16 (x2) Things We’re Watching, Listening to, and Playing This Summer

We’re a culture of readers here at a16z, and have shared lots of what we’re reading already — but we also love entertainment! And while we’ve sometimes mentioned our favorites on various podcasts or Twitter, here, for the first time, is a list of 32 (including a couple repeats) of our picks for you to check out this summer: from TV shows and movies to videogames, and yes, even podcasts (besides our own, natch).

…from Matt Bornstein, enterprise team:

Undertale (videogame). “Did you play classic RPGs growing up? Then you will love this genre-subverting indie game. Nothing is as it seems.”

…from Andrew Chen, general partner:

Total War: Three Kingdoms (videogame). “If you’re like me, and you’re a sucker for the battle scenes in Braveheart, Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings, then Total War: Three Kingdoms provides exactly that experience. For hundreds of hours of gameplay, you can control the soldiers, prevent them from getting flanked, and battle heroic generals 1:1 on the field. It’s super fun and has sucked up an incredible amount of my time.”

Brawl Stars (videogame). “This is the cutest, most engaging, on-the-go eSports experience you can possibly have. It’s incredibly easy and fun to play, and I especially recommend it for those who think Fortnite is too hard. In Brawl Stars, you play as an upgradeable character like Shelly, a shotgun-toting badass lady, to El Primo, a Mexican wrestler, or dozens of other characters. Team up in a 3 v 3 battle. It’s also worth paying to upgrade your characters if you can.”

…from Sonal Chokshi, editorial team:

Booksmart (film). “This movie — made on a budget, relatively speaking, in a directorial debut for Olivia Wilde — is so damn good and laugh out loud funny! It is a modern update on the last-day-of-high-school genre of film (including many scenes from the back of a Lyft), yet is wonderfully poignant for all adults. It’s about friendship; defining yourself vs. letting others define you; and life as a series of ‘seminal fun anecdotes’… I loved the soundtrack, too!”

Jessica Jones (tv series). “Netflix ended its Marvel series — including Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and ultimate crossover event The Defenders — with the third season of this show. But in a weird way, this might have been my favorite of all because of how it ended. Everybody has a Kilgrave (season 1) in their head, even if it’s your own demons; and surely we all know a Pryce Cheng (season 2) in every workplace, too? So for Jessica to become, well, truly herself through all of that — and separating from a progressive series of loved ones too — was perfect. I not only loved how the show was centered around strong female characters beyond the archetypes, but how it also twisted and turned the archetypical notion of a hero’s journey (especially in this last season). Finally, it’s an amazing example of franchise storytelling, which I strongly believe will continue to define the future of media.”

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (tv series). Some people may, ahem, describe this show as a “cloying fantasia”, but for me, that was the very thing — at least on the feminist front (I can’t speak to the other cultural aspects of the show) — that allowed it to better convey its messages. I’ve also devotedly followed every single Sherman-Palladino show (including of course Gilmore Girls, which I frequently reference:), so if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the Palladino’s work may seem fun on the surface… but is also subtly subversive. In fact, that saturated sense of color and character may be orchestrated to convey other things to the viewer without them really knowing it, or having to be hit on the head with it, as with shows like Handmaid’s Tale (which provoked such anxiety I had to sadly stop watching it). My favorite episode was in season 2, where Midge (Mrs. Maisel) goes to the backroom with an artist at his invitation; there’s all kinds of telling things that didn’t happen in that moment, even as it played out across the broader backdrop of her relationship with her new boyfriend. What happens when a woman takes center stage?”

Untitled Goose Game (videogame). “I played this game last year at XOXO and was instantly in love: what a fun, quirky game reminiscent of all those Atari games I played as a kid! But this isn’t nostalgia genre (though it does have the basic-palette design of retro games made new). It’s a game about a mischievous goose with lists of tasks you, the player, need to check off for it to wreak havoc in a farmer’s dell. I can’t tell you how excited I am that this is coming to Switch, and especially to Panic’s new Playdate too (you bet your a%& I ordered that thing the moment it came out)!”

…from Joel de la Garza, operating partner, information security:

 Upstairs at Eric’s by Yaz (song). “What’s old is new again. Synthpop forever!”

…from Grace Ellis, communications team:

Always Be My Maybe (film). “Hilarious romantic comedy set in San Francisco that has nothing to do with tech. Keanu Reeves also parodies himself. You don’t want to miss it!”

…from David George, general partner, late-stage venture fund:

Invest Like the Best (podcast). “Patrick O’Shaughnessy brings on a unique cross-section of investors, and has an ability to simplify complex topics!”

…from Andrew Green, market development team:

Red Dead Redemption 2 (videogame). “From a narrative depth/quality standpoint it’s the first interactive equivalent to a classic novel! Rockstar Games cracked the code and created true interactive art, at scale. The Lawrence of Arabia of games.”

…from Juliet Grier, administrative team:

How I Built This (podcast). “Founders/creators (including some of ours) share their stories of how they created their inventions. All the stories are so inspiring and griping, but a few of my favorites were with workout equipment makers Peloton and TRX, and with plant-based protein maker Tofurkey.”

Sports Wars (podcast). “Covers famous sports rivalries, like Jordan vs. Isiah of the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, or of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers of The Green Bay Packers. Tales of grit, determination, hard work, and perseverance — these also happen to be the same traits that are put to the most extreme test when starting a company and seeing it to the end.”

…from Tom Hammer, people practices & technical talent team:

Kentucky Route Zero (videogame)“As a long time gamer, I have loved watching the impact of graphics and processing power on game developers’ ability to create rich, beautiful environments and characters. However, in the last few years there have been a number of indie games that chose to simplify graphics in order to focus on mood, story, and character development. And this game is by far my favorite example — I haven’t been this engrossed in years, and it is such a powerful example of the ‘artfulness’ of really thoughtful game design.”

Acquired (podcast). “Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal dissect tech industry IPOs and acquisitions, digging way back into companies’ and founders’ histories to capture the whole narrative. It’s a really engaging and informative way to learn the backstory on some of the biggest names in technology, and to maybe start recognizing patterns of success.”

…from Nait Jones, market development team:

The Chi (tv series). “Shows the very real conundrum of having to make a decision when none of your options are very good. The character development is superb and the acting matches it. Unlike other neighborhood dramas that unsuccessfully followed The Wire, this show is able to extend the conversation beyond drugs and crime and the cat-and-mouse game that so many shows focus on, and instead brings in the working-class families and people that sit at the periphery of that game. The mobility maze is explored with not only drama, but also a dash of humor and cultural honesty.”

…from Ridhima Ahuja Kahn, market development team:

Bonfire (videogame). “While we’re still early days of VR/AR, Bonfire — by Baobob on Oculus Quest — provides a glimpse into the future of immersive storytelling. You play the main character and are tasked with finding a new place for humans after we destroy the earth. Only you’re armed with a bonfire and a cute sidekick. It’s fun to watch virtual reality evolve and entertaining to watch friends and family experience this!”

…from Christopher Lyons, cultural leadership fund:

BOSS (tv series). “This documentary show about ‘The Black Experience in Business’ provides the best historical understanding of entrepreneurship, including examples such as how Madame C.J. Walker — one of the very first female self-made millionaires in America — built her haircare empire. To me, it also shows why technology is the next frontier for African American entrepreneurship.”

…from John O’Farrell, general partner:

The Bureau (tv series). “If you liked Homeland, you will love this French four-season series. Brilliantly acted and filmed, it’s an international espionage thriller set in the DGSE, France’s equivalent of the C.I.A. It’s both addictive to watch and intellectually challenging, and definitely bingeworthy.”

Patrick Melrose (tv series). “I can’t recommend this stunning 5-part series (based on the novels by Edward St. Aubyn) highly enough. Benedict Cumberbatch’s tour de force performance as a traumatized, jittery, addicted aristocrat on a lifelong quest to escape from the long shadow of his twisted, abusive father is harrowing. But it’s also sometimes side-splittingly funny, and deeply inspiring.”

Capernaum (film). “You must see this gripping, heart-rending Lebanese movie about a 12-year old boy, mired in poverty, who sues his parents (and by implication, the whole system) for the injustice of being born. What makes it even more remarkable is that the amazing young protagonist is a first-time actor who was illiterate when filming started. I’m not surprised it got a 15 minute ovation at Cannes!”

…from Ravi Parimi, market development team:

Chernobyl (tv series). “It’s a story about courage and determination to tell the truth in the face of extraordinary opposition, in this case from a country.”

…from Maya Rahkonen, communications team:

Schitt’s Creek (tv series). “Like 30 Rock or Arrested Development, this is an underrated sitcom that we’ll look back on in 5-10 years and wonder why it wasn’t more popular when it was actually on air. The acting is incredible.”

Keep It (podcast). “This is my favorite weekly pop culture-meets-politics podcast… and one I never miss! It’s chalk full of hot takes, but I also learn something every week.”

 …from Das Rush, editorial team:

Pose (tv series). “This is a show about once-underground movements that are now dominating mainstream culture. Today, camp has become couture as the controversial theme of the 2019 Met Gala. But back in the mid-1980s, it was a movement of survival. Based on the documentary Paris is Burning, Pose is a drama about the rise of underground ‘balls’ and the rise of ‘camp’ culture in queer Harlem during the height of the AIDS epidemic. In that world, camp provided a way for queer people of color to access and play with straight whiteness; to learn to pass in a world that was standing by as an epidemic wiped out as much as 90% of their communities; and to dance as fabulously as possible… no matter how bleak the world appeared.”

…from Amelia Salyers, editorial team:

Fleabag (tv series). “Part one of two Phoebe Waller-Bridges recommendations: Fleabag is a cynical, hilarious woman in London, who is secretly (or at least, she thinks it’s a secret) harboring a lot of grief and guilt over the deaths of her mother and her best friend. The show explores love, family, and how to be human in world that can be capricious, cruel, and joyful at any given moment. Seasons one and two form a lovely diptych, with the first focusing on Fleabag’s downward slide as her grief breaks free, and the second showing her starting to find hope in an extremely unlikely place.” 

Killing Eve (tv series). “Part two of the ‘I love Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ picks: Sandrah Oh plays a bureaucrat in Mi6 who’s itching for more excitement in her work (and life), and Jodie Comer is a sociopathic assassin who becomes obsessed with this obscure bureaucrat. There are lots of fun spy thriller twists in the plotting, but the real reason to watch is the wild chemistry between Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, as they play cat and mouse across Europe.”

…from Ruben Smith, firm ops team:

Clash of Clans (mobile game). “Highly challenging collaborative strategy mobile game.”

Chernobyl (HBO). “Although somewhat Hollywoodized, the story is gripping and emotional.”

…from Camila De Souza, market development team:

Khruangbin (band). “This is the perfect music to listen to when you’re working away and want to focus. A mix of soul, funk, and instrumental rock.”

…from Aparna Verma, editorial intern:

Big Little Lies (tv series). “Season 2 just released; this story takes places in Monterey where five women harbor the secret of killing an abusive man. It’s a great show that goes deeper into what family means, what being a mom means, and how far someone can go to protect themselves or the people they love. It’s addicting.”

Dying: State of the Human (podcast). “Death and dying is a subject that’s always hard to tackle. Some people don’t know what to make of it; others are crippled by it. In this show, we hear from people who lost loved ones, people who were dying, and people who just didn’t understand what death was. It’s an illuminating and thought-provoking episode with four stories; my favorite is the one with Claudia Bicen. I’m dying for you to hear it!”