The ever-growing glut of great new TV, movies, books, music, comics, and podcasts can be a lot to keep up with. So we here at Vox Culture — where our current obsessions include the new Blade Runner, an engrossing true crime tale, the return of Bob’s Burgers, and a loving ode to VHS — have a few suggestions for how to make the best use of your pop culture–consuming time.
Here are 12 items you should really consider adding to your pop culture queue.
Read/listen: Dirty John, the LA Times’s six-part longread that’s also a true crime podcast
The LA Times has joined the true crime narrative trend by going all-in with not one, but two storytelling formats for its new feature, Dirty John. The story — a deep dive into the life of a mysterious man named John and the havoc he wreaked on one California family — is a serial narrative that’s being released in six longform installments. But it also features an accompanying podcast series that highlights interviews with family members and the building sense of tension and suspense that narrative podcasts can instill even better than solid reporting. Pick your poison, or try both. —Aja Romano
Watch: Blade Runner 2049 is a more than fitting companion to the original
The number of things I should tell you about Blade Runner 2049 before you see it for yourself is pretty much limited to, “It exists, and it’s terrific.” The movie’s plot, slow-moving though it might sometimes be (with a running time of 2 hours and 44 minutes, of course it is), is rife with intriguing contemplations of the divide (or lack thereof) between humans and artificial life, and to say much more might genuinely ruin your viewing experience. All you need to know is that there’s an intriguing mystery for an unusual detective to solve, and the movie’s visuals (courtesy of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins) ably complement Ridley Scott’s classic 1982 original film while still forging their own path. This is one of my favorite movies of the year. —Todd VanDerWerff
Watch: the season 8 premiere of Bob’s Burgers was drawn by 62 different fan artists
Back in March, the creative forces behind Bob’s Burgers put out an intriguing call, asking fan artists to submit their best Bob’s Burgers work for consideration to be included in the show’s season eight premiere. The finished product, “Brunchsquatch,” aired on October 1, and revealed a surprising and delightful patchwork quilt of contributions from 62 different artists. The episode itself is typically good — Bob tries to open up the restaurant for brunch while the kids get caught in a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek — but the fact that every single scene is drawn in a different style is what makes “Brunchsquatch” singular. It’s jarring at first, but once you get used to it, it’s a total treat. —Caroline Framke
Listen: Slate digs into why your favorite songs became hits in the podcast Hit Parade
Slate’s “Why Is This Song Number One?” series has long been one of my favorite recurring bits of music criticism, as writer Chris Molanphy smartly traces the path that each new song to top the Billboard charts took to get there, digging into musical trends both of the moment and of years ago. That’s why I’m so glad that Molanphy’s “Hit Parade,” a recurring segment of the site’s Culture Gabfest podcast, has now been spun off into a podcast of its own. (If you’d rather keep listening to Molanphy as part of Gabfest, fear not; new installments of Hit Parade will be cross-pollinated there, too.)
In each episode, Molanphy digs up a big hit from music’s past — one you almost certainly know — and then explains how it became so beloved. His episodes have covered everything from “Red Red Wine” to “U Can’t Touch This,” and they’re as much about the ever-evolving music industry and its attempts to figure out what we’ll love as they are about the songs you adored, then only kinda liked, then got sick of, before coming back around. —TV
Watch: Netflix’s true crime parody American Vandal is much deeper than it may seem
The premise of this true crime parody about finding the high schooler who spray-painted penises on 27 of his school faculty’s cars sounds ridiculous — and for the most part, it is. But Netflix’s American Vandal is a much more clever take on the tropes of such true crime projects as NPR’s Serial and Netflix’s own Making a Murderer than it first appears to be. Both the teens behind the camera of the faux-documentary and the peers who are their subjects are unusually recognizable as, well, teens, especially in the way they all interact on social media (#whodrewthedicks). As a bonus, the mystery itself is compelling all on its own.
Even if you’re someone who’s not well-versed in the true crime genre, take it from me: I’ve never once finished a true crime documentary, and I couldn’t look away from American Vandal. —CF
Watch: Sean Baker’s excellent The Florida Project is finally out in limited release
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is finally opening in NY and LA, after garnering raves from critics and audiences at festivals throughout the year. At first, it unfolds like a series of sketches about the characters who live in a purple-painted, $35-a-night motel called the Magic Castle that’s just down the street from Disney World; the film is held together by the hysterical antics of a kid named Moonee and her pack of young friends, as well as long-suffering hotel manager Bobby (a splendid, warm Willem Dafoe), who tries to put up with them all while keeping some kind of order. But as The Florida Project goes on, a narrative starts to form, one that chronicles with heartbreaking attention the sorts of dilemmas that poor parents and their children face in America, as broken systems try to cope with impossible situations. —Alissa Wilkinson
Watch: in Dina, a real-life romance with big challenges becomes a poignant character portrait
Dina, out in limited US theaters this weekend, won the Documentary Grand Jury prize at Sundance —but it plays more like a poignant comedy-romance in which two unlikely people find one another. Its two subjects are Dina Buno and Scott Levin, both of whom are living with mental disabilities and, in Dina’s case, severe past trauma. They fall in love and want to get married, and their families are supportive, but they each have plenty of obstacles to overcome. Watching Dina and Scott navigate their relationship is sometimes funny and often touching, and seeing how their relationship helps heal Dina’s past wounds is moving. —AW
Watch: Steven Spielberg dissects his career in HBO’s new Spielberg
The new HBO documentary Spielberg can’t quite avoid the rushed quality of most film documentary biographies, all but completely eliding some of the director’s best (and worst) films and hopping merrily from topic to topic to make sure everything fits into its just-under-two-and-a-half-hour running time. But Susan Lacy’s film emerges, nonetheless, as a compelling, more complicated portrayal of the man than you might expect for a movie that obviously had his full cooperation.
Spielberg agrees with his harshest critics on more than one occasion, and at times, some of his best friends seem to damn him with faint praise. Still, there are few people in the history of movies who’ve come to better understand how they work on an intuitive level, and watching Spielberg try to explain something that’s always seemed to come naturally to him makes for an engrossing watch. The movie debuts on HBO Saturday, October 7, at 8 pm Eastern; after that, it will be available to stream on HBO Go and HBO Now. —TV
Watch: YouTube video essayist H. Bomberguy explains why VHS nostalgia is a thing
VHS was always a terrible format. (You remember those big bulky tapes you had to put in a VCR, right? Actually, maybe you don’t, and I’m getting old.) Even people who bought a VCR back when they first came out could largely agree on that.
Visual information was so compressed as to make gorgeous films ugly, and the fact that most TVs were squarish and most movie screens were rectangular necessitated either lopping off the frame (a.k.a. “pan and scan”) or shrinking everything down into a smaller box that could be harder to see (a.k.a. “letterboxing”).
And yet there’s real nostalgia for VHS among many children of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and in the video above — the first in a new series called Scanline — the terrific YouTube essayist H. Bomberguy looks at why certain types of movies, especially horror flicks and indie comedies like Mallrats, were so buoyed by their life on videocassette. His conclusions are fascinating, and his presentation of sequences from some of the films he’s talking about as they appeared on VHS is invaluable to understanding his point. —TV
Play: in Short Trip, you are a cat who drives a train
Experiencing Short Trip — a new “interactive illustration” game from Alexander Perrin — couldn’t be easier. It’ll take about 10 minutes, and you can play it in your browser. It won’t exactly challenge your cognitive abilities; once you figure out how to stop the train that’s being driven by your cat-person avatar precisely at each station, Short Trip’s learning curve is pretty much over. But you don’t play something like Short Trip to feel accomplished. You play it to experience Perrin’s evocative art and to live, even for just 10 minutes, in a quiet, seaside community filled with lovely buildings and an assortment of cat-people, who peek in and out of doors and putter around their little village. It’s an adventure in solitude, and its makes for a lovely break in the day. (Also, here’s a hot tip: Hit the spacebar to ring the train’s bell.) —TV
Read: beloved New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast has a new memoir out about life in Manhattan
When Roz Chast’s daughter moved to New York City for college, Chast panicked at the thought of her raised-in-the-suburbs daughter finding herself unable to navigate the subway system. So she drew a guide to Manhattan, which has now been expanded into the book Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York. Some of Chast’s advice is extremely old-school — when she last lived in New York, all young creative types lived in Manhattan, so her guide doesn’t spare much thought for any of the other boroughs — but it’s still an enormously charming and whimsical portrait of how to survive in New York City. —Constance Grady
Watch: this wonderful, mesmerizing video of a trip across the sea
YouTuber JeffHK works on container ships, which means he spends long periods of time out at sea, in places most of us will never, ever visit. The videos he posts of his trips are always worth watching, but this 30-day timelapse of a journey from the Red Sea to the Pacific, with numerous stops along the way, is a gorgeous respite from everyday life. Turn the quality all the way up to 4K, and go full-size to marvel at the lush Milky Way and dramatic thunderstorms. It’s hypnotic. —TV