Web Crush Wednesdays: Pop Culture Happy Hour

popculturehappy hourOh, hello, my fellow NPR babies. Carpooling to school to the dulcet tones of Morning Edition and falling asleep to the BBC World Service. Lazy weekend afternoons to the sound of Prairie Home Companion and the Sunday night oddness of This American Life. Seems like those days would last forever.

But we all grow up, and then, somehow, we create the NPR we want for ourselves. And while the NPR podcast library is full of wonderful things, today I’m here to talk about Pop Culture Happy Hour.

You know why this is a new generation of NPR? Because two founders met on the grand old forums of Television Without Pity—the very birthplace of internet pop culture commentary. Also, it’s not on the actual radio and you have to have Internet to get it. You know. Podcast.

There are three regular hosts for the podcast. The obvious geek is Glen Weldon, who introduces himself as a writer about books and comic books for the NPR website. He’s being modest: he’s also penned a biography of Superman with a forthcoming treatment of Batman. He is also a dour curmudgeon who groans at the sound of children’s laughter, which is why he’s my favorite. And he posts things like this:

He’s joined by Stephen Thompson, who betrays a hint of hipster pretension via his work on All Songs Considered, but also manages to make more Simpsons references than anyone who lives outside of my brain. His nerd cred was acquired prenatally—his mother, Maggie Thompson, was the founder of the Comic Buyer’s Guide.

And finally my personal hero, Linda Holmes, who proves every day that just because you went to law school, doesn’t mean you can’t still grow up to talk about nerdy pursuits on the Internet. *ahem*. Linda is also the editor of the truly excellent NPR pop culture blog Monkey See, and has established herself as the foremost feminist television critic.

But what do they talk about, Mikely? Oh, the things they talk about. The show has a broad scope, which means that while it is not primarily a geek culture podcast, it very regularly darkens our doors with segments focusing on specific movies or shows, and on themes within genres. Take this long look at the role of fairy tales in pop culture, or this close take on Gravity, or this discussion on raising your kids to be nerds. It’s smart, funny, and thoughtful, and with a broad range of visiting NPR talent, the perspectives are varied and fresh—the main hosts are joined by newsroom royalty Audie Cornish, Code Switch bloggers Kat Chow and Gene Denby, and gleeful geek Petra Mayer.

But, bottom line, this is what the podcast can do: it lets you bask in the fact that an interest in pop culture can make you happy. It’s a reminder that we like this stuff because it brings us something, and even when we’re disappointed, whether we mock or critique, we know that there’s a promise in movies, TV, books, comics, video games, and music, a promise of joy and delight that we can share with fellow travelers. PCHH can get bigger laughs than comedy podcasts because it captures the essence of hanging out with your friends. Which is why it’s so key that they close each episode with the segment “What’s Making Us Happy?” As much as it provides a set of weekly recommendations (which got me to Welcome to Night Vale!), the segment is equally a potent reminder of what this is all for.

This podcast makes me happy.

The full back catalog is available here, with all the usual subscription options, or you can interact with them at their Facebook page.

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