move on; next question”), and nonsense (“If someone is black you don’t say they’re white!”). He’s also working on a response to Sestero’s The Disaster Artist, a book called The Disaster Artist Who Prevails, which sounds incredible. Wiseau may not be much of a filmmaker, but he’s a helluva pitchman.
The Space Cave
Matthew Wielicki Pt. 1
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David Huntsberger was in many ways the glue that held Professor Blastoff together, always keeping things on track when his erstwhile cohosts Tig Notaro and Kyle Dunnigan got too silly for the show’s own good. And there are certainly flourishes of Huntsberger’s Blastoff past in his new show The Space Cave, like that he broadcasts “from a cave,” and how his first episode hinges on planetary exploration, a long-running feature of his former show’s intro that never actually got covered by the gang. But the first half of his beer-and-a-chat with UCLA geochemistry Ph.D. Matthew Wielicki proves that Huntsberger can hang with the best of them in his own right. Space Cave models itself after the sprawling banter that brought podcasts on a whole to the forefront, combined with Huntsberger’s thirst for trivia to concoct this promising new venture; there’s no real focus to the planetary exploration conversation, but the little tidbits of information Wielicki gives Huntsberger are well worth getting into the cave on the ground floor.
We Hate Movies
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
While certainly no masterpiece, 1995’s Mortal Kombat is a step above most video-game film adaptations. The sequel, however, which came out just two years later, is decidedly not. But an audience’s loss is We Hate Movies’ gain, and hosts Andrew Jupin, Stephen Sajdak, and Eric Szyszka have a joyous time dismantling Mortal Kombat: Annihilation for the first episode after a summer hiatus. The break seems to have invigorated the gang, who find no shortage of bits, impressions, and diversions in Annihilation, which, as tends to happen in the best episodes, they laud as enjoyably bad. There’s plenty to poke at, from the comically cheap sets to Baraka’s Troll 2 mask to James Remar’s turn as Japanese thunder god Raiden (he replaces Christopher Lambert who, while also not Japanese, was at least in Highlander). And, as longtime fans of the games, the boys brings a unique, nerdy perspective to the film that lets them knowledgeably riff on cult characters like Stryker, Ermac, and Noob Saibot. It’s a fun, raucous episode that offers a promising start to this latest season of We Hate Movies, which has been reliably chugging along for more than 200 episodes.
We the People
Obamacare, Kim Davis, And Religious Exemptions: Michael Gerhardt, Matt Bowman, Ian Millhiser
In a segment last month that recapped various challenges to the Supreme Court’s landmark gay marriage ruling, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver cleared up an apparently common misconception: “The Constitution isn’t the star in Super Mario Bros.” Instead, it’s a living document with legal implementation that are rarely as simple or absolute as pundits or activists make it seem in sound bites. Folks who are trying to make more sense of it all can thank the 100th United States Congress and Ronald Reagan for chartering The National Constitution Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization tasked with educating the public about issues relating to federal law in a nonpartisan way. More specifically, they can thank institution president Jeffrey Rosen, who has produced the uncompromising We The People podcast since 2013, which dissects the nitty-gritty details of timely constitutional questions in long-form debates. This week, scholar-in-residence Michael Gerhardt moderates a discussion between Matt Bowman, lead attorney in March For Life’s case against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, and Ian Millhiser, a senior fellow at the Center For American Progress who is skeptical of Bowman’s extension of religious exemptions to non-religious entities. In an hour, they manage to impart more information than cable news has on the issue all year.
“We were going to show Latin people with the same hopes and dreams as anybody else.”—Sonia Manzano on the significance of her character, Maria, on Sesame Street, Death, Sex & Money
“After a while, it’s just not pleasurable to have someone pumping away in you. If I wanted to sweat this much and also chafe, I’d just go jogging.”—Allison P. Davis on sex lasting too long, Sex Lives