Tube Time Well Spent

Faculty and staff recommend television worth watching over winter break


By Heather Cass, publications manager, Penn State Behrend

If you ask Penn State Behrend faculty and staff members what television shows or movies they’d recommend students enjoy over break, they’ll often suggest books instead. (You can take the professor out of the classroom, but…). If you press them, though, they may admit to occasionally indulging in a few flicks or bingeing on a streaming series, whether it’s something with an educational aspect to it or something that’s just plain fun to watch.

Here are the shows/movies that Penn State Behrend faculty and staff members recommend relaxing with over your well-earned holiday break. Please note: These suggestions are for adults; some shows may not be appropriate for younger audiences.  

Dr. Laurie Urraro, assistant teaching professor of Spanish

I recommend students watch the series Cobra Kai, a martial arts comedy-drama on Netflix, because we could all use a little more physical activity and inspiration in our lives right now.

I have to add a prerequisite, though: You must first watch the original Karate Kid movies (I and II)  so you can appreciate the series, which is based on the 1980s-era movies and features the main characters from the films. 

Dr. Robert Speel, associate professor of political science

Here are my recommended shows, all on Netflix, but some may be found elsewhere, too.

Occupied. This is a Norwegian political thriller that involves climate change and Russian subterfuge.

Learn something about European politics from this series, which includes all the elements of any political drama – sex, violence, and assassinations – mixed with efforts to save the environment.

Kim’s Convenience. Laugh while learning how everyone fits into a multicultural city in Canada in this funny sitcom about a Korean-Canadian family who owns a convenience store in Toronto.

Bodyguard. Learn a little bit about British politics and the civil service while trying to solve a mystery in this political thriller centered around the bodyguard of an ambitious government minister.

Evil Genius – This is a true crime documentary about the most famous criminal case to take place in Erie in the last quarter century. It tells the odd tale of a bank robbery heist that ended in the death of a pizza deliveryman who died when a collar bomb exploded around his neck.

Dr. Melanie Hetzel-Riggin, professor of psychology

I’m a big sci-fi fan, so I recommend any of the Star Trek movies or series, as well as Farscape and Babylon 5.

Not only are all of these shows incredibly entertaining, but they also provide us an opportunity to examine the social issues we discuss in psychology, sociology, political science, and anthropology in a way that allows us to escape the constraints of real life.

There are significant ethical dilemmas, interpersonal conflict, issues related to discrimination and oppression, and more. It also allows us to see the strengths and weaknesses of different ways of approaching life and various moral and religious compasses. Also, there are transporters!

Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor of chemistry

Breaking Bad is an older television series about a chemistry teacher with cancer who resorts to cooking meth to make as much money for his family as he can before he dies. The show features plenty of chemistry and science, but also a lot of drug use, swearing, and violence, so it’s definitely not appropriate for younger audiences!

I’d also suggest HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, a great docudrama that is available on Amazon Prime.

Two great movies that I’d recommend: Radioactive, a movie on Amazon Prime, is about the famous scientist, Marie Curie, and it delves into her life and the aftermath of her discoveries. Hidden Figures is a 2016 movie about three brilliant  African-American women at NASA who helped put John Glenn on the moon, though their efforts went largely unnoticed, hence the title of the movie.

Angela Davis, reference instructional librarian at Lilley Library

I find nature documentaries soothing, so I’d suggest students watch the Our Planet series. It’s actually on YouTube right now as Netflix allowed it to be placed there so educators could access it for free during the pandemic.

The series focuses on how climate change affects various species in every habitat on Earth. Those who enjoy animals or are interested in climate change and the environment would enjoy the series, which isn’t too science heavy.

Dr. Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry

My wife and I have been enjoying a related set of historical fiction series over the last few months. These miniseries, available on a few premium streaming services such as Starz, Hulu, and YouTube, each portray drama related to the monarchy of England during the time period from about the mid-1400s to the early-1500s. 

I’d suggest watching them in the following chronological order:  

  • The White Queen – This series is mainly about Catherine Woodville, who was the wife of Edward IV.
  • The White Princess – This series is centered around Elizabeth of York, who was the wife of Henry VII
  • The Spanish Princess – This series is mainly about Catherine of Aragon, who was the first wife of Henry VIII

Riki Hay, regional global education coordinator, International Student Services

During Behrend’s recent International Education Week programming, we did a “daily digest” which, among many things, included some recommendations from the experts on ways to learn interculturally.

Here are some TED talks they recommended that students may want to check out while they are on break:

You can find a whole collection of  TED talks (and more) on the topic of diversity at



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