Reviews of Explained (2018) and related work

Explained (2018Moving picture, 10 hours)

Seen in 2019.

Review refers to the first two seasons.

Meal-length primers on varied subjects, such as leisure as a driver of fashion, computer programming (“coding”) and why Adolf Eichmann was tried as a pirate.

This could have been an excellent complement to parasocial primer shows like Patriot Act (2018). They differ in that Explained has no consistent or visible host, less comedy, and less of a house style. It’s also less visually consistent than shows like Kurzgesagt (2013) or PolyMatter (2015) where the presentation is intended to add interest. The most consistent stylistic choice in Explained is an odd one, and it’s not helpful: There is a fairly long introductory credits sequence following the lead, and although this intro uses consistent theme music, its visuals are mostly archive footage relevant to the subject, with disjointed sound and no information on sources, interpretable only with prior familiarity.

These differences suggest that Explained is going to be like Horizon (1964) or Nova (1974): less likely to drive an agenda, except the agenda of critical thinking that comes with learning. Indeed, the writers present a pretty clear case against astrology on a verifiable factual basis, as they should. However, mixed in with the science and history are political primers on the current distribution of wealth within the USA. Here, too, the agenda is sympathetic, but there’s a propagandistic aspect to the particular mixture of politically neutral, international and narrow topics like the exclamation mark with politically central, national, more complex topics. To their credit, the creators opened with the latter category—the racial wealth gap—rather than slipping it in later.

moving picture non-fiction series

The Mind, Explained (2019Moving picture, 100 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A consistent narrator, as well as consistent visual design and animation style, but still episodic, and still an edgy tone: Mindfulness and ayahuasca instead of mainstream experimental psychology.

moving picture spin-off non-fiction series

Sex, Explained (2020Moving picture, 110 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Monotonous, no doubt tailored to some specific US demographic.

moving picture spin-off non-fiction series