Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: The Exorcist (Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
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.

American Scandal
BALCO: Liars and Leaks


At first blush, this new narrative offering from Wondery looks like another in-depth tale of true crime. And while that’s sort of true, it also isn’t. Scandals need not be criminal to inflame society. Yes, the BALCO steroid mess of the early ’00s—painstakingly recounted in the show’s inaugural episode—eventually got to that point, but legal infractions aren’t really what ignited a moral panic. It was the integrity of the sports being openly shredded for all the world to see, and then seized upon by moralizing legislators, that sent people clutching for their pearls. The show’s exhaustive arc helps fill gaps for those only vaguely tuned into the saga when it first unfolded, while its tabloid presentation ensures the compelling human drama remains front and center. Most of us don’t grasp the chemistry behind bootleg steroids, but we understand the motivations of Barry Bonds and Marion Jones to use them to excel. Host Lindsay Graham (no, not that one) creates character back-and-forths to punctuate the decisive moments. In the center of it all is BALCO founder Victor Conte’s supreme desire for recognition, which has him spilling his guts to the feds as his lab is raided early in this episode. [Zach Brooke]

Blank Check
Space Jam with James Newman

It’s another family edition this week as co-host Griffin Newman’s brother, James, joins the crew to talk about 1996’s Space Jam following the recent announcement that Ryan Coogler and LeBron James will team up for a remake, scheduled to start filming next summer. As Griffin and James sort through their complex web of nostalgia for the film (Griffin loved Looney Tunes—“Bugs was my Michael Jordan”—while James was the family sports fanatic), co-host David Sims maintains a diplomatic silence rather than outright disparage a movie that has so bafflingly maintained a dedicated fan base for over 20 years. Over the course of two hours, various confounding elements of Space Jam are put under the microscope, such as its impossibly brief run time, how worried Michael Jordan’s family must be throughout his days-long unexplained absence, jokes that seemingly allude to public masturbation, the hypersexualization of Lola Bunny, and the jaw-dropping merchandise sales that grossed 20 times as much as the movie itself. Blank Check doesn’t rip this movie apart nearly as much as it could, but the hosts’ good-natured jabs at its failings set the stage nicely for their eventual discussion of next year’s reboot. [Marnie Shure]

Dead Man Talking
The Tape


Angel Reséndiz was executed by the state of Texas in 2006, but his voice lives on in an audio interview he conducted with a British journalist during his time on death row. Dubbed the Railroad Killer, Reséndiz was only convicted of a single murder, but authorities suspect him to be responsible for 15 homicides. Now, the man who interviewed Reséndiz as he waited to die is trying to find out if the number could be higher still. During their conversation Reséndiz confesses to another murder—naming both the man he killed and the victim’s wife, who was ultimately convicted of the crime. The journalist, Alex Hannaford, never could shake this confession. True, many serial killers are pathological liars, and the unbalanced Reséndiz talked loads of shit that didn’t make any sense. But Reséndiz had turned himself over to police years earlier, coaxed into crossing the Mexican border and surrendering to American authorities. And he not only confesses to Hannaford, but also in a letter written to the woman sentenced for the death of the man Reséndiz says he himself killed. What’s more, one of Reséndiz’s surviving victims says it’s possible he’s telling the truth. [Zach Brooke]

It Happened In Hollywood
The Exorcist


It’s not inaccurate to hear about It Happened In Hollywood and think, “Oh wow, look, another podcast episode detailing all the crazy things that happened with some movie back in Hollywood’s heyday.” Well, yes. But also, no. This inaugural episode of It Happened In Hollywood goes to some considerably weirder places than your average look-back aggregation of on-set anecdotes. William Friedkin couldn’t be happier to recount some objectively disturbing stories from the making of his classic 1973 film, The Exorcist. Laying them out here in blurb form won’t do them a bit of justice; for best results you need to hear the 83-year-old filmmaker unravel the narrative himself. But just to give a small taste, one reminiscence involves a serial killer cast member who served as the inspiration for the 1980s controversial cult hit Cruising. Another anecdote sees character actress and recovering alcoholic Mercedes McCambridge pounding liquor and raw eggs in a recording studio with two priests to get the unnerving voice of the demon Pazuzu just right. Seth Abramovitch and Chip Pope, the amicable co-hosts of this new podcast from The Hollywood Reporter, sound positively overjoyed by their good luck in finding this trove of weirdness. As they should well be. This is a really fun listen. [Dennis DiClaudio]

A Soft, Moist Opening — ScreamQueenz Turns Inside Out


In the first episode back from hiatus, host Patrick K. Walsh characterizes his return to the podcast as a “soft opening” for the podcast and website following unexpected delays in a planned redesign. In the meantime, some of the prep going on for the podcast’s first-ever live show is underway, as well as the upcoming ScreamQueenz “Countdown to Halloween Marathon” that will fundraise for Jeffrey Newman’s Backpacks For The Streets organization, which provides the homeless with backpacks full of food and much-needed personal items. Breaking out of the usual ScreamQueenz mode of horror film commentary with a fun, queer bent, Walsh devotes the larger part of the episode to sharing voicemails his fans left him during the hiatus. While the host still infuses his signature style and commentary to the episode, responding to listener suggestions for movies to cover and the like, there’s something extremely humanizing about hearing a host known for his typically fun and campy personality talk about the struggles that go into producing a podcast, especially when juxtaposed with the care and affection sent his way in the messages way from listeners. [Jose Nateras]

The Dumbbells
Exercise Class Nightmares (w/ Erin Whitehead)


Last month, Los Angeles–based comedians and workout aficionados Eugene Cordero and Ryan Stanger celebrated hitting the 100th episode milestone of their informative, irreverently funny, low-key-motivational fitness podcast with a visit from fan-favorite guests and fellow Action Boyz co-hosts Jon Gabrus and Ben Rodgers. It was a solid entry point worth checking out for new listeners, full of practical tips (why it’s better to think holistically rather than obsess over problem spots) and impractical business ventures (American Gladiators–themed pop-up obstacle course bachelor parties). Cordero is absent for this week’s excellent follow-up, but comedy writer and Wild Horses cast member Erin Whitehead is a delightful stand-in co-host and guest. As implied by the “Personal. Fitness.” tagline, it’s impossible to have frank discussions about diet and exercise without getting into some nitty-gritty territory, and Stanger and Whitehead do so hilariously with a rundown of stories about their worst group class fears coming true. [Dan Jakes]

Wild Thing


Denver-based journalist Laura Krantz approached the wild world of Bigfoot conspiracies like any other rational person would: with a healthy dose of skepticism. But after spending more than a year interviewing supposed eyewitnesses and trekking through the tick-infested brambles of the Pacific Northwest, she finds herself feeling a little differently. She’s not quite ready to say she’s a believer—at least not in the first episode of her nine-part podcast series that is in no way connected to the movie Smallfoot or the “Zendaya is Meechee” video—but she’s at least willing to admit she’s “Bigfoot curious.” Krantz’s journey began in 2006 when she learned about the death of Grover Krantz, a tenured anthropology professor who dedicated his life to studying Bigfoot and who also happened to be a distant cousin of Krantz herself. Her tenuous connection to Grover not only sparked her interest in the Sasquatch, but gave her access to communities of believers around the country. With the promise of enticing revelations and hints of scientifically backed evidence to come, even the most hard-line skeptics will want to stick around and see where this series goes. [Dan Neilan]

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