Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
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.

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 podmass@avclub.com.

99% Invisible


With photos on their website strongly evoking the house from the Pixar film Up, host Roman Mars and producer Katie Mingle use this episode to feature the highly human subject of homeowners who refuse to leave. Holdouts are often shooed away by big developers, but sometimes it’s the government that takes a vested interest. The show first highlights David Hess, who was forced out of his home by New York City. All that was left for him was a piece of land the size of a large slice of pizza—mosaic tiles from 100 years ago still decorating that spot and declaring it private to this day. In particular, this episode tells the tale of Seattle’s Edith Macefield, asked to leave her home to make room for a gigantic shopping mall. She quickly became a hot topic with local media, who fell in love with her battle. But Macefield hated the attention of the media, completely shirking off any attempts at interviews. The tale of her struggle to hold onto her lonely home, her secret celebrity status, and the construction supervisor who ended up becoming her caretaker make this the kind of human-interest story listeners would expect to hear in a golden-age episode of This American Life. But framed in the bigger story of others in the same situation, this episode quickly turns into something more powerful. [DT]

Not Too Deep
Tyler Oakley

In the promising debut episode of her new podcast, comedian Grace Helbig visits with YouTuber Tyler Oakley and—as the title Not Too Deep implies—the half hour chat is anything but serious-minded. Helbig’s absurd style of questioning is rapid-fire, a quick flowing series of non-sequiturs covering such groundbreaking territory as whether Oakley prefers his arm or leg hair and his feelings on capes as a fashion accessory. Helbig takes questions from Twitter as well, and a stand-out moment comes when Oakley responds to one by describing his wonderfully campy drag queen persona. Helbig’s fast-paced hosting style shies away from structure, never lingering on any one topic for too long. While a determination to keep things somewhat removed and on a somewhat superficial level could easily come off as vapid, it results in many funny moments and, in the end, is content with simply revealing as much about Oakley’s personality and sense of humor as he is willing to share. With so many podcasts built around heavy moments and big reveals, there’s something refreshing about a show more interested in seeing what comes out of unapologetic silliness. Listeners should also check out Helbig’s YouTube channel for the podcast’s video feature, including this week’s competition with Oakley. [DF]

Point Of Inquiry
Sam Harris - Seeking Transcendence Without Religion


It may seem counterintuitive to hear Sam Harris—one of the so-called “Four Horsemen” of new atheism—peddling transcendence on a podcast dedicated to reason and scientific thought, but as a neuroscientist he’s been speaking on and writing about the mental benefits of meditation for years before penning his newest book, Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion. In this interview with Point Of Inquiry’s Josh Zepps, he points out science’s failings when faced with people who come to it seeking answers about their experiences, explaining why religion is such a convenient fit with the mystical. In an interesting 40-minute interview, one of the more entertaining parts comes when Harris attempts to explain how and why psychedelic drugs can be an effective tool for quick and easy trips through the transcendental, but without sounding like he’s telling people to go out and drop a bunch of acid. [DD]

Radio Diaries
Working Then And Now


In almost any other hands, Studs Terkel’s simple concept of talking to everyday people about how they feel about their jobs would have been too distant, patronizing, or ham-fisted in an attempt to make a larger point. One reason Terkel’s Working is so exceptional is his absolute willingness to listen with genuine curiosity and deep humanity—qualities that reverberate loudly in this outstanding Radio Diaries installment. The storytelling program’s recent access to Terkel’s raw audio results in a delightful, albeit painfully brief, glimpse into two of the conversations that helped shape the timeless masterpiece about the daily working lives of more than 130 people. Helen Moog, a taxi driver from Youngstown, Ohio, tells the writer and historian about her belief that a life without work isn’t a life at all. Al Pommier, a Chicago parking lot attendant, shares a jovial chat and cigars with Terkel as they discuss his car parking skills. The bits of audio illuminate the simple beauty and decency inherent in so much of Terkel’s work. It’s an absolute must-listen for those who’ve been touched by Terkel’s creations and a solid hook for those who are new to his classic pieces of oral history. [TC]

A Screenwriter’s Guide To The End Of The World


While Scriptnotes bills itself as “a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters,” the topics that cohosts John August and Craig Mazin choose to discuss, with relatively few exceptions, have a considerably broader appeal and can serve as a great way for industry outsiders to get a sense of how Hollywood makes its sausages. This week, however, their focus is pulled considerably wider, as they discuss the recent trend in all forms of narrative storytelling to end everything. Has there ever been a time in recorded history when civilization has met its grisly demise more often, and in more horrific manners, than in the past decade? Across all media, mankind has been laid low by the hand of God, natural disasters, asteroid collisions, extraterrestrial invasions, inter-dimensional raids, and more zombie outbreaks than one can easily count. August and Mazin muse over what this apocalyptic obsession says about society and use their experience as working screenwriters to tease out why these stories wind up being told the way that they are. They also outline their own personal plans for surviving the coming waves of undead hordes. Turns out, sometimes the best strategy is a quick and painless death. [DD]

Stuff You Missed In History Class
Dazzle Camouflage


In this episode of Stuff You Missed In History Class, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey focus on the strange artistic tactic known as Dazzle Camouflage. If listeners aren’t especially familiar with modern military history, they probably have no idea that 100 years ago, various navies painted their battleships to look like gigantic Dada paintings. The idea was that the visual would be so distracting and startling that those attempting to manually target the ship would be disoriented and unable to focus. And though British Royal Navy Lt. Norman Wilkinson is often given all the credit for thinking this tactic up, there is another man who fought desperately to get his due. A naturalist named John Graham Kerr had approached the British Royal Navy several years earlier after noting “obliterative coloring” in animals. Even before Kerr, there were attempts to provide “counter-shading” with hard-line gradients during the Spanish American War, and this added background only complicates and deepens the story. The pure strangeness of this topic makes this a stand-out episode, as this is not only a hidden phenomena, but the dramatic dispute over the idea seems entirely lost from most history books. There are also show notes on the podcast’s blog that provide an essential visual of the camouflage and some research links that flesh out more of the story. [DT]

Stuff You Should Know
How Pinball Works


Pinball is a topic that Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant are quite excited to tear into, particularly since Clark saw the documentary Special When Lit. This combined with another documentary called TILT: The Battle To Save Pinball and a pinball history article in Popular Mechanics have led the hosts into fascinating research on these pre-video game arcade staples. Pinball is a surprisingly old game that has adapted well to popular culture, but few might know that it was illegal as recently as the 1970s. In the 1930s, the game became extremely popular, only to be seen as a way to scam youngsters out of their allowance and treated with the same scorn as Prohibition-era barrels of whiskey. In addition to tales of police smashing machines with sledgehammers and dumping their remains in rivers, there is also a glimpse into the huge, thriving community of competitive pinball wizards attempting to master the perfect shot. The hosts are completely stunned by the illegality aspect, and laugh a great deal at the very real “pinball raids” leading up to a congressional hearing for pinball. They also note more recent history, as new innovations and competition over the last two years may be leading us to a silver age of pinball. [DT]

Episode 4:1


The Superego podcast is finally, finally (finally!) back for its much anticipated fourth season. It’s been more than a year since the last episode of the third season dropped, which is more than a little too long of a wait. But now that new episodes are upon us, there’s some good news and some better news. The good news is that the improvised sketch show is at least as sharp and surreal as it ever was. And the better news is that it has the potential to be more so, now that frequent guest Paul F. Tompkins is officially a regular cast member. And while the constant presence of Jeff Crocker—who remains a part of the show as “Resident Specialist Emeritus”—will certainly be missed, Mark McConville, Jeremy Carter, and Matt Gourley could hardly have chosen a better replacement. Guest stars Neko Case, Thomas Lennon, and Colin Hanks help to elevate some already excellent sketch work. Case’s innuendo-laden studio work with county musician Shunt McGuppin is a particular standout in this episode. [DD]

Talk Is Jericho
Triple H


The higher up you get in the professional wrestling food chain, the harder it is to find someone willing to speak candidly—to shoot—about the business. So it can be considered a major coup that Chris Jericho, whose relatively new podcast has been picking up huge traction through big name guests in rock and wrestling, was able to rope his on-screen arch-nemesis Triple H into a sprawling two-part interview out of character. Triple H drops his tough-guy-turned-evil-boss schtick and shows that he’s more than willing to mock the short sighted gimmicks he got saddled with in his early WCW career, including an unbelievable anecdote about how the Terra Ryzing name snuck onto television in the first place. A calm defense of his Kliq’s alleged stranglehold on backstage politics headlines part one of Jericho’s respectful questioning; he even drops a revelation that he, Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and X-Pac may have had more to do with the Attitude Era boom than they’ve ever been given credit for. [NJ]

Talk’n Shop
Sharting Ain’t Easy


Since his first tour with New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2008, “The Machine Gun” Karl Anderson has made a career out of being a stranger in a strange land. And as the de facto leader of Bullet Club, the bratty gaijin gang credited with making New Japan accessible to America, Anderson is on the top of the wrestling world. But his shop talk sessions with tag-team partner Doc Gallows and fellow Japanese mainstay Rocky Romero paint an entirely different picture of a few regular guys pounding beers together in the middle of the night at the Tokyo Dome Hotel, uniquely isolated in their shared culture. The good brothers have a clear, deep, infectious love for one another’s company that shines through the stagnant comedy podcast formula even as they goad each other into retelling stories for the microphone they’ve all heard dozens of times before—like Gallows’s titular account of the time his mother washed her face with his dirty hand towel. It doesn’t require an expansive knowledge of professional wrestling to get into Talk’n Shop, either, as the listener mail that bookends Gallows’s monologue is just plain uproarious. [NJ]

Wired’s Gadget Lab
Getting Angry With The Knee Defender


Gadget Lab hosts Mat Honan and Michael Calore dedicate a good chunk of this episode on the gadget-cab companies Lyft and Uber, who are in an all-out taxi war. So far it looks like the big loser is everyone who hopes to get paid to drive a Lyft or Uber car, as Uber ramps up incredibly shady tactics and Lyft struggles to compete with its more folksy, “we’re nice people with pink mustaches on our cars” approach. But Honan and Calore are excited about the escalation as both services constitute something important in the world of apps, and the big winner will eventually be the consumer. They hope. More in depth is the discussion of the newly hot topic of airline “knee defenders,” which started a few altercations in the last couple of weeks. With flights getting more cramped and more expensive, the debate is more interesting than ever. Neither host enjoys that this is a new debate, but their surprise at this news topic leads them both admit how incredibly irritated they would be if they were no longer able to recline their seats because someone behind them had a small device clamped onto it. [DT]

We see what you said there

“I love Funfetti cake with Funfetti icing. And I love scratch-off tickets. I am South Jersey through and through.”—Grace Helbig, Not Too Deep


“Most of us do not know an alternative to thinking every waking moment of our lives.”—Sam Harris, Point Of Inquiry

“I’m scared of [retirement]. I don’t feel retirement is the best of thing for people. When you retire, you start to go into a shell and you’re like the forgotten person. You get bogged down in nothing, you do nothing and you wind up nothing.”—Taxi driver Helen Moog tells Studs Terkel about her fears, Radio Diaries


“When it comes to the idea of zombies, we are externalizing time… We are, all of us, running from this very slow zombie called Death, and it starts shambling after us once we are born, and it eventually catches up to us and bites us.”—Craig Mazin, Scriptnotes

“That is country music, though. If you know what the next word is going to be before you ever hear it, it’s going to be a hit.”—Neko Case, Superego


“He took a black Sharpie and drew a marker between the words Terror and rizer and he goes, ‘There, now it is a name. You’re Terra Rizer.’”—Triple H on how he became Terra Ryzing, Talk Is Jericho

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