The Fifth Element (Photo: Handout/Getty Images)

In 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.


#GoodMuslimBadMuslim
Let’s Talk About Sex…Manuals

A new sex manual exclusively for married Muslim women is igniting fires in the Islamic world with its message that it’s okay to be kinky, so long as it doesn’t involve porn or anal. The Muslimah Sex Manual: A Halal Guide To Mind Blowing Sex operates on the theory that Muslim women are raunchier than non-Muslims because all their bottled-up sexual energy can only be expressed through marital relations. The hosts—single Taz and partnered Zahra—take some obvious shots at the book’s more restrictive messages, but ultimately applaud it as a step forward in a culture that often tells women sex should be more practical than pleasurable. Also, who should play Aladdin in Disney’s live-action remake? Before Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud was cast in the role, initial reports indicated that studios couldn’t find brown-skinned actors who could sing and dance. Thus kicked off a social media brouhaha focusing on two questions: 1.) WTF, Disney? and 2.) Is Aladdin actually Arab, South Asian, or Chinese Muslim? Taz and Zahra settle the matter by agreeing that the proper casting choice would have been Avan Jogia, who even in real life comes off as a “total Aladdin.”

[Zach Brooke]


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Conversations With People Who Hate Me
You’re A Piece Of Shit

Produced by Night Vale Presents (Alice Isn’t Dead, Welcome To Night Vale), Conversations With People Who Hate Me “takes conversations online and turns them into productive conversations offline.” By now most people can relate to the frustration that stems from having cyclical conversations online, each participant unwilling to budge on an idea, especially when they have the safety of digital distance enabling them to speak their minds recklessly. Host Dylan Marron knows these sorts of conversations all too well. As a writer and video maker who focuses on social justice issues, he receives a lot of negative messages online, and in his new podcast he calls some of the people behind them to ask the question why? In this debut episode, Marron contacts Chris, a man who called him a piece of shit, allowing listeners a glimpse into two strangers acquainting themselves despite previous complications. The results are hilarious and full of humanity.

[Becca James]


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Off Book: The Improvised Musical
Pillaging For Your Dreams (W/ Drew Tarver)

There’s something truly magical about great musical improv, and it’s a specific energy rarely found in podcasting. Translating improvised comedy to this format always requires a shift that might be subtle, but still separates it from the live thing. Off Book: The Improvised Musical almost mystically captures that same edge-of-seat, stars-in-eyes, “How the hell are they doing that?” feeling of sitting in front of a stage watching really talented people excel at something they love. Every week on Off Book, Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino (with the fantastic Scott Passarella on the keys) improvise a full musical with a special guest, inspired by a conversation at the top of the episode. This week features a comedy podcast favorite, Drew Tarver (Big Grande’s Teacher’s Lounge), whose improv fits perfectly into McKenna and Reino’s kinetic story building while still bringing his particular flair that has consistently made him a standout force. This instant classic tells the story of pirates, bears, following your dreams, the “Jeep lifestyle,” and so much more. Every entirely re-listenable song, and the way characters fold into each other’s narrative, is awe-inspiring and totally delightful.

[Rebecca Bulnes]


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Playable Characters Podcast
Tanooki Suit

Most people wouldn’t contact the Tanooki Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 for an exclusive interview. Thankfully, the hosts of the Playable Characters podcast—comedians Brian McGuinness, Aalap Patel, and Calvin Cato—are not most people. The self-described “raccoon-looking suit that Mario shoves himself into” identifies herself as a woman, and has a lot of hilarious stories from behind the scenes of the “shoots” for the Mario Brothers games. Tanooks, as she’s called from time to time, offers a number of anecdotes about how Bowser gets a bad rap as well as relating her dating history, in particular a relationship with Hollywood’s own Jeff Goldblum. As a “character” that might otherwise be considered an object, Tanooki Suit has a unique approach to moving through the world (especially when it comes to things like sex, aging, and even mortality). The conversation between McGuinness, Patel, Cato, and their guest bounces from topic to topic in an almost stream-of-consciousness manner that isn’t necessarily the easiest to track; however, the absurdity of the concept as a whole is so funny that, if anything, the randomness of it all just adds to the hilarity.

[Jose Nateras]


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Post Mortem With Mick Garris
Mike Flanagan

Mike Flanagan—director of modern horror favorites Hush and Ouija: Origin Of Evil—stopped by Post Mortem With Mick Garris this week to discuss how he found success directing scary movies. Flanagan reveals that horror movies actually terrified him as a child, particularly 1988’s (relatively tame) cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space, and how that led him to the works of Stephen King, believing that maybe horror books would not be as visceral and frightening; he found this to be untrue. Garris explores the troubled distribution history of his Oculus follow-up, Before I Wake, as well as the director’s earliest films, which he admits he attempted to “scrub from the internet.” The director is currently adapting Stephen King’s novel Gerald’s Game for the screen, a project Flanagan explains has been a dream of his since he was 19 years old. “I thought, ‘It’s brilliant, but it’s unfilmable,’” Flanagan tells Garris on the podcast. “It took me a couple of years to come up with a mechanism that would make it cinematic without changing the book.” Garris has adapted several of King’s novels himself, including The Stand, Desperation, and Bag Of Bones.

[Mike Vanderbilt]


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Reply All
Long Distance Part I and II

Six months ago, Reply All co-host Alex Goldman got a call from an 800 number. On the other side of the call was “Alex Martin,” a man claiming to be an Apple support technician, who told Goldman that his iCloud had been compromised. Recognizing the scam for what it was, Goldman repeatedly called back and talked to representatives from the call center. Goldman and producer Damiano Marchetti continued to dig, discovering more and more details about the operation. In two thrilling episodes, listeners gain access to a perplexing, funny, disheartening, and suspenseful investigation into the center of the scam company, Accostings, and the men behind it. Goldman and Marchetti’s determination to flip the script, confront the scammers, and understand the intricacies of their business is consistently exciting to listen to. Through interviews with previous employees, the pair find their leverage, and most importantly, develop a relationship with Accostings superior Kamal Verma—a connection that takes them to India, face-to-face with their attempted scammers. It’s a story that benefits from being unspoiled, as every aspect uncovered (both technical and human) reveals itself masterfully. This compelling dive into an omnipresent world that is equal parts common and mysterious sees Reply All justifiably excited by its own material and elevated to new heights.

[Rebecca Bulnes]


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Sincerely, X
Pepper Spray

TED’s newest podcast, Sincerely, X, posits that sometimes “you need to turn off the spotlight to reveal inspiring stories.” And so, in the vein of TED Talks, Sincerely, X provides a platform for storytellers, only listeners are unaware of their identities. Prioritizing ideas over identity and substance over style, the speakers share stories that have been deemed too sensitive, painful, or potentially damaging to have a name attached to them. In this episode, a woman learns a valuable lesson about mental health when a less-than-desirable customer service experience triggers violence. Her story lends itself to a conversation about how everyone can better deal with mental health issues, and the idea that lashing out while overwhelmed is not indicative of a person’s day-to-day or true identity. Promising a season full of “victims, perpetrators, investigators, activists, empaths and more,” Sincerely, X is sure to offer an open and honest dialogue in a time when it’s needed most.

[Becca James]


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Skeptoid
Lonnie Zamora And The Socorro UFO

Brian Dunning’s snack-size, science-based skepticism podcast has cranked out weekly stories for nearly 600 episodes, and it’s still as punchy as ever, although one starts to wonder if he’s running out of pseudoscience to investigate. His latest show on the Lonnie Zamora UFO sighting dispels that notion, however, and in fact reveals Dunning in his prime as a researcher. Because Zamora was a police officer, his credibility is at higher level than many UFO witnesses—so it’s on his authority that his report of a car-sized, egg-shaped object blasting off in New Mexico in 1964 is regarded as a first-tier UFO sighting. The standard (non-alien) accounting of Zamora’s sighting supposes the craft was a NASA lunar module being tested nearby. Dunning skewers this proposal by producing a description of the NASA module that bears no resemblance to Zamora’s account. He believes the answer is closer to what the dean of a nearby college wrote Nobel Prize recipient and UFO researcher Linus Pauling in response to Pauling’s request for information about the incident: that it was a hoax perpetrated by STEM subjects with a dislike of Zamora.

[Zach Brooke]


The SportsAlcohol Podcast
Top 15 Summer Movies For 1997

It’s somehow equally alarming that it’s already been two decades since the release of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element and has only been two decades since the release of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. One film feels like it continues to inform pop culture while the other feels hopelessly archaic, the product of some happily bygone era. That’s the fun of this retrospective podcast episode from SportsAlcohol—it shines a bright, bracing light on the cinematic fare offered to consumers 20 summers ago and easily separates the endeavoring from the enervating. This is a modest podcast (it doesn’t have the sound quality of a show recorded inside a professional sound booth), but its three hosts (including regular A.V. Club contributor Jesse Hassenger) are knowledgeable, charismatic, and chatty—the conversation zips along without lag. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the 90-minute conversation is most enjoyable when they devote extra time to a film they find particularly unwholesome. Remember Spawn? These guys certainly do, and they have a lot to say about it. For listeners who weren’t frequenting theaters in 1997, it’s valuable to remember how long it took for Hollywood to get comic-book movies right.

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[Dennis DiClaudio]


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Wrong Reel
The Cinema Of Walter Hill

The films of action auteur Walter Hill are on the agenda for the 302nd episode of Wrong Reel. Host James Hancock has invited on John Cribbs of The Pink Smoke to take a look at Hill’s career, which features criminals, creatures from outer space, gangs, tough guys, and even one “rock ’n’ roll fable.” Hancock and Cribbs discuss Hill’s earliest gigs, adapting Jim Thompson’s novel The Getaway for Sam Peckinpah and directing Charles Bronson and James Coburn in his directorial debut, Hard Times. From there, Hill’s stable of collaborators such as James Remar and David Patrick Kelly are discussed, as well as his impact on 1979’s Alien. Cribbs speculates that without Hill’s eight uncredited rewrites, Alien would have turned out as “a Roger Corman film.” Most notable of Hill’s changes to the original Alien script (once known as Star Beast) was making the Ripley character a woman, particularly as most of Hill’s screenplays “would pass the Bechdel Test,” muses Cribbs. It’s a supersized episode covering all of Hill’s directorial ventures, but some of the highlights include a discussion on Hill’s oft-overlooked 1980 Western, The Long Riders, and the rock ’n’ roll cult classic Streets Of Fire.

[Mike Vanderbilt]

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