Trump visits Paradise, California, which was devastated by the Camp Fire. He wrongly blamed the fires on forest mismanagement.
Photo: Paul Kitagaki Jr. (Getty Images)
Podmass_In [Podmass](https://www.avclub.com/c/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](mailto:podmass@avclub.com)._  

American Hysteria
Poisoned Halloween Candy

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It doesn’t matter how many times the stories are debunked every year; over-protective parents insist on checking their children’s Halloween candy for razor blades, syringes, and the occasional cyanide pill. What is it about this urban legend that has made it so persistent? The newest episode of American Hysteria theorizes that our modern fear of poisoned candy might be rooted in an older fear of highly processed foods in general. With the advent of the industrial revolution, Americans had to adjust to eating food that came in strange packaging and looked wholly unnatural. This led to the nation’s first health craze, championed by anti-masturbation advocate Dr. Harvey Kellogg, who believed anything but the most bland foods would lead to sexual deviancy. Since then, negative qualities like sinfulness and danger have been associated with sugary treats, spawning ridiculous urban myths and schoolyard stories. Still, our fear of deadly candy on Halloween night isn’t completely baseless. After all, diabetes is no joke. [Dan Neilan]


Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates
Is Trump Bad For Comedy?

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Sometime around the 2016 election, people started voicing the opinion that if/when Donald Trump became president, it would somehow be a boon to the arts in general and comedy in particular. Since then, the question of Trump’s effect on comedy has been debated again and again, usually by non-comedians. That is, until now. The most recent episode of Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates features stand-up comedian Sara Schaefer and former editor-in-chief of National Lampoon P.J. O’Rourke defending the position that Trump’s presence in the White House is actually bad for comedy. On the opposing side, author Kurt Andersen and Billy Kimball, an executive producer of HBO’s Veep, argue not that Trump isn’t good for comedy, but that he at least isn’t bad for it, citing the success of Trump-bashing shows like Last Week Tonight. Of all the panelists in attendance, Schaefer’s arguments stand out because, as a working stand-up, she has the only perspective from the frontlines of the culture war where comedians regularly receive death threats for daring to utter political opinions. But, in the end, it’s up to the audience to decide who wins the debate. Let’s just hope they don’t fall prey to “clapter.” [Dan Neilan]


Literary Roadhouse
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

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A revolving gathering of hosts/readers lends a genuine book club feel to this literary-centric pod that tackles all manner of stories so long as they are short. While there’s not much the hosts can add to Ambrose Bierce’s poignant theme of heroic fantasies eviscerated by the reality of war, that doesn’t stop all from attacking the text with their individual gripes. The group notes the story’s lofty standing in American literature, but it’s more in passing, and certainly not dwelled upon. One member of the hosting trio is an Englishman who confesses he doesn’t know much about the Civil War, let alone the literature it inspired, so he’s coming at the story with fresh eyes. He sees a voice that’s far more modern than other 1890s works, though he’s not crazy about Bierce’s descriptions and shock ending. Speaking of Bierce, the discussion benefits from the deeper dive into the oeuvre of the disappeared Debbie Downer. Our man of the moment also cranked out pithy satirical vocabulary columns which in all probability would have made a popular Twitter account. Stuff like: “Egotist (n.) A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.” Wow. [Zach Brooke]


Maltin On Movies
Ryan Coogler

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Ryan Coogler is three for three in his filmography. From his feature debut Fruitvale Station to the Rocky reboot Creed to Marvel’s Black Panther, the director attributes a lot of his success to the crew he brought along with him from his days as a grad student at USC. On this week’s episode, Coogler chats with Jessie and Leonard Maltin—who taught Coolger at USC—about the importance of collaboration with a talented crew, how he made his way from playing football at Sacramento State to enrolling in USC’s film program, and the impact his teachers had on his career. Coogler recalls pitching Fruitvale Station to Forest Whitaker and how a serendipitous friendship with a law student made it possible for Coogler to get in touch with the family of Oscar Grant III—the young man whose life and death was the basis for the film. There’s also an interesting aside that explores the elder Maltin’s career and how he first got published at the age of 13. [Mike Vanderbilt]


SciShow Tangents
Science Hoaxes

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Billed as a “lightly competitive knowledge showcase,” SciShow Tangents is more of an enthusiastic conversation between four nerdy, science-loving friends. Led by prolific writer/internet personality Hank Green, the project is a spin-off of his popular educational YouTube channel SciShow. Each week, Green and fellow SciShow creatives Ceri Riley, Stefan Chin, and Sam Schultz try to “one-up, amaze, and delight each other” with science facts. In this premiere episode, the hosts specifically examine scientific hoaxes, from a bizarre 18th-century story about a woman seemingly giving birth to rabbits, to the troubling origins of the anti-vaxxer movement. There’s ostensibly a game-show-esque structure to each episode, with the hosts winning “Hank Bucks” throughout various competitive segments (a Hank Buck buys you the opportunity to go on a tangent about something that interests you). For the most part, however, it just feels like a casual, lighthearted discussion with plenty of scientific factoids woven throughout. The show’s loose format will likely continue to evolve as the podcast goes on, but the core chemistry of the team will keep you coming back for more delightful nuggets of scientific knowledge. [Caroline Siede]


Sold In America
Shutting Down The Online Marketplace

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The sixth in an eight-part series on sex work in the United States aims to suss out the FOSTA/SESTA law, the most recent federal attempt to regulate the sex trade. Overwhelmingly backed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on April 11, FOSTA/SESTA targets online forums that facilitate prostitution by holding those websites responsible for illegal activity stemming from users’ posts. The government’s intentions might have been good, but host Noor Tagouri turns up sex workers who say the law isn’t making them safer. Before, sex workers could share info about dangerous johns in the same places sex sales were arranged. Now, former internet-only sex workers are forced to work in the streets for the first time to recover their income. But it’s not a black-and-white issue; online sex listings protect some workers and endanger others. The sex worker bulletin board can fail dramatically, as heard during the show’s open featuring a mother’s powerful, anguished testimony regarding her daughter’s murder during a hookup arranged on Backpage. Others support the law for ideological reasons, believing it a good vehicle to ban all sex work in place of regulating the demand that shows no sign of stoppage. [Zach Brooke]


Step By Stapp
Martii’s Blind Date

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Co-hosts Chris McCarthy and Rob Hadden have landed on an unlikely but highly successful combination of the ’90s sitcom Step By Step and the lead singer of Creed, Scott Stapp. The podcast starts with the premise that for every episode of the Suzanne Somers and Patrick Duffy television show, Scott Stapp wrote a song with lyrics inspired by said episode. McCarthy and Hadden then stumble into an absurd and hilarious riff, even going so far as to dive into a second podcast within the first podcast, The Blank Check Podcast, which features “guest callers.” While examining similarities between “Martii’s Blind Date” (the Step By Step episode where Karen and Dana’s mom sets each of them up on blind dates) and the Creed song “Ode” from the album My Own Prison, Hadden fields a call from “Martii” himself. Voiced by McCarthy, Martii seems to have a lot going on, from a simultaneous divorce from both his husband and his wife to—you guessed it—an upcoming blind date. Hadden and McCarthy have a lot of fun somehow bundling their back-and-forth into a regularly occurring program that is as random as it is hilarious. [Jose Nateras]


The Bitchuation Room
That’s One Pissed Off POTUS

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Among the more unfortunate bits of smoldering garbage in the dumpster fire that is 2018 is the loss of Newsbroke, AJ+’s Emmy-shortlisted political sketch and commentary series that seemed so brimming with potential. That show was discontinued back in June, but the talented people who made it worth watching have scattered like socialism-demystifying spores, providing us with new things to enjoy. Ergo, we now have The Bitchuation Room, which features Newsbroke’s former host and producer Francesca Fiorentini leading a weekly discussion of all the news events worth bitching about. In this episode, the stand-up/activist sits down with comedian Jessica Sele and radio producer Sam Greenspan in Los Angeles, as California burns around them, to fume over the president’s subpar responses to our unfolding climate disaster (with a short digression to gloat over his recent electoral upsets) and explain why, despite conventional wisdom, Donald Trump is actually kind of garbage for comedy. Fiorentini is a quick-witted and charismatic host who keeps the conversation buzzing along pretty quickly, and her guests appear happily empowered to contribute as they see fit. Overall, a welcome release valve for increasingly stressful news cycles. [Dennis DiClaudio]