Like anyone with other options, I like to think I'm pretty selective about TV, partly because programming on channels I used to love (Animal Planet, the History Channel) has been crowded out by reality dreck that seems like it's more about dissuading people from the very interests they ostensibly cater to. ("Oh, you like animals? You like your cat? How about a show all about horribly behaved, emotionally distressed house cats? Doesn't that sound fun? Nightmare cats!") For some quality edutainment, you're better off with OPB, which is airing season 2 of Time Team America—a worthily nerdy pursuit of history and archaeology that traverses the country digging up evidence of our young-but-aging country's past—tonight at 10 pm.
Time is produced in Oregon, so OPB's getting dibs, airing the four new episodes in advance of their later arrival on PBS in a couple months' time (you can also just stream them on opb.org the day after they air). I was able to preview tonight's debut, in which the team goes digging on the former plantation where Josiah Henson—the former slave on whose biography Harriet Beecher Stowe based her landmark anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin—is said to have lived, and it's a satisfying mix of the geological and historical. In a one-hour swoop I learned more about Henson's life and what it means to dig through several generations of earthen kitchen floors, with plenty of expert interview subjects and digital renderings to guide things along. Yes, "learned"! Actual learning happened! Upcoming episodes dig into the potential site of a lost Civil War-era P.O.W. camp, a 10,000-year-old bison kill site, and one of the first permanent settlements in North America. Here's a preview of tonight's: