NPR’s roundtable discussion of what to watch, read, and listen to is my go-to podcast for discovering what’s worth being on my precious post-kid-bedtime-binge-list, but it’s also more than that. The panelists do such a good job of talking about pop culture’s role in our lives: its importance in making us feel less alone, in providing an escape, and in telling the kinds of stories that haven’t been told yet. Their discussions always push me to think about things I already like in different ways and to experiment with genres I never would have chosen on my own. There’s so much to love about the dynamic on this show, but here are some of my favorite things:
The Panel: They dive right in, never traipse off into talking-to-hear-themselves talk territory, or dismiss something because it’s not normally their thing. The chemistry between host Linda Holmes, music critic Stephen Thompson, and book critic Glen Weldon is so full of joy, and hearing their rotating “fourth chair,” who’s always a normally-more-serious NPR contributor, from Audie Cornish (who happens to know a lot about 90’s hip-hop), to Gene Demby (big comic book enthusiast), talk about pop culture is like when your favorite teacher does the electric slide at a school dance. The panel gives such thoughtful attention to everything they review, but they also give permission for you to do you with all things pop culture, to engage with it in whatever way gets you through: read stacks of romance novels, watch cars racing or lady superheroes on a movie screen, or watch some cupcake bakers get all upset about some fondant.
The “When In Rome” factor: If they’re reviewing Brooklyn 99, they talk about joke-density, Mike Schur’s workplace-comedy rules, and Andy Samberg’s particular brand of goofiness. The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu gets a full discussion of how race is handled, what kinds of dystopic echoes are most disturbing, and how Elisabeth Moss does justice to Offred. They judge everything on how well it does what IT is trying to do, without a trace of snobbiness. When in Rome, eat plates of delicious pasta; when watching UnReal on Lifetime, appreciate some good fake-reality-show backstabbing.
What’s Making Us Happy: I used to make these lists for myself, uh, daily. So I’m very into this move. They’re random, they’re personal, and they’ve helped me discover everything from recipes on Budget Bytes to YA novels I never would have tried.
Here is a good mix of episodes to start with if you’re new to the podcast: