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 email@example.com.
The Daily Show Podcast Without Jon Stewart
With Jon Stewart
As Americans come to terms with a post-Jon Stewart late-night landscape, it is great to have one more moment with the man, getting a chance to peer behind the curtain at what made his tenure behind the desk such an unparalleled success. But for all the heartfelt encomiums of Stewart that have been written in the days since his retirement, there is nothing quite like hearing it from the mouth of the man himself. This week, breaking the fundamental principle in its very title, The Daily Show Podcast Without Jon Stewart welcomes Jon Stewart to give his sardonic take on the key decisions that he and his producers made that led the show to greatness. Stewart is, to no great surprise, hilarious as he credits his contributions in faux-bloviating style, with all of them related to food. The hosts, Jen Flanz, Steve Bodow, and Adam Lowitt, have all been at the show for nearly as long as Stewart, and the rapport that they have together is emblematic of a well-functioning family. It raises stark feelings of ambivalence, pointing toward a solid foundation in place for future Daily Show success, while underlining just how enormously Stewart’s absence will be felt.
The Black Eyed Kids
This feed into ancient and crypto (and often a bit wonky) history is celebrating its 100th episode. It’s a perfect gateway into the eccentric podcast as the first half of the hour covers the hosts’ favorite stories over the past 99 episodes, and the second half focuses on the urban legend of “black eyed children,” a perfectly odd and creepy deep dive. Listening to the recap makes it clear that the hosts consider having an open mind to be more important than “facts.” But if treated a bit like professional wrestling, where suspended disbelief allows a more active enjoyment in the storytelling, then one can come away with the same level of appreciation as hosts Kyle Philson and Cam Hale. Their low point of entry, “If you weren’t there, how do you know?” means that skeptics may scoff at their attempts to sound wary of the things they hear. But it’s the charm that wins out over the plausibility, and listening to the podcast feels like happening upon a remote low-bandwidth pirated radio station. The legend of “blackeyed children” sounds more like a movie trope, but the hosts manage to trace it back to a ghost related mailing list predating film and TV, making the trope at the very least a more interesting concept.
The Flop House
In the debate over which of the myriad podcasts predicated on humorously assailing bad movies is the best, there is no real objective way of assessing and awarding such a superlative. Each has a distinct style and are not in direct contention despite a wide overlap in subjects. The particular delight of The Flop House comes from the enormous amplitude in its oscillations between intelligence and ridiculousness, as hosts Elliott Kalan, Stuart Wellington, and Dan McCoy are clearly smart, yet equally ready to play to the bottom of their intelligence. This is on display in this week’s episode as the Original Peaches attempt to discuss the as-yet theatrically-unreleased John Cusack and Thomas Jane vehicle Drive Hard but fail in spectacular fashion. Kalan in particular exemplifies the divide between the show’s two states, managing to describe the episodic nature of the film in near-perfect Chaucerian style only to later make the most groan-worthy Cinnabon/James Bond joke. Equally good are a series of jokes about Wesley Snipes’ ketchup-themed roles, and so many Billy Joel songs re-written just enough to avoid copyright infringement. In a way there are so many good laughs in the episode that the film at the center feels like a bit of a MacGuffin.
Grantland Pop Culture
Rebooting The Lord Of The Rings: Armen Weitzman
Rankin/Bass’ animated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit predates the first film in Peter Jackson’s bloated trilogy by 35 years, and yet it still remains somewhat relegated to cult status, despite numerous South Park homages to it over the years. This week, Grantland’s Dave Schilling joined in on singing its praises with guest Armen Weitzman (Another Period, Burning Love). They unfortunately don’t go into extensive detail about what what makes the Rankin/Bass special a superior film—a leaner script, a more clearly rendered dragon, and an overall folksier aesthetic, for starters—but what the duo lacks in cinematic articulation they make up for in emotional honesty. “I relate to it because I want to go on an adventure,” Weitzman says. “But I am a weak man.” Hearing a sly-voiced comic mind expose his inner child taps into the book’s simple message and golden heart way better than watching Jackson’s overblown epic, plus there’s an absurdist reboot of The Lord Of The Rings (starring Jaden Smith!) from comedian Josh Androsky as a bonus.
Mike Still, Our Close Friend
The key to Hollywood Handbook’s comedy has always been the put-on narcissism of hosts Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements. Even when they pretend to sympathize with the death of Cecil The Lion, they can’t resist imagining how they would have taken down the beast with their bare hands. Their willingness to make such a hot-button topic all about themselves plays perfectly into the podcast’s mission of skewering and satirizing showbiz glad-handing—everything on this week’s episode comes back to Davenport, Clements, and their guest, Upright Citizens Brigade Artistic Director Mike Still, from the upcoming Star Wars film to Amy Poehler’s appearance on the cover of Fast Company magazine. They even take time to bitch about not getting their own feature article right here on The A.V. Club. Keep trying, boys. With your ace networking skills, go-get-’em attitude, and complete lack of humanity, you’re guaranteed to get to the top someday.
Jesse Vs Cancer
August 2, 2015
There are relatively few ongoing podcasts that feel like entirely singular pieces of narrative audio, standing starkly apart from the current crowd, and Jesse Vs. Cancer falls squarely in that camp. Where else are listeners privy to the intense and unfiltered soliloquies of someone undergoing chemotherapy during the show’s recording? It is imaginably no easy feat, and the skillful manner in which host Jesse Case is able to shepherd the conversation showcases his poise and richly demented comic talent. The breadth of topics covered on the show is massive, ranging from using a Waffle House All-Star Special in lieu of lethal injection, to Case’s belief in the creeping scourge of smartphone-induced sociopathy. There are also a pair of stories from Case about the antics of his father, who is apparently named Lizard, which shed a light on the development of Case’s sensibilities. One of the stories—about learning of segregation and the sit-in movement at age—is really special, and Case is able to dovetail it into a parable for online outrage culture. As the episode winds down Case dispenses some great advice about legacy, which turns into a trenchant and insightful criticism of the Orwellian trend toward escapism and isolationism.
Stuff You Missed In History Class
The Amazons Of Dahomey
Though the Amazons have been reduced of late to a talking point in DC Comics movies purism thanks to their inclusion of Wonder Woman, the Amazons Of Dahomey were a real society of female warriors. Hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey are eager to express their enthusiasm for these frontline warriors from the history of the Republic Of Benin, and unpack the mystery of where they went. One of the first female fighting forces in history, they were nicknames after the Greek Amazon warriors. But they were far more fierce than a nickname can do justice. They were reapers and took opponents’ decapitated heads with short swords they used in close combat, though their also used bows, poisoned arrows, and rifles. Their complete independence from the rest of the warrior system, and descriptions of field-testing and survival training, is brutal. They were desensitized to death in ways that seem to compare to today’s terrorist cells. But word of this training is what brought Dahomey infamy, and even delayed European fighting forces who attempted to meet them in battle. Though eventually conquered, it was with respect, and many officers noted they were superior to male soldiers in every notable way.
This American Life
The Problem We All Live With
The vast majority of failing schools are located in poor areas and composed of mostly minority students. One such school is Ferguson, Missouri’s Normandy High School, which lost its state accreditation in 2013 after 15 years of underperformance (and from which Michael Brown graduated eight days before he was killed). In the first part of a two episode examination of school integration, education reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at what happened in the aftermath of this turn of events, telling the story of how the forced integration of Normandy High School with the more affluent (and mostly white) Francis Howell High School in Saint Charles, an imperfect implementation of the policy. Interviews with Normandy parents and students are hopeful and speak to the opportunities this course of events presented for students from the failing district. Hannah-Jones juxtaposes them with ugly recordings of Francis Howell parents voicing their outrage at the forced integration, almost all of which was racially charged. And while this was a success story for the students who went to Francis Howell, Hannah-Jones shows how the exodus of so many students from Normandy further decimated the already beleaguered district, leaving it in an even weaker and worse off. This is essential listening that stands among any of This American Life’s best episodes.
Jon Wurster’s typical brushes with Podmass are due to his hysterical phone calls to The Best Show, though he admits to Joe Wong that he still considers himself a musician first and a comedian second. So it’s refreshing that such an accomplished drummer as Wurster—known best for Superchunk, The Mountain Goats, and touring with Bob Mould since 2012’s searing Silver Age—actually gets an opportunity to talk drums as the lead off guest during The Trap Set’s “Funny Drummers Month.” For major fans of the man, the bands, or the grandiose Newbridge folklore, much of the interview hits known landmarks in Wurster’s life from Philadelphia to Hoboken to Winston-Salem. Below the surface level timeline of events, Wong also presses Wurster in some interesting directions. The 6-years-sober rock and roller gets a rare chance to speak candidly about his lowest points on the road and how he followed Allen Carr’s seminal “Easyway To Stop Smoking” method to put down the bottle. Wurster’s description of his alcohol intake on tour as steadily, stagnantly drinking from soundcheck to lights out is equally sympathetic and disillusioning: He achieved his boyhood dream before he turned 21, but sitting around and waiting for something to happen led to more sitting around and waiting for something to happen until Wurster was finally, thankfully, able to take control of his future.
U Talkin' U2 To Me?
U2 Talk 2 U
Have things truly come this far? The U Talkin’ U2 To Me? podcast—which began on the slightest whiff of a premise before growing into an absolute comic masterpiece—pulled off its greatest feat this week, as hosts Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman finally catch their white whale, landing a nearly 90-minute interview with those “lovable lads from Liverpool,” U2. As the band’s lead singer Bono winkingly says at the outset, they agreed to the interview in hopes of finally bringing about the end of the podcast. Jetting into New York City and meeting the band at the iconic Electric Ladyland Studios, the Scotts are clearly and understandably nervous. To break the ice, Bono presents them with a hand-drawn dick, which he has signed “Bonobos,” to join the ranks of those scribbled by Adam Scott during recording. From time to time the Scotts break in to provide some hilarious commentary as they cringe through the recording in real time. Eventually they loosen up, falling into a wonderful rapport redolent of the show’s almost absurdly freewheeling style. It is then that things really take off. Aukerman begins picking on Scott, to the delight of the band, and there are even several episodes of I Love Films that occur during their conversation. At the end of the interview the members of U2 present the Scotts with a swag bag, but of course there are no T-shirts. In the end, the whole affair is totally surprising; brimming over with charm and a genuine, infectious sense of awe that comes with being present for something truly special.
We see what you said there
“If you cut Cecil The Lion’s head off, great. But you’ve gotta eat it. You’ve gotta eat everything. Even the dick.”—Hayes Davenport, Hollywood Handbook