Explained, Explained

Title card for one episode on Netflix



We have a one-and-done attitude in our house with Netflix. We tend not to binge; we just want something to relax with for half an hour or so after dinner before going on with the night.

That can be a challenge, both for brevity and for quality. Many of the nonfiction series on the platform are edited to repeat information, as if for commercial breaks, even when the commercials no longer exist. Others have a garish look, excitability, or whiff of conspiracy about them, as with bad cable.

But the series Explained has been consistently good—so good, in fact, for what it is, that the only frustrating thing about it is finding all the episodes in order to keep watching.

The series is based on a previous Vox YouTube show that covered different topics. In 2018-19, Netflix carried two seasons of the new series, a total of 30 episodes, each episode being about 20 minutes. They were hosted by a variety of (mostly) well-known people, such as Maria Bello, Christian Slater, and John Waters. Topics included coding, cults, “The Female Orgasm,” political correctness, “Can We Live Forever?” and, presciently, “The Next Pandemic,” which first streamed in November 2019.

We thought we had watched them all, over a couple of months but discovered there are five more “spin-off” series. They all have the word “explained” in their titles, but you kind of have to know what to look for, since putting “explained” in the search bar does not seem to do the trick.

The five subsequent series, a total of about 20 episodes, are titled: The Mind, Explained; Sex, Explained; Coronavirus, Explained; Whose Vote Counts, Explained; and Money, Explained. The most recent series was released last month.

The episodes consistently move at the right pace. Anything mentioned will be important to the story and is explained as you need that information. When the story is done, the episode ends without sentimentality of unnecessary drama.

Almost every episode has cleared up confusions I had, or provided new understandings. (The ones about weed and voting come to mind, for some reason.) The whole enterprise is particularly recommended for teens, like my younger son, who has always wondered why the handling of money and other necessary life skills are not covered in school.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.