To be an American of a certain age and privilege is to be overextended, culturally. The conversation around peak TV started in earnest in 2015, as traditional networks and streaming platforms released more than 400 scripted series, but for me, I’m feeling the pinch more than ever in the medium of podcasts. I’m aurally overextended. I’m audibly overwhelmed. My SD card is underwater and needs refinancing.
Every couple of months, I do a deep clean of the podcast subscriptions I notice I haven’t paid attention to and delete episodes that I saved but never got around to listening to. Each go-round, I drop about ten percent of my subscriptions, but a few months later, the total number of subscriptions edges back up towards 160. Honestly, closer to 170.
But with this unsustainably high number of subscriptions – we’re talking, like, 140 new episodes streaming into my phone every week, when I reasonably have time to listen to no more than one-tenth of that output over the same week – I’ve started reexamining fundamental things about myself to help me cull subscriptions from my life. What do I really find funny? How radical are my politics? How much true crime can my brain really handle?
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Being a profligate eater and occasional home cook doesn’t mean all food podcasts are for you. Especially ones over 30 minutes or so. But quick, well-edited food shows like The Food Chain or The Food Programme blend sensory information with the right amount of social history and economics to be great listens. Start with this fantastic episode on eating alone.
- I’m losing time and patience for news/political shows that aren’t fundamentally intersectional. As a result, Crooked Media’s podcasts are much more enriching when you skip the ones that center on 2-4 white male politicos/BFFs trying to make each other laugh. The real gems on the network are shows like Pod Save the People, With Friends Like These, and especially Keep It, which are all shows that prioritize conversations among black and brown and gay and female voices.
- I have unlimited time for podcasts about The Beatles. And this week, through an ad that ran on a different podcast, I was turned on to a show called Screw It, We’re Just Gonna Talk About the Beatles. This show is my favorite weekend Wikipedia rabbit hole brought to life by a group of Los Angeles comedy friends (led by writer/actor/director Will Hines) who are as obsessed with The Beatles as any reasonable person ought to be. I recommend starting with this live episode where the panel includes a group of singers who perform their favorite Beatles songs for vocals and discuss each of their entries. If you kind of like the world’s greatest band, let this show turn you into a superfan, and if you are already a superfan, you’re welcome.
- If your favorite podcast normally records in-studio, chances are, their live episodes are going to be straight trash and not worth your ear-minutes or your precious mind-grapes. The exception to this rule is If I Were You, which remains the best podcast in the categories of both comedy and advice. Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld have been making funny videos and series together for just over a decade, and they slide in and out of bits that have become recurring favorites for listeners. Their show is especially fun when it brings in top-ten all-time podcast guest Thomas Middleditch, as it did earlier this week.
Infinity War Spoilers
Seriously, if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War, STOP READING. Here are my takeaways from the film, which premiered on the 27th:
- This movie is dark. Like, that ending is tough hang. But I was impressed by several things related to the decision to leave so many of the MCU’s characters dead at the end of the film. First, the special effect of their dissolutions into ash was beautifully rendered. And second, it takes guts to end a story on such a down note. Even if, through the machinations of Hollywood and its promotional machinery, we can infer that many of these characters cannot stay dead, reshuffling the status quo in this way is still biting off a lot of storytelling work, and I admire the gamble.
- Speaking of that ending, when Thanos won, that was a metaphor for the 2016 election, right? When the good guys did everything they could, and worked hard, and the bully killed half the universe? That’s 45, right?
- It’s a bummer they gave away one of the best exchanges in the movie – the introduction between Dr. Strange and Spider-Man – in the trailer.
- Peter Dinklage might have been wasted in his surprise role in this movie. I’m hoping that, upon re-watching, his accent choices and line reads will hit me as intentionally funny instead of accidental.
- The Black Order, Thanos’s elite henchaliens, were a mixed bag. But Ebony Maw, as portrayed by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, was genuinely terrifying on the screen. Also, the characters should have been addressed by name way more often in the film. Ebony Maw and Proxima Midnight are some of the wackiest names in recent comic book history. We deserve to luxuriate in that foolishness.
- My favorite action beat was a simple one. In the Battle of Wakanda, when the good guys charge the invading army of Thanos’s children, T’Challa and Steve Rogers lead the charge and, because of who they are, they outpace the rest of their allies and crush into the opposing army first, by themselves, a few meaningful seconds before any of the rest of the heroes. When action can be used to highlight important pieces of character like that, it’s worth the price of admission.
- My favorite performance beat was also, I suspect, deeply revealing of character. When Peter Parker dies in his mentor’s arms, he takes noticeably longer to crumple into ashes. This has plenty of practical justifications, because Tom Holland is an obvious fan favorite for his performance of Parker/Spider-Man, but I took it as a true comic-book-nerd nod to something that all the real webheads know: spider-powers aside, Peter Parker’s greatest power has always been an indomitable will, an ability and a courage to give more than anyone else, and to carry the weight that most heroes can’t. So of course, when he’s blinked out of existence, he’d be the only one to fight erasure long enough to give an entire speech. He’s no Asgardian, but he’s the strongest hero this webhead’s ever seen.
header image: "blue mic snowball," sergey galyonkin / flickr