10 Informative TV Shows for Teachers and Students

10 Informative TV Shows for Teachers and Students

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We know television series aren’t used nearly as often as films are as teaching tools, but there’s still a wealth of TV out there that can provide many discussion points on various subjects—especially those that might take longer to cover in the classroom. And these shows don’t always have to be documentaries or educational TV either; one can learn just as much from comedy, drama, or even action while being entertained in the process. Here we’ve gathered 10 little-known and underseen series that prove to be instructive and informational, whether or not they originally set out to educate or not.

10. Street Food

8.0

Country

United States of America

Actors

Daniel Lee Gray, Philip Hersh

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive

When I learned about Street Food the first time, I was reluctant to sit through yet another Netflix cooking show. They’ve made so many that when I want to bring up an episode with a friend I forget if I saw it in Ugly Delicious, Chef’s Table, Salt Fat Acid Heat or others. I can’t say that Street Food is a different format. It uses the same slow-motion takes of food, the same close-ups on chefs and the same style of interviews. Here is the thing though. Street Food might be similar to other Netflix cooking shows, but it’s also better than them in almost every way. Much better. It’s only 30 minutes long per episode, so it doesn’t indulge in egos or stray into unrelated stories. It doesn’t showcase kitchens where only the rich eat, like Chef’s Table often does, but stalls that are accessible to everyone. And in the best way, it connects the story of the food makers to the food. The show is mostly about middle-aged to senior women, and people who do not make that much money. It’s not about glamorous young chefs. It’s about food stripped away from any marketing or showbiz. Real cooking, real chefs, real diners. In its unpretentious nature, Street Food feels euphoric.

9. Ugly Delicious

8.0

Country

United States of America

Actors

David Chang, Peter Meehan

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive

Man, don’t watch this show hungry. Each episode traces the traditions, the history, and the lore surrounding much-loved types of food. It’s a food show, to be sure, and it will surely whet your appetite, but award-winning rebel chef and creator of the New-York-based restaurant Momofuku, David Chang, also has a mission: to challenge notions of authenticity, to call out snobbism, and to break down cultural barriers. While exploring pizza, for example, he travels to Japan to check out a new pizza in a Michelin-star restaurant, but also hits up a Domino’s. He talks about why microwaves are good for you and why MSG isn’t bad for you—and why demonizing MSG has a racist history. Despite being an important proponent of the food industry, Chang has a fuck-it attitude towards it. There is a reason the name of his high-brow brand sounds like “m*therf*cker”. Part mouth-watering food TV, part op-ed on foodie culture, this is one of the best cooking shows you can watch today.

8. The Looming Tower

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Actors

Alec Baldwin, Annie Parisse, Bill Camp, Jeff Daniels

Moods

A-list actors, Binge-Worthy, Instructive

The incredible script for this Hulu-produced series comes courtesy of Lawrence Wright, who wrote the Pulitzer-winning book the series is based on, and Dan Futterman, the Oscar-nominated writer who gave us Capote. It is an eye-opening, semi-fictional account of how the CIA and the FBI took conflicting approaches to counteract Al-Qaeda in the lead-up to 9/11, withholding information from each other, and obstructing a unified strategy to combat terror. The disagreements between the two security services are numerous and the relationship between their staff is hostile. At the top, Jeff Daniels plays John O’Neill, the seasoned head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Center, while Peter Sarsgaard stars as Martin Schmidt, the chief of the CIA’s respective facility, who are both amazing. Then there’s Ali Soufan, played by Tahar Rahim, who is one of only handful FBI agents who speak Arabic back in 1998, just three years before the Towers fell. With all this testosterone flying about, the women in this show are marginalized to the fairly weak romantic storylines, but other than that the series gets a lot of stuff right. Writing, acting, and action are on point and make The Looming Tower a gripping as well as insightful watch.

7. The Letdown

8.1

Country

Australia

Actors

Alison Bell, Celeste Barber, Duncan Fellows, John Leary

Moods

Funny, Instructive, Thought-provoking

If you’re like us, there’s always room for good 20-minute comedy show in your life. But we also live in the “age of the cerebral”, so you’re typically getting some really deep stuff to go with it. Written with a lot of heart by Alison Bell (who you might know from Laid), the female lead, and Sarah Scheller, The Letdown perfectly captures the transition from being a care-free thirty-something to becoming a mother, where everything feels too much and failing feels only a second away. It doesn’t help that new mother Audrey Holloway seeks help at a parenting group with a rather unhelpful maternal health nurse (Noni Hazlehurst). Audrey’s career-focused husband Jeremy (Duncan Fellows) also has a penchant for being unhelpful and so it’s up to her to somehow make things right. Anybody who has had a child or knows somebody that does will be able to confirm the hilarious honesty of The Letdown’s writing and performances. And from that honesty comes a lot of dramatic realness but also a very funny, well-paced show.

6. Losers

8.4

Country

United States of America

Actors

Mauro Prosperi, Michael Bentt, Surya Bonaly

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive, Thought-provoking

While this perspective on competitive sports is obviously unconventional, it makes perfect sense. Winners are boring. If you win, you win. The losers, however, have defeat to deal with. As the proverb goes, you learn little from victory, but a great deal from defeat. Director and creator of the show’s amazing animation, Mickey Duzyj, was inspired by a personal experience during a tennis tournament as a teenager. Each episode of this 2019 Netflix show tells a different story from a different sport. For starters, episode one looks at Michael Bentt, a world champion boxer who was forced into the sport by his abusive father. So, things do get dark, as could be expected, the storytelling is complex, but the message of Losers is as simple as it is wholesome. Like the characters and life stories it portrays, this show will pick you up when you are down!

5. Explained

8.4

Country

d, United States of America

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive

Produced by Ezra Klein’s Vox Media, an explanatory news site with liberal leanings, this may well be Netflix’s first successful attempt at a traditional weekly television show. And a news show at that. But as the title suggests, Explained doesn’t aim at updating you on current events, but takes short but in-depth looks at topics that tend to get overlooked in news cycles such as the racial wealth gap, monogamy, and the rise of cryptocurrencies. The idea is not unique. The only thing YouTube might have more of than make-up advice videos are explanatory monologues by self-declared Illuminati. However, those familiar with Vox Media’s previous outings on YouTube know to expect high production value, serious research, and digestible visual journalism at its best. Don’t watch it with your special uncle, though because he will start yelling at the television.

4. Our Planet

8.5

Country

UK, United States of America

Actors

David Attenborough

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive

I can’t think of a good reason why this review shouldn’t just be two words: David Attenborough. With a voice that makes you wish every other voice in your life was the same, the star of Planet Earth teamed up with Netflix to make this new nature show. It took four years to film, and it bounces countless times between continents in every episode. It’s rich, vivid, and oh so beautiful. So they just made another Planet Earth? Not exactly. Our Planet has a much stronger environmental message. It’s not a line here and there about the negative impact we’ve had on the planet – it’s the theme behind the whole show. It’s frank, sad, but always, always, stunning.

3. The Pharmacist

8.6

Country

United States of America

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive, Mini-series

We call it a Netflix true crime documentary, but, in fact, this compelling four-parter is much more than that. It homes in on the fate of an immensely empathetic, soft-spoken, and likable family man, who loses his teenage son to drug-related violence in New Orleans’ notorious Lower 9th Ward in 1999. With corruption rampant in the city’s police department, he takes matters into his own hands and investigates his son’s murder by himself.

In doing so, main protagonist Dan Schneider notices a rise in opioid prescriptions from one doctor in particular. Fueled by a relentless determination to protect other children from addiction, he quits his job and begins gathering evidence against this doctor and, by extension, the company responsible for the sale of the notorious opioid-based painkiller Oxycodone: Purdue Pharma. In the course of his investigation, Schneider records all his findings, evidence, and intimate thoughts on audio and video. This sense of immediacy and the pretty breathtaking twists of his story make this Netflix production rise above other true crime formats. It uses the power and charisma of one individual to come to grips with a crisis of global proportions.

2. The Last Kingdom

8.6

Country

UK

Actors

Adrian Bower, Adrian Schiller, Alexander Dreymon, Alexandre Willaume

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Instructive, Thrilling

This historical fantasy show is based on the best-selling novel The Saxon Stories, a story set during the Viking / Dane invasion of Britain.

Uhtred was a small boy when he was kidnapped and then raised by the Danes. When he unexpectedly gets caught up in the conflict, his half-Saxon half-Dane mix makes at the same time valuable and untrustworthy for both sides.

There has never been a better alternative to Game of Thrones. The great writing and great performances from a cast of newcomers inevitably induce the same sense of addiction.

1. 1994

best

9.0

Country

Mexico, N/A

Actors

Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive, Mini-series

Have you finished Wild Wild Country and are up for another binge-worthy documentary? If so, 1994 might be a compelling option for you to consider. Released on Netflix for the 25th anniversary of the events in 2019, most of the story would be hard to believe if it wasn’t… you know… based on facts and backed up by archival footage and interviews. As it often goes with documentaries, truth is stranger than fiction.

In 1994, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, also known as the EZLN or the Zapatistas, declared war on the Mexican government. This happened after the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was signed into law. Incumbent Mexican president Salinas (pictured above) selected prominent reformist presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio to become his heir. Just three months later, Colosio was shot in Tijuana on live television.

1994 is a rich, informative, and fascinating account of this violent and tumultuous year in Mexican history, featuring in-depth interviews with many of those pulling the strings at the time, including former president Salinas. As the people being interviewed point out, understanding the relevance of 1994 in Mexican politics will help you understand the country’s political and economic landscape today.

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