This Week in Podcasts a weekly roundup of mini-reviews of all of the podcasts I’ve listened to in a week. If you see any podcasts that you feel are missing from my list, there’s a good chance I haven’t listened to the show yet! Feel free to give me recommendations–as well as any feedback or discussion!–in the comments below, in my asks on tumblr, or on twitter.
This week also brought us the very exciting news of PodCon! PodCon is a podcasting convention founded by Hank Green (runner of VidCon), Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (of the Night Vale Presents network), and Travis McElroy (of the Maximum Fun network and many other podcasts).
The Once and Future Nerd
“#ASK THE ONCE AND FUTURE NERD for Bk. 2 Ch. 1”
Taking a note out of the “The the Adventure Zone Zone” episodes of, obviously, The Adventure Zone, this episode of The Once and Future Nerd answers questions submitted by fans. I am clearly biased on how much I enjoyed the episode, both because of the very sweet shoutout this blog received and the fact that they answered my question. Still, though, the conversation of which Hogwarts house each character belongs in was great fun to listen to. If you’d like to share your opinions, you can sort each character using this survey.
Hello from the Magic Tavern
“Season 2, Ep 8 – Dripfang”
Usidore is back! This week’s Hello from the Magic Tavern was a wonderful return to the same level of comedy and energy as the older episodes, in no small part due to the reinvigorated Usidore, Wizard of the 12th Realm of Ephysiyies, Master of Light and Shadow, Manipulator of Magical Delights, Devourer of Chaos, Champion of the Great Halls of Terr’akkas. The elves know him as Fi’ang Yalok. The dwarves know him as Zoenen Hoogstandjes. And he is also known in the Northeast as Gaismunēnas Meistar. The guest, Dripfang the Chef Inquisitor, was exactly the level of silly needed in the show. his energy played off of the usual trio’s effortlessly, making the improv simultaneously more ridiculous and more believable. Between this episode and the Jayme and Sayme episode, Hello from the Magic Tavern has made its return as one of the best comedy podcasts right now.
Left Trigger Right Trigger
This boozy episode of Left Trigger Right Trigger, a show about analyzing the themes and structures of video games, discusses the much-hated escort mission trope in games. The hosts tipsily discuss the standards (Resident Evil 4) and some of the better examples (Ico), but also bring up likely the best escort mission in a game: the companion cube levels from Portal. The conversation was an interesting reevaluation of the trope, which I think many gamers have grown to dread unnecessarily, while also remaining silly and fun. It’s refreshing to have video game content that isn’t pure humor or pure analysis; this show walks that line perfectly.
The Penumbra Podcast
“2.04: Juno Steel and the Lesson Learned (Part 1)”
With the introduction of this new arc, The Penumbra Podcast has stopped being “surprisingly good sometimes” and has solidified its status as, simply, very good. While there have been some dips in quality over the last few weeks, the Juno Steel stories remain engaging and meticulously produced. Early on, it seemed as though this episode fell into the amateur Too Many Mics Problem only to be expertly subverted. In this arc, Juno Steel delivers his usual brooding monologues and witty quips, but he’s much more casual than usual, even throwing in a, “You like that one, huh?” when one of his quips is well-received. Juno is at his best when his colloquialisms contrast with his stylistically over-written dialogue, and skewing the ratio of the two shockingly doesn’t render Juno boring. Juno’s inner monologue connecting his thoughts back to Nureyev is more subtle here in a way that is relatable and heartbreaking without stealing the focus from the main plot. It was also refreshing to hear a side character call Juno’s actions “not very ladylike”; genderqueer representation is still marginally low in podcasts, and the reminder of Juno’s gender identity is always welcome.
The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air)
“The 2nd Imaginary Symphony, Episode 1”
The Orbiting Human Circus makes its return with its holiday classic, the OHC version of something like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The 2nd Imaginary Symphony is not part of the main Julian the Janitor plot, but it contains the same beautiful, nostalgic whimsy that makes OHC so exemplary in its genre. This episode’s story is that of Nye, a young boy who finds out that he is in the company of a “weather-maker,” someone in charge of making clouds. The conceit is familiar and simple, but the character writing elevates the concept to something literary and haunting. The discussion of loneliness, found families and their dymanics, and the consequences of power, this episode is both sweet and strikingly profound.
“258- The Modern Necropolis”
This delightfully morbid episode of 99% Invisible focused on Colma, California, a city that is almost 75% cemeteries. The episode discusses the history of Colma, as well as the history of standard American cemetery practices. The discussion of “rural cemeteries,” cemeteries that were landscaped and planned to look like something from out of time, was especially interesting–especially in the analysis of how they shaped projects like Central Park and college campuses. 99% Invisible rarely disappoints, but this episode is especially intriguing and bizarre. It’s morbid without being hedonistic; it’s lighthearted while remaining informative. This is one of the few episodes I enjoyed so much, I read the full article on the 99% Invisible website, which I’d recommend to anyone s a great read. Of all of my listens this week, this is the one I’d recommend the most.
“Episode 106: Strange Attractors”
Let’s consider this strike 2 of 3. Along with the usual problems this show’s been having, this week gave us the special treat of pronouncing Mario like “Merry-o”; the phrase “extremely weird coincidences”; and saying “signing with her hands” instead of “using sign language,” “using ASL,” or just “signing.”
“Advance” is the first episode of the “No” mini-season for The Heart, meaning the content is very detailed and very intense. Be wary if you intend on listening to this episode in public and/or without headphones. This episode discusses the often traumatic, always exhausting, effort to learn to say no instead of voicing consent you don’t want to give as a young woman. As always, this episode is rooted in personal narrative that is both informative and relatable. While the episode is dark, it has some impressively positive moments, even if I’m not sold on the positive ending the episode attempts to provide.
The Bright Sessions
“38 – Telephone 2”
As we creep closer to the end of Season 3, The Bright Sessions becomes more intense. In this episode, there are several perspectives all tied to a central plot: Damien has begun stalking Wadsworth and will do anything to gain her ability to negate atypical powers. This episode was suspenseful, but still deeply rooted in character: even as Damien dives deeper into being a true antagonist, none of his character is sacrificed. If anything, Damien becoming darker seems natural; unlike the views of most fans, I’ve never seen Damien earning an easy redemption arc, at least not so early on. Alex Marshall-Brown steals the show as Wadsworth, delivering a performance that is just dripping with confidence and condescension. In every moment that the writing could have come across cartoonish, Marshall-Brown’s delivery makes it sleek, elegant, terrifying, and satisfying. She conveys the kind of confidence everyone both fears and wants, which is a perfect play off of Charlie Ian’s unstable, desperate Damien in this episode.
“Perfume Genius – Slip Away”
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that Perfume Genius’s “Slip Away,” the second track off of their newest album No Shape, is my new favorite song, and I will scream/cry/sing it until my throat is horse and my tear ducts are dry. That being said, I might be slightly biased in my review of this episode of Song Exploder. Anyway, I listened to this episode four times in a row when it came out and had to fight away tears of joy each time I listened, and I only fought them back because I was at work. This episode also lead to one of the most delightful twitter interactions I’ve ever had:
(Hrishikesh Hirway is the host of Song Exploder, and this made me laugh out loud.)
“Null and Void”
Like I’ve said before, Radiolab always provides great content, but I just don’t feel like this show is the right venue for the actual reporting work they do. I’ve never been a fan of non-news shows doing news-related work, not because it’s not important, but because the context actually feels like it makes the content less serious (This American Life is probably the most annoying example). I am, however, very excited by the announcement that there will be a season 2 of More Perfect, a much better venue for stories like this.
“#7: Fear of Being Butch”
This episode of Nancy dives into what “butch” means today, the word’s negative connotations, and how the word intersects with sexual and gender identities. The discussion of “butch” as a scary word, something sapphic women are supposed to avoid, was refreshing to hear from an insider’s perspective. Discussion of the word “butch” has often come from straight, cis sources–hearing the discomfort with the word from within the community was a relief, especially in the context of gender fluidity.
Nothing exciting this Saturday. Instead, I spent it listening to that Song Exploder episode again. And again. And again.
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