Bill Nye Saves the World?: A Review
This is not an article I wanted to write.
This weekend I watched all 13 episodes of the new Netflix series, Bill Nye Saves the World. And there’s only one word to describe my mood: disappointed.
I probably don’t need to tell you about my love for Bill Nye. If you’ve listened to anything I’ve said here on Nerdy Show, you know it runs deep. Bill helped develop my love of science. He showed me that science could be “cool” and I could be “cool” for liking it. Bill Nye the Science Guy is a major reason I became an engineer.
So I was excited for his new show. I really, truly was. But Bill Nye Saves the World is not a reincarnation of the television show that ignited my love of science. At best, it’s an awkward attempt at cashing in on childhood nostalgia. It’s a show that has no idea what it is and who it’s for. Is it meant to teach people more about complex scientific principles? Or is it more of a science-y Daily Show with correspondents mocking creationists and conspiracy theorists?
After 13 episodes, I’m still no closer to an answer.
There’s so much broken about this show, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll narrow it down to four core components: a live studio audience, weird celebrity appearances, unfocused panel discussions, and a lack of substantive science.
The Live Studio Audience
Seemingly innocuous, the live studio audience is hard to pin down as a symptom or the cause of the show’s identity crisis. Bill Nye Saves the World‘s crowd is less like the benign presence of a talk show audience and more like a sitcom laugh track. Having this comedic monkey on the show’s back puts an emphasis on Nye portraying himself as an ignoramus or making the cheapest jokes to garner laughs.
A major focus of the show’s “comedy” is laughing at the “crazy old scientist” as he tries to explain why something’s important. Wait- isn’t he here to “save the world”? Hasn’t the point of Bill’s “Science Guy” shtick always been as a person of some authority? Now that he’s going to “save the world” it should be doubly so, but instead your host is “Bill Nye: The Science Goof.”
Weird Celebrity Appearances
Does any of this make sense to you? Zach Braff randomly stands up and proclaims that he’ll shut up about climate change when the world does something about it. Steve Aoki, the electro house musician, helps Nye with an experiment on homeopathy. Project Runway‘s Tim Gunn puts on a fashion show of families who conceived thanks to in vitro fertilization. Rachel Bloom sings weird songs about the creation of the universe and sexuality.
Unlike all the colorful asides that made Nye’s original show great, all of these moments were hollow and in large part detracted from any kind of point they were making. The only apparent function of these celebrity bit parts was to pad the show’s notoriety. Fair enough, but these tactless appearances kicked the show right in its credibility. Only a handful of these moments shine; like when Alton Brown appeared in a sequence equating science to cooking. The pairing seemed natural, and the two played extremely well off one another.
Unfocused Panel Discussions
In each episode, Nye collects a panel of experts to discuss the topic de jour. In some cases, the panel consists of opposing views. This has the potential to create an incredibly interesting conversation, but instead, the discussion diverges so much that the editors have to use jump cuts to create a cohesive story. To make matters worse, any panelist whose opinion differs from those of the scientists is immediately made the fool. One panelist was attempting to argue in favor of alternative medicine, yet could hardly get a word in edgewise. (Though, who knows what really transpired between those jump cuts.)
Each and every one of these segments was pointless. They either played too short to accomplish anything or were damning of Nye and the show’s producers. I mean, if the whole point of bringing on dissenting views is to shut them down and shit all over them, well, that’s not what science is about and you can’t change the world by preaching to the choir.
A Lack of Substantive Science
Here’s the real issue with the series: it lacks any substantive science. The greatest part of Bill Nye the Science Guy was that you learned something in every episode. Those old episodes still hold up and even as an adult can be a fun refresher course on the science we take for granted. None of Bill Nye Saves the World‘s 13 episodes offered me any new or enriched perspectives.
Every discussion was at an extremely high level. The earth is warming because of the greenhouse effect. IVF helps couples conceive who aren’t able to normally. Vaccines help us eradicate devastating diseases. For a show designed for adults, I’d expect there to be a deeper exploration into these topics — at least some education in the intricacies.
I’ll admit that I’m probably a little more science-literate than most, but not learning a single thing from a Bill Nye show? That’s the most heartbreaking thing of all.
C’mon, Jess. Aren’t There ANY Redeeming Moments?
During the opening segments, when Nye is in teacher mode, summarizing the episode’s topic, he shines. (Though he really doesn’t hit a stride here until episode 4.) If the show gets renewed for a second season, I would love if they went back to basics and focused on what made the original series work. Bill, in his lab, teaching us science. He doesn’t need to make absurd, fist-bumping efforts to be cool or relatable to millennials – he just needs to be The Science Guy.
Until then, should you be looking for a Bill Nye fix, there’s always the original show. Netflix has 31 episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy ready and waiting to bring you laughs and learning.