On the eve of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, Devin and I look back on eight years of President Obama’s radical, unprecedented interactions with American popular culture. Topics include late-night talk shows, podcasts, stand-up comedy, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the NBA draft, Black-ish, Key and Peele, Hamilton and more.
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The final episode of Serial season one arrived amid a flurry of online excitement. The thinkpieces flowed like lava from a volcano — an apt metaphor given the temperature of some of the takes. Speculation about the perceived guilt or innocence of the show’s principal subject Adnan Sayed ran rampant, as did spirited debates about whether the series owed its captive audience a definitive conclusion. The show’s prominence grew so rapidly over its first three months that it warranted a Funny or Die parody starring Michaela Watkins and an SNL parody starring Cecily Strong.
It was a strange moment of mass adulation for what was, at its root, an act of thorough, rigorous journalism, blown out to epic proportions with the help of Sarah Koenig’s compelling delivery, eerily catchy theme music and the production’s team savvy week-by-week rollout. Suddenly, media outlets and pop culture consumers tackled a podcast about the localized failures of the American criminal justice system with the same fervor that they would the latest superhero movie or hourlong TV drama. When the dust settled, attentions quickly turned to speculation about the show’s seemingly endless possibilities for next steps.
Then a year went by. Radio silence.
By some cruel convergence of fates, two of the Internet’s best sources for culture criticism closed their doors yesterday. First, Grantland’s Alex Pappademas bid farewell to his colleague longtime and friend Wesley Morris, who’s departing for the New York Times, on the series finale of their podcast Do You Like Prince Movies?. Just hours later, current HitFix TV critic Alan Sepinwall and now-former HitFix editor Daniel Fienberg dropped their 302nd (!) and last Firewall and Iceberg podcast.
Both episodes were fitting farewells, combining a last attempt at the show’s typical rhythms followed by a more introspective look back at how the podcasts came to be and what they meant to the people who created and listened to them. No one cried, though Morris came closest, or so it seemed. There were thank-yous, callbacks, jokes, running gags and moments of sentimentality.
The world gives us lots to be cynical about every day. But today’s Thanksgiving, so I want to take a brief pause from frustration, indifference and indignation to marvel at the treasures on our massive pop culture landscape. Here’s a look at some of the pop culture (and pop culture criticism) that I’m thankful for right now:
The M&M Report, my podcast with my friend Devin Mitchell, is on hiatus this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday. In case you’ve missed our first eleven episodes, you can catch up here. We’ve scrutinized TV pilots, debated the merits of Kanye West and Justin Timberlake, dissected thrilling Oscar contenders and revealed our pop culture preferences. Our friends Matt Waskiewicz, Chloe Johnson, Rachel Lomot and Alex Patel have joined us to chat about Breaking Bad, Arcade Fire, Gilmore Girls, Key and Peele and more. I’ve really enjoyed working with Devin to put together a fun and (hopefully) substantive show each week, and it’s been very exciting to see the podcast evolve.
Now that we’ve taken a week off, though, you’ve probably got a 40-45 minute hole in your weekly schedule. (Right? Roll with me here.) I’ve got you covered. Here are three pop culture podcasts worth checking out in your spare time.