Stories from the VaultsIf you’re even remotely interested in museums, you’ve heard of the Smithsonian Institution. But no matter how much you know about history, science or archaeology and no matter how many times you may have visited the Smithsonian Institution itself, you’ve most likely only scratched the surface of what the Smithsonian has to offer. With more than 342,000 square feet of storage space and more than 31 million items (and this is just in one of their facilities!) there’s plenty of fodder for an interesting investigative series. And Smithsonian Networks (in partnership with Infinity Entertainment Group) has created just that with Stories From the Vaults a veritable variety show of artifacts and information.

Hosted by energetic television actor Tom Cavanagh, Stories From the Vaults has the right mixture of humor, investigative interviews and expansive shots of museum treasures to grab an audience’s attention and keep it. Each of the seven episodes included here is distinctly different from the one before it, and each encapsulates just enough footage to be informative without growing dull. Often an episode will take a rather generic topic and make it specific in ways that viewers might not anticipate. In the “Superlatives” episode, we explore the most “misunderstood” aspect of the Smithsonian (taxidermy, for those wondering), the “best” piece in the collection (a cello widely believed to be the most “perfect” instrument ever created) and the “tiniest” piece as well. While these three topics (misunderstood, best and tiniest) might not be the first things that spring to mind when you think “Superlatives,” they make for interesting explorations and help keep viewers wondering what will happen next.

Similarly, the “Famous Donors” episode features big game skins from Teddy Roosevelt, invertebrates from John Steinbeck and a massive amount of Phyllis Diller collectibles – donated by the comedienne herself. It’s this seeming randomness that helps propel each episode along, guided by the goofy, but steady, wit of Tom Cavanagh. Each episode is 30 minutes long and features a bevy of exhibits (some from the museum floor, some from hidden storage chambers). With such an inspired arrangement, it’s no wonder that Stories From the Vaults recently won a Gold World Medal from the New York Festival as well as a Parent’s Choice Award for Excellence. This is the kind of show that is truly made for all ages. 

Zach’s Rating: A-
Perfect For: Gaining random knowledge in an entertaining way
Stay Away if: You like your info-docs to focus on one topic at a time

To purchase Stories From the Vaults: Season One, visit Amazon

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