Quick announcement at the top: My good friend Corey Waite Arnold is going to be guest-writing this newsletter next week! He's got impeccable taste, so expect some great recommendations.
Okay, here are my shows.
A sound design firm creating a podcast is a match made in audio heaven, but this one gets points for substance in addition to style. I was vaguely aware that “audio descriptions” of movies and television shows—basically, narration to aid people with visual impairments—existed, but I’d never listened to an example before. It turns out these tracks are super interesting, in their history, accessibility, planning, and execution. Contemporary culture is pretty visual, and they’re a cheap way of keeping a large group of people engaged in the conversation.
Reveal is one of the best investigative podcasts out there, managing to weave really compelling through lines end-to-end across a few related stories. The first act of this one deals with water shortages in Yemen—something I knew literally nothing about—and the armed conflicts that have arisen as a result. The second is something of a myth-busting story about groundwater shortages in California and why the recent rain dumps won’t solve the state’s problems. And finally, fake meat! Host Al Letson talks with experts about the toll that livestock takes on our water supply. He also taste-tests an Impossible Burger, which I would love to try.
This podcast is one of my all-time favorites. It’s so good I have to talk myself out of writing it up on, like, a monthly basis. Nate DiMeo works magic, describing evocative details and emotional states that just light up the past. He squeezes so much feeling into such tiny episodes that as soon as I finish one I go straight for Wikipedia to read more. This one is about Hazel Scott, a Trinidadian-born pianist/singer/activist/actor, and the first person of color with a network TV show. She was a superstar in New York, but her unpopular politics kept her from becoming absolutely monumental.
Good One: A Podcast About Jokes | Kristen Schaal and Her Singing, Dancing Bird
[New York Magazine | 47m]
Think Song Exploder, but for jokes. That’s the premise of this podcast, which never quite stays entirely on track. Kristen Schaal—who you might know from Bob’s Burgers,Flight of the Conchords, The Last Man on Earth, or lots of other things—is the coolest, and this ep has her breaking down her super weird conceptual quasi-stand-up with Jesse David Fox of Vulture. She explains how she comes up with surreal material, the bathos of carrying a saddle home on the subway after a bit bombs, and her influences (surprise, Andy Kaufman is one). If you like this show, I also recommend Neal Brennan’s interview from the previous week.
The third podcast to emerge from Pod Save America co-hosts’ new media venture, this slightly uncomfortable and awkward show stars MTV News writer Ana Marie Cox talking to a person with a different perspective than she has. By that, I mean she’s not just preaching to the choir. This one, featuring MTV News culture writer Ira Madison III, is really compelling. Madison talks about racial expression and reaction in pop culture, being “the black friend,” tokenism in the media, and the pressure people feel to be right all the time about everything related to identity politics.