Here are the movies, music, podcasts, and TV shows that Tufts community members want you to try this fall
With the Hollywood writers’ strike over, your thoughts may be wandering to the next great movie or TV show you can add to your queue. Or maybe you’re hoping to refresh your music and podcast playlists as the season changes.
Tufts staff, faculty, and students are ready to help you out. Here are dozens of the movies, shows, podcasts, and albums that have entertained and transformed them, comforted and challenged them, and made them want to spread the word.
From family friendly animated favorites (Elemental, Over the Garden Wall) to tales of the atom bomb (Oppenheimer) and the apocalypse (Good Omens), from warring teenage girls marooned after a plane crash (Yellowjackets) to midwives in a London nursing convent in the 1950s and ’60s (Call the Midwife), these viewing picks span the spectrum of human life and emotions.
The recommendations also take on current events (The Political Scene), the nuances of visual representation and technology in film (Side by Side), and a master sushi artist holed up in a Tokyo subway station (Jiro Dreams of Sushi). They travel from the British and Ottoman empires (Empire) to a far future in which a chubby-cheeked child becomes central to the human-AI war (The Creator). They will make you laugh (Mandatory Fun), groove to Libyan reggae (Subhana), and dance (Amen Brother).
Happy watching and listening, and be sure to share your own favorites by emailing email@example.com.
The Creator. It’s the human-AI war, and you know how it goes. The bad guys are cold-blooded, militaristic, methodical, relentless, armed with giant blue lasers that shoot from on high and incinerate whole villages, bent on their mission to annihilate an inferior species. The good guys are scrappy, under-resourced, and desperate, gentle and peace-loving but taking up arms to defend their right to live. Their dead filling mass graves, their survivors driven into hiding, they have one last hope: a secret weapon built by the mysterious scientist-savior Nirmata (Hindu for “creator”), which their foe has sent a soldier to destroy. Four Matrix movies (and an animated series), seven Terminator films (and a TV show)—you’re probably thinking, I’ve seen this before. Think again. The Creator, which is in theaters now, takes the familiar formula, and reverses it. The robots, called simulants, are the good guys. Although visibly mechanistic (embedded in their heads is a whirring, hollow metal circle that you can look right through, an effect both hypnotic and haunting), they lack super strength, speed, or cognitive capacity, but they do feel fear, pain, anger, friendship, and love, often extending mercy and care to humans. Almost all are East Asian in appearance and culture, and much of the movie was shot in Thailand—a striking, unexplained choice that changes and charges the story as the humans (mostly Westerners) gleefully raze simulant villages; murder and terrorize both fighters and innocents; spit bigoted, hateful language; and display a disturbing thirst for blood (or in this case hydraulic fluid), domination, and revenge. The role reversal will throw you off balance—sickened by the humans’ brutality, moved by the robots’ humanity, you may find yourself… kind of rooting for mankind’s destruction? I won’t tell you who wins, or spoil the twists and turns in store—but I will say the heart of the story is a soldier who is less than whole after an explosion destroys part of his body, his wife, and his unborn child; and a simulant child who is more than she appears, not to mention irresistibly cute in a hat with earflaps. It’s their unlikely bond that triggers the final, spectacular showdown between human and simulant, love and hate, sin and redemption, and ensures that the world order—and the whole genre of the war between humans and AI—will never be the same. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator / editor, University Communications and Marketing
Elemental. During the pandemic, Disney released three Pixar films straight to Disney+. This choice was good for my wallet, but bad for Disney’s future animated movies. Their two animated releases last year were both box-office failures. This year, the marketing for Pixar’s Elemental didn’t excite me, either, and I waited till the movie came out on Disney+. I ended up being happily surprised. (Others may have felt the same; after an underwhelming opening, Elemental eventually became a sleeper hit.) The movie stars anthropomorphic elements of nature (fire, water, air, and earth). A fire element couple immigrates to Element City and faces discrimination from the other elements. They open a store in the immigrant community and give birth to a daughter, Ember, whom they expect to eventually take over the store. Ember’s whole world changes one day when she meets Wade, a water element. The animation is beautiful and vibrant. The various elements, from the flowing of water and Wade’s transparency to the movement of the fire characters’ flames, are portrayed creatively. Beneath these dazzling visuals, Elemental explores themes of xenophobia, racism, classism, and the difficulties of familial obligation and being a first-generation child. The pressure that Ember feels to live up to her parents’ legacy and justify their struggles and sacrifices from leaving their homeland is similar to that of Luisa, the oldest sister in Encanto;(another recent Disney release), who bears the literal and figurative weight of the family on her shoulders. The evolution of the relationship between Ember and Wade is moving; I cried several times. The ways that they learn to overcome their cultural and class differences are touching. Elemental won’t achieve the accolades or popularity of the top-tier Pixar films, but it’s an achievement all on its own. The movie is definitely worth a watch on Disney+. —Melissa Lee, senior communications specialist, Dean of Students’ Office
Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Did you know there’s a moment when a piece of nigiri sushi is perfect to eat? It’s after the rice has been washed, cooked under high pressure, spread with vinegar, lightly mixed, fanned, and left in a straw basket until it reaches body temperature. It’s after the fish (ideally from a top fish hawker, who can judge its quality just by touching) is sliced, placed on the rice, firmly yet tenderly pressed by two bare fingers of the sushi chef’s right hand, then his left, and set down in front of you. It’s that moment—and then it’s gone. Asked to pick up a freshly made piece of sushi and put it down again so the videographer can get another shot, Jiro Ono, owner and master chef at the Michelin-star-winning, 10-seat sushi restaurant in a Tokyo subway station, refuses. “It’s not the same piece of sushi,” he says. It’s one of Ono’s few lines—most of this 2011 documentary is interviews with his suppliers (who often sell certain goods only to Ono because “no one else would know how to prepare it”), staff (“It was years before I was allowed to touch the fish,” one says), and patrons (who are frequently intimidated by his steady gaze from behind the counter as they eat). Ono also listens and chuckles as his two sons—one who makes sushi alongside him at Sukiyabashi Jiro, one who heads another sushi restaurant—describe the only occasions their father didn’t show up for work (a heart attack and a funeral), and recall breaking down in tears when Ono finally pronounced a batch of tamago (an egg topping) acceptable after 200 tries. Sukiyabashi Jiro’s Michelin stars were removed in 2019, as it no longer takes reservations from the general public, but the 97-year-old Ono is still at his craft, which is the core of the film: mesmerizing up-close footage of octopus being massaged (a process that takes 40 minutes), successively leaner cuts of tuna being sliced (fatty tuna is most popular, but it’s the leanest tuna that has the truest flavor), and piece after gorgeous, mouthwatering piece of fish and rice landing on glossy black serving slabs (20 pieces total—no apps or sides). Although Ono doesn’t talk much, you’ll feel you know him intimately, because this film reveals his true heart and soul: his sushi. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator / editor, University Communications and Marketing
Landscape With Invisible Hand. At first glance, it’s a coming-of-age indie movie following teen artist Adam (Asante Blackk, Malik from This Is Us), whose father walked out years ago, as he paints his world and strives to make ends meet for his family. This 2023 film is also a potential romance / comedy of errors, as Adam teams up with classmate Chloe—whose family moves in with his own—to fake a relationship and live-broadcast it for cash. Did I mention the aliens? Pale, fleshy, eyeless, mouthless beings who live in burrows like moles, scurry like crabs, and snap and clap their pincers to communicate, the Vuvv are the size of a dog, but their outsize shadow is felt throughout the story (literally—having conquered Earth, they live on sunny terraformed flying saucer luxury islands that drift slowly over impoverished human cities). Yes, it’s a sci-fi flick too, in the very best tradition of sci-fi. Subtle and surreal, bordering on the absurd, the presence of Earth’s new overlords drives the plot. They are the creators of the poverty the humans are trying to escape and the viewers funding and critiquing the teens’ fake relationship broadcast (having no concept of romantic love, they’re obsessed with ours). They are the powers that endow Adam’s mom (Tiffany Haddish) with a Vuvv husband, and catapult Adam to galaxy-wide fame after he defiantly paints a mural depicting the Vuvv occupation. Keep an eye out for Haddish’s heartfelt mother-to-broodmother speech on the vicissitudes of love and her scene-stealing dressing-down of her new “spouse,” as well as Michael Gandolfini’s comic performance as Chloe’s obsequious dad, and a cameo by William Jackson Harper (Chidi from The Good Place). But don’t hold your breath for alien invasion tropes or a deep dive into extraterrestrial culture and physiology. Skin-crawling yet poignant, melancholy yet laugh-out-loud funny, Landscape is concerned less with the aliens than what they reveal about humans—our relationships, society, and social media; our systems of oppression, elitism, commercialism, and artistic exploitation; and our confused, often circular paths to first contact and the chance to connect for real. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator / editor, University Communications and Marketing
Oppenheimer. There’s really nothing I like better in a movie than its capacity to both inform and fascinate me. And those movies that get my true LOVE and highest recommendation are those that send me home with a compulsion to learn more. Just to be clear, I don’t mean because I was baffled or confused by the film. With incredible visual and aural intensity, Oppenheimer offers the story of the atom bomb’s creation and a brief look into its aftermath through the lens of complex, intertwining relationships between men and (some) women, as well as the U.S. government and military. Fusion, fission, and the competing government interests in the hydrogen bomb are sufficiently explained. But after seeing the film, I still wanted to get a better grasp on some of the underlying facts and historical figures. I found myself not only scrolling through reviews of the film and the book it is based on, but also investigating more about Jean Tatlock, and the future of Oppenheimer’s first graduate student, Melba Phillips. A humanist and true believer in the power of cross-disciplinary research, I dove into the history of Oppenheimer’s leadership at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, and it really paid off! This is not to say the film itself didn’t have some important flaws—and here I want to refer the reader to Maya Phillips’ excellent New York Times piece from early September,“Liberating? Exploitative? A Nude Scene Summer Report Card.” I completely concur with her pithy assessment: “One man gets to be brilliant, while a brilliant woman gets to be naked.” But it was fun to learn in my post-movie research that, for example, while living rent-free at the Institute, Oppenheimer indulged a love of art and music by collecting important pieces of furniture, painting, and drawing. The real stunner for me was one of his greatest regrets. Despite encouraging luminaries such as T.S. Eliot to do a stint at the Institute, and uniting—and holding together—a vast array of scientists to collaborate on the Manhattan Project (for better or for worse), Oppenheimer could not find a way to get the Institute members to tune their various muses to sing across the disciplines! Well, to J. Robert Oppenheimer, I say the effort lives on, even after we’ve left the comfort of our reclining seats at the Majestic Theater in Watertown! —Augusta Rohrbach, associate provost for faculty initiatives, Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty
Side by Side. What’s my favorite Keanu Reeves film? It may very well be this interview-style documentary, which he produced and fronted and perhaps had a great hand in creatively shaping. Completely charming and fully engaged in his role, Reeves sits down with a number of luminaries from the Hollywood directing world—a veritable who’s who including Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, and many others—to talk about the seemingly obscure and technical debate over the growing use of digital film cameras over standard celluloid film in moviemaking. I don’t recall the circumstances that led me to the watch the film (I have no background in cinematography or film studies), and even now I struggle to explain why this should this be of interest to anyone but industry specialists and film buffs. Yet it’s a strangely fascinating discussion—the conversations raise interesting and subtle philosophical questions about visual representation, artifice, and technological innovation in the creation of immersive experiences and entertainment. Given the progress of digital photography even over the past 10 years, I’d be curious to see what the debate would look like today. But for now, this film is worthwhile as an interesting and often amusing look into the arguments and choices that inform the technical infrastructure of much of what we consider modern culture. — Andrew Shiotani, director, Tufts International Center
Amen, Brother. Chances are, if you’ve danced at all in the past 40 years, you’ve danced to “Amen, Brother”—or rather, to part of “Amen, Brother,” the instrumental B-side of a 1969 single by the Winstons. Starting with a wry melodic “amen,” “Amen, Brother” at first seems as if it plans to invite the traditional gospel “Amen” out for a brisk walk, but no: “Amen, Brother” has come to dance. Listen and try to keep from dancing as G.C. Coleman charges ahead on the drums. The entire band’s musicianship mesmerizes (this is, after all, the Winstons). But that beat plays through with a complexity and—joy?—so relentless that you might almost wish the rest of the band would stop for just a second. And then: for seven seconds, that is what happens. For four bars, it’s just Coleman, playing the break that would reverberate through a half century’s music—three measures you can almost guess, and a fourth measure mathematically complicated enough that you have to give up and dance. Sampled more than 6,000 times, that break has become simply “the Amen break,” looping under classic hip-hop, drum-and-bass, pop, and more. The band didn’t know this until 1996, too late to seek royalties or relief, and G.C. Coleman died in poverty in 2006. Listen to “Amen, Brother,” and you’ll most likely dance; think about “Amen, Brother,” and it gets more complicated—the grief at how often we fail to do right by those whose excellence backs us, the mystery of which seven seconds of our own lifetimes’ work will be the seven seconds someone else needs. But by some thanks-inducing miracle, we get to hear Coleman’s “Amen break” and all the art it has inhabited since. And sometimes, all you can do with that much gratitude is dance. —Laura Lucas, director of knowledge strategy & operations, Office of the Provost
Mandatory Fun. “Weird Al” Yankovic, like any of the royalty I style Foremost Lyrical Genius of Our Time, stopped releasing his signature song parodies and equally hilarious style pastiches nearly a decade ago, but his final studio album is well worth a revisit. Mandatory Fun was Al’s first album—and the first comedy album since the early ’60s—to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it dropped in the summer of 2014. From his always engaging wordplay to his band’s ability to perform any genre of music as skillfully as the original artists, it is not surprising why. (The weeklong campaign of daily new music videos that accompanied the release didn’t hurt, either.) Al reimagines “Happy” by Pharrell Williams as a tune about a guy who wears “my Ed Hardy shirt with florescent orange pants / Got my new resume, it’s written in Comic Sans” because he’s “Tacky.” He meshes hip-hop with home improvement in “Handy,” his parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” about a Mr. Fix-It type who will “just rewire your house for fun / I’ve got 99 problems but a switch ain’t one.” And he replaces the misogyny and general slimeball-fueled vibe of “Blurred Lines” with a chastisement of his real-life No. 1 pet peeve: poor grammar skills. (“You should know when / It’s less or it’s fewer / Like people who were / Never raised in a sewer / I hate these Word Crimes.”) Add in other parodies of hits by Imagine Dragons and Lorde, as well as original songs in the style of Pixies, Foo Fighters, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash (his homage to CSN’s “Mission Statement,” about corporate jargon messaging, will make any cubicle-dweller smile) and Mandatory Fun lives up to its name. —Jeff Rawitsch, Granoff Music Center manager, Department of Music, School of Arts and Sciences
Squint. Guitarist Julian Lage is prodigious in every sense of the word. He has amassed hundreds of recording, writing, and production credits at 36 years old, was the subject of a documentary at 8, and played at the Grammy Awards at an age when the rest of us were starting middle school. Over those decades of experience, he has forged his trademark approach to guitar playing, highlighted by adventurous improvisation with jazz, blues, folk, country, and even classical influences. On Squint, his debut as a leader on Blue Note Records, he melds all these forms in his ode to, and interpretation of, the many legends who have called the label home. Though the tight interplay between Lage and his band (bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King) is a highlight of the record, the standout track for me is Lage’s album-opening composition “Etude,” a solo piece showcasing Lage’s technical skills and mastery of dynamics and feel. On the whole, the album is a testament to what’s possible on a guitar in the hands of someone who can play everything and anything his fertile mind can devise. Lage stretches the boundaries of the instrument—and the many genres he combines—in this wide-ranging statement of his prodigious talent. —Rick Subrizio, director of engagement marketing, University Communications and Marketing
Subhana. You probably don’t normally think “Hey, let’s put on some Libyan reggae,” but maybe you should. Ahmed Ben Ali is a multi-instrumentalist, born in Benghazi, partly educated in the States, but now back in his home country and making some seriously good music. The title track of this album has more than 2.7 million plays on Spotify, so he’s getting noticed. Strictly speaking, it’s not reggae, but there are strong influences on many tracks, all with very catchy beats, and with clear references back to Libyan folk music. Ali is a good vocalist and sings some lyrics in English, though most are in Arabic. This album is a release from Habibi Funk, a label out of Berlin that offers, as it says, “eclectic sounds from the Arab world.” Check out their Bandcamp for more great music. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Empire. Writer and historian William Dalrymple and British presenter and author Anita Anand host this fascinating podcast, which is only a year old, but has covered a huge range of territory. The first “season” covered the rise and fall of the British empire in South Asia (Dalrymple has written extensively about the topic, and he and Anand co-wrote Koh-I-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond). They next tackled the Ottoman Empire in its many facets, took on the history of slavery from earliest societies to the present, and are now dissecting the Russian empire. They are both whip-smart hosts, bring on board excellent guests—historians from around the world—and have a witty repartee that helps leaven some of the particularly heavy topics. If you are interested in world history, this is a must-listen. (All platforms) —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Life of the Record. This documentary podcast takes classic albums and creates oral histories of the making of the records. For serious music fans, it’s a boon: hear Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello talk about the making of the Postal Service’s Give Up (and learn how the “postal” name came about) or listen to Joey Santiago, David Lovering, and Steve Albini give the blow-by-blow on the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa. There’s a general intro and history of the record, and then each track is covered, complete with excerpts. A small sample of the many sessions: Vs. by Mission of Burma; the Violent Femmes eponymous first album; Perfect from Now On by Built to Spill; Mic City Sons by Heatmiser; Civilian by Wye Oak. Check out the full list, and dive in. (All platforms) —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
The Political Scene. On The New Yorker’s website, The Political Scene is promoted (if that’s even the word) as “Discussions about politics and more.” The “more,” I’ll argue, comes each Friday, when the episodes with the “Washington Roundtable” drop. The three discussants, New Yorker staff writers Susan B. Glasser, Jane Mayer, and Evan Osnos, offer a compelling and deeply informed analysis of the preceding week’s events. I didn’t do the math but among them, they have a century’s worth of experience to draw on and impart to listeners. I value their easy give-and-take, leavened with a healthy amount of much-needed humor. I appreciate the deftness with which Osnos, as an old foreign policy hand, weaves his deep understanding of China and other key international players through the fabric of the discussions. And as a longtime fan of Mayer’s investigative journalism—and the skill with which she makes highly accessible storytelling of the troves of intel she unearths—frankly, I would listen to her read the phone book; that’s how highly I value anything she has to say. The minute each week their episode of this podcast is available, I immediately move it to the top of my queue. (All platforms) —Dave Nuscher, executive director, content and planning, University Communications and Marketing
This American Life. I’m going to assume, as a starting point, that you are a devoted listener of This American Life. (And if you’re not, I’m going to assume that we are no longer friends.) Who doesn’t love host Ira Glass and his vocal fry, inability to notice people on trains, traits that makes people think he’s a sociopath, and thoughts on the gap between creative aspiration and ability? Glass and his team have produced more than 800 episodes that delve into the human implications of current events; explore every imaginable phase of life; offer laughter, joy, tears, catharsis, and company on long drives and insomnia jags; and take us so deeply into strange new worlds and the lives of others that it’s impossible to feel bored or alone. But which are the best? My quick and dirty guide below, in no particular order:
721: How to play Phantom of the Opera nightly for 20+ years.
291: What to do when your pet bull dies? Clearly, clone him.
339: A marriage dissolves, from the point of view of the dog.
339: Phil Collins helps a This American Life producer write a breakup song.
782: A dad dies of COVID; a brother gets it, too—and won’t get help.
810: A guy invites a friend to a comedy show—about him.
765: A swimmer helps a lost baby whale.
765: A man acts increasingly bizarrely after his wife’s death.
134: In a way, we’re all not writing our own biographies of D.H. Lawrence.
464: Comedian Tig Notaro runs into her idol—again and again.
577: Tig’s wife’s mom has a joke so funny, she can’t tell it without laughing.
306: A dad answers his daughter’s existential questions.
470: A boy runs away to live with his favorite author.
588: The most awkward private concert ever.
95: A married couple gets a new joint hobby: A crush.
—Monica Jimenez, senior content creator / editor, University Communications & Marketing
Bad Sisters. Until I sat down with this recommendation in mind, I’d never seen Google’s “In a Nutshell” feature, which travels along with search results about TV shows and movies. Search for last year’s “Bad Sisters” and you’ll see that Google (or maybe it’s AI?) thinks the show is “Dark, Clever, and Hilarious.” If it is in fact artificial intelligence at work, this time, at least, they got it so right. This fall at the water cooler, this is the show for which I’m aggressively seeking converts. It’s to our benefit that the show has flown under the radar, because it is very tricky to read about it and avoid spoilers (also true for writing about it!). Oddly, for a show this tightly written and with this much (to paraphrase my new Google AI friend) clever dark humor, it has not gotten a lot of buzz. I’ll be looking to change that this fall. And I expect that, once you meet the unforgettable Garvey sisters and the scenery-devouring villain who is their brother-in-law, you too will be singing the show’s praises. (Apple TV+) —Dave Nuscher, executive director, content and planning, University Communications and Marketing
Call the Midwife. Thank goodness for Call the Midwife. I've been a fan for its 12 seasons, which depict life in London's East End for a group of midwives at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent, in the 1950s and 60s. The storylines, which include rare cases and straightforward deliveries, are based on memoirs of a midwife from the same time period. The show's stories helped me feel eerily empowered when I found out I was pregnant last year. Having seen dozens of labor-and-delivery scenarios depicted in the show, I thought, "Surely if women could deliver babies in their homes with the help and support of other women up until the middle of the last century, I can do this!" And I did, this July, when I welcomed my son into the world. As a pretty anxious person, I was surprised by the calm that washed over me when I went into labor, and I can't help but think that the show taught me just about everything I could expect. So, thanks again, CTM. This fan is looking forward to watching the next season with her baby in her arms. (Netflix) —Emily Wright Brognano, senior content creator / editor, University Communications and Marketing
Good Omens. Some works of art, we find, rearrange the furniture in our brains. They help us to see the world in new ways, to open ourselves up to a different way of thinking, and to fundamentally, on some almost molecular level, change who we are. One book that falls into this category for me, which has also been made into a TV show, is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Written by a Jew and an atheist, it is on its surface the story of the Apocalypse—the one from the Revelation of St. John of Patmos, the final book of the Christian Bible. Essentially, an angel and a demon have collaborated over the millennia since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. In the process, they’ve learned what being human is, and as a result, they do not want humanity to end. Along the way, there are some very good jokes, some pointed satire, and a witch trial that doesn’t turn out quite as the witchfinders would’ve expected. Good Omens is above all a story about hope, the complexity of being human, and how we as humans can be worse than the worst Hell—and more gracious and loving than Heaven. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett planned a sequel to Good Omens the novel, and in part because Sir Terry was diagnosed with an early form of dementia, never wrote it. The television show continues the story, exploring the bond between the angel and the demon, and showing us that separating ourselves into different sides just to fight hurts us all. Here’s hoping for the third season of the TV show, or if that doesn’t come to pass, that Mr. Gaiman writes the novel that finishes the story. (Prime Video) —Amy Gantt, director of strategic research development, Office of the Vice Provost for Research
Over the Garden Wall is a delightfully wistful, creepy, cozy animated short series perfect for your fall and winter viewing. In this 10-episode series from 2014, which won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, brothers Greg and Wirt are making their way through a mysterious forest under mysterious circumstances, just trying to find their way home. They encounter weird creatures with sometimes unknowable agendas, and as the journey unfolds, so does the brothers’ story. The series and its actors are supported by a truly great soundtrack of American folk and jazz traditions that weaves through each episode to elevate and punctuate the action. “Over the Garden Wall” is just what you need after a day raking the leaves, picking apples, or cheering on your favorite high school football team. Cozy up under a blanket with a hot beverage and treat yourself to this exceptional series—and maybe discover a new seasonal tradition! (Hulu, Prime Video) —Pamela S. M. Hopkins, public services and outreach archivist, Tufts Archival Research Center
Sprung. Creator, director, and writer Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope) is the wizard behind the scenes of this pitch-perfect limited series. It’s a comedy so well played that it’s a pure pleasure to watch. The premise: Jack, Rooster, and Gloria are prisoners released very early in the pandemic, as the world shuts down and toilet paper becomes the new gold. They end up living with Rooster’s mom, Barb, who is not above petty larceny herself. Jack was locked up at age 19 for selling weed—he’s spent 26 years in prison—and says that stealing isn’t his “vibe.” But he pitches in when the targets are scum—phony virus testers, lying Congresspeople. The acting is spot-on across the board, and includes favorites from Garcia’s earlier shows. Each of the nine episodes is a complete story and advances the overall plot while backfilling our characters’ personal narratives. It’s funny, clever, and heartwarming, and plays with the fears of the early pandemic, creating a certain frisson. Highly recommended. (Freevee) —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Yellowjackets. In the vein of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and ABC’s Lost, Yellowjackets is an Emmy-nominated Showtime original series first released in winter 2021. A blend of psychological thriller and horror, the series follows a girls’ high school soccer team and their descent from a close-knit group of friends into warring, draconian clans after their plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness en route to a national competition in 1996. Twenty-five years later, the adult survivors attempt to live normal lives following their rescue, but their time in the wilderness continues to haunt them—and the secrets they’ve carried since then refuse to stay buried. The show delivers on its high-concept premise, from the haunting pilot—which teases the cannibalism the girls resort to by the end of their ordeal—through the finale of its second season. The story slowly unfolds in both past and present, developing its teenage characters through their harrowing attempts at survival and, post-rescue, the trauma that echoes in the lives of the handful who are left. For as many questions as Yellowjackets answers through powerful revelations and emotionally resonant performances, the show raises yet more—and promises to deliver on them, having been renewed for a second season. With clever writing, a fitting soundtrack consisting of equal parts ’90s rock and modern releases, and themes like the violence of girlhood and the supernatural as a metaphor for trauma, Yellowjackets is a show you’ll immediately want to sink your teeth into. And each episode only leaves you wanting more. (Showtime) —Layla Noor Landrum, A24, human factors engineering and English major