Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Seven "Educational" TV Shows I Love

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I went through a long phase of not watching television. It's quite possible that I didn't regularly watch television from high school through college.

If you're thinking it's because I have great willpower, I'll tell you right now that you're wrong.

My problem with TV is that I get sucked in. I'm a little too empathetic and characters feel a little too real, and I just need to know that they end up okay. (If you're a book lover, I'm sure you can relate.) So I end up on Netflix, which just enables me to binge watch every single episode from every single season of so many great, compelling shows until my eyes glaze over and my brain melts.

My avoidance of television is purely out of self-preservation.

To this day, I still try to avoid going down the rabbit hole of TV obsession. Sometimes I'm successful. Usually I'm not. Sometimes I fudge it by watching pseudo-educational shows – at least I'm learning things, right?! It could come in handy in case I ever write a novel about lumberjacks in space. I'm very good at rationalizing to myself.

These are some of my favorite semi-educational TV shows:

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

My favorite episode might be "Sisters of the Sun," which pays homage to two female astronomers – Cecilia Payne and Annie Jump Cannon – and their underrated, undercelebrated contributions to astronomy. It has a great introduction as well, with Neil deGrasse Tyson sharing the mythology behind the Pleiades, otherwise known as the Seven Sisters, and now I always think of that story whenever I see that constellation in the sky.

Switched At Birth

Remember when I said I had been taking an American Sign Language class? The show itself is basically a young person's soap opera, but I love that it casts real deaf actors. I watch this show all the time to help me practice my ASL. It's made me more socially aware, as well.

Friday Night Lights

I totally binge watched all five seasons of Friday Night Lights. It's one of my all-time favorite TV shows. (The first season is absolutely the best.) (Matt Saracen!) The only reason I'm including it in this list of "semi-educational" television is because it taught me SO MUCH about football. For someone who grew up in the football-loving South but never had any interest whatsoever in the game, it was also something of a sociocultural education & exploration of stereotypical American high school culture. (I told you I was good at lying rationalizing to myself.)

Barnwood Builders

I discovered this last Christmas when I was home with my family. (My parents get all the good channels, including DIY Network.) Barnwood Builders is about a team of guys around the West Virginia area who salvage centuries-old barnwood and build new structures with it. I realize it sounds lame, but it's not, I promise! The guys have such a great camaraderie – they come from different walks of life, some are old, some are young – and you also learn so much about woodworking and American pioneer history. It's great. 10/10, do recommend!

Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet

This show on Animal Planet is such a comfort to me. Dr. Jeff is so passionate about what he does. He believes in accessibility, so he runs a low-cost veterinary clinic in Denver and travels with his amazing team across North America with his free mobile clinic, which allows them to help so many animals (and, by extension, people).

Since watching the show, I think I've become a little more compassionate towards people, more okay with the circle of life (and death), and definitely more comfortable with medical stuff – I can watch vets perform basically any kind of surgery without cringing. (Except for eye surgery. I'm not quite there yet.)

Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown

Watch the episodes of countries you have no interest in or have never even heard of. Those are the most fascinating. You'll likely never make it to Gaza or the Congo. You may never eat at Noma in Copenhagen – you almost definitely won't ever go foraging with René Redzepi.

And hey, maybe you've never wanted to. Maybe you've never even thought about any of these things before. But when you explore all of these places, cultures, histories, and people through his eyes, you might feel a twinge of longing. You might be in awe at how overwhelmingly large the world is – and at the same time, how small.

Rebelde Way

No one has ever heard of this show from the early 2000s. But I bet some of you (any one? any one?) know of its much more famous remake, Rebelde, which spawned the Mexican pop sensation RBD.

Rebelde Way is an Argentinean telenovela that follows four characters – Marizza, Mía, Pablo, and Miguel – as they attend a prestigious private boarding school and deal with all kinds of challenges. It also helps you pick up (Argentine) Spanish pretty quickly.

I started watching this show in high school, but I've never actually seen all of the episodes because there are like ten bajillion of them (telenovelas generally air every weeknight... so 5 episodes a week, and the show ran for a year and half). But I love it so much. It's one of my favorites still.

Do you like any of these shows? Have you heard of any of them? Do you watch educational television/documentary series at all? What are your favorites, and is there anything else on TV that you're excited for this fall?


  1. I haven't watched any of these shows but I totally understand staying away from TV to preserve your sanity. I tend to get sucked in as well, which is the main reason why I haven't signed up for Netflix. I'm pretty sure that if I do that, I won't have time to read and blog and my laundry will pile up and I wouldn't get enough sleep.

    Also, just read your bio and I LOVE Melina Marchetta too! <3