With summer's annual scripted-programming drought upon us—and a limit to how many hours of The Bachelorette we can take before we start to feel our IQs slipping—we decided to spend some time exploring TV's more educational side. Below, you'll find 18 shows (many of which you can watch here at TV.com) that will fill your head with useful (and fascinating!) factoids instead of numbing your brain with the sound of bickering crazy people. At the very least, they'll give you something interesting to talk about at the season's upcoming barbecues. Here's a sample syllabus:
Contemporary Arts and Aesthetics
In this course, we'll explore the role of the artist and filmmaker as integral players in political, economic, cultural, societal matters.
Independent Lens (find 14 full episodes on TV.com)
This series is a showcase for varying types and lengths of independent films, from short comedies to documentaries, currently hosted by indie darling Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Modern Day Heroes: Humans with Super Abilities
In this course, we'll investigate the societal influence of individuals who push the boundaries of being human.
Man vs. Wild
Fake or not, Bear Grylls really does spout plenty of legit survival tips.
Gravity, Fire, and Robots: (Lab Credit)
In this course, we'll study the entertaining chemistry and physics experiments created by select TV science pros.
This incredible team of scientists, builders, and tinkerers works tirelessly to scientifically dispel urban legends.
Catch it Keep It
This game show invites contestants to save their prize from utter destruction. Each episode is a lesson in physics and anxiety management.
Psychology 301: Interests of the Adolescent Male
In this course, we'll investigate the motivations and interests of the teenage boy.
Web Soup (find 18 clips on TV.com)
Adolescents spend a lot of their time watching humorous videos on the internet. This series showcases those videos and may give us some insight into the teenage mind.
Macro to Micro: A trippy approach to Biology
In this course, we'll focus on the workings of the world, from the tiniest of insects to the vastness of the galaxy.
This series reveals the inner-workings of the planet we call home.
Extreme Occupations 101 (Field Research Credit)
We'll attempt to gain some job experience by obvserving folks with extreme occupations while they work.
Travel the tumultuous Bering Sea during crabbing season with a crew of daring fisherman.