The 8 podcast episodes of 2017 that I’m most proud of

A lot of writers on Twitter have been sharing pieces they’ve created this year that they’re most proud of. Since I do way more podcasting than writing, I thought I’d take this idea and apply it to the podcast episodes I’m proud of having been part of. Here they are in no particular order:

1) The /Filmcast: Transformers: The Last Knight review with Paul Scheer – Paul Scheer’s comedy career has been ascendant recently (I loved him in The Disaster Artist) so it was a delight to have him on the /Filmcast to dismantle this atrocity of a franchise film. Bonus: We used this episode to raise over $8500 for LA Children’s Hospital.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

2) A Cast of Kings – Live from Con of Thrones: The Ghosts of Westeros Panel – I was honored to moderate this panel with Joanna Robinson at Con of Thrones, in front of an audience of thousands of Game of Thrones fans. We talked with characters who’ve met brutal ends on the show. It was really a geek’s dream come true.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

3) The Tobolowsky Files: The Soldiers of Empathy – This episode from the latest season of the Tobolowsky Files is a wonderful articulation of the challenges and rewards of being an actor.

Download the ep here, or listen below:

4) The /Filmcast: The Dark Tower movie review with Matt Singer – I try not to take too much glee in panning films. Nobody sets out to make a terrible film, and even the worst films feature a lot of hard work from dozens, if not hundreds, of people. But Sony’s The Dark Tower felt like such a half-hearted effort, lacking the resources necessary to tell a story of such epic scope and tragically closing off the possibility of any similar adaptations for the foreseeable future. I had fun deconstructing this film with Matt Singer from Screencrush.

I try to do at least one of these movie dissections per year with Matt Singer and it’s always a lot of fun. See: our review of Collateral Beauty last year.

5) Peaks TV: Series Finale recap – The return of Twin Peaks was a genuinely exciting television event. David Lynch opted not only to subvert viewer expectations, but to deliver episodes that were chock full of exciting ideas and bravura filmmaking. That said, the experience of watching the show could often be baffling and disorienting. I’m proud of the finale recap episode I recorded with Joanna, where we try our best to explain WTF happened and summarize the entire experience of watching this unique show.

Listen below:

6) A Cast of Kings: Season Finale recap – This season of Game of Thrones was amazing and terrible in almost equal measure, hinging largely on an incredibly stupid plotline up North that was totally unbelievable. That said, I was happy that Joanna Robinson and I got to dissect the show in brutal detail as usual. This recap of the season finale really nailed many of the issues and the joys we had with the show as a whole. It’s also Joanna Robinson at her best, bringing wit and insight to this beloved series.

[Side note: A Cast of Kings shattered download records this year. Over 300K people downloaded this episode.]

Download or listen below:

7) The /Filmcast: Blade Runner 2049 review with C. Robert Cargill – I’ve followed C. Robert Cargill’s work since he was a movie reviewer for AICN. Since then, he’s gone on to write two hit films (Sinister and Doctor Strange), and become a brilliant creator in his own right. His appearance on the podcast this year to review one of my favorite sci-fi films of recent memory was a wonderful geek-out session.

Download or listen below:

8) The /Filmcast: A lot of conversations about The Last Jedi – The /Filmcast did two episodes on The Last Jedi, totaling about 3.5 hours of conversation (not to mention this additional 1-hour Periscope I recorded). I’m about done talking about this film, but was super thrilled to have many thought-provoking conversations about how this film takes the Star Wars franchise in bold new directions. Our first episode can be found here. Our spoiler-filled follow-up episode is below.

Download or listen below:

Fame and its discontents

Now that I’m taking a break and finally have enough time to do things like read books and listen to podcasts, I’m finally catching up on a lot of media I’ve missed over the past few years.

One such program is a podcast called Heavyweight, where the host helps people resolve long-held grudges or other issues. In particular, I really appreciated the second episode of the show, which features an interview with the musician Moby.

The setup is that a friend of Moby is upset with Moby’s success, especially after Moby refused to acknowledge the friend’s contributions to it. When confronted about this, Moby explains that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be and that it was at his most successful that he felt the most despondent:

You think when you get to where you want to go, finally you’ll finally be happy. But then you get to where you want to go, and you’re just as miserable as you were. In fact, you’re even more miserable because you no longer have anything to aspire to. And you feel this hopelessness because, what’s left to aspire towards?

This quote really struck me coming from someone as successful as Moby. No matter how successful you are, someone else will always be more successful. It’s how one deals with that knowledge that determines one’s level of happiness.

A podcast recap of ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

The season (series?) finale of Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic works I’ve ever seen on television. Overall, I found this season to be inspiring and maddening in almost equal measure, but I was grateful for the unpredictable ride.

I was also glad to be able to recap the show with my frequent collaborator Joanna Robinson. Listen to our thoughts on the season below:

Vulture names “A Cast of Kings” as one of the top 5 Game of Thrones podcasts

I’m honored that Vulture recently chose “A Cast of Kings” as one of the top 5 Game of Thrones podcasts:

Dave Chen is a prolific publisher of podcasts about film and TV going back years, perhaps most prominently as the co-host of the Slashfilmcast. Here, he partners with frequent collaborator Joanna Robinson, with whom he’s also done recap pods for Westworld and Twin Peaks. Chen is an interesting recapper, more technically driven in his approach than others, which pairs nicely with Joanna Robinson, who is one of the more prominent, engaging, and prolific Thrones recappers on the internet.

You can listen to our recaps of this season here.

Radiolab removes its ‘Truth Trolls’ episode from podcast feed

WNYC’s Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts of all time. For years, the show has informed me, delighted me, and astonished me. I have even gone to see their live show in Seattle twice. But this week, they failed their listeners in a spectacular way.

Over the past few weeks, the show has been doing an extended meditation on truth, starting with a rather frightening episode about that new video technology that lets you make anyone say whatever you want them to. This exploration culminated this week with the release of a now-removed episode called “Truth Trolls.”

“Truth Trolls” documents the trials and tribulations of Shia LaBeouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” art project. From that project’s official website:

Commencing at 9am on January 20, 2017, the day of the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, the public is invited to deliver the words “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” into a camera mounted on a wall outside the Museum of the Moving Image, New York, repeating the phrase as many times, and for as long as they wish.

Open to all, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the participatory performance will be live-streamed continuously for four years, or the duration of the presidency. In this way, the mantra “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” acts as a show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community.

Of course, in today’s political environment, no good deed goes unpunished. Through multiple locations and permutations, trolls from online forums were able to locate the art installation and basically lay waste to it. “Truth Trolls” tracks one particularly inventive attempt to do so, in which online commenters used forensic evidence to track down the location of a “He Will Not Divide Us” flag being live-streamed.

On Saturday, Radiolab’s creator/producer Jad Abumrad announced that they would be pulling the episode. Abumrad made a post on Radiolab’s blog explaining the takedown:

Radiolab has decided to take down our episode called “Truth Trolls.” Some listeners called us out saying that in telling the capture the flag story in the way that we did, we essentially condoned some pretty despicable ideology and behavior. To all the listeners who felt that way, and to everyone else, please know that we hear you and that we take these criticisms to heart. I feel awful that the things we said could be interpreted that way. That’s on us. It was certainly not our intention, and we apologize.

I’ve listened to the episode and I agree with Abumrad’s decision. In fact, the episode never should have run in the first place.

“Truth Trolls” was almost a self-parody in how it attempted to apply Radiolab’s form of awestruck investigative journalism to a loaded political situation. The hosts portrayed the online trolls in an almost heroic fashion, and described their pursuit of truth (in this case, the truth of where the flag was located) as “comforting.”

Hearing the show’s hosts chuckle and banter light-heartedly when you’re talking about how sound waves work is one thing — it’s quite another when they’re talking about one of the most toxic forms of politics that’s out there right now.

Obviously, many other folks felt this way:

One of the commenters on Radiolab’s website purports to be Luke Turner, a creator behind the “He will not divide us” project:

This is truly abhorrent and irresponsible reporting from Radiolab, describing white supremacist vandalism and harassment here as “a really encouraging story” and “comforting.”

As the artists behind this project, we have been targeted incessantly, received death threats, been subjected to extreme racist, antisemitic, homophobic and misogynist abuse and harassment from these far-right groups.

Because of a political movement that received great support from the likes of those featured in “Truth Trolls,” lives have been ruined. And we’re at the end of a weekend where people have died trying to stand up against the nationalism and hatred that’s slowly sweeping the country.

I don’t think one bad episode can erase a decade’s worth of goodwill that Radiolab has built up. But it definitely made me question what exactly they were thinking when they ran this episode in a way that evinced almost no understanding of the broader implications of the subject matter.

This podcast took me on an emotional journey

Recently, while browsing for new podcasts to listen to, I found a show called Pregnant Pause, in which journalist Zak Rosen and his wife Shira Heisler discuss whether or not they want to have children. I decided to subscribe because I was personally interested in exploring the same question.

The show is well produced and tackles a variety of aspects of child-bearing with thoughtfulness, honesty, and sensitivity. While I found the standard podcast bumpers to be a bit jarring when applied to this situation (e.g. “Stay tuned next week to hear what happened with my wife’s hospital visit!”), overall I’d highly recommend this show. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that “Pregnant Pause” took me on an emotional roller coaster ride that I won’t soon forget. I’m grateful to Rosen and Heisler for their willingness to share themselves with the world in this way.

Listen to all 8 episodes here. They’re only about 30 minutes long each.

The new 30 for 30 Podcast is great

ESPN has recently launched the “30 for 30” podcast, based on its 30 for 30 documentaries. Hosted by Jody Avirgan, each episode explores an untold side of a popular sports story.

The first episode chronicles the trials of Reebok’s once-ubiquitous “Dan and Dave” ads. As someone who was a kid when these first came out, I was fascinated by the backstory of Reebok’s bold marketing campaign, and the consequences that befell them when they put the cart before the horse.

I wasn’t as crazy about their second episode about the Yankess Suck phenomenon — not because the podcast wasn’t well made (it is) but because this particular story sums up a lot about what I dislike about American society and sports fandom in general.

Nevertheless, it’s a really strong start to what I hope will be a great podcast. I’m subscribed for the foreseeable future. [Apple Podcasts link]