“Isn’t it amazing how we can only imagine our monsters capitalistically?” Mike tells Sarah how police, prosecutors and journalists accidentally conspired to invent the perfect suburban menace. Digressions include IKEA, the “Godfather” trilogy and Fleetwood Mac. Mike takes big gulping breaths when he reads out loud.
“When you allow emotion into the courtroom, bias rushes in alongside it.” Special guest Rachel Monroe tells Mike and Sarah how a good-faith critique of the justice system led to a decades-long crackdown. Digressions include Charles Manson, Ronald Reagan and a billionaire mugshot. As usual, Mike’s similes are worse than Sarah’s.
“Things are not going to get better if we make the people who scare us seem more powerful.” Mike tells Sarah about the myths of sex crimes, the reality of child abuse and the importance of unsympathetic protagonists. Digressions include frozen pizza, millennials (obvs) and vaccination rates. Mike can only name one state that borders Nevada.
“The story that did the most damage to the people in it was the one that made the most money.” Sarah tells Mike about the low-rent conspiracy that sparked a ratings bonanza. Digressions include “Out of Sight,” Robert De Niro and ancient sexting technology. Mike continues to laugh confusedly at references he does not know.
Sarah tells Mike the story of a world-class figure skater who worked at a mall potato restaurant. Digressions include “Sleepless in Seattle,” mall walkers, synchronized diving and the difficulty of skating a perfect pentagram. This episode unfortunately contains descriptions of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Tonya deserved better.
“Humans aren’t good at remembering what got us where we are.” Mike tells Sarah how a turning point in the gay rights movement became an immediate controversy, a lasting inspiration and a never-ending debate. Digressions include “Newsies” (of course), “True Romance” and “Norma Rae.” Mike’s creaking chair and Sarah’s rustling blanket-fort are heard throughout.
“Once you tell a story incorrectly once, you can’t control where it goes.” Sarah tells Mike how The New York Times turned a suburban murder into an urban legend. Digressions include Billy Joel, the World’s Fair and “Ferngully.” This episode marks a triumphant return to Long Island and an unexpected celebration of Pride Month.
“We’re uncomfortable with the evidence that teen girls have sexual agency.” Special guest Amy Hasinoff tells Mike and Sarah how a moral panic became a legal nightmare. Digressions include Cosmo advice columns, Grindr etiquette and the revolutionary hugging of the “Avengers” movies. Due to the ongoing hex placed on this podcast, the sound quality is worse than usual.
“He’s been punished even more than the American prison system can aspire to punish anyone”: Mike tells Sarah how John Walker Lindh became a terrorist in the media, a freedom fighter in his own mind and something between the two in reality. Digressions include “Newsies,” Bruce Willis and “Candide.” Sarah sneakily reveals her lifelong affection for Howard Stern.
“It just seems like capitalism masquerading as religion”: Sarah tells Mike how a horror movie resurrected a ritual and established an industry. Digressions include “Avatar,” the NFL and the ethics of book publishing. The final five minutes are an unintentionally concise description of the core moral principle of this show.
“We want stories that don’t exist in systems”: Mike tells Sarah what happened when Utah set out to solve one of America’s most intractable problems. Digressions include the Paleo diet, the planet Mars and the inadequacy of the term “up the river.” Jimmy Carter makes an extended cameo appearance.
“Why did we make fun of Dan Quayle for misspelling the word ‘potato’ when we should have made fun of him for arguments like this?” Mike tells Sarah how a real vice president blamed a fictional single mom for causing one of the most divisive events of the 1990s. Digressions include “Designing Women,” “Alien” and “The Brady Bunch.” Listeners finally learn that Sarah has a lovely singing voice.
Mike tells Sarah how a 5-year-old kid transformed a city, divided a political party and (maybe) determined a presidential election. Digressions include World War II, Clarence Darrow and something called “Like, News with Skeeter.” Both co-hosts conclude that this episode is somehow an equal-parts mixture of Satanic Panic and Terri Schiavo.
Mike tells Sarah how a simple idea in a single school district became a nationwide racial panic. Digressions include slasher movies, Space Invaders and homeschooling. The taglines are becoming more esoteric.
Mike tells Sarah how the media, the president and the Pope turned a simple medical story into a complicated legal one. Digressions include canine loyalty, unionized space-workers and polyamory logistics. Both co-hosts recorded in tiny rooms, but with very different acoustics.
Sarah tells Mike how a poor Texas girl made herself into an icon and America made her into a punchline. Digressions include massage technique, “Death Becomes Her” and (obviously) “The Godfather.” Mike sounds even sicker than he did last week.
Plus, special thanks to Ian at Marfa Public Radio, who helped Sarah record this episode!
Mike tells Sarah how an environmental problem became a national rallying cry, a sticky diplomatic issue and, eventually, a conspiracy theory. Digressions include “Alien,” Field & Stream and NRA public service announcements. Both hosts are recovering from colds and at least one spends the episode under a blanket.
Sarah tells Mike how a dubious affair distracted from the real scandal of the 1988 election. Digressions include “Good Will Hunting,” People Magazine and Linda Ronstadt. Michael Dukakis is described, for the first time ever, as “the soulmate who was there all along.”
“She only said one thing her whole life”: Sarah tells Mike how two decent women became scapegoats for the actions of one terrible man. Digressions include Larry Flynt, NPR tote bags and Playboy back issues. The co-hosts discover they have wildly different relationships with “Saturday Night Live.”