Cabin Fever Picks

As the snow piles up and the nights seem endless, we offer up some screen-time recommendations for the winter blues

person with a remote pointed at TV

As the dark winter days and nights drag on and snow continues to fall, a little bit of escape is in order. For help in choosing what to queue up on your favorite device, check out these recommendations from Tufts community members.

Remember, too, that the Tisch Library Media Center has many films and TV series available for five-day loans. You might also see what’s on offer at your local library.

Have more suggestions? Email us at, and we’ll add them to the list.


Broadchurch. The high cliffs and storm-tossed ocean of southern England set the stage for what some have called the best murder mystery since Twin Peaks. The series premier in Britain had ratings that nearly equaled those of Downton Abbey. A child is killed on a beach, and detectives Alec Hardy (David Tennant, a former star of Doctor Who) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman)—both of whom are struggling with traumatic pasts—investigate. The plot is complex, the mood foreboding. The entire town turns out to be haunted by secrets. (Season one is streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video; season two premieres on BBC America’s cable station on March 4.)—Gail Bambrick, senior writer, Tufts Now

Death Comes to Pemberley. If you missed this clever Pride and Prejudice sequel on PBS last fall, you can catch it now. Based on the 2012 P.D. James novel, the murder mystery miniseries proposes a future for the Darcys in which they must deal with the possibility that unsavory brother-in-law George Wickham (The Good Wife’s Matthew Goode) murdered an army friend. Matthew Rhys (The Americans) believably plays a Darcy who, though softened by marriage, still cannot see beyond his pride. James’ book hit all the right notes on crime investigation in Regency England but missed Jane Austen’s social commentary and character study; the miniseries restores those subtleties. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.) —Robin Smyton, A09, administrative assistant, Office of Public Relations

Dicte. If you enjoy Danish crime series like Wallander, Dicte offers similarly engrossing characters and twisting plots without the brooding hopelessness. Dicte Svendsen—played by Iben Hjejle, who starred with John Cusak in High Fidelity (2000) and with Daniel Craig in Defiance (2008)—is a 40-something crime reporter. She’s left a big city paper to work at a small newsroom filled with quirky but dedicated journalists in her hometown of Aarhus, and we follow her as she comes up against both unsolved murders and the unresolved issues of her own past—an ex-husband, a son given up for adoption. But her troubles are tempered by the warm relationships she enjoys with her daughter and women friends. Imagine a driven Danish detective who can laugh. (Season one is streaming on Netflix.) —G.B.

The Great British Baking Show. I’ve never been so fascinated by watching dough rise. Eschewing the sound stages and forced theatrics of most American cooking shows, The Great British Baking Show is a competition set in a large tent on a wealthy English estate. The participants are so lovely, so British, from their glowing nods of pride after getting an “absolutely scrumptious!” from judge Mary Berry to their oh-so-beautifully decorated yet humble pies. Without alliances and schemes, you’re rooting for everyone: genuine people with remarkable skill and infectious smiles—and all the cooking puns. Settle in with your cuppa pre-Downton for a perfect night. (PBS, 8 p.m. Sundays.) —Kristin Livingston, A05, assistant editor, University Advancement

How To Get Away with Murder. The plot is ridiculous, the music annoying, the jumpy camera work nauseating, but watching Viola Davis is a pleasure beyond measure. TV may be a poor stepchild to movies, but when an actress can play such a volatile character week after week—well, she just looks like she’s having a blast. Watch her go from ballistic to a weepy mess all while wiping off her makeup and not saying a word. Incredible. (ABC, Thursdays.) —Marny Ashburne, editorial and production manager, Tufts University Advancement Communications

MI-5. Watching David Oyelowo’s powerhouse performance as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma made me want to rewatch every one of his episodes of MI-5, a less manic 24. The British spies in Thames House’s bustling nerve center have to spend a lot more time dealing with bureaucratic hang-ups than Jack Bauer or James Bond. They are also underpaid and face personal strain from keeping their professional lives confidential. But bringing John le Carre-style espionage drama down to earth does not make the action any less suspenseful—however unbelievable it is that the team has to chase a different terror threat through London each week. The procedural series has an excellent rotating cast. Look for Oyelowo in the strong first few seasons (it began in 2002), alongside Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes. (Streaming on Netflix.) —R.S.

North and South. Imagine Pride and Prejudice written by Charles Dickens. Adapted from the underrated 1854 Elizabeth Gaskell novel, this four-hour 2004 miniseries follows Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) as her lost-faith clergyman father uproots the family to a mill town in northern England at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Milton—a fictionalized Manchester—is beset by brown lung, work stoppages and labor riots. Margaret’s gentle “southern” ways clash with the modern local culture. She makes friends with firebrand mill workers (including Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle), and makes enemies with a powerful (and smitten) mill owner (The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage). Director Brian Percival fills the northern air not with soot, but with stray cotton fibers that make everything snow white. The miniseries is an intriguing social study of industrial upheaval in a nation not ready to move away from the bucolic countryside. (Streaming on Netflix.) —R.S.

Parks and Recreation. Amy Pohler stars as Leslie Knope, deputy director of parks in Pawnee, Indiana, in this series. She is relentlessly cheerful and positive in her government job, in spite of cynical intern April, hapless assistant Tom and libertarian boss Ron Swanson. The episodes are funny and lighthearted, the characters quirky yet engaging, and I find myself rooting for Leslie’s friends and coworkers as they navigate small-town politics. The show uses the “mockumentary” format that’s been popular in sitcoms, but with a lighter touch than in The Office. Leslie’s sunny disposition relieves some of the dreariness of the long winter, and you never know when those survival tips from Ron Swanson will come in handy. (Six seasons available currently on Netflix; the seventh and final season is airing on NBC.) —Beth Frasso, department administrator, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Sons of Anarchy. Quick—name that classic drama. A young man struggles for control of the kingdom against the man his mother married after his father’s untimely death. All the while he’s haunted by his dead father’s voice. Nope, it’s not the Prince of Denmark, but the Sons of Anarchy, a critically acclaimed series about a California motorcycle gang that just wrapped up its seven-season run on the FX cable channel. In the show’s 2008 premier, Jax Teller is on the verge of fatherhood himself when he finds his dad’s journals filled with hopes and regrets about the motorcycle club he started. It’s the same club in which Jax is now second in command. That sets up the seasons-long conflict between him and the club’s current leader, Clay, who is also the second husband of Jax’s mother, Gemma. Played by Katy Segal, Gemma is the heart and slightly blackened soul of the entire series. Though the club must dodge constant threats from rival gangs and the law, the manipulations and the machinations on the domestic front are what will keep you on the sofa until spring. (Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.)—Jacqueline Mitchell, senior health sciences writer, Office of Publications


A Scanner Darkly. All the Oscar attention focused on Boyhood and director Richard Linklater prompted me to reach back into his filmography for the one movie of his I let escape me. Dating from 2006, A Scanner Darkly is based on the sci-fi novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick, whose work, now canonized in a Library of America volume, first gained popular attention with the success of Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner, which is an adaptation of Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? When it was released, A Scanner Darkly was noted for its then-trendy rotoscoping—a technique that outlines everything into quasi-animation (see also Sin City and Polar Express)—so anyone wary of such gimmickry might have resisted seeing it. (Guilty. And to be perfectly honest, the fact that the top-billed star was Keanu Reeves didn’t help.) Turns out it’s one of the better attempts to translate PKD to the screen. Subject matter and characters take us into the generally unappealing details of drug addiction, though thankfully we’re treated to a couple of jolly turns by Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson—reason enough to engage for anyone who’s cultivated a taste for their shenanigans. (Guilty again, proudly.) This may be a cult attraction for those who hear the call, but one worth seeking out if you harbor a predilection for the existential imaginings of Mr. Dick. (Streaming on Amazon Instant Video.) —Fred Kalil, marketing communications manager, Office of Marketing Communications

Bill Cunningham New York. I’ve got as much interest in fashion as I do professional wrestling (hint: next to none), but longtime New York Times’ photographer Bill Cunningham’s weekly narrated slideshows about fashion on the streets of New York City are always gems, as is this wonderful documentary about his life and work. We follow Bill, turning 80 in the film, as he roams on his Schwinn bike in search of fashion that’s startling, graceful, new and different. He’s monkish in his devotion to his work, unknowable perhaps even to himself, charming and always kind. His motto: “He who seeks beauty will find it.” Watch this and you’ll find it, too. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.) —Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Debt. Three British spies (Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson) are national heroes for their role in bringing down an evil Nazi doctor who initially escaped punishment for his war crimes. On the operation’s 30th anniversary, the trio reflects on the job. The action bounces between the 1960s (featuring Jessica Chastain as a young Mirren) and the 1990s, slowly exposing the secrets the spies share. The drama is fantastically acted, genuinely compelling and unpredictable. It is a Tarantino-style revenge caper, but it simmers instead of boiling. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.) —R.S.

Ever After: A Cinderella Story. Kenneth Branaugh is releasing his Disneyfied live-action Cinderella later this year, but I have a feeling that I will still prefer this 1998 Drew Barrymore vehicle. Danielle (Barrymore) is a headstrong and liberal French commoner whose family estate is wrecked by her selfish and scheming stepmother (a deliciously evil Anjelica Huston) after her bookish father’s heart attack. Danielle and her prince (Dougray Scott) fall in love with one another while debating 16th century ideas about society and education—not while dancing at a ball. The film’s most delightful character is Leonardo da Vinci, who teaches the French court about kite-flying and shows off the Mona Lisa. Ever After is as close as the late 90s came to recreating the humor, warmth and spark of The Princess Bride. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.) —R.S.

From the Terrace. In this 1960 drama, World War II naval hero David Alfred Eaton (Paul Newman) woos and marries socialite Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward), then promptly also marries his job at an aeronautics startup. Watching From the Terrace’s interplay about balancing career and married life in postwar Manhattan feels like rewatching the first few seasons of Mad Men, with much less winking self-awareness. Woodward and Newman have the best chemistry anywhere, almost to a fault. Even when their onscreen marriage falters, none of their other costars are as believable in scenes with them as they are with each other. Watch for the late scene when a frustrated Woodward calls Newman’s character “Paul” by accident during an argument. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.) —R.S.

In The Loop. Armando Ianucci’s brilliant Veep returns in April, but if you can’t wait until then, watch his hilarious 2009 satire about warmongering in the U.S. and U.K. Though the movie has great turns from the late James Gandolfini as a pugnacious American hawk and Veep vet Anna Chlumsky, the highlight is a rapid-fire Peter Capaldi, more than a bit fouler-mouthed than he is on Doctor Who. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.) —R.S.

Marwencol. This documentary film is the fascinating story of outsider artist Mark Hogencamp, who uses his rich imagination to rebuild his life after tragedy strikes. It’s a moving tale about human nature and the power of art. (Streaming on Netflix.) —Sarah Cronin, communications specialist, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Oculus. Two siblings return to their childhood home to confront a haunted mirror that may have been responsible for their shared trauma and the brother’s murder conviction. Seamlessly blending flashbacks with present action, Oculus succeeds in delivering chills the old-fashioned way, via a clever script and top performances, especially by Karen Gillan. Her Kaylie takes no prisoners in her obsessive attempts to conquer both the malevolent influence of the mirror and her brother’s doubts about the supernatural. But is she right? (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.) —Mike Lupi, senior web applications developer, Digital Communications

Side Effects. Steven Soderbergh’s excellent, twisted psychological thriller about the dark side of Big Pharma got almost no attention when it came out in 2013. It might be even better than Gone Girl. A cool and fantastic Rooney Mara plays half of a struggling Manhattan couple forced to relocate from Greenwich after the husband (Channing Tatum) finishes serving a prison sentence for financial crimes. She seeks help from a psychiatrist, a hapless Jude Law, and begins to take a new experimental antidepressant. The drug works until it doesn’t, and her world comes apart at the seams. Like Gone Girl, Side Effects is pointed about the state of modern marriage, but it directs most of its barbs at the hold that chemical stabilizers have on the unstable. It’s a jagged poison pill. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.)—R.S.

Sneakers. Every time I watch Sneakers, I am amazed by how prescient this 1992 movie was about the post-Cold War information wars. Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) leads a star-filled crew of security experts who test alarm systems around San Francisco. They are hired by the NSA to steal a mathematician’s codebreaking box, but are they really from the U.S. government? How do they know about Bishop’s hacker past? And just how powerful is the anti-encryption chip? The smart, funny, entertaining caper film seems to predict today’s NSA scandals, though it’s more entertaining. The cast includes Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, David Strathairn, Dan Aykroyd and River Phoenix (in one of his final roles). It is the best movie you’ve never heard of. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.) —R.S.

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