10 Informative TV Shows for Teachers and Students

Updated May 15, 2024 • Staff

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.

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10.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Despite their rising popularity, K-dramas have sustained a reputation for being, at times, too sentimental for their own good. Extraordinary Attorney Woo is not exempt from that tendency, but when it does shoot for schmaltz, it makes sure to aim right at your heart. Thanks to clever twists and moving performances across the board, Extraordinary Attorney Woo is an excellently emotional series. Every romantic encounter will make you swoon, every courtroom scene will have you cheer, and every ending will leave you in tears. 

Moreover, it’s not a show that simply happens to be about lawyers. It is a law procedural that deals with each new case with the utmost care. It’s smart and educational, with the proceedings and resolutions blending seamlessly into the characters’ own arcs. 

There’s something for everyone in this series, and it’s sure to be an easy favorite for one reason or another.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family
Actor: Baek Ji-won, Ha Yoon-kyung, Im Sung-jae, Jeon Bae-soo, Jin Kyung, Joo Hyun-young, Joo Jong-hyuk, Kang Ki-young, Kang Tae-oh, Kim Hieora, Koo Kyo-hwan, Park Eun-bin
Director: Yoo In-sik
Rating: TV-14
9.

The Letdown

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.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Comedy
Actor: Alison Bell, Celeste Barber, Duncan Fellows, John Leary, Leah Vandenberg, Leon Ford, Lucy Durack, Noni Hazlehurst, Patrick Brammall, Sacha Horler, Sarah Peirse, Xana Tang
Rating: N/A
8.

The Looming Tower

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.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama, Thriller, War & Politics
Actor: Alec Baldwin, Annie Parisse, Bill Camp, Jeff Daniels, Louis Cancelmi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard, Tahar Rahim, Virginia Kull, Wrenn Schmidt
Director: Alex Gibney, Ali Selim, Craig Zisk, John Dahl, Michael Slovis
Rating: TV-MA

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7.

Explained

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.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Documentary
6.

Losers

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!

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Mauro Prosperi, Michael Bentt, Surya Bonaly
Director: Lissette Feliciano
Rating: N/A
5.

Our Planet

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.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: David Attenborough
Rating: TV-G
4.

The Last Kingdom

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.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Action, Action & Adventure, Drama, History, War & Politics
Actor: Adrian Bower, Adrian Schiller, Alexander Dreymon, Alexandre Willaume, Amy Wren, Arnas Fedaravicius, Brian Vernel, Cavan Clerkin, David Dawson, David Schofield, Eliza Butterworth, Emily Cox, Eva Birthistle, Ewan Mitchell, Gerard Kearns, Harry Gilby, Harry McEntire, Henning Valin Jakobsen, Ian Hart, James Northcote, Jamie Blackley, Joseph Millson, Julia Bache-Wiig, Mark Rowley, Matthew Macfadyen, Millie Brady, Ola Rapace, Peri Baumeister, Peter Gantzler, Phia Saban, Ruby Hartley, Rune Temte, Rutger Hauer, Simon Kunz, Stefanie Martini, Thea Sofie Loch Næss, Thea Sofie Loch Næss, Thomas Gabrielsson, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Thure Lindhardt, Timothy Innes, Tobias Santelmann, Toby Regbo
Rating: TV-MA
3.

The Pharmacist

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.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Crime, Documentary
Director: Jenner Furst, Julia Willoughby Nason
Rating: TV-MA
2.

Haikyu!!

Fun, wholesome, and relatable, Haikyu!! celebrates the highs and lows of high school volleyball. The show starts off focused on two freshmen volleyball players from opposing middle school teams, who have to learn teamwork in order to be accepted into their high school club. While the team might initially come across as self-conscious, over-the-top, highly dramatic characters, it’s clear that they're coming from a shared love for the competitive sport (and that they also just happen to be going through puberty). However, the show’s strategic storytelling makes us care about the team: explanations about volleyball tactics are taught just at the right moment in order to heighten the stakes of every player’s move. Simultaneously, every player moves into each new plot point as a natural consequence of their backstory and their perception of each event. Haikyu!!’s agile approach makes the show a compelling watch, and a great place to start if you're new to anime.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ayumu Murase, Daisuke Namikawa, Hiroshi Kamiya, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Hisao Egawa, Kaito Ishikawa, Kaori Nazuka, Kazunari Tanaka, Koki Uchiyama, Koutaro Nishiyama, Mark Ishii, Masaru Hayashi, Miyu Irino, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Nobuyori Sagara, Ryohei Kimura, Ryota Takeuchi, Satoshi Hino, Shinnosuke Tachibana, Soma Saito, Subaru Kimura, Sumire Morohoshi, Toshiki Masuda, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yu Hayashi, Yuichi Nakamura, Yuki Kaji, Yuu Hayashi
Rating: TV-14
1.

1994

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.

Our staff rating: 9/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente
Director: Diego Enrique Osorno
Rating: N/A

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