Knowledge is Power!

In my post about Cosmos, I hearkened back to my love of shows that managed to be the perfect blend of fun and education. It made me sad, even as I was watching something so wonderful, to think that there's a real dearth of these kinds of shows today.

Fortunately, my melancholy was temporary, and it didn't take long for me to stumble over a pair of shows that offer the same edutainment blend to my adult brain that good ol' Square One TV offered Kid Me back in the day. The first was How the States Got Their Shapes, which airs (aired?) on the History Channel. I own the book the TV series is based on, which is fantastic. Written by Mark Stein, it delves into the stories, fights, laws, and compromises that shaped the lines we take for granted on our maps today. I figured the show would just be a visual presentation of the book's facts, and I've never been happier to be so wrong.

The shows goes in an entirely new direction. Host Brian Unger traveled to all fifty states and interviewed their citizens, talking about everything from accents to political leanings to driving habits to diet to a million other things. The book may have explained how the line between Missouri and Kansas got drawn, but the show goes into the fierce sports rivalry that developed because of it. It's pretty damned interesting.

I'm only through Season 1 so far, but am looking forward to binge-watching Season 2. Those episodes originally aired in 2012, and there haven't been any since, but nobody has ever said that it's officially canceled, so maybe someday, we'll get more. In the meantime, though, how will I keep my brain occupied?

Oh, I know! By pummeling it with tricks, illusions, and psychological fake-outs. Quick: Is this dancer spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise? Well, both. It all depends in how you look at her! I've loved optical illusions and logic puzzles since I was a kid, so imagine my delight when Netflix saw that I was watching How the States Got Their Shapes, and suggested that I might like Brain Games, which airs on the Nat Geo Channel.

The first two seasons are available to stream, and I tore through them. The first three episodes are long and narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. From there, the show shifted into a shorter format, and took on Jason Silva as a host, instead. They demonstrate and discuss all of my favorite tricks of the brain, and happily, have introduced me to a few new ones, too. It's so wild to see just how easily your brain can be misled, and delving into the science of why that may be is utterly fascinating. I've been poking into Season 3 on YouTube, and unfortunately, the quality of this show may be dropping off. But for the purposes of this review, I'm just focusing on the two streaming seasons, and if you're a nerd like me, you'll be delighted by the answer to why kids almost instantly know which direction this bus is traveling, while adults struggle with it. Gotta love our weird-ass brains.

How the States Got Their Shapes - Season 1: B+
Brain Games - Seasons 1 & 2: A-


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