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.
David Marvin Blake seems like a remarkably chill guy considering he’s a legend of hip-hop music who spent the past couple decades working and hanging with some of the biggest names in music. But, after many years and several peaks and valleys as a rapper and producer, the guy more commonly known as DJ Quik seems to have landed on firm ground with his head screwed tightly to his shoulders. His conversation with Bullseye’s Jesse Thorn is surreal in that one minute they’re just two music enthusiasts bonding over a shared love of records, and the next Quik is telling some crazy story about how he came this close to shooting some punks with a gun he kept stashed in his car. No person who counts Suge Knight among his personal friends should come off as this much of an easygoing and self-effacing dude. But that’s where the industry has left him. The former Death Row Records producer has been put through the autoclave and appears to have emerged remarkably clean, happy, and prepared to let all the impurities of the business drip right off him.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
The “Closing Up The Plug Bag” song has become a hallmark for fans of Comedy Bang! Bang! Scott Aukerman and company often continue joking around in the show’s most mundane segment—plugs. But when all is said and done, an episode truly winds down when that goofy sound collage featuring Ken Marino and Casey Wilson plays. When fans heard that the two would be appearing together for the first time, they flipped out. Hilariously, Marino and Wilson weren’t aware of the song’s existence. Much of “Sandwich Therapy” revolves around Aukerman prodding the two into creating a new bumper for the commercial break, as well as going in for their new sitcom Marry Me. After the first act, Joe Wengert waddles in as Dr. Pensacola, a morbidly obese guru who teaches the gang how to be happy through sandwiches. Unlike Wengert’s recent genius character turns, Pensacola never grows out of the initial joke, but it’s funny enough. Marino shines here as he slips into the kind of trusting skeptic you might find asking questions from an infomercial studio audience. The show wraps up with a deliciously obtuse game of Riddle Me This, and hopefully with a new “Going To Commercial” bumper in place.
Grantland’s pop culture podcast, hosted by Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, spends this episode diving headlong into the massive amounts of Marvel movie news that floods the Internet. After sifting through the news of Thanos, Dr. Strange, and the many third tier characters getting big-screen treatment, they lament that the strength of these movies relies heavily on the superheroes, with Marvel unable to find “their Joker” in a perfect villain. However, the news that Captain America 3 could pit the titular character directly against Robert Downey Jr. has them thrilled, and they eagerly explain why recent runs of Avengers comic books make Iron Man the villain the Marvel movie world has been holding out for. Ryan and Greenwald also spend some time on Sunday night television, their coverage of Homeland season four being particularly hilarious. They have both lost all their respect for the show, yet find it impossible to stop watching, as their love for Homeland mixes with a kind of giddy revulsion which comes second only to their appreciation for the superior diplomacy thriller The Honorable Woman. And this mix of appreciation and irritation carries over into their discussion of The Walking Dead, and less so The Affair, which they refer to as Rashomon without the swords. It leads to a climactic discussion of how TV shows are green-lit and the less than noble intentions that may be in play.
The Mutant Season
Nacho Vigalondo, Spencer Hickman
If you’re downloading a podcast hosted by a 12-year-old kid and hoping for some real grade-A interviews, you’re probably setting yourself up for some disappointment. However, that does not mean that Nerdist Network’s The Mutant Season is unworthy of bandwidth. Actually, one can make the argument that it offers some attributes that simply can’t be found in most other podcasts. For example, the exuberant perspective and heartbreaking innocence of a preteen boy. In the course of his hour-long conversation with 37-year-old Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows), the precocious young host Gil Dominguez-Letelier admits that he has never actually seen a horror movie (unless you count Predator as a horror movie). This confession at first shocks his guest—at least until he remembers that he’s talking to a little kid—but it ultimately leads to an endearing and engaging lesson, from an old movie fan to a young one, about the mechanics of horror and why they’re magical, while Gil soaks up the wisdom with greedy ears. Can you even imagine what it would be like to have the whole of horror cinema lying untrodden before you? This episode offers a slight taste of that.
On July 13, 1977, a nasty summer thunderstorm caused two lightning strikes on the feeder lines that provide electricity to New York City, plunging the city into a night of darkness. Roman Mars and Delaney Hall tell the story of the blackout in two parts. First, they focus on the history and complex technical aspects of the city’s power grid. It’s not only an interesting overview; it also shows with great clarity how the grid’s reliability is nothing short of marvelous. The tone shifts in the second half with a colorful first-hand account from Grandmaster Caz, a prominent figure in early days of hip-hop, about the events for which the blackout is most well-remembered: the chaos and looting. In Caz’s telling, the blackout is also memorable for another, more positive reason; with many of the looters taking sound systems and other gear so they could become DJs themselves, it was a seminal moment in the history of hip-hop. By focusing on both the science and cultural impact the blackout had, Mars and Hall produce a smart and fascinating case study about how unexpected events can lead to a cascade of unintended consequences for better and worse.
No Such Thing As A Fish
No Such Thing As A Song In The Sound Of Music
This week’s episode of No Such Thing As A Fish marks the first ever live edition of the podcast, recorded in London. Nearly twice as long as usual, it leaves plenty of room for the sort of digressions and laughing fits one might expect to occur in front of a live crowd in a bar. Whether the QI research crew who hosts the show is slightly inebriated or simply riding the adrenaline of performing for a crowd of supporters hardly matters, as they are giddy with the novelty of what they are doing. The opening research thread involves early BBC reporters, the very first of which were hired for their Northern accents, which was believed to be harder for an undercover Nazi to imitate. Bizarre sexism in 1930s radio then segues into the odd fact that the Queen’s accent has actually developed cockney influences over the years due to a combination of isolation and media consumption. But the subjects only get sillier and funnier, from the global omnipresence of Kenny G to cow-based computer code. By the time the team is riffing off of two 19th century men who destroyed each others’ lives while dynamiting thousands of dinosaur bones, it becomes clear that live shows suit them well and the tradition should continue.
After an amusing opening stretch where Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin lament the tragic inclusion of Eli Manning in their shared fantasy football team, Justin awkwardly but amusingly transitions the conversation to cataracts. The debilitating visual condition is unpacked exclusively by Dr. Sydnee, as Justin seems particularly baffled by the concept outside a vague memory of Mandy Patinkin struggling with them. Luckily, eye conditions have rarely been discussed on the show, so Dr. Sydnee is eager to dig into this especially icky and squishy subject. Though cataracts, a clouding of the eye lenses, cannot always be fixed, every possible cure under the sun is discussed in the hopes of helping anyone feeling nervous about the odds of successfully treating them. The ideas mostly sound terrible as they tend to cause blindness, infection, or leave sufferers covered in fresh breast milk. Yet, the most traditional treatment for cataracts has almost always been surgery, and fascinatingly enough cataract surgery seems to have been one of the first ever surgeries human civilization has ever attempted, going as far back as the ancient Egyptians. Listeners who might not enjoy graphic explanations of eye surgery can skip the episode, but if the curious think that a description sounds better than a picture, this episode is the best possible educational experience.
Life can be so riven with uncertainty that it seems to be its single most defining characteristic. Fortunes shift innumerably from moment to moment and in the end, the only thing approaching anything concrete seems to be the past; that it happened, and how. The fallible nature of human recollection, however, proves this to be subjective all the same. This week’s Serial is entirely about this inconsistency and how it relates to the investigation of the show’s central crime, both at the time of initial investigation in 1999, as well as when viewed from 15 years’ removed. The episode centers on taped police testimonies from two witnesses, Jay, Adnan’s friend and weed-dealer turned accuser, and Jay’s friend Jen. The tales warp with each telling, in ways that cast reams of doubt upon the trustworthiness of the tellers, as well as their roles in the murder of Hae Min Lee. Serial episodes are a rarity among podcasts at only 30-minutes long. Instead of seeming truncated, they take on the appearance of a greyhound: lean, muscular, focused, densely packed, and with no filler. This is a podcast which does not lead listeners by the hand. Instead, it allows them to face the uncertainty directly.
The Steve Austin Show - Unleashed!
WrestleMania X-7, Stone Cold Vs The Rock
The image of Stone Cold Steve Austin joining forces with his blood rival Vince McMahon at the conclusion of WrestleMania X-Seven is as iconic as any other in the halls of professional wrestling. So Austin, whose past attempts at commentary are genre defining, decided to pop in his main event match with The Rock and provide some personal insight into the event. Trade secrets like referee Earl Hebner passing razor blades off to Rocky, and Stone Cold sneaking in “a swig of water for the working man” highlight the episode. But the former Ringmaster turned world renowned brawler also gets a chance to demonstrate that his mind for storytelling is far sharper than many give him credit for. Beyond the hilarious and humanizing spirit of Austin’s play-by-play—he frequently bursts into expletives in sheer appreciation for the match—his commentary is rich with raw insight into the production of a beloved bout and honest retrospect on his betrayal of the fans. In 30 minutes of monologue, Austin has outdone the decades that historians have spent analyzing professional wrestling’s biggest night. [NJ]
Stuff You Missed In History Class
Has there ever been an actor in the history of cinema more closely associated with one specific role than Bela Lugosi is with the Transylvanian vampire who made him famous? His identity is so twisted up with that character that the vast majority of all representations of Count Dracula are in fact representations of Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula. Aside from that gig, as well as a handful of well-meaning misrepresentations from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, there’s not a whole lot the average person knows about the Hungarian-American actor. That he won a medal for being wounded on the Russian front during World War I or fled his homeland due to his labor union activism certainly escapes most people’s knowledge. This two-part series from Stuff You Missed In History Class gives a fantastic overview of his life, beginning with his birth as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó and ending with him laid to rest in his Dracula costume. If you’re considering it for the Halloween season, you should know that it’s not so much curse-of-the-undead scary as curse-of-the-industry-typecasting scary.
Stuff You Should Know
Stuff You Should Know co-host Josh Clark is nursing a mean cold, and it serves as a segue into this episode where he and co-host Chuck Bryant unpack the puzzling origins and lives of micro-organisms that like to invade our bodies. Scientists are still debating whether viruses are in fact living things due to their lack of organized processes and their tendency to destroy their host without always moving on to another. And though the episode follows a recent one dedicated to Ebola, Clark and Bryant make a point of using it as an example of how transmission works. Transmission of the average virus is rather disturbing, and can include anything from a virus riding in large droplets of airborne fluid to resting in dried bodily fluids, depending on the strain. They are former bits of cells that evolved into “freelance renegades” that operate independently from multi-cellular organisms, or a set of genetic instructions made of nucleic acid. This robotic-like description spooks the hosts at times, but also inspires them to anthropomorphize the virus to comic effect (such as repeated references to the acid being uncoated, or “naked”). There is a ton of basic information that listeners will find useful for day-to-day life, including the potential revelation that you’re not killing germs when you wash your hands; you’re only rinsing them away.
U Talkin' U2 To Me?
Songs Of Innocence Physical Release Special
Sharon Van Etten recently played a show at Chicago’s Thalia Hall, performing a set featuring only four songs not on the new album. She joins a plethora of artists who have about-faced on their early discography, sticking strictly to the new frontier. Dance-minded Of Montreal has no space in the band’s sets for the twee preciousness of happy yellow bumblebees; Cloud Nothings understands completely that the band has grown beyond bedroom pop. This month’s surprise installment of U Talkin’ U2 To Me follows the path set by its musical forbearers: faint intimations of early releases echo throughout, but noticeably absent are the hallmarks of early success. For When You Get There, Bro? fans, this episode is sadly lacking. For fans of the Scotts simply talkin’ ’2, this is a lean, late-period gem. The cantankerous duo are already at odds before the 10-minute mark, quickly oscillating back to kindredness and their signature chemistry. Beyond some Neutral Milk Hotel talk and Scott’s debut of his Jude Law character, the episode is tightly focused on the recent addendums to Songs of Innocence. At worst, we hear two supremely funny people bounce off each other for 106 minutes. At best, we have a strong case for this silly podcast as an important force in contemporary music criticism. One needn’t look for any “’2’s Clues” to deduce that this episode is a hit.
“Cute is fleeting. I think that beautiful music lives forever.”—DJ Quik, Bullseye
“Some movies have this special quality where they adapt to your age. Each time you watch it, it becomes something different to you. Bad movies, they’re always the same. But really, really good movies, they evolve with you.”—Nacho Vigalondo, The Mutant Season
“The Rock had started incorporating the Sharpshooter into his arsenal, along with everything else he did—the Rock Bottom and whatever the damn thing is he does off the ropes.”—Steve Austin forgetting the name of the People’s Elbow, The Steve Austin Show
“Despite the fact that [Bela Lugosi] spoke little to no English—although he did speak several other languages—he got fairly consistent work on the New York stage, because of his stage presence and his acting ability.”—Tracy V. Wilson, Stuff You Missed In History Class