Screenshot: The Empire Strikes Back

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.

Sup Doc
West Of Memphis

Self-proclaimed documentary nerds Paco Romane and George Chen host Sup Doc, in which comedians, filmmakers, musicians, actors, and writers select documentaries to be discussed at length. This month marks what Romane and Chen refer to as “mayhem,” or the podcast’s month-long coverage of true-crime documentaries. First up is horror filmmaker Gavin Michael Booth (The Scarehouse) discussing Amy Berg’s West Of Memphis, a 2012 follow-up to the Paradise Lost series that continues to document the events of the West Memphis Three, a case in which teenagers Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley were arrested for the murders of three 8-year-old children. The film, produced by Damien Echols himself (who has since been exonerated) and the acclaimed Peter Jackson, turns its attention on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims. Romane, Chen, and Booth adeptly provide critical commentary on the documentary and the likelihood of Hobbs’ involvement in the crime while also recommending a bevy of additional documentaries for listeners. Maybe most enlightening, though, is their articulation of the necessity of documentaries in a time where institutions such as law enforcement continue to fail, as is the case here. [Becca James]


’80s All Over
June 1983

In the episodes leading up to January 1983, co-host Scott Weinberg lamented that he was dreading 1983, calling it one of the worst cinematic years he experienced in his lifetime. June certainly is a mixed bag of films for the summer season, featuring teen sex comedies, Gérard Depardieu, and a 4-hour-long Ingmar Bergman feature. Weinberg’s assesment is borne out as he and co-host Drew McWeeny dive into Richard Pryor’s role in Superman III and Roger Moore’s second-to-last turn as James Bond in Octopussy (one of two Bond flicks released that year, and generally considered one of the worst of the series). All that said, this month also features WarGames, the surprisingly good Psycho II (penned byFright Night director Tom Holland), and another classic collaboration between Carl Reiner and Steve Martin, The Man With Two Brains. One of the episode’s most interesting discussions deals with the career of John Landis. When Landis was implicated in the deaths of two children and actor Vic Morrow on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie (released in June 1983), it very well could have ended his career, if not for the runaway success of Trading Places, also released in June of ’83. [Mike Vanderbilt]


Bad Science
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back W/ Reggie Watts

Seeker’s new show has a simple concept: host Ethan Edenburg is joined by a comedian and a scientist or two each episode, and the expert in the room is grilled about the scientific plausibility of pop-cultural phenomena. A more modest show might start small. A more timid show might work up to the heavy-hitters. Bad Science is neither modest nor timid, so it kicks things off by having Reggie Watts talk about Star Warswith a NASA systems engineer. Watts is funny (that’s no surprise), and Edenburg makes a fine host, but NASA’s Emily Manor-Chapman is the real attraction here, gamely digging into subjects such as the biological and meteorological conditions necessary for a tauntaun to actually serve as a safe haven in a snowstorm. Edenburg keeps things moving and surprising, and the comedians make for lively conversationalists, but Manor-Chapman and the scientists of later episodes are the biggest draw. Come for the yuks, stay for the passionate conversations about explosives, sound in space, and the correct pronunciation of “AT-AT,” all with an eye toward honest-to-god science. [Allison Shoemaker]


Lend Me Your Ears
Julius Caesar

Lend Me Your Ears was inspired by both the results of the last election and Shakespeare’s more political works. Its aim is to make sense of the current national climate through the lens of the Bard’s plays, and Julius Caesar focuses not only on the fall of the Roman Empire but also group mentality, citizenship, and the delicate balance of political systems. Host Isaac Butler does a great job of connecting these dots. He provides context on Roman and U.S. political structures and audio of actors performing pivotal monologues from the play. Butler brings in Helen Shaw, critic for Time Out New York, who offers some key insights into the historical tragedy. Lend Me Your Ears is firing on all cylinders as it hits upon the reasons we continue to produce Shakespeare’s plays: to reflect on the world we live in. Butler starts off with audio from an angry audience member responding to a Julius Caesar wherein the titular character is styled after Trump, and by doing so, Butler perfectly illustrates the point that Shakespeare remains shockingly relevant and instructive for U.S. politics. [Jose Nateras]