It’s not just documentaries that tickle the cerebrum and get the brain juices flowing. From Billions to The West Wing, there are a host of fiercely intelligent dramas that test your ability to concentrate and keep up. These are the shows that not only entertain but expand the mind.
Here are the Top 10 programmes that force you to think - and possibly make you smarter - just by watching them.
Do the testosterone fuelled tirades about hedge funds and insider trading fly over your head? Or do the cashed-up conversations get your synapses firing. Centring on the bitter feud between hedge fund king Bobby "Axe" Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), the tough talking dialogue bristles with fierce finance that doesn’t play for dummies. The audience is expected to work but the dividends are worth it.
The West Wing
As Aaron Sorkin’s beautifully written dialogue bounces around the corridors of The White House at a rapid rate of knots, it’s hard to keep up with the political shenanigans unfolding in front of you in the chaotic west wing of POTUS’s palatial abode. Despite the distractions of sugary sentiment and Rob Lowe’s ridiculous dreamboat features, if nothing else, this is a show that couldn’t help but expand your vocabulary.
Currently streaming on Stan and Netflix.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Based on the brilliant book by Margaret Atwood, the television adaptation of this terrifyingly prescient dystopian nightmare, is loaded with heady concepts, astonishing performances and a potential future we just don’t want to think about. The central concept will have your brainbox giddy with anarchic possibilities. Could this really happen? What can we do to stop it?
Currently streaming on Foxtel Now.
Over four seasons, David Simon’s brilliant sprawling cop drama changed the face of detective shows on television. Dissecting the Baltimore narcotics scene, as seen through the eyes of drug dealers and the law enforcement on their tails, The Wire is a dense, multi-layered entertainment that isn’t afraid to bombard its viewers with multiple storylines and a host of fascinating characters, rewarding anyone who manages to keep up.
The pompous sleuth exudes a snarky arrogance as he solves crime after crime in this modern telling of the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tale. Created by The League Of Gentlemen star Mark Gatiss and Doctor Who head honcho Steven Moffat, Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular detective and Martin Freeman as the ever exasperated Dr Watson. If you can solve the clues before Sherlock, you should get yourself a deerstalker. Stat.
Initially a mere spin-off of the incredibly popular sitcom Cheers, Frasier followed Kelsey Grammer’s titular psychiatrist as he returned home to reconnect with his equally pompous brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and his down-to-earth father Martin (John Mahoney) while starting a new career as a radio host. The cultures clashes between the siblings who like the finer things in life and their football loving father are now the stuff of TV legend. Tossed salads and scrambled eggs.
Charlie Brooker has seen the future and it doesn’t look good. Alarmingly prophetic, this dark and disturbing anthology show takes our obsession with gadgets, apps and technology and turns it into a dystopian nightmare. By tweaking tech that is so familiar, the near future created in the show is all too believable which makes it ever more terrifying. Not for the faint hearted, Black Mirror holds a mirror up to society for those willing to look into the crystal ball.
Currently streaming on Netflix.
Vince Gilligan’s all-time television classic, the story of a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer who starts to manufacture and sell methamphetamine to support his family when he is gone, is a brilliant sprawling and wickedly clever show. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul make one of televisions finest odd-couples and you’ll end up knowing how to cook meth. Possibly. I’ll get my (lab) coat.
The Thick Of It
Armando Iannucci’s biting expose of British politics is a brilliantly observed and incredibly funny satire. Future Doctor Who Peter Capaldi plays Malcolm Tucker, director of communications for the government and foul-mouthed spin doctor constantly exasperated by the idiocy of all around him. Every time Tucker explodes he gives Scarface’s Tony Montana a run for his money in the swear bear stakes. The Thick Of It inspired Iannucci’s US political comedy Veep. Now f**k off!
You said you wanted a show with more brains! Cough.
On January 1 2018, Aussie streaming service Stan unleashed Romper Stomper, a sequel to Geoffrey Wright’s controversy baiting 1992 movie of the same name. To commemorate the occasion, here are ten of the most controversial television shows of all time.
Some are here for what they showed on screen, others for what went on behind-the-scenes, but all caused phonelines to melt and the interwebs to explode.
Before streaming, finding a good documentary meant either scouring the local video store or plundering the depths of YouTube. These days, we’re spoiled for choice. Netflix has a huge library of docos on-demand so it can be hard to differentiate between the good and the bad. But that's where we come in.
Here are some of the best.
The much-heralded sci-fi anthology show Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams has arrived on Aussie streaming service Stan. For those who missed the memo, it's based on ten short stories by visionary author Philip K. Dick, the man whose words inspired the cinematic brilliance of Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report. To celebrate here are ten of the finest Sci-fi television shows you should be watching right now.
David Michael Brown is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Filmink and Empire Magazine where he was senior editor for nine years.