11 TV Shows That Will Engage Your Brain

Rob Lowe hosts Mental Samurai.
Rob Lowe hosts Mental Samurai. / FOX

Depending on how many real housewives are involved, it can be all too easy to achieve a state of diminished focus when watching television. Fortunately, some shows require focus, attention, and engagement to maximize your enjoyment. Take a look at 11 shows currently available that will keep your brain active, even while you're vegging out on the couch.

1. Mental Samurai (2019-)

This intellectual obstacle course series from producer and host Rob Lowe begins April 2 and tasks contestants with navigating a series of questions that challenge their knowledge and mental acuity while being physically maneuvered by a mammoth robot capsule named AVA.

Find It: FOX, Thursdays at 9/8c

2. Jeopardy! (1964-)

Alex Trebek and company helped popularize “smart TV” decades before electronics manufacturers coined the phrase. Every weeknight, viewers are challenged to shout out answers (in the form of a question) at the screen before contestants can buzz in. Now in its 36th season, Jeopardy! remains the gold standard for game shows that makes you an active participant in the action.

Find It: Syndication (Check Local Listings); Hulu; Netflix

3. Brain Games (2011-)

The various ways our brain can play tricks on us are explored in this series originally narrated by Neil Patrick Harris—and now hosted by Keegan-Michael Key—and featuring celebrities demonstrating everything from faulty memory details to lie detection.

Find It: National Geographic, Disney+

4. Cosmos (1980, 2014, 2020-)

Both the original 1980 Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey series created and hosted by Carl Sagan and the revamped version hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson send viewers on a sprawling excavation of space, time, evolution, and mankind’s place in it all. The newest incarnation, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, is currently airing.

Find It: National Geographic, Disney+

5. NOVA (1974-)

For a broad look at science, look no further than PBS’s NOVA, which has been airing since 1974 and puts the spotlight on scientists and their efforts to better understand the world around us. Stories range from the extinction of dinosaurs to superstorms to the secrets of Stonehenge.

Find It: PBS (Check Local Listings)

6. Outrageous Acts of Science (2013-)

Are you an evidence-based thinker? Do you enjoy people who push the envelope of what’s possible? Outrageous Acts of Science puts the spotlight on boundary-erasing inventors and innovators. Do underwater jetpacks work? Is someone really building rock-climbing cars? Tune in and find out.

Find It: Science Channel, Discovery GO

7. MythBusters (2003-)

Hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage spent 14 seasons taking popular scientific and cultural theories and putting them to the test. If you’ve ever heard of a can of dough popping open in a hot car or if it was really possible to escape from Alcatraz, Hyneman and Savage exhausted every possibility to verify—or debunk—the myth.

Find It: Science Channel, Discovery GO, Hulu

8. QI (2003-Present)

This long-running British series take the stuffiness out of quiz shows, encouraging panelists to answer incorrectly if they must—presuming it’s at least interesting. Each season focuses on a different letter of the alphabet. Even in the flurry of wrong answers, you’ll still learn something.

Find It: Tubi

9. How It’s Made (2001-)

Everyday objects get closer inspection in How It’s Made, which takes a deep dive into the history and production of everything from jeans to braille typewriters.

Find It: Science Channel, Hulu

10. Brainchild (2018)

If you need a primer on science, this Netflix series breaks down concepts like gravity, memory, and even social media to explain how each impacts our world. It’s aimed at kids, but don’t worry—you’re sure to learn something, too.

Find It: Netflix

11. Explained (2018-)

This two-season primer offers breakdowns of everything from cryptocurrency to K-pop. Best of all, episodes are 25 minutes or less. It’s a crash course in topics making headlines today.

Find it: Netflix