Prime-time programming is littered with reality TV and shows that care more about their ratings than the stories they tell. In recent years, though, there has been a rise in the number of shows with truly intelligent programming. These shows are not only tapping into our inherent need to know the ‘why’ of things, but they are bringing in experts to make sure the ‘why’ provides the most accurate information in a setting that’s still entertaining.
If you like programming that really makes you think, here are seven of the best shows with scientific background you should consider adding to your Netflix or Hulu queue:
1. Lie to Me – Deception Consulting
“Lie to Me,” which aired from 2009 to 2011, stars actor Tim Roth as Dr. Cal Lightman, a scientist, and consultant who specializes in detecting and interpreting microexpressions. Basically, he can watch your involuntary facial expressions and figure out if you are lying.
This character is actually based on a clinical psychologist with the same skill set. Dr. Paul Ekman has worked with everyone from the Department of Defense to the film company Pixar, helping them develop better animated facial expressions. Ekman himself has stated that the show is about 90% accurate, and he created a blog during the show’s run analyzing that remaining 10% of each episode.
2. Criminal Minds – Behavioral Profiling
There is nothing scarier than trying to get into the mind of a criminal, especially in the minutes or hours after a crime. “Criminal Minds,” a long-running show that first premiered in 2005, stars a team of FBI criminal profilers that solve crimes not by following clues and checking for fingerprints, but by using profiling techniques to step into the criminal’s shoes. While sometimes not as accurate as it could be, behavioral profiling is used every day to help find criminals.
3. Numb3rs – Mathematics
“Numb3rs” pairs mathematical genius Charlie Epps with his brother, an FBI agent, and follows them as they solve crimes by relying on mathematical formulas — some of which can be very advanced. All of the math that appears in the show is accurate and was supplied by Wolfram Research, a company that provides the mathematics behind most technical computing. This entire show is a fantastic example of using mathematics in real-world situations.
4. Scorpion – Hacking/Problem Solving
“Scorpion” is a new show, barely into its second season, that follows four characters that are, as the show puts it, ‘a million miles from normal.’ The show is based on the life of hacker-turned-cybersecurity mogul Walter O’Brien — hacker name: Scorpion, where the show gets its name — and a team that is assembled to become ‘government funded problem solvers.’
There are two arguments about this show, though: Some people feel it’s insulting everyone’s intelligence, while other fans feel like it really helps to represent the struggle that some gifted individuals experience during their lives.
5. Mr. Robot – Hacking
“Mr. Robot” is one of the most popular and also one of the most accurate hacking shows on the air today. Rami Malek is fantastic as socially awkward hacker Elliot, who works for a cybersecurity firm during the day and as a cyber-vigilante by night.
While there is plenty the show doesn’t get right in favor of good storytelling, there is still quite a bit about hacking and the type of people who find themselves as a part of the hacking-world that the show nails on the head.
6. The Expanse – Physics
200 years in the future, humanity has expanded out into the solar system by creating settlements on Mars, the asteroid belt and various moons of Jupiter and Saturn. One of the most often neglected pieces of information in space-based shows is basic physics — inertia, momentum and the sheer amount of energy it takes to move an enormous ship through the vacuum of space. “The Expanse” pays careful attention to these things, making it one of the neatest new shows on TV.
7. Fringe – Fringe Science
“Fringe,” with its premiere in 2008, created something that hadn’t been seen on network TV in a long time: something that made science cool. While walking through walls or traveling to parallel dimensions may seem like the stuff of science fiction, much of the fantastical stuff that Olivia, Walter, and Peter accomplish on the show is actually based in fact — even if that fact is not currently achievable with today’s knowledge or technology.
This new desire for intelligent programming has also led to a reboot of Carl Sagan’s classic science documentary “Cosmos,” now headed by physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
While we can’t avoid the brainless TV shows like the popular reality options that seem to be impossible to eradicate, there are plenty of other alternatives for viewers who prefer shows that make them think.