Netflix’s Explained is a new original documentary series that breaks down a pretty broad range of topics down into small, bite-sized, 20-minute chunks. The show rattles through the different topics at a relentless, breakneck pace that left me feeling dazed, confused, but in no way more knowledgeable.
When I read about Netflix’s Explained, a new documentary series, I was definitely intrigued. It claimed to be a series that was going to shed some light on some of the most interesting topics today across a whole host of different subjects. I may have only seen three episodes to date, but I can confirm that the subjects that were covered were definitely pretty disparate. At this point, it sounded like it would be a really entertaining (and hopefully) informative series. I’m saying this to let you know that I was hoping that this would be good. I have no trouble admitting that I love learning new things and I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older I watch more and more documentaries.
As much as I wanted to like Netflix’s Explained, I just didn’t. I understand the central premise – creators Vox are trying to create something that makes educational content engaging and entertaining. The episodes to date have all been under 20 minutes long, so it’s by no means a big commitment, but I found just watching one episode to be utterly exhausting. The best way that I can think of to describe this is like a podcast with various videos and graphics overlaid and the occasional talking head thrown in. The episodes each cover a fairly weighty topic (for example, episode 3 is about “The Racial Wealth Gap”) but the material just feels completely disposable. It doesn’t seem like this needs to be a TV show at all; it’s an episode of The American Life (a very, very short and lightweight episode) with some images thrown in, just in case your attention wanders in the 18-minute run time.
The images, video, and interviews that go along with the narration are just all over the place. I found they bounced from one thing to the next at a dizzying pace; I was genuinely tired after I watched an episode. I was going to attempt to binge all three of the available episodes in one go, but I just didn’t have it in me. It feels like it’s been put together by a toddler who’s had far too much sugar as it pinballs from one thing to the next.
Each episode just seems to talk about stuff. There’s not really a consistent narrative through each subject and instead, I just felt like I was bombarded with facts and pictures and it was just too much to take in. I did question whether I was just missing the point, but the more I watched the more it felt like there was a lot going on, but it wasn’t actually telling me anything. It’s essentially a 2 or 3-minute YouTube documentary stretched out to 20 minutes.
It’s entirely possible that I might be just too old to digest information in this breakneck fashion and you might get some more mileage out of Netflix’s Explained. At best it could provide a good introduction to a subject that you could go and dig into a little deeper, but just go and read Wikipedia instead; it’s less tiring and a bit more interesting.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.