A.V. Club

The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends 10–15 of the previous week’s best episodes.

Recommendations

11/15/2016In 1996, two teenagers stumbled across some very old human remains. The struggle to identify them and determine who owns them kicked off a fight that has lasted 20 years -- and is finally about to be resolved. Our Sponsors Blue Apron - Get your first three Blue Apron meals delivered for free by going to blueapron.com/undone Squarespace - Go to squarespace.com and use the offer code UNDONE at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase Credits Undone is hosted by Pat Walters. This episode was produced by Julia DeWitt and Emanuele Berry. Our senior producer is Larissa Anderson. Editing by Alan Burdick and Catlin Kenney. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. This episode of Undone was mixed and scored by Bobby Lord. With additional scoring by Nate Sandberg of Plied Sound, and Kevin Sparks Special thanks to … Jack Hitt, Rosita Worl, Michael Coffey, and Carl Zimmer. Undone was conceived in collaboration with our friends at Retro Report, the documentary film series that connects iconic news events of the past ... to today. You can find them here.
In a culture with attention spans as short as ours, it’s nice to know that somebody is willing to follow a story to its conclusion. That’s where Undone comes in. A brand-new podcast from Gimlet Media, the group behind Reply All, Undone seeks to explore the after-effects of stories or events that we’ve long forgotten about. In this episode, host Pat Walters, a Radiolab vet, focuses on a story that dates back two decades. In 1996, two teenagers found some human remains. Examination of those remains revealed that the skeleton was more than 9,000 years old, making it the oldest, nearly complete human skeleton ever found in North America. What the episode hinges on is the identity of this skeleton—is it Native American, as everybody assumed, or is it European, as some aspects of the remains hint? If the latter, it could mean that Native Americans weren’t the first people to occupy America. At the heart of the episode is a group of Native Americans who find cultural inspiration in the remains; they routinely drive hundreds of miles to visit them and perform rituals. The search for truth results in a matter of cultural identity. Walters looked into the story at the right time, too; as he was investigating, a conclusion was reached about the true identity of these bones. You won’t find a spoiler here, however.
11/09/2016And how did almost no one — not the pundits, not the pollsters, not us in the media — see it coming? We’re joined by the New York Times journalists Nicholas Confessore, Maggie Haberman and Jim Rutenberg to discuss.
The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro recorded this discussion with himself and fellow journalists Nicholas Confessore, Maggie Haberman, and Jim Rutenberg in the wee hours of November 9, just as it became clear that Donald Trump was going to win the presidential election. The 30-minute episode is most notable for its intimacy; there’s a palpable sense of defeat in the voices of these journalists, but also a calm, earnest desire to know how the election went this way. Here, the journalists who, for years, helped shape the media narrative of the election ponder their own role in Trump’s victory, wondering if perhaps their focus in certain areas was misguided. They don’t strive for answers so much as the questions they’ll need to ask in the coming months. They also don’t use this platform as a means to critique Trump or the Trump voter; rather, they want to better grasp “an electorate that we failed to completely understand.” With four people alone in a room in the middle of the night coping with what’s going to affect both their lives and careers for a very long time, this episode confirms the power of podcasting and acts as a bracing reminder of the evening.
11/10/2016 It's the morning after in the offices of On the Media. Usually editorial meetings take place in Brooke's office with Bob dialed in on the conference phone. This week we did it in the studio so you can hear the hosts talk about how they are feeling and how they envision the direction of the show in the Trump presidency. 
The results of last Tuesday’s election left many licking their wounds, sniping at foes and allies alike, and trying to make sense of a new American reality. News-oriented podcasts have stepped in with a wealth of listening choices this week, perhaps none as immediate and emotional as the morning-after bonus content from On The Media. Fans of the program know that much of OTM’s secret sauce comes from the push and pull between co-hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, and their tension comes into sharp relief here. As the show’s activist heart, Garfield laments that not enough was done to stop Donald Trump, while acknowledging that OTM largely exists in a liberal echo chamber. Meanwhile, Gladstone exists as the program’s cerebral investigator and sees a new sense of purpose in listening (and challenging) a more diverse chorus of voices. Garfield is despondent and genuinely fearful, while Gladstone is determined and seems to be recalibrating in real time. The media is often criticized by the left for the disingenuousness of a denial of a personal point of view, and there is validity in that criticism. It’s refreshing and cathartic to hear OTM’s distinguished and committed co-hosts pause for an open, honest, and heated discussion about where Trump’s election will lead America over the next four years.
10/25/2016 We landed in Copenhagen and headed straight to the notorious Christiania neighborhood to meet Matt Orlando, owner and head chef of Copenhagen's Amass. At a small cafe along Pusher Street, he briefs us on the history of this anarchist micro-state, lays out his framework of eco-conscious deliciousness, and explains why this age-old city continues to captivate chefs around the globe.
Say what you will about Vice and its dubious media empire disguised as slacker culture empowerment, but without such infrastructure, something as delightfully different as the MUNCHIES podcast would likely just be another food blog-cum-podcast. What sets MUNCHIES apart is its exploration of the culture of a restaurant and the people populating its kitchen more than the food itself. It is a canny decision, given food-related audio’s lack of visual appeal, unless of course one has an audience made up primarily of synesthetes. On this week’s particularly engaging episode, host Helen Hollyman travels to Copenhagen, Denmark, to sit down with the electrically eccentric American chef Matt Orlando and discuss the decidedly different ideas fueling his restaurant Amass. Orlando points toward the seemingly lawless Copenhagen neighborhood Christiania (think Hamsterdam from The Wire) as an inspiration for his approaches to running Amass. As the episode begins, Orlando jokingly calls himself the David Koresh of sustainability, but by the time he details his process for reincorporating traditional food waste into the menu, listeners may well be willing to join such a cult. As the first chapter of the MUNCHIES Copenhagen series, this seems like a journey that one should not miss.
10/12/2016In 2014 the town of Seneca, Nebraska was so deeply divided that they weighed their own self-destruction.  
Following a string of episodes that tackle the big questions of science, morality, and the origins of the universe, it’s nice to see Radiolab pursue a more intimate type of story: that of Seneca, Nebraska, a tiny town grappling with the decision to formally end itself. Rifts divide the paltry population of 30 into “save” and “end” camps as the final vote on whether to unincorporate Seneca draws near, an ultimatum that’s as symbolic as it is practical. Producer Simon Adler interviews nearly everyone in town as they analyze how their dearly held home went from a vibrant, dedicated community to one that might be easier to dismantle than cling to, a question of bureaucracy and everything that neighbors can mean to each other. Adler makes the apparent choice to let the interviews breathe with minimal context or clarification, allowing the residents of Seneca to fully own their story, just as they have empowered themselves to choose its ending. That ending, when it comes, is surprising and lovely, and quiet in a particularly Radiolab way.
10/12/2016In 2014 the town of Seneca, Nebraska was so deeply divided that they weighed their own self-destruction.  
Following a string of episodes that tackle the big questions of science, morality, and the origins of the universe, it’s nice to see Radiolab pursue a more intimate type of story: that of Seneca, Nebraska, a tiny town grappling with the decision to formally end itself. Rifts divide the paltry population of 30 into “save” and “end” camps as the final vote on whether to unincorporate Seneca draws near, an ultimatum that’s as symbolic as it is practical. Producer Simon Adler interviews nearly everyone in town as they analyze how their dearly held home went from a vibrant, dedicated community to one that might be easier to dismantle than cling to, a question of bureaucracy and everything that neighbors can mean to each other. Adler makes the apparent choice to let the interviews breathe with minimal context or clarification, allowing the residents of Seneca to fully own their story, just as they have empowered themselves to choose its ending. That ending, when it comes, is surprising and lovely, and quiet in a particularly Radiolab way.
09/28/2016Awkward comments. Rude questions. Casual racism. What do you do when it happens in your presence? The mental calculus is hard enough. It gets even harder when the comment is coming from your friends or family. Gene, Shereen, and Karen from Code Switch along with special guest Nicole Chung share stories and search for solutions.
Which is worse, standing nearby as someone embarrasses his or herself in public with an unintentional stream of offhanded and unconsidered prejudiced blather, or realizing that you’re the idiot doing the blathering? It’s either infuriating or mortifying, and just about everybody has experienced this exchange from one or the other vantage point at some point in their lives. An unfortunately large percentage from both. In this week’s episode of NPR’s Code Switch, co-hosts Shereen Marisol Meraji, Gene Demby, and Karen Grigsby Bates get a little help from writer-editor Nicole Chung to figure out the best course of action when an incident of casual racism suddenly breaks out at an otherwise pleasant social event. Is it incumbent upon you to speak up? And if you do, what exactly are you hoping to accomplish—just making it stop or teaching a lesson. As you can probably imagine, there’s no definitive answer to this question. It depends on the room, the company, the offender, and your own levels of comfort with all of the above. The panel cites specific examples from their own lives, share what how they handled it, and muse upon how they wished they’d handled it.
09/26/2016 Cameron Esposito (Take My Wife) stops by the show to talk about not feeling comfortable in her own skin growing up, being cross-eyed as a child and having multiple surgeries to correct her vision, shame associated with eye contact, being enamored of the hierarchy inherent in comedy, her transition from improv to stand up, coming out in college, her evolving feelings about Catholicism, the way lesbians are constantly "processing," struggling to be in the moment, lists and goals, working with her wife Rhea Butcher on Seeso's Take My Wife, the difference between what the church says about women and her experience being a woman and so much more. We also took listener questions and did a round of Just Me Or Everyone.  
One thing that makes listening to Alison Rosen’s podcast, Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend, so enjoyable is that she is an excellent interviewer—the kind that makes listening to two strangers talking to each other sound like a conversation between old friends. This is especially true with guest Cameron Esposito, the Chicago-born comic who now lives in Los Angeles with her wife and business partner Rhea Butcher. (The two star together in the new Seeso show, Take My Wife.) Rosen and Esposito talk for nearly two hours, covering a range of topics like Esposito’s relationship with the Catholic Church and her realization in college that she was gay (at Boston University, where at the time you could be expelled if you were out), making the switch from improv to stand-up comedy, being loud about your beliefs when the world tells women they should be quiet, and how “business Cameron Esposito” handles the word “no.” Esposito is already an excellent interview subject—she’s candid, extremely articulate and thoughtful, and her background as a comic means she has no problem voicing her opinions clearly and convincingly—but Rosen’s signature ability to follow the flow of the conversation, wherever it leads, makes this episode one of the most informative of the series.
09/27/2016Kefin introduces Jo to one of the all time greats, the King of Harts, the Rocket, the Black Hart, Owen Hart!
In 1999, in front of thousands of fans, professional wrestler Owen Hart fell to his death from the rafters of Kansas City’s Kemper Arena. It’s one of the industry’s most horrific accidents, and has sadly come to eclipse the career of the youngest Hart brother. That unfortunate truth, however, makes Hart an ideal subject for Kefin Mahon’s How2Wrestling, wherein the warm, articulate host guides budding wrestling fan Jo Graham through the lives and careers of the industry’s most notable figures. Instead of focusing on Hart’s passing, Mahon and Graham celebrate what made him such a inimitable performer, from his hilarious heel work to his nimble, high-flying style, a clear influence on the industry’s current crop of cruiser weights. Hart’s death is saved for the podcast’s final act, and the discussion navigates the complexities of everything that followed, including the control Hart’s widow has held over his legacy. Mahon is passionate about every performer he and Graham explore, but it’s no secret that Hart is his all-time favorite. The enthusiasm and reverence he brings to this discussion makes that evident, as does the melancholy that creeps into his voice as he recounts the accident that took his life.
09/22/2016The Game, Meek Mill and Sean Kingston's jewelry. 
Last week’s episode of The Read starts off with Kid Fury’s expressive rendition of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s memorable Cruel Intentions monologue—“I’m the Marcia-fucking-Brady of the Upper East Side”—and keeps getting better from there. A lot has happened since their last show: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting a divorce, and white America is losing its collective mind (although Crissle and Kid Fury are positive Jennifer Aniston is doing just fine); Shawty Lo died in a car crash; Colin Powell’s emails were hacked, and he had some amazing things to say about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; Kid Cudi had a social media meltdown because Kanye West hurt his feelings; and Crissle went to the Emmy Awards for the first time. The duo has some great advice for a listener who is struggling to explain her celibacy to the men she dates and another whose pastor father openly disparages the Black Lives Matter movement. They also have some questions and choice words for people who can’t tell the difference between two very different black women, Marc Jacobs’ white models wearing cornrows, and white people who put apples in guacamole. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment in this episode because almost every word Crissle and Kid Fury have to say will have you either cry-laughing or just crying.
09/20/2016Sean and Hayes invite MIKE HANFORD and DAVE FERGUSON from the Birthday Boys on the show but they have been busy so they're not sure what they're going to do yet. Listen to Mike's show "Questions for Lennon" on Howl.
This week’s episode of Hollywood Handbook rewards listeners who notice patterns within the show, exploiting them in ways that are consistently hilarious and never pander to an audience outside of their direct fan base. Birthday Boys’ Mike Hanford and Dave Ferguson join the hosts in an episode that doesn’t really have a foundational idea to get them started, which subsequently becomes the bit in itself. Sean Clements reveals that he and fellow co-host Hayes Davenport didn’t have their usual conversation about what they’d do for the episode, so instead, Clements decides to read an email from Davenport with various ideas for guest activities. From neglecting to acknowledge Hanford’s new podcast and only paying attention to Ferguson’s fake projects, playing a game of basketball in the studio using bad sound effects, and forming a plan to destroy the Doughboys, they sample each idea. Each bit probably could’ve sustained the entire episode, but this way they deconstruct every idea and, by default, break down the show’s own motifs and moves that make it what it is. It’s an episode that flourishes in its delightfully meta specificity, and its brilliant new installment of the Now Hear This podcast festival ad story arc is the cherry on top.
09/14/2016Tupac Shakur died 20 years ago this week. Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji debate his legacy with the writer Kevin Powell, who covered the rapper for three years until Tupac's death. How should we view Tupac's talents and imperfections today?
It’s been 20 years since the rapper Tupac Shakur—who was also a talented actor, poet, and activist—was shot and killed in September 1996 at the age of 25. On NPR’s Code Switch, hosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji discuss Shakur’s decades-long legacy in music and pop culture since his death. It’s a fun conversation, given that Meraji’s love for the rapper is in stark contrast with Demby’s feelings. While Shakur was a major part of Merjai’s life soundtrack growing up, Demby says that as a kid he was unable to relate to, and was sometimes scared by, Shakur’s “dangerous black masculinity.” They also speak with writer Kevin Powell, who covered Shakur for three years for Vibe Magazine. Powell explains how the contradictions of Shakur’s life—from his activism, to his clashes with Civil Rights leaders, to his sexual assault conviction—make him so revered to fans all over the world. Meraji asks Powell if he thinks Shakur’s legacy would still be intact if his sexual assault conviction of a 19-year-old fan had happened in 2016. The rapper insisted he was innocent, but expressed regret to Powell for not stopping the other men involved from assaulting her. “How many men take ownership of [their] misogyny? If it happened now... Tupac could have been an example of the kind of masculinity we need to move toward in this country.”
09/14/2016 "Through and through I'm a lawyer and a judge," says U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "But my life experiences do permit me to see things that others may not." Before the Justice became a lawyer and a judge, she was a young woman growing up in the Nuyorican community in the South Bronx—just a few years behind Death, Sex & Money guest host Sonia Manzano, who also grew up there. The two didn't meet until a few years ago, but their childhoods had some similarities: Money was tight, their parents' relationships were troubled, and both of their fathers struggled with alcoholism. But unlike Sonia Manzano's father, who lived well into his 80s, the Justice's father died when she was nine years old. "I’ve often wondered if the outcome of my life would have been the same if my father had remained alive," the Justice says. "I think the absence of that constant battle made a big difference in my self-perceptions." Sonia asks the Justice about facing and overcoming insecurities throughout her life—including on her first day as a Supreme Court Justice. "Anyone presented with a new challenge has to always have that moment of insecurity, of not knowing whether they can do it," the Justice says. "I live with that. I've lived with it my entire life....The first day that I was on the bench was for the now quite famed case, Citizens United. And my knees were knocking even then. But what got me over that moment...was to become totally engaged in what was happening before me, and the knocking finally stopped without my realizing it."  Sonia and the Justice also talk about some of the opinions that the Justice has written for the Supreme Court, including those about race and prejudice. "I know that for people to hear me, I have to be able to explain it in terms that people can sit in the shoes of the other person," the Justice says. "I suspect that there are many people...who never thought about what the impact is of snickering at a person of a different race when they walked by or of asking someone, 'Where are you really from?' when that kid has been born and raised here." They also talk about the Justice's recent words about police searches and parents of color giving their children "the talk" about interacting with the police. "It is inescapable for any child in this society who is of color of any kind, or who comes from a different background where language becomes noticeable, that they will experience that difference," the Justice says. "And they will have to cope with it. We have not become colorblind yet."
Death, Sex & Money host Anna Sale is nearing the end of her maternity leave, but before her return, she’s handing the reins over to a few former guests for the next few episodes. This week Sesame Street veteran Sonia Manzano is in the host chair speaking with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The two women share more than just a first name, one they both hated as children. Manzano and Sotomayor are both from Puerto Rican families, raised in The South Bronx in New York City with alcoholic fathers, and share a deep reverence for the written word. Because they’ve known each other for years, they share an easy rapport that makes the episode a delight to listen to, although the interview’s most honest moments are often the most heartbreaking. They trade stories of how as children they each tried to prevent their parents’ violent fights in their own way; Manzano urges her parents to buy new dinnerware to stop their arguments over dirty dishes, and Sotomayor administers her own insulin shots so her diabetes was no longer a source of conflict. In another beautifully raw moment, Manzano reads from one of Sotomayor’s Supreme Court dissents about the significance of race to people of color in America worn down by relentless microaggressions. While reading a sentence about what it’s like for a young woman to be repeatedly asked, “Where are you really from?”, Manzano becomes audibly choked up. “Your words move me, my dear,” says Manzano, and if you listen, it’s likely you’ll be in tears too.
09/14/2016 "Through and through I'm a lawyer and a judge," says U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "But my life experiences do permit me to see things that others may not." Before the Justice became a lawyer and a judge, she was a young woman growing up in the Nuyorican community in the South Bronx—just a few years behind Death, Sex & Money guest host Sonia Manzano, who also grew up there. The two didn't meet until a few years ago, but their childhoods had some similarities: Money was tight, their parents' relationships were troubled, and both of their fathers struggled with alcoholism. But unlike Sonia Manzano's father, who lived well into his 80s, the Justice's father died when she was nine years old. "I’ve often wondered if the outcome of my life would have been the same if my father had remained alive," the Justice says. "I think the absence of that constant battle made a big difference in my self-perceptions." Sonia asks the Justice about facing and overcoming insecurities throughout her life—including on her first day as a Supreme Court Justice. "Anyone presented with a new challenge has to always have that moment of insecurity, of not knowing whether they can do it," the Justice says. "I live with that. I've lived with it my entire life....The first day that I was on the bench was for the now quite famed case, Citizens United. And my knees were knocking even then. But what got me over that moment...was to become totally engaged in what was happening before me, and the knocking finally stopped without my realizing it."  Sonia and the Justice also talk about some of the opinions that the Justice has written for the Supreme Court, including those about race and prejudice. "I know that for people to hear me, I have to be able to explain it in terms that people can sit in the shoes of the other person," the Justice says. "I suspect that there are many people...who never thought about what the impact is of snickering at a person of a different race when they walked by or of asking someone, 'Where are you really from?' when that kid has been born and raised here." They also talk about the Justice's recent words about police searches and parents of color giving their children "the talk" about interacting with the police. "It is inescapable for any child in this society who is of color of any kind, or who comes from a different background where language becomes noticeable, that they will experience that difference," the Justice says. "And they will have to cope with it. We have not become colorblind yet."
Death, Sex & Money host Anna Sale is nearing the end of her maternity leave, but before her return, she’s handing the reins over to a few former guests for the next few episodes. This week Sesame Street veteran Sonia Manzano is in the host chair speaking with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The two women share more than just a first name, one they both hated as children. Manzano and Sotomayor are both from Puerto Rican families, raised in The South Bronx in New York City with alcoholic fathers, and share a deep reverence for the written word. Because they’ve known each other for years, they share an easy rapport that makes the episode a delight to listen to, although the interview’s most honest moments are often the most heartbreaking. They trade stories of how as children they each tried to prevent their parents’ violent fights in their own way; Manzano urges her parents to buy new dinnerware to stop their arguments over dirty dishes, and Sotomayor administers her own insulin shots so her diabetes was no longer a source of conflict. In another beautifully raw moment, Manzano reads from one of Sotomayor’s Supreme Court dissents about the significance of race to people of color in America worn down by relentless microaggressions. While reading a sentence about what it’s like for a young woman to be repeatedly asked, “Where are you really from?”, Manzano becomes audibly choked up. “Your words move me, my dear,” says Manzano, and if you listen, it’s likely you’ll be in tears too.
09/05/2016In this episode we feed all the past Flash Forward episodes to a neural network, and ask it to write a script for us. And that script is full of space travel, Mars conspiracy theories, future witches, and a whole lot of theories about cutting someone’s hands off.
The distinctly excellent futurology podcast Flash Forward has arrived at the end of its second season, and to mark the occasion host Rose Eveleth flipped the script on the show’s format. Instead of following the show’s weekly pattern, in which a futuristic scenario based on real-world developments is portrayed through audio drama, whose eventuality is explained by a group of experts, Eveleth has reverse-engineered this week’s episode by having an AI develop the scenario while those same experts attempt to parse how such a future might exist. Using a recurrent neural network, Eveleth uses a corpus of past podcast episode transcripts—along with other science fiction works—to generate an AI-written script for this week’s audio drama. This makes for a wonderfully weird segment, wherein a doctor is tasked with cutting off the hands of witches who live in a secret underground facility on Mars. But for all of that delightful quizzicality, it’s even more of a treat to hear Eveleth and her experts attempt to, and convincingly succeed at, decoding the otherwise batshit-crazy computer-scripted scenario. Over the past two seasons, Eveleth has shown a real talent for producing first-rate audio, and this episode will have listeners looking forward to season three.