Spring Watchlist and Playlist Recommendations 2023

Check out the Tufts community's top recommended movies, music, podcasts, and TV shows.

Police procedurals, Korean dramas, classic literature, psychotherapy—whatever you seek in your next onscreen or audio experience, you’ll find it in this edition of the Tufts community watchlist / playlist.

Tufts faculty, staff, and students are recommending some almost two dozen films, TV shows, podcasts, and musical albums that have risen to the top of their own lists, from animated steampunk worlds based on video games (Arcane) to crime stories against Native American backdrops (This Land).

Stories of romantic and familial love unfold amid volcanoes (Fire of Love), zombies (The Last of Us—also based on a video game), and the space-time continuum (Undone). Experts weigh in on scientific questions (Mindscape), the ins and outs of popular baking shows (The Bake Down), and interesting factoids on foreign accents and feeding babies (Stuff You Should Know).

Throw these on during spring cleaning, stream them with friends, or binge them on your next road trip. And if they inspire you to share a favorite film, show, podcast, or album of your own, let us know at now@tufts.edu, and we’ll post an update.


Benediction, directed by Terence Davies. Benediction may not have gotten any awards-season attention, or appeared on many critics’ top-ten lists, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the best movies of 2022. (If you don’t believe me, ask the New Yorker’s Richard Brody.) Terence Davies’ biopic of WWI soldier, conscientious objector, and poet Siegfried Sassoon is a complex and surprisingly funny story of the lingering wounds of the first world war; making art in the face of destruction; and the joys, sorrows, and dramas of being a gay man in early 20th-century Britain. The film tracks Sassoon—an astonishing Jack Lowden—during and after his time in Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he was sent after publishing an anti-war letter. There, Sassoon is treated by doctor W.H.R. Rivers and becomes friends with Wilfred Owen, another poet, one whose life would be tragically cut short by the war. Sassoon leaves Craiglockhart and survives the war. The second half of the film follows the poet post-war, but never lets the subject fade. Even as Sassoon snipes (hilariously) at boyfriends and dances the Charleston, the trenches linger. No part of the film takes place on the battlefield, yet Benediction conjures the lasting psychic wounds of war with painful specificity. Davies uses archival footage and segments of Sassoon’s and Owen’s poetry to dramatize the war’s hold on Sassoon. His greatest tool, however, is Lowden’s performance, which switches from flippant witticisms to devastation to anger on a dime without ever compromising the integrity of the character. He’s jaw-droppingly good. (Bonus recommendation: Pat Barker’s Regeneration is a phenomenal novel focusing on Sassoon’s time at Craiglockhart, if you watch Benediction and want more.) —Alexandra Israel, event Planner and marketing specialist, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Wait! It’s not actually about Dungeons and Dragons (the role-playing game), and it’s not one of those plodding, formulaic fantasy tales. Well, it is high fantasy, and it does follow the familiar formula (swords, quests, horses, magic, and yes, both dungeons and dragons)—but it also turns that formula completely on its head, dances around, and in general just has so much more fun than you thought possible in this genre. Chris Pine subverts the traditional fantasy hero figure, playing buffoonish ex-knight Edgin, whose main skills are clever quips and (badly) strumming the lute, but who’s also grieving his wife’s murder and is devoted to protecting his young daughter, Kira. Michelle Rodriguez steals the show as Helga, a tough-as-nails warrior with a heart of gold, who steps in to care for Kira and becomes fast friends with Edgin (and the muscle of the group). Keep an eye out for side-splitting yet genuine performances by Hugh Grant as con man Forge Fitzwilliam, Regé-Jean Page (Simon from Bridgerton) as a virtuous knight with no sense of irony, Justice Smith as an incompetent magician, and—my personal favorite—Themberchaud, a morbidly obese red dragon (who I’m pretty sure is CGI). Catch it while it’s still in theaters! —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator / editor, University Communications & Marketing

Fire of Love. Molten lava, boiling lakes of acid, and monstrous pyroclastic flows spewing ash and projectiles into the sky are some of the many dramatic backdrops in Sara Dosa’s Oscar-nominated 2022 documentary. The film’s mesmerizing archival footage was captured mostly by intrepid French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who are at the center of this compelling story. These scientists were individually captivated by the allure of volcanoes at young ages, then met early in their careers as students at the University of Strasbourg and were married soon after, in 1970. Their research to better understand these natural wonders took them around the globe during the ’70s and ’80s, placing them in highly dangerous situations. But they insisted such risks were necessary to obtain the very best data that ultimately could help save the lives of people who resided in the paths of potential eruptions. Shots of the Kraffts clad in metallic heat-protective suits and helmets with tinted peep holes are reminiscent of early deep-sea diving gear, cumbersome and, one can only imagine, extremely uncomfortable. Yet viewers watch with amazement as they cheerfully bound over jagged rocks and through layers of ash to get as close as humanly possible to the blazing geysers of lava that at times seem only meters away. The images are stunning, some bordering on the surreal and abstract, and Miranda July’s airy, contemplative narration gives the film an otherworldly quality.  I came away with great appreciation of the profound commitment of this pioneering pairboth to their work and each otheras well as the awesome power of these deadly natural phenomena. We’re reminded of the tragic wake of destruction left by eruptions like Mount St. Helens, Nevado del Ruiz, and Mount Unzen after all. But beyond our admiration, we can offer gratitude to Katia and Maurice for the progress they made in helping communities better prepare to avoid such disasters in the future.  Julia Keith, program coordinator, International Center

Mr. Right. I stumbled upon this movie a couple years ago during a Netflix what-am-I-going-watch-tonight doom scroll and didn’t realize at the time how much a part of my rewatch repertoire it would become. This 2015 film starring Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell has a little bit of everything you could want from a movieaction, romance, comedy, wit, and, most important to me, good quotable scenes to later recall. We are first introduced to Anna Kendrick’s character, Martha, who right out the gate goes through a devastating breakup, the impetus for a night out where she meets her counterpart, Francis. From there, it is a classic story of boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy is ex-hitman on the run from a crime cartel. Classic, right? As their relationship develops and his past begins to threaten them, their connection is tested and the movie’s tagline becomes unavoidably evidentthey just might make a killer couple. I would recommend this film for the movie night where you just can’t decide what you’re looking for. With a funny cast, creative storyline, and a no-skips soundtrack, this movie is a must-watch (and rewatch) where you’re bound to catch a witty one-liner you may have missed the first time through. Olivia Letourneau, marketing associate, University College

My Octopus Teacher. I apparently have a type when it comes to documentaries: “obsessive people who have extreme, untethered experiences in nature.” Think Free Solo (mountain climbing without ropes), Grizzly Man (living among bears in a national park), and No Limit (not a documentary, but based on a true story about freediving). There’s just something about the wide, wild vistas and the laser-focused, almost spiritual questing energy of the protagonists that really chills out my brain. The latest in the series: My Octopus Teacher, which begins with filmmaker Craig Foster experiencing a dark night of the soul. Feeling artistically burned out and disconnected, Foster starts diving daily in a South African kelp forest with no wetsuit or oxygen tank, and one day sees something strange: a sphere studded with rocks, shells, and sea floor detritus, which suddenly unfurls into an octopus. For nearly a year, Foster visits the octopus’s den every day, gaining her trust, watching her hunt, and learning more about this highly intelligent, three-hearted, blue-blooded, color-changing creature. Highlights include a joyful, balletic play session with a school of fish in the sunlit shallows; a spontaneous floating cuddle, with the octopus anchoring herself to Foster’s torso as he pets her head; and an epic duel with a shark. If you’ve been feeling isolated or stuck in a rut, this is a beautiful visual and narrative experience that will reconnect you with the rhythms of life and rekindle your sense of wonder. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator / editor, University Communications & Marketing


De La Soul is Dead. For longtime hip-hop fans, the unavailability of the group De La Soul’s discography on streaming platforms caused frustration and anger. But after years of legal disputes, the group recently gained the rights to their music and made it available for streaming in early March. For those unaware, De La Soulconsisting of Posdnous, Trugoy the Dove, and DJ Maceois one of the most influential groups in hip-hop history. Known for their humor, clever production and witty wordplay, the group rose to prominence following the release of their seminal debut, 3 Feet High and RisingDe La Soul is Dead is the group’s classic sophomore album. It builds off the group’s debut by integrating hilarious skits and fun singles such as “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’” and “Ring, Ring, Ring (ha ha hey).” But unlike 3 Feet High and Rising, the album also includes more serious songs such as “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” and “My Brother’s a Basehead.” With Prince Paul, an unofficial fourth member of the group, handling much of the production, this album is simply a fun listening experience. With De La Soul’s works available to stream, the group has been widely celebrated by media outlets and introduced to new fans around the world. Sadly, member Trugoy the Dove was unable to witness this, as he unexpectedly died on February 12. But as the group is now back in the spotlight, I encourage others to (re)discover the incredible art of De La Soul. Ryan Rideau, assistant provost for faculty development, Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President


The Bake Down. If you are a fan of the Great British Bake Off (GBBO, known in the U.S. as the Great British Baking Show—thanks for that trademark restriction, Pillsbury folks!), you might well enjoy this podcast, in which former GBBO contestants run down each episode after it airs, sharing their insider knowledge and expertise. What’s not to love about the sweet Howard Middleton, the wonderfully catty Dan Beasley Harling, and the very knowledgeable Jane Beedle? They make for a delightful recap and Monday morning quarterbacking—to mix metaphors—of each of the episodes from the last four seasons, and as a bonus, are right now going back in time to British season 4/American season 2, in which Howard was a contestant, airing a weekly episode. They also answer questions from listeners and generally have great fun. If you’re like me and view the GBBO as comfort food for the soul, rewatching episodes as an antidote to the daily news, check out this podcast. (All major platforms.) —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications & Marketing

Empire. Hosted by British presenter and author Anita Anand and historian William Dalrymple, this newish podcast—it started in August 2022—initially focused on the British empire in South Asia, an area that Anand and Dalrymple have written about extensively, centering on the Mughal empire and the British East India Company. Anita and Willie, as we know them, have a great rapport and deep knowledge of their topics. Their range has steadily expanded to cover the Ottoman Empire and others, with detours to cover things like the history of coffee. If you stop to think about it, they’ve got pretty much all of human history as their subject—once groups get power, they tend to want to expand and create empires, and not just at the office. Their guests are well chosen, and despite the sometimes heavy material, it’s always a fascinating listen. (All major platforms.) —TM

Las Culturistas. Hosted by comedians, actors and friends, Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang, Las Culturistas dives into the latest dramas in pop culture, from embarrassing award ceremonies to Ari Shapiro’s gardening coach. Culture is an enigma; it’s the debris of human living to which we attach our identities and interests, and these two know how to turn those attachments into a farce. They take some of the strangest of human behaviors and hold it up to say, "Well, would you look (and laugh) at that?" While sometimes I truly have no idea what cultural references they are referring to, I appreciate any banter that can fuse comedy and disagreement into the same realm, especially in a moment where we don’t know how to disagree. Two mainstays of the show include an ever-growing list of Rules of Culture number ___ as well as a segment called “I Don't Think So, Honey.” This last segment is often something that is divisive in pop culture. Paper straws is a frequent “I Don’t Think So, Honey.” Another frequent question they ask guests is “What was the culture that told you culture was for you?” Actress Melanie Lynskey knew the first time she rented a David Lynch movie from the video store. If I were on the show, I knew culture was for me when I first saw Michael and Janet Jackson’s 1995 “Scream” music video and I was obsessed with the fisheye angle of the camera. If you are looking for a good laugh and a confident pep talk to halt boundary crossers with an “I don’t think so, honey,” this podcast is for you. A special thanks to Professor Daanika Gordon who introduced me to Rule of Culture Number 17: Listen to Las Culturistas. (All major platforms.) – Lily Mengesha, assistant professor, Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies

Mindscape. Hosted by physicist and author Sean Carroll, this podcast covers a very wide range, but fundamentally comes back to how science helps us understand the world and our place in it. Carroll, a professor of natural philosophy (á la Newton) at Johns Hopkins, is curious in the most engaging way, with an extraordinarily diverse set of interests. He’s very smart, summarizing his guests’ answers to be able to probe them even more, never afraid to be skeptical, but always respectful. Here’s a list of his guests with Tufts connections, which alone gives you a sense of the variety of his subject matter: Jody Azzouzi on what’s real and what’s not; Catherine D’Ignazio, J97, on data, objectivity, and bias; Michael Levin on growth, information, form, and the self; Sean B. Carroll, GSBS83, H17, on randomness and the course of evolution; and Daniel Dennett on minds, patterns, and the scientific image. (All major platforms.) —TM

Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics. Yes, Haynes—author of A Thousand Ships, The Children of Jocasta, and most recently Pandora’s Jar—is standing up for the classics as a scholar and advocate, but she’s also a pretty good standup comedian. These are brilliantly informed—and funny—takes on the people, places, myths, and gods on the classical Greek and Roman world. I had a smattering of knowledge about these topics before listening, but know so much more now. And given how those things permeate Western culture, I’m so much the richer. Here’s just a tiny sample to send you on your way: “It’s very tempting for people to see Greek tragedy as being high art for a small audience of fancy people. It was never written that way. Basically, people would turn up at the theater to celebrate Dionysus. He is not just the god of tragedy. He is the god of wine. If you really want to see a Greek tragedy as it’s intended, you should be at least three parts gone before you start watching it. It’s what he would have wanted.” (All major platforms.) —TM

Stuff You Should Know. If ever a podcast could be described as a warm blanket of reassurance, it’s Stuff You Should Know (SYSK). For those already familiar with entertainment’s most average duo, Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant, a virtual SYSK Army head nod to you. For the as-yet-uninitiated, consider the benefits of a podcast that is neither overly produced nor meant to persuade. It may not even be meant to entertain. It’s simply around to share factoids you might find interesting. When SYSK kicked off back in the olden days of podcasts (2008), it garnered immediate praise that has remained as consistent as Josh and Chuck’s entertaining banter. With content roots in HowStuffWorks.com, each episode dispenses information about a particular person, place, or thing. But it’s like sitting in a café booth with unassuming friends, neither of whom have an agenda. I picked up on SYSK over a decade ago, and the episodes are still a magically calming curative. I’ve painted walls to Episode 491: How Foreign Accent Syndrome Works. I’ve done lumbering laps around the neighborhood at nine months pregnant listening to Episode 918: How Feeding Babies Works: Part 2. On interminably long international flights, on the T, and even in the hospital, I’ve turned to my friends in laid-back learning for easygoing company. White, cis-gender, heteronormative men who have degrees in journalism and English between them, Josh and Chuck are about as edgy as my kid’s Squishmallow. But they’re two of the nicest, most genuine humans you will ever choose to have piped into your ears from the Internet. With all we have to contend with these days, try snuggling up with Stuff You Should Know. Sibyl Kaufman, director of communications and marketing, School of Medicine

This Land. Hosted by Rebecca Nagle, This Land begins with a whodunit—or more aptly, a “wheredunit.” Patrick Murphy confesses to murder—no question, really, about who has done the crime—and the State of Oklahoma sentences him to death. But his attorney discovers that the land where Murphy committed murder isn’t within Oklahoma’s jurisdiction, but is arguably, by treaty and U.S. law (to say nothing of justice), Muscogee land. Wending its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Murphy’s appeal hangs on whether Oklahoma had the right to try him, much less convict or execute him. Each episode, however, makes clearer that Nagle is telling the story of a crime unfathomably more heart-crushing even than one man’s violence: the story of centuries of violence threatening the sovereignty and existence of people whose land this is. Nagle’s investigation leads her into unexpected narrative expanses: her own Cherokee family’s history along the Trail of Tears, the wind’s sound across the land where her family lies buried, the United States’ long refusal to honor its own treaties and laws. In one devastating, beautiful episode, we hear Nagle, who is learning the Cherokee language, speaking with an elder, one of the language’s few remaining speakers. A terrible suspense hangs over the series: will the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the appellate decision that this land is Muscogee land? If you follow the news, you’ve read this story’s last page, a Court opinion expected during the podcast’s first season but (in a twist that disrupted the season’s planned arc) postponed to the Court’s next term. Season two supplies the conclusion and introduces an even more wrenching case with yet more ominous implications for Native sovereignty—justice once again slipping out to the horizon of this land. Laura Lucas, director of knowledge strategy & operations, Office of the Provost


Arcane. Based on Riot’s multiplayer video game League of Legends, Arcane is an Emmy-award winning animated series first released in fall 2021. A visual marvel and proof of the potential of video game adaptations, Arcane tells a breathtaking story in its three-act, nine-episode run. The series is set amid a conflict between two cities: opulent, golden Piltover and its oppressed, impoverished underground city, Zaun. And on opposing sides of the conflict are Vi and Jinx—estranged sisters whose complex relationship is the narrative heart of the show. Its full cast of characters, original soundtrack, and steampunk fantasy setting makes for a richly crafted story which can be enjoyed by anyone, not just those familiar with League of Legends. The show’s masterful writing makes every event feel like fate and explores questions of duality, tragedy, and morality. Its forthcoming second season is sure to only further cement the series as a classic in the making. (Netflix). Layla Noor Landrum, A24, human factors engineering and English major

The Last of Us. Based on the critically acclaimed video game of the same name, The Last of Us is one of the rare successful adaptations of a game. Only HBO could have pulled off such a feat, having already adapted the notoriously “unfilmable” A Song of Ice and Fire book series into the wildly popular prestige drama Game of Thrones. The Last of Us takes place in a future America where a fungus has infected people’s brains and turned them into zombie-like creatures. The concept sounds ridiculous, but it actually isn’t. Whether or not you’re into video games or zombies, you should watch this show. The series follows the grizzled Joel (Pedro Pascal, currently crushing it everywhere) as he treks across the country trying to protect young Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who might be the key to finding a cure. The Last of Us is not so much a “zombie” show as it is an affecting portrait of humanity that explores what it means to live versus survive and what people will do for love. There’s an episode that has one of the most beautiful, poignant storylines I have ever seen on television. The episode is basically a standalone that could be removed without affecting the rest of the plot, and yet, it’s essential to the series’ themes about human relationships. With its rich character development, The Last of Us takes its place among HBO’s masterpieces. (HBO). Melissa Lee, student communications specialist, Dean of Student Affairs Office

My Mister (나의 아저씨; romanized as Naui Ahjussi). I’ve watched hundreds of Korean dramas over the years, but it took me a while to get around to My Mister, an acclaimed 16-episode show from 2018 that’s available on Netflix. The official synopsisabout a young woman and a middle-age man finding kinship in each otherseemed decidedly unpromising, but I took the plunge based on the cast, and came out of it with an invigorated sense of the possibilities of TV drama when done right. Korean pop megastar IU (Lee Ji Eun) plays Lee Ji An, a troubled young office worker who is thought by others to be weird and aloofbut her behavior, we see, is the result of the physical abuse and desperate hardship that she continues to experience in her personal life. A coincidental observation of a misdirected bribe puts her into conflict with one of her managers, Park Dong Hoon (played by Lee Sun Kyun, the ‘rich’ father from Parasite), who himself is adrift in both his work and family life. He’s the target of vicious corporate intrigue and is also in an unhappy marriage. From their initial test of wills, the mismatched pair come to form a peculiar bond built on nothing more, at least at first, than a filament of compassion that eventually strengthens over time, leading both on a path to healing. While much happens along the waythe show also delivers a critique of the ethical distortions induced by capitalism, as well as a deft family comedy, much of it centered around Dong Hoon’s disappointed mother and hapless brothers – the overriding message was that the risky act of extending sympathy to a stranger’s plight can ultimately provide us with the markers for our own redemption. The bittersweet ending, which finds the two in a much better place even if they no longer need each other quite as they once did, was a perfect conclusion to one of the best TV dramas I’ve seen. (Netflix). Andrew Shiotani, director, International Center

Shrinking. Are you looking for a half-hour comedy series in the endless landscape of streaming options? I was too. Shrinking follows Jimmy Laird, a widower and therapist played by Jason Segel as he tries to move forward after his wife’s untimely death, rebuild a relationship with his teenage daughter, Alice (Lukita Maxwell), and find meaning in his work again. Not exactly the funniest premise, but the ensemble cast gels so well that you laugh and cry with them, and always root for them. Much of the show centers on Jimmy’s work family, including fellow therapists Dr. Paul Rhodes (Harrison Ford) and Gaby (Jessica Williams), as well as friends, neighbors, and patients. With a new perspective on life and running out of patience with his patients, Jimmy takes a different tack to his practice: providing completely honest feedback and advice to help solve their ongoing issues. He invites his patient Sean (Luke Tennie), a young veteran in need of a place to live and who struggles with PTSD, to move in with him and his daughter. Jimmy’s new approach doesn’t land well with his mentor, Paul, who thinks he’s crossed a professional line and frequently reminds him so, stating “no prouder moment than when a patient can pay his therapist for rent.” There are some memorable, laugh-out-loud lines between all cast members, but there are heartwarming moments too… Ford’s character, who is coming to terms with his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, has a reliably edgy wit that meshes well with Jimmy’s angst-ridden daughter; the two banter easily, teasing each other regularly, but also open up to each other beyond their comfort zones. Thankfully, this show has been picked up for a second season. (Apple TV+). Carole McFall, family engagement for School of Arts, Sciences & Engineering Student Affairs Office

Undone. It’s not unheard of to have visions of parents who have passed away. After all, those we love never truly leave us. But what about when those we love reveal we’ve inherited their secret time-traveling abilities and demand we go back 20 years to the car accident that killed them, because maybe it wasn’t an accident, and maybe they weren’t supposed to die? And what if they had been obsessively experimenting with the physics of time travel, making all this kind of plausible—but they also had schizophrenia, which, much like secret time-traveling abilities, is hereditary? This is the premise of Undone, a gorgeous, eerie, heartbreaking but somehow hilarious rotoscope-animated Amazon original series that follows the surly yet spirited kind-of-antihero Rosa Salazar as she fights to tame her time manipulation powers (which unsettlingly resemble hallucinations) while butting heads with the ghost of her father, Jacob (voiced with a fascinating blend of urgency, parental concern, and detached scientific interest bordering on sociopathy by Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul). Don’t miss this sci-fi romp / psychological thriller / immigrant story / family drama, whose celestial, literally universe-melting action sequences are exactly as explosive as its long-simmering family secrets, unearthed generational trauma, and truths about the nature of grief, love, and time. (Prime Video). —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator / editor, University Communications & Marketing

Vera. If, in watching Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, you’re momentarily disoriented and begin thinking you’re actually watching the movie Horrible Bosses, you’re not alone. In the eponymous police procedural, as Vera, Brenda Blethyn will make you shudder a bit at your memories of your own worst managers. But don’t give up on her. There’s no other disheveled, short-tempered leader of a homicide squad on TV whom you’ll respect—or, ultimately, enjoy—more. Beneath the cantankerous demeanor lies a gifted and highly driven detective who loses herself in pursuit of the killer as an antidote to her personal loneliness. As she relentlessly tracks the murderer, we are treated to some twisty mysteries that avoid all the clichés; I’ve watched all 12 seasons and I’ve only been able to guess the murderer once or twice (once, at least, was a complete stab in the dark). Come for the biting wit of the no-nonsense Northumbrian and stay for a nuanced portrayal of a one-woman force for good, however flawed she may be. (BritBox, available via Amazon Prime). Dave Nuscher, executive director, content and planning, University Communications and Marketing

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