SERIES "How the States Got Their Shapes"

WHEN | WHEREPremieres Tuesday night at 10 p.m. on History

REASON TO WATCH Actual history on History! Smart, scenic, enlightening, funny -- isn't that enough?

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Former "Daily Show" mainstay (and NPR contributing humorist) Brian Unger makes his way around the country, exploring why, for instance, Chicago didn't stay put in Wisconsin, Nevada comes to a point at the bottom of its map, and Boston generates such bad driving.

Tomorrow night's series premiere hour sets the template: Unger asks random people on the street to identify map shapes or draw the states themselves. (Needed: remedial geography.) He chats with folks affected by water-related map quirks and delves into border oddities. He downs drinks in a bar straddling Tennessee (where alcohol is served) and Georgia (bathrooms are in a dry county down the hall). He explains why Maine spring water tastes so good that blind taste tests can spot it. (Sorry, New York City faucet fans.) He traces 18th-century surveyors' mistakes triggering 21st-century interstate water squabbles. And he tests solutions to those dilemmas by -- hitting golf shots?

"States/Shapes" even goes interactive, asking us to text answers to trivia questions posed before ad breaks, then posting afterward which states account for the most correct answers. (Find more fun and games on the cunningly informative website at history.com/shows.)

MY SAY Unger is the perfect host for a seemingly fanciful but actually darn fruitful series like this. The guy's a genuinely curious and intelligent interviewer. (His resume includes stints producing on CBS newsmagazines.) He's also naturally funny, yet not smug, and seems happiest to elicit the laughs from interviewees, who respond to his relaxed approach by becoming loose cannons of their own. (Except that lady whose house is in both Tennessee and Georgia. What's her problem? Afraid she'll have to pay property taxes in both states?)

In the first two episodes alone, Unger manages to clearly and comedically explicate water rights, glaciers, rain drainage, Civil War fallout, Las Vegas, the jumping Asian carp invasion, time zones, our highway system, Boston drivers, the lost state of Forgottonia -- and more.

BOTTOM LINE Too bad school wasn't this much fun.

GRADE A

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