Bill Nye Saves The World Disappointed My Inner Child
Like so many, I have fond memories of my beloved Bill Nye, the Science Guy, educating my young mind, teaching me to be more conscious, encouraging me to try and understand the world around me, and inspiring me to wonder. I was excited to hear the news that Netflix was bringing him back to us, as adults, in a new way. I promptly binge-watched it, only to be disappointed. Bill Nye, I love you. BUT WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!
Trying Too Hard
The show is tailor made for millennials or, rather, someone’s idea of what millennials like. The fist bumps. So, so many fist bumps. A successful drinking game could be made for every time Nye says, “Blow it up!” The age-demographic targeting is so specific that authenticity is often lost. The quirky, passionate Bill Nye seems like he is under constant pressure to be more cool. “Dude, that’s like so out there,” he says, as my face twists into the beginning stages of cringe. In trying hard to make us like the show, the opposite effect is almost achieved. The writing makes painful attempts at cultural relevancy from vocabulary choice to delivery to celebrity appearances, forgetting that science is and will always be relevant. It would be easier to just stick to the science and put aside the desperation. I mean, Nye literally says, “I used to be a kids show host. Not anymore, bitches.” and changes “GMO” to “OMG”. Please, no.
Oh, the cheesy, cheesy jokes. Some of them are actually painful to hear. Like this one:
“You don’t have a mouth.”
“That is racist.” — audience erupts into laughter —
The joke is so bad it doesn’t even sound like a joke… so why is everyone laughing? Either the jokes are a total miss or they are cloyingly obvious like when Bill Nye, in reference to his ankles says, “I’m very attached to them.” — one of many knee-slappers. Yes, Bill Nye has always been a lexicon of “dad jokes” and some level of cheese was to be expected. But most of these attempts at humor are just awkwardly unfunny. Maybe the nostalgia has faded enough to see clearly or maybe the humor worked best when we were children, with an underdeveloped sense ourselves. Or maybe Nye’s passion carried us through the crickets on the wings of interest, something hard to conjure often in this new show. (Side note: I’m actually surprised that a “Bill Bye” pun wasn’t used.)
It’s a mess. Episode 1: Earth is a Hot Mess actually is a hot mess. The “live show” segments are riddled with awkward interactions. Why did Zach Braff yell at us — the people watching the show? The first few episodes clunk along and only midway through the season is there some semblance of order. There are numerous painfully unfunny skits.
Perhaps the biggest failure is Nye’s panel of experts, one guest expert he openly scoffs at. When we gather people together to talk, we usually expect some kind of discussion. Yet this segment is rushed through with no time for discourse whatsoever. If the guest says something that doesn’t fit into the show’s agenda, it is either ignored, plowed over, or mocked. Anyone who does not share Nye’s opinion is not given space to speak. The most blatant example is in the alternative medicine episode where Nye openly mocks one of the panelists as he sarcastically says, “Dude, I’m like picking up what you’re putting down and I’m not seeing it” to close the discussion.
In another discussion panel, a supporter of astrology is stuck defending himself and it’s three against one. For the record, I have no problem with pointing out the fallacies of alternative medicine, crystals, or astrology but why have someone on the show if the premise of that episode is to blatantly disagree with what they stand for? Why call them “experts” and share their qualifications then go on to insult their credibility? In the end, it makes the show seem petty when it could have created a real space for debate. Or, heck, if you don’t want to have a debate, at least give a little room for differing opinions to exist. The way to win people over to truth is not by yelling it at them, speaking over them, or mocking them.
Speaking of mocking, I jotted down this note: mocking undertones. I am not talking about Nye’s tone towards the panel this time. I am talking about Nye’s tone towards the audience — us. I often felt like he was talking to me like I was a child. That worked when — well — when I was a child. But Nye’s audience has grown up. I would have liked to be spoken to more like an adult. You don’t have to pander to us like you are hawking Lucky Charms, hoping we will beg our parents to buy some for us at the grocery store. We buy our own cereal now, ok? Present the facts. Show us the science. Trust us a little bit more.
One last thing: the laughing. Why? The audience goes absolutely giddy over the littlest thing. Did you fill the set with laughing gas? They laughed at inappropriate times. I had to skip back and watch again to see if I missed a joke. I didn’t. There was no joke. They must’ve been hitting that alternative medicine hard.
The Good News
Whew, I feel better. Here’s the good news: It’s not all bad. There are actually some genuinely good bits to this show. Bill Nye isn’t exactly saving the world but he does a great job on some of the episodes. He even managed to wrangle a chuckle or two out of me. A highlight was the episode about diets — the interviews about fad diets was entertaining, myths were debunked, and basic biology was explained. I felt that this episode was pretty well put together. Another highlight episode for me was the one on gaming. I felt that Nye handled the possibility of addiction pretty fairly, mentioned eSports, and explored different kinds of technology in a way that worked well within his time frame and constraints. And, as usual, Nye excelled at talking space and asteroids — really, who doesn’t love a good episode on space?
For a show that makes a rather bold claim, Bill Nye is not saving the world. It tries painfully hard to connect with the millennial audience, pandering with its awkward attempts to be “cool.” Season one was a rocky start, at best but, hey, don’t take my word for it — go check it out for yourself if you aren’t satisfied.