pop culture happy hour

Jewel Tones, Damasks, and Ninja Turtles: A Vision Board for a Chilly April Afternoon

In which Emily recommends that you take gorgeous costumes, stunning music videos, and happy podcasts as inspiration on this surprisingly chilly day.

So, change of plans. I totally announced last post that I was starting a series of posts about title sequences. But really, I should have known better than to announce future plans for TTLP’s oh-so-spontaneous content-production. This Monday I find myself still overly excited about the Outlander costumes I praised last time, and really very much in the mood to curate bubbly and bad-ass awesome things to improve a brisk spring afternoon. This week, then, in the name of happy-making pop culture, silly links, and powering through the busyness of the last month of the semester, I present: A Vision Board for a Chilly April Afternoon.

Outlander Costumes

Holy Madame de Pompadour, the costumes on Outlander are STUNNING, whether you love knitwear, kilts, and wool

or whether you’re fascinated by the gorgeous fashions of pre-Revolutionary France on display in all the publicity stills for the nascent second season.

John Oliver Sending Ninja Turtles to Yankees Games

While we’re talking about people wearing fantastic things at famous locales…

Dude Watchin’ With the Brontes

Because Kate Beaton is glorious and Anne Bronte is tragically underappreciated.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Romance Novel Special

I’m completely in love with this hour of smart ladies amusing themselves, talking romance novels, and taking a very silly quiz.

Another Round: Our First Year

In which awesome ladies Heben and Tracy reflect on a year of podcasting, giggle lots, and discuss the evils of mongooses — mongeese?

“Atomic Number,” case/lang/veirs

After laughing along with the PCHH and Another Round ladies, perhaps it’s time for moody acoustic-y music from the new collaboration between Neko Case, k.d. Lang, and Laura Veirs.

Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period

Or if you’re really digging the bubbly-ness of silly but sincere podcasts, I highly recommend Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period. Honestly, I just found this podcast (thanks NPR One!) and haven’t listened to much of it yet. But that title’s just the most charming thing ever.

Beyonce’s Formation Video

You know you’ve watched this a few dozen times already. But is it possible to watch it too many times?

Enjoy your afternoon!


A Few Utterly Delightful Podcasts; or, Three Things to Make Your Week Better

Hi there — Emily here!

I listen to podcasts all the time. They entertain me when I’m doing laundry, and washing dishes, and making dinner, and basically doing all of the boring grown-up things that (somehow?) magically appear on my to-do list. Listening to people have interesting conversations about amusing and important topics makes the mundane parts of my day so very much more exciting. I find it a lot harder to complain about having to go to the grocery store when I’m also listening to two historians talk about the legends surrounding the real-life kick-ass lady warrior Boudica, Queen of the Iceni.

(Because the blogosphere absolutely needs a higher density of images of Boudica.)

Back in September, I indulged my curatorial whims by putting together a list of some of my favorite podcasts. And I stand by those recs: the podcasts that I wrote about are all highly enjoyable and worth your time. But this week, I want to make an addendum to that list and recommend a few podcasts which have been utterly delighting me in the last few months.

As a grad student in English lit and an all around pop culture geek, I love consuming new media — and re-experiencing old favorites — but my schedule doesn’t tend to allow me to binge-watch tv or to check fun-reading books out of the library and actually get a chance to read them during the semester. Don’t get me wrong: The Faerie Queene is awesome. But when you spend a whole lot of time reading The Faerie Queene and Arcadia and weird Renaissance texts, you end up with less time to consume random pop culture. So recently, I’ve fallen in love with two fantastic, gargantuan, encyclopedic, and entertaining, recap-based podcasts, both of which I recommend that you check out.

As these podcasts talk in minute detail about geek culture properties and story arcs, they satisfy my cravings to consume new media (and re-experience old favorites), while also presenting their content in a way that (1) includes critical analysis and (2) allows me to listen while I’m on the go. Basically, these podcasts have become an awesome way to intake story and think about fandom and geek culture (while, you know, actually reading The Faerie Queene when I’m supposed to be doing that).

First off, last autumn I started listening to StoryWonk’s Dusted, a weekly Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcast. In Dusted, writers/cultural critics/Joss Whedon fans Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens are slowly working their way through Buffy episodes, and are breaking down story-beats, character arcs, and the general awesomeness that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer as they do so. (Full disclosure: I’ve watched the whole Buffy tv show and read Season Eight of the comics, so I already knew of the general awesomeness of Buffy before starting to listen to Dusted.)

Lani and Alastair started out re-watching the first season last September, at which point they were talking about two Buffy episodes a week. Now they’ve slowed down, though, so that while they still podcast weekly, they only cover one episode of Buffy at a time — even though their podcasts still tend to be at least 90 minutes long. Yes, that does mean that it takes longer to listen to Dusted than it does to watch Buffy, but Lani and Alastair have some great moments of media criticism as they discuss character beats, gender politics, overarching themes, and the outdated ‘90s technology that Willow keeps getting excited about.

They’re smart, funny, and on point as they discuss the iconic genre tv show that they both love. (Spoilers: Joyce Summers is surprisingly awful and Cordelia Chase is unsurprisingly amazing.) Next week (3/26) they’ll be discussing the season two finale (“Becoming, Parts 1 and 2”!!) so it’s the perfect time to get caught up on this fantastic podcast!

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tumblr_n5fxnzfZsD1s4o1ado3_250 (Source: http://watcherspet.tumblr.com/)

(Source: http://watcherspet.tumblr.com/)

More recently, then, I’ve also fallen in love with Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, a weekly podcast in which two comic book lovers and X-men aficionados (or X-perts?) read through the major X-men (and X-men adjacent) story arcs in Marvel comics, as they comment upon story and art design, discuss character arcs and gender politics, and attempt to explain X-men continuity. (Full disclosure: before starting to listen to Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, I’d only read Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men, so this podcast has been more of a learning experience than a revisiting of old favorites.)

Rachel and Miles started out last spring with a few weeks on Silver Age storylines before really settling into the Christ Claremont years of the franchise (now, in March, we’re still in the Claremont years on X-men). They breeze through story arcs that they don’t find either particularly appealing or particularly continuity-relevant, but when they hit a story they like, they spend multiple 40-minute episodes working through why these stories work as well as they do. They talk character design, narrative construction, thematic through-lines, the intersection between word and image, and the way that stories and their legacies have rippled through the X-men franchise as a whole.

Their descriptions of comic events like the New Mutants’ Demon Bear Saga or the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, are fun, engaging, and understandable to a comic-book newbie like myself. (Spoilers: the Dark Phoenix Saga is amazing, Secret Wars 2 was bizarre, and Rogue and Gambit have the best kiss in the X-men franchise.) Also, Rachel and Miles are — like Lani and Alastair — just delightful. They’re still working through the ‘80s in both the flagship comic and the New Mutants, but if you’re curious about X-men continuity, start at the beginning and catch up!

Both of those podcasts are — while absolutely wonderful — kind of a time commitment, though. So if you want wonderful pop culture podcasting which doesn’t require a lengthy investment or ask you to remember past story arcs that were recapped, I want to recommend the recent Pop Culture Happy Hour episode in which the always charming Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and Barrie Hardymon discussed Jane the Virgin, The Boy Next Door, and erotic thrillers, all the while keeping it NPR appropriate. It’s a great discussion, and it’s doubly wonderful for hearing the NPR-able circumlocutions that Linda keeps finding herself using.

Happy Listening!

Eight Podcasts You Should Be Listening To

Emily here!

So I’ve been listening to podcasts off-and-on for a while now: when I was in middle school and the Harry Potter books were still coming out, I actually burned myself CDs of Mugglecast episodes so that I could have podcasts with me on a plane trip. But in this past year, I’ve really come to love the podcast format: podcasts can provide a space both for innovative fiction experiments and for delightfully unstructured conversations between friends.

To that end, here are eight podcasts that you should be listening to:

1. Stuff You Missed In History Class – An occasionally rotating panel of hosts discusses historical subjects that your high school teachers probably didn’t get around to mentioning. The hosts are particularly drawn to stories that focus on identity politics and marginalized groups, but they also have a lot of fun talking about con men, “cursed” ships, and weird cultural fads.

Want to check it out? Your mileage here will really vary depending on the historical people and periods that fascinate you, so click around and try a few. To sample what they have to offer, though, I recommend “Alan Turing: Codebreaker,” which discusses Turing, the Enigma Machine, and the persecution of homosexuality in twentieth-century Britain. (Bonus: this episode will also give you some background knowledge if you’re excited about seeing the Benedict Cumberbatch film The Imitation Game in a few months.) You might also enjoy “The Bone Wars,” in which hosts Deblina and Sarah tell the fascinating story of a conflict between two paleontologists that led to the rival scientists dynamiting fossils in order to sabotage each other, or the more recent episode “Building Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.”


2. The Thrilling Adventure Hour – A staged production in the style of old-time radio, The Thrilling Adventure Hour uses the new audio format of the podcast to explore the conventions of what radio used to sound like. Actors as diverse as Nick Offerman, Juliet Landau, Nathan Fillion, and Emily Blunt perform in campy serialized stories – written by Ben Blacker and Ben Acker – about a time-travelling Amelia Earhart, a pun-happy superhero, and many other wacky premises.

Want to check it out? I particularly recommend the ongoing stories of “Beyond Belief” and “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars.” In “Beyond Belief,” the wonderful Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster play a fast-talking married pair of boozy upper-crust detectives – very much descendents of Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora or Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence – who solve supernatural mysteries. In “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars,” Marc Evan Jackson and Mark Gagliardi play an Earth-born lawman and his Martian companion, and the stories feel very much like what would happen if you marooned a grumpy Han Solo on Mars and told him to try to keep the peace amongst the robots and outlaws. It is weird. And very silly. Because the show is serialized, you might as well begin with early episodes, perhaps with “Beyond Belief: Love Love Me Doom” and “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars: Inside Out in Outer Space.”


3. How Did This Get Made – A panel of comedians watches bad movies then sits down and tries to figure out (1) what just happened? (2) who thought this was a good idea? and (3) how did this get made?? The joy of this podcast comes from how seriously these podcasters take their task, genuinely trying to work out plot holes and strange character motivations in movies such as From Justin to Kelly and Speed 2. Also, they get distracted and end up just riffing on things.

Want to check it out? HDTGM is particularly wonderful when the panel is trying to piece together the plots of heist movies that didn’t quite work. To that end, you might enjoy “Reindeer Games,” in which they discuss a bizarrely complicated Ben Affleck Christmas movie and “Hudson Hawk,” in which they discuss the Bruce Willis heist movie and then realize that they should write their own secret identity/ heist film about nuns on the run: Nundercover.


4. Nerdist Writers Panel – Ben Blacker (of Thrilling Adventure Hour fame) interviews writers and talks about both what they write and how they write it. If you’re a process nerd, or if you’re curious about the behind-the-scenes development of particular TV shows, books, films, and comics, then you should absolutely check out this podcast. Blacker is funny and smart, and he always seems genuinely interested in what his guests have to say. The podcast feed includes a Tuesday “regular” Nerdist Writers Panel episode and a Saturday “Comics Edition,” in which Blacker and friends talk about writing comic books – but they also just geek out about their favorite runs of the X-Men and their ideal rosters for the Justice League.

Want to check it out? The recent episode “Legend of Korra/ Avatar: The Last Airbender” provides a particularly interesting glimpse into the process of creating the animated Nickelodeon property – and involves the creators getting rather candid about the M. Night Shyamalan Last Airbender film. I also adore “Comics Edition #20: Kelly Sue DeConnick,” in which the writer of Captain Marvel and Pretty Deadly talks about issues of inclusion in mainstream comics, discusses her writing process and her involvement in the redesign of Carol Danvers, and geeks out about her favorite comic book creators.


5. Welcome to Night Vale – It’s no secret that I love Welcome to Night Vale. But seriously: it’s a fictional radio show set in a mysterious desert town, in which our host, Cecil, updates the community on town happenings, including the fact that Wednesday has been cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. Also, a wormhole has opened during the high school PTA meeting, sending pterodactyls into the gymnasium (details to follow as the story develops). It is weird, but oh so very clever.

Want to check it out? WtNV gets fairly serialized fairly quickly, so there’s perhaps no better place to start than episode 1: “Pilot.” To really get an idea of the creative storytelling and genuine oddity that imbues this podcast, however, also check out episode 13: “A Story About You.”


6. Ask Me Another Ask Me Another is a geeky NPR quiz show (although perhaps that’s redundant). Hosted by comedian Ophira Eisenberg and musician Jonathan Coulton, it’s charming, silly, and very fun to play along with. It’s part Will-Shortz-esque word games, part pop-culture-based pub trivia, and all very wonderful.

Want to check it out? Recent favorite episodes have included “We Might Be Giant Nerds,” on which They Might Be Giants is the musical guest and “Two Can Slay That Game,” which includes New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum being challenged to a quiz about Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.


7. Extra Hot Great – A pop culture roundtable between TV critics for Previously.tv, in which the podcasters go over the week in TV, vote extraordinary episodes of TV shows into “The Canon,” and play bizarrely hard trivia games. To be honest, half the reason I started listening was because I was fascinated with the insane trivia games, in which, for example, the quiz master will play five seconds of a song from a fictional band (such as Parks and Rec’s “Mouse Rat”) and then ask the players to name the show that the band was on. It’s very silly, but that’s very much the point.

Want to check it out? The podcasters of Extra Hot Great do tend to have strong opinions about reality TV, so episode 5, “You Wanna Be on Top?” – in which the panel discusses lots of reality TV, Tara nominates an infamous episode of America’s Next Top Model into the canon, and the TV game time tests knowledge of TV pseudonyms – is perhaps a good introduction into the show. I also recommend episode 32, “Gone Catfish-ing,” in which the always charming Matt Mira of Nerdist fame is a guest panelist and the group discuss the eponymous Catfish TV show; also, an episode of Star Trek: TNG is nominated for the canon, and the panelists are quizzed on their ability to recognize the last lines of TV shows.


8. Pop Culture Happy Hour – Favorite podcast ever. Hands down. NPR culture critics have roundtable discussions about pop culture which are occasionally interspersed with quizzes about regrettable television, comic book superheroes, and – famously – “Paint or Perp,” in which Linda Holmes challenged her fellow podcasters to determine if particular words were Sherwin-Williams paint colors or episodes of Law & Order: SVU. (It’s surprisingly difficult to tell.) Ending each episode with a segment called “What’s Making Us Happy This Week,” PCHH is also wonderful about recommending more pop culture for listeners to consume!

Want to check it out? PCHH loves its “low-brow” pop culture as much as any of us, so the episode in which they enlist Ari Shapiro to discuss “The Shambolic VMAs and Hollywood in the White House” is a delight. They also, however, make great use of their friendship with the NPR Code Switch team and thereby have great discussions about race and representation, as in the episode on “‘Fruitvale Station’ and Yelling at Clouds.” But really, I love Pop Culture Happy Hour because Linda, Glen, Stephen, and the rest so clearly have so much fun talking about pop culture and fan communities. To that end, “Live From San Diego Comic Con” is absolutely wonderful.


Happy Listening!