A couple of years ago, I published a list of podcasts that were better than an MBA. Obviously, there are things that you learn in a MBA program, like accounting and finance, that can't come from a podcast or any other entertainment medium.
That being said, much of what's taught in MBA programs about entrepreneurism, leadership, and business relationships is probably easier to grasp through entertainment than in the classroom.
With this in mind, here are nine television shows, any of which you could binge watch in a weekend, that teach essential business lore:
1. Shark Tank (Hulu)
I'll start with the obvious. While the format and premise of Shark Tank is ridiculous (elevator pitches? Seriously?), it's both instructive and entertaining to watch would-be entrepreneurs run the gauntlet to get their pet projects funded. No, "reality TV" is not the real world, but emotionally and intellectually, Shark Tank is true to life.
2. The Office (Netflix)
While Shark Tank may not be very realistic, The Office (in either the U.K. or U.S. version) is maybe a bit too real. While the characters are broadly drawn, they're archetypes of the real people you'll run into--again and again and again--throughout your career. The problems they encounter, the alliances they build, their basic dysfunctionality: This is the business world. You can laugh or you can weep, but you'll definitely learn.
3. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Placed in a cartoon world where anthropomorphic animals interact with seemingly normal humans, BoJack Horseman is a tutorial on how the entertainment industry actually functions. If you've ever considered moving to Los Angeles or otherwise becoming involved in the television, movie, or even the publishing industry, BoJack Horseman is probably better than an MBA. It's like getting a year or two of actual experience.
4. Mad Men (Netflix)
I include Mad Men with the proviso that while it's a reasonably accurate depiction of the advertising and marketing business in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the specific business tactics shown (like smarmy relationship selling) are woefully out-of-date. Still, elements in the show (e.g., the jagged relationship between creative and marketing) are eternal. It's impossible to come away from any episode of Mad Men without learning something useful.
5. Breaking Bad (Netflix)
Say what you will about Walter White, he's a classic entrepreneur. Having failed to stick with a startup he founded, he uses his technical skills to build a new business from scratch, finding investors and overcoming obstacles as necessary. Yes, it's a criminal enterprise, but--let's be honest here--Walter's stick-at-nothing amorality is emblematic of how the world of high tech operates. The smartphone is the meth of the masses, after all.
6. Firefly (Hulu)
On the surface, Joss Whedon's one-season-plus-a-feature-film wonder is just a cross between a space opera and a western. On a deeper level, though, it's about leadership and loyalty and how a group of people with disparate skill sets work together to solve problems against enormous odds. We should all be so lucky to belong to this kind of team. As an aside, Firefly is unique in popular sci-fi in that it never depends upon the overused tropes of A.I. or aliens.
7. Goliath (Amazon Prime)
While the second season was a cliché (IMHO), the first season of Goliath is a must-view for anyone trying to understand how huge corporations dominate both our government and legal system. It also shows how tentative and difficult it is for anybody to take these behemoths to task. Sure, some of the characters and situations are barely believable, but the basics are on target and, frankly, a bit scary.
8. Sex and the City (Hulu)
While this show has recently been (rightly) criticized for being monochromatic, that's true (unfortunately) for almost all television. (For that matter, it's true of most MBA programs, too.) Even so, while the focus of Sex and the City is the relationships between four women and their various boyfriends or husbands, those relationships are played out in the context of the business world and frequently deal with problems that women seem to face there.
9. Yes, Minister (Amazon Prime)
This BBC comedy from the early '80s (along with its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister) is a master course in understanding how bureaucracies function, how to manipulate the press, how to manage your manager, and how to play internal politics. It's also witty in a way that only Brit-coms can manage. Plus, you learn how the U.K. government works, thereby making weird stuff like Brexit a lot more understandable. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that of all the binge watches above, Yes, Minister is probably the most universally useful.