Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The McElroy brothers condemn themselves to a lifetime of mediocrity in Til Death Do Us Blart

Photo: Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
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.

Amazon Book Club
The Magpies


Finally, a literary podcast that dares to broadcast what some book club members only do in private: not read most of the book. Instead, it engages Amazon ebooks at the critical junctures of the opening and finish, and at the 25-, 50-, and 75-percent marks. The rest is filled in by the playful imaginations of two comedians reacting to the intense dramatization of designated reader/voice actor/punching bag Ganesh Sarma. Though selections tend to play out predictably, a few, like this week’s The Magpies, defy expectations. Notable as one of the only books the group actually spent money on (placing it in a rarified company with Fat Vampire), a synopsis of The Magpies suggests some sort of creepy potboiler about newlyweds tumbling into a web of malice. But it actually begins as a full-blown erotica that transitions to a climactic scene describing two guys kicking the shit out of each other in an inferno. It’s enough to surprise even these Kindle cringe veterans, but they recover well enough to both cast the movie version and debate at what point in a pregnancy an unborn baby counts as a character. [Zach Brooke]

Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend
Will Ferrell

Conan O’Brien has spent the majority of his career rubbing elbows with movie stars, musicians, and fellow comedians, and one would assume he’s accidentally made a few friends along the way. But the veteran late-night host insists that none of these genial conversations from behind the desk have ever blossomed into true friendships. Now, however, O’Brien is venturing into the unstructured world of podcasting to see if he can force a lasting bond with one of his celebrity acquaintances. First up on the docket: Will Ferrell. Listening to these two swap stories from their early days at 30 Rockefeller Center and bond over their mutual admiration for each other’s work is really enjoyable. But it’s especially refreshing to hear a more relaxed O’Brien conduct an interview outside the constricting parameters of a late-night talk show, without the pressure of an ever-looming commercial break disrupting the conversation. It remains to be seen whether he and Ferrell have formed a lifelong friendship, though it’s doubtful that O’Brien would blow the whole conceit of his podcast on the first episode, especially with so many high-profile guests coming down the pike. [Dan Neilan]

SIM Hijacking And The Phone Number Ransom 


Cybersecurity is one of those things you hope you know enough about to not have your life completely ruined, but every time you learn something new you realize just how screwed you probably are. CYBER, a new podcast from Vice’s tech vertical Motherboard, is definitely not here to relieve that anxiety. In the inaugural episode, host Ben Makuch introduces listeners to a scam known as “SIM hijacking,” which you probably didn’t even know was a thing. How it works: Some enterprising young hacker (read: bored teenager) gets hold of your cellphone number, calls up your provider, and tells them to shut off service. With this small amount of personal info in hand, the hacker can now access your various online accounts for social media and email. This is a situation where two-step verification can actually hurt you. Feeling anxious yet? Well, get ready, because the ransoming process hasn’t even started. But CYBER isn’t all bad news. Just being aware of these kinds of attacks puts you way ahead of most internet users, and as long as you’re not openly bragging about your bitcoin cache, you’re probably fine. Probably. [Dan Neilan]

Love Me
What Can You Hear?


This is a show all about the “messiness of human connection.” With a name like Love Me, one might think the series would center on a more romantic narrative, but by focusing on human connection more broadly, the creators are able to explore the different nuances of love between different people. This episode, from Cristal Duhaime, Mira Burt-Wintonick and Lene Bech Sillesen, shares collected interviews with hotline volunteers from Samaritans USA, the oldest suicide prevention network in the world, founded in 1977. Hearing how the volunteers train to be truly good listeners is unbelievably moving and inspiring. The compassion these workers exercise, the way they center on the callers’ experience (not on themselves), and their thoughts on how listening is both simpler and more complex than people tend to think is truly eye-opening. The episode paints such a clear picture of how, ultimately, there is no greater act of love than to listen; to be there for one another, especially in times of crisis. [Jose Nateras]

One HEAT Minute
Jordan Harper


The minute-by-minute podcast format has been used to take a deeper look at films as disparate as The ’Burbs and Tombstone. This laser-focused deep dive is certainly more commonplace with the otaku generation, which finds fans obsessing over a film’s smallest details and trivia. On One HEAT Minute, host Blake Howard has been exploring Michael Mann’s magnum opus, Heat, inviting fans (and even filmmakers who were part of the production) to explore the nitty-gritty of this crime saga, its filmmakers, and the actors. Its 97th episode welcomes producer and television writer Jordan Harper, and if being an Edgar award–winning crime novelist isn’t the proper credential to Mann-splain the 1995 classic, then the fact that Harper owns bootleg Heat action figures certainly should be. Harper and Howard discuss the precision with which Michael Mann directs his heist sequences, comparing this minute of Heat to Mann’s 1981 film Thief. They also touch on the more naturalistic way Mann introduces his characters and their particular skill sets. [Mike Vanderbilt]

TomHanksgiving: Cast Away


The pre-9/11 decade can be considered the crest of America’s nostalgia wave, when a significant portion of the national conversation began devoting itself to the fetishization of all our zany yesterdays over our tedious todays. So, for those of us who lived through that age of looking backward, it brings a Zima-flavored tear to the eye to see the ’90s and early 2000s getting their wistful due. And Stop/Rewind is all about that. It is, as it bills itself, “a podcast about the crap that made us.” Here, the hosts wrap up their TomHanksgiving series, a month’s worth of episodes in which they and a guest tweeze through the offerings of the decade’s patron saint. Listeners without cognitive memories of the Y2K panic might not draw much from the trio’s musings on Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, but those of us with the mental scars get the intended dopamine hit as various elements of our younger, thinner days get unearthed and held out for inspection. It’s pretty much the podcast equivalent of pawing through boxes from college after a few beers. In a good way. [Dennis DiClaudio]

Til Death Do Us Blart


Four years ago, a group of men—nay, heroes—came together to start a new holiday tradition. They vowed that they would commemorate the day of American Thanksgiving every year, until the end of time, with a viewing of the Kevin James film Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Why did they do this? Well, because it’s fun. But also because a movie this insane can ostensibly be unpacked for all eternity. This year, when Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery from The Worst Idea Of All Time joined the McElroy brothers from My Brother, My Brother, And Me to discuss their fourth annual watch, they reaffirmed that fact with new discoveries, revelations, and belly laughs. Perhaps their biggest takeaway is that, while most of the film’s side characters have redeeming moments and make enjoyable acting choices, the titular character of Paul Blart undeniably “sucks ass.” This revelation forces them to ask: What does this say about the psychology of Kevin James, a co-writer on the film? Does he hate himself, the audience, or both? You don’t have to have seen the movie to ponder these questions. In fact, they recommend you don’t. The burden of “Death Blart” is theirs and their alone. [Dan Neilan]

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