Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 1 REVIEW
Bill Nye Saves the World isn't quite as good as we had hoped, but hey, it's still watchable. In small doses.
Netflix seems hell-bent on delivering what my nineties teenage self always asked for: a television adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, a reboot of MST3K, and now a reinvention of Bill Nye the Science Guy. It’s all coming to fruition within the span of a single year, and I’m only focusing on Netflix – inner teenage me was thrilled at Cartoon Network bringing back one final season for Samurai Jack, a show for which I remember watching the pilot’s initial airing. It’s not even surprising anymore, and this trend of commodifying nostalgia is one that has often fatigued me.
I’m mentioning the nineties because, as with most adults my age, reboots and adaptations and reinventions are met with a variety of expectation. It’s a part of the re-experience. It’s Re-Entertainment. A series of repeats with slight tweaks here or there—or, as was the case with Bill Nye’s new Netflix program, it’s a few steps forward and a few larger steps, not backward but more sideways, off onto an entirely different path.
Bill Nye Saves the World is a program aimed at adults. Sort of. Its main focus is to change your mind or to make an impact. Maybe. In theory, the show probably sounded great. But in practice, the show fails to discover its identity until about the sixth episode, “Do Some Shots, Save the World.” Episode six, along with a couple of others, was about as close to perfection as the show could have achieved for its first season, and this review is by no means claiming the show is dead on arrival. It’s simply off to a rickety start.
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Its first episode felt uncomfortable to watch. It reminded me of so many Comedy Central shows that never made it past their first season, feeling half-developed and improvised, as if they built the set and scheduled the guests but only rehearsed the night before filming. Even the title sequence appeared later than it felt it should have, and I blame whoever’s in charge of the final say on the show’s edits. This show’s editing is painfully rocky, and an experienced entertainer such as Bill Nye deserves better.
Episode four is the one I didn’t sit well with, mostly for two reasons: Bill failed to really address the issues that people have a problem with when it comes to Monsanto -not to mention, his panel even featured a Monsanto representative- but the main issue I had with this episode is that it felt restricted by the show’s biggest shortcoming: time. Each episode is only a half hour long. Unless you’re John Oliver with his Last Week Tonight writing staff, there is no satisfying way you can delve into an issue such as GMOs, especially if your show’s premise is to “save the world”. Too much time is spent watching Bill run around toying with gimmicky demonstrations meant to simulate a “science experiment”, or these odd musical numbers that seem geared toward children—but isn’t this show for adults? Sort of? The tone isn’t consistent enough to really tell us who this show is meant for, and it feels as though he’s aiming to appease every audience possible. At times he’s speaking to the people who disagree with him, but he’s speaking in a condescending manner that none of them, if they were watching, would want to hear.
Bill also frequently mentions being on television again, and he acts to the camera and the audience in a way that he might if the show was on a cable network. He seems a tad out of touch with the format, not quite settled in or comfortable beyond a few brief moments. Some segments like “Bill Needs a Minute” will appear and then fail to reappear in later episodes, again contributing to this scattershot approach where every episode is a new experiment for a different kind of show. As a result, Bill Nye Saves the World becomes something akin to Frankenstein’s monster. I assume the show is intended for adults because of the panel discussions, but the song and dance numbers seem geared more toward kids.
What I find almost more entertaining than the show are the bloggers reviewing it and the comments beneath various YouTube clips from the show. One segment, in particular, from episode nine, “The Sexual Spectrum”, features a song and dance number that has upset tens of thousands of people. My own reaction? It’s an awkward segment for many of the same reasons that most of the show is awkward -the tone is all over the place, the intended audience is vague, and the writing isn’t sharpened enough- so I wasn’t surprised by this segment, but at least twenty-thousand YouTubers seem to be upset for different reasons. They’re offended. What’s offensive about this segment? Absolutely nothing, unless you’re sexually insecure or repressed – that’s my best guess. What “My Sex Junk” achieves out of this controversy is exactly what Bill Nye asked for, whether it’s arrived in the way he expected or not. It’s stirring up conversation.
Bloggers and commenters are chastising Bill Nye for carrying only a Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering, but they’re ignoring his five honorary doctorate degrees and other hallmarks of his humble beginnings. Bill left his job at the Boeing Corporation and focused on his entertainment career in 1986, working on a Seattle sketch show for a few years before appearing on a television adaptation of Back to the Future. This was all preliminary to developing and pitching his own television show produced somewhere in the vein of Mr. Wizard and Pee-wee’s Playhouse. This is where Present Day Bill Nye sort of betrays his origins.
In 1987, Bill Nye met with Carl Sagan to discuss the idea of what would eventually be developed into Bill Nye the Science Guy. Sagan insisted that the program should “focus on pure science”, as opposed to technology, since children were the program’s intended audience.
Bill Nye Saves the World is not aimed solely at children, and the show’s focus is more political than his PBS kids program from the nineties. But the show sort of already warned us of this by not containing “science” in the title. The show features only the personality of a man who has sought to accomplish one thing: to entertain and to inform in a way that may contribute to “saving the world” or at least making a modicum of a difference. All of its inconsistencies and awkwardness aside, this is only season one, and it’s unquestionably inspiring people to engage with it. While I wouldn’t recommend the show as a whole to someone, I would highly recommend these three episodes which should have kicked off the season:
Episode six: “Do Some Shots, Save the World”
Episode eight: “This Diet Is Bananas”
Episode: “Earth’s People Problem”
Lastly, an episode that disappointed me greatly was the fifth, “The Original Martian Invasion”. Panspermia is an exciting theory to discuss and, as was the case with a majority of these thirteen episodes, I wanted more substance. The show as a whole skims the surface of topics and doesn’t tread into the deep end of the pool very often, if even at all. All this being said, it’s available for streaming on Netflix and, if you’re a fan of Bill Nye, don’t come in with any expectations. Treat is as a four-hundred minute long television experiment.