It is really hard to do history on television well. Things tend to generally end up either too dry, or way too ridiculous.
On the one hand you have the Ken Burns camp, which while wonderfully researched and very interesting… tends to get a little soporific at times. On the other side you have something like the History Channel’s “Secret Masonic Nazi UFO’s” which, though entertaining, should probably be on the “Fun Ideas I Had In The Bath” channel.
James Burke’s Connections, and the “Ascent of Man” were always my gold standards for history television, as Cosmos was for science television. But I recently caught Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives (streaming on Netflix) and really enjoyed it.
Below is a section from the episode about Knights which covers the Atlas’ favorite mercenary John Hawkwood.
I am late to the party seeing as these came out in 2004, and already won a BBC Emmy, so it’s nice to see that these got some recognition. Jones does a terrific job of reexamining of some of the preconceived notions about the middle ages, and while some of the jokes are a bit corny, and the production level isn’t always stellar, the writing and history presented really is great. I particularly like the episode on Alchemists which goes a long way to defend the oft hated on middle age scientists, and dispelling the notion that the Church oppressed the sciences.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I did, much more can be seen on Netflix, and on Youtube.