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 books about TV, TV about small towns, and music about big towns — have a few suggestions for how to make the best use of your pop culture–consuming time.
Here are eight items you should really consider adding to your pop culture queue.
Read: Little Boxes, a new anthology of TV criticism, waxes nostalgic over the best shows of the ’90s
Little Boxes is a slim and thoughtful collection of essays that dig deeply into TV: why it matters to us, what makes it work, and what makes it fail. If you’re the kind of person who reads TV criticism online, you might have already seen Justin Taylor’s essay on Dawson’s Creek (“the ﬁrst piece of narrative art I ever objected to on aesthetic grounds”) or V.V. Ganeshananthan’s on The Cosby Show (“the physicality of being related is present in every single scene”), but it’s worth tracking down the book in full just to read Elena Passarello on the music of Northern Exposure — gone now from the show’s DVDs, and replaced with cheaper tracks — or Ryan Van Meter on the addictive pleasures of Days of Our Lives. — Constance Grady
Watch: One Mississippi is finally the small-town show it always wanted to be
The first season of Amazon’s Tig Notaro vehicle One Mississippi was fun stuff, but it spent six whole episodes doing something viewers had to know was coming anyway. As soon as the show’s Tig set foot in her small Mississippi hometown after the death of her mother, it seemed evident she would eventually choose to stay, especially because her stepfather and brother were such vivid characters. But the show took all of its first season stretching that decision out.
Now, in season two, the series has settled in to be the lively little small-town comedy we always knew it could be. It’s filled with lovable oddballs, strong family dynamics, and even a few hints of romance here and there. It’s also more engaged with the realities of small-town Southern life in the 2010s and willing to dig into (sometimes with too heavy a hand, admittedly) the prejudices baked into so many rural, white communities. But it never loses sight, at the same time, of what’s warm and welcoming about small-town life. This is the perfect show to watch over a weekend — it goes by quickly, but you’ll still feel like you’ve watched something substantial. —Todd VanDerWerff
Listen/Watch: St. Vincent teases her new album with a “New York” versus “Los Ageless” double-hitter
St. Vincent, one of the most inventive and downright hardcore women in music today, has finally announced her album Masseducation — the long-awaited followup to 2014’s St. Vincent, dropping October 13 — with a pair of new songs. The first single, “New York,” was released in June, but the new Technicolor video spotlights St. Vincent’s lilting voice and wicked smirk. Then this week she dropped “Los Ageless,” a cheeky counterpoint to the more wistful “New York” that thumps with insistent bass and a chorus that hasn’t left my head since I first heard it. Pump “Los Ageless” up before your next party, throw on “New York” when it’s winding down, and join me in my impatient excitement for Masseducation. — Caroline Framke
Watch: The Unknown Girl is a mystery about a young doctor who witnesses a crime and realizes her culpability
The master filmmaking duo Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have earned nearly universal praise for their deeply humanistic and compelling portrayals of the challenges that immigrants and the working class face in modern Europe. In their latest, The Unknown Girl, a young doctor (played by Adèle Haenel) becomes haunted by the thought of a girl she didn’t let into the hospital after hours one night — a girl who later turned up dead. She takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of the girl’s identity while also treating her patients. It’s a mystery, but it’s also a gentle rebuke and reminder to those of us who would prefer to turn away when confronted with hard truths about our world. — Alissa Wilkinson
Read: The Burning Girl by Claire Messud will make you thankful you are not a teenager. Unless you are currently a teenager, in which case, good luck.
As Claire Messud novels go, The Burning Girl is a little quiet and self-contained. But its story is killer: It’s about that moment at the beginning of adolescence in which a childhood friendship reaches its natural limits and dissolves. It’s a whole book about that moment in the first episode of My So-Called Life when Sharon confronts Angela for drifting away from her, and while it never reaches quite the heights of The Last Life, it is still sad and lovely and well worth reading. — CG
Listen: a new sci-fi comedy podcast imagines a Star Trek-like peace mission carried out by bungling amateurs
“What if everyone involved in an intergalactic space mission was hilariously out of their depth?” isn’t a remotely new concept — it’s how we got comedy classics like Spaceballs, Red Dwarf, and Galaxy Quest. The new sci-fi podcast Mission to Zyxx, however, has the distinction of being lovingly improvised by veterans of the Upright Citizens Brigade. The first episode, released this week, has an endearingly harried, performed-in-your-bedroom feel that works surprisingly well with the series’ space opera setting, in which a hapless space ambassador named
Blast Hardcheese Pleck Decksetter attempts to win over the hostile nations in the Zyxx Quadrant. Each week, he and his crew will interact with a different inhabitant of Zyxx. Will they survive? Only the gods of improv can tell. — Aja Romano
Read: John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies applies a Cold-War perspective to modern politics
John le Carré’s new spy novel returns us to his popular ongoing universe: the London Circus presided over by iconic spymaster George Smiley. But Smiley is older now, and so is the book’s hero, Smiley’s trusted number two, Peter Guillam. Fans might remember them both from the lush 2011 film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, in which Gary Oldman played Smiley and Benedict Cumberbatch played Guillam. This time around, Guillam reckons with a string of previous decisions on the job (and sleeps with a string of younger women). All the while, le Carré is consumed with the broader questions of how Cold-War-era politics have resonated into the present moment. The past is everywhere, and the sense that we all must answer for it looms large. — AR
Watch: Batman: The Animated Series is still great, 25 years after it helped change the superhero genre
Batman: The Animated Series changed the superhero genre back in 1992. Not only was it the birthplace of Harley Quinn, but it also helped establish a new strain of superhero storytelling. The heroes and villains on BTAS were humans with their own damage, hopes, and fears — no hero was all good and no villain was all bad. In turn, BTAS gave us one of the richest depictions in the Caped Crusader’s legendary history. For that legacy alone, it’s worth revisiting today; Amazon Prime subscribers can stream every episode. —Alex Abad-Santos