clock menu more-arrow no yes

8 pieces of essential pop culture to catch up on this weekend

A half-forgotten pop star and two great TV shows return, plus a podcast, two epic movies, and more.

Between movies, books, music, comics, podcasts, and the ever-growing glut of TV, there’s a ton of pop culture out there.

It can be a lot to keep up with. So we here at Vox Culture — where we’re currently into creepy British thrillers, a Pulitzer-winning novel, and a half-forgotten pop star — have a few suggestions for how to make the best use of your pop culture–consuming time.

Here are some items you should really consider adding to your culture diet this week.

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad has won a zillion awards, but it’s also just really fun to read

Left: Doubleday; right: Sylvain Gaboury / Getty

When a books earns as much recognition as Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad has — it won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, which hasn’t happened since 1994, plus Oprah digs it — people start talking about it in terms of duty. They say, “I really should read that book,” in the same way they say, “I really should eat more vegetables,” and “I really should go to the gym more often.”

But The Underground Railroad is immensely fun to read. That is not to say it doesn’t get dark and tragic in places — it’s about slavery, and America’s lingering legacy of racism, so yeah, things get rough — but it’s a fast-paced, propulsive, and immersive page turner of a book at heart. It will make you think, but it will also make you stay up until 4 am reading. —Constance Grady

NBC’s workplace comedy Superstore is equal parts zany and heartfelt

Superstore, a sitcom about bored employees at a big box store, is one of TV’s most pleasant recent surprises. As it turns out, assembling a team of writers from The Office and Happy Endings to work on scripts for a cast led by America Ferrera and Mark McKinney — can make for a super funny comedy!

The episodes of Superstore that tend to get the most attention are the ones that tackle issues like gun control and unionizing; one that deserved more fanfare in the currently airing second season concerns the difficulty Mateo (Nico Santos) faces once he discovers that he’s actually undocumented, when he thought he was an American citizen. But it’d be a shame to cherrypick only episodes that cover hotter topics, since the show has settled into such a consistently sharp and hilarious groove that also hits the standard workplace comedy beats well. Marathon it on Hulu or NBC.com. —Caroline Framke

Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson are headed for the jungle in the stately The Lost City of Z

Elegant epic The Lost City of Z finally hits theaters this week after it closed the New York Film Festival last fall. The film tells the (true) story of Percy Fawcett, a soldier and explorer who made many trips to South America in search of a lost civilization and eventually disappeared there, along with his son, in the 1920s.

Lushly shot, it’s a story of nameless, formless desire that drives men to their limits. And in the hands of writer-director James Gray (The Immigrant), it has an almost spiritualized, abstract tone, with Fawcett’s expeditions taking on the feeling of a pilgrimage. Gray’s screenplay for the film is based on David Grann’s novel of the same name; note that the book was based on a New Yorker article, which is also worth reading after you’ve seen the film. —Alissa Wilkinson

Better Call Saul has all of Breaking Bad’s best hallmarks while standing splendidly on its own

AMC’s saga of one Jimmy McGill — Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman in his pre-Walter White days — kicked off its third season on Monday, and it’s just so nice to have the show back on the air. While the premiere episode doesn’t make a ton of progress, plot-wise, it’s a compelling re-entry into Saul’s universe that picks up right where season two left off.

The series is still as gorgeously filmed and carefully considered as its parent show, and the cast is as solid as ever. If anything, after screening the first two episodes, I’m worried that Jimmy is poised to make his transition to Saul sooner rather than later; watching the character evolve as he slips further into despair is so much heartbreaking fun. (New episodes of Better Call Saul air Mondays at 10 pm on AMC. The first two seasons are available on Netflix.) —Jen Trolio

Fortitude is finally returning in the US; beware of polar bears

TV shows get canceled all the time, but it’s pretty rare for a TV show to get renewed, only to have its network canceled during production. Yet that’s exactly what happened to the superbly creepy British thriller Fortitude. The series, produced by the UK’s Sky Atlantic, aired on Pivot in the US. But after Pivot had committed to airing a second season of the show, the network went out of business, leaving Fortitude in a stateside limbo. (Season two debuted in the UK way back in January.)

Fortunately, Amazon Prime has imported the series for American audiences. Meanwhile, Dennis Quaid has stepped into the role of “recognizable American actor who comes to the Arctic Circle town of Fortitude and recoils in horror,” which was filled memorably in season one by Stanley Tucci. I doubt Quaid can match up to Tucci, but I’m nevertheless content in the thought that Fortitude itself — complete with polar bears and dark soap operatics and strange things coming up out of the thawing tundra — is the real star of this show. The new season launches on Amazon Prime Friday, April 14; you can catch up on season one while you wait. —Todd VanDerWerff

Michelle Branch is (finally) back with Hopeless Romantic

Between 2001’s Spirit Room and 2003’s Hotel Paper, folk pop artist Michelle Branch almost singlehandedly provided the soundtrack for all my abbreviated middle school infatuations. But she’s been lying pretty low ever since, leaving us to wonder if “Goodbye to You” wasn’t just a crushing ballad, but an actual signoff for Branch herself.

Thankfully, this has proven to not be the case, as Branch just released a new album for the first time in 14 years, along with a video for its first single, “Best You Ever.” Hopeless Romantic has some anthems that are vintage Branch, but 14 years later, she’s served up some more mature jams that are a little darker, a little sexier. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to play this album, pine over some unworthy crushes, and break my own dumb heart to Michelle Branch all over again. —CF

Amnesty International’s podcast, In Their Own Words, returns with more extraordinary stories about people living under inhumane regimes

In these tense international political times, it can be easy to lose sight of the way policy decisions and government unrest can change lives — but Amnesty International works to make sure we don’t forget. In Their Own Words is a lushly produced podcast that explores the impact of inhumane governments and laws as they intersect with the lives of real people.

First-person narrators across the globe share their experiences enduring everything from extraordinary levels of personalized government surveillance to jaw-dropping lengths of time spent in solitary confinement. The series recently debuted its second season; listen to it on the Amnesty International website or Soundcloud. —Aja Romano

Fast and Furious 8: The Fate of the Furious features a high-speed chase involving a nuclear submarine

The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the Fast & Furious franchise, is a clinic in absolute lunacy, expensive destruction, and unbridled joy. Director F. Gary Gray has the keys to the legacy and serves up one hell of a twist: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has turned on his team, and under the command of the nuclear winter blonde villain known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), threatens to destroy the Furious family and everything we love about them. Come for the nuclear submarine chase scene, stay for Theron and Helen Mirren (yes, she’s in this too!) having the time of their lives. —Alex Abad-Santos