History lessons can be scintillating to dusty-dry depending on who's doing the telling, but with its innovative storytelling and bright graphics this history series definitely veers towards "fascinating." Archival footage is, of course, a mainstay of just about any retelling of the past, but History 101 has a way of packaging and narrating said footage, and bringing its points home with great infographics, that brings it to life. Episode 2, "The Space Race," has plenty of the sort of shots of rockets firing up and grinning astronauts that you'll have seen before; you probably haven't, however, seen a bar graph showing how low the temperatures are in space while a narrator calmly informs you that in space "your blood will boil, or at least start to vaporize, because there's no pressure keeping it a liquid."
In episode 1, "Fast Food," we're told that KFC was the first chain to really rev up a system of franchises and thus set into motion a chain of supply and demand that's partially responsible for climate change, as we watch a vintage pancake-making machine turn out stacks of hotcakes and cartoon cows emitting green clouds of methane. It's eye-catching. It's interesting. And it's also a little disturbing, as History 101 shows us the connections between fast food and factory farming, car culture and Middle East unrest, and plastics and the billions of pounds of waste overwhelming the earth. It's tough, smart, real stuff, and you'll get smarter by watching, without ever regretting your time investment.