Bill Nye becomes science warrior in Netflix series
Can Bill Nye really save the world? Probably not by preaching to the choir, which doesn't make his half-hour Netflix show "Bill Nye Saves the World" any less noteworthy as a breezy blow struck on behalf of science, despite a few structural miscalculations.
The title alone speaks volumes: Premiering more than 20 years after "Bill Nye the Science Guy" started on PBS, the new series is pitched primarily toward adults, casting the bow-tie-wearing Nye as an advocate and science warrior, trying to beat back the anti-scientific thought and quackery that's prevalent, especially within the political sphere.
Nye turns his attention to a different topic in each installment. They include the need to vaccinate children, the reality of climate change (inevitably) and applying a "Quack-O-Meter" to alternative medicines.
The episodes feature the host engaging in low-key, roundtable discussions with experts, and also taped pieces -- dispatching a correspondent to India, for example, to document the success vaccination has registered there in preventing polio. Nye's explanations are clear, simple and often funny, capitalizing on a sort-of nerd-chic personality that's well suited to the program's micro-budget, including perhaps the world's tiniest studio audience.
The producers, however, apparently felt pressure to up the ante on entertainment value, and rather unfortunately chose to add what amount to little comedy sketches to illustrate their points. Those segments range from celebrity cameos (Zach Braff drops by to rail about the climate) to having different actors portray various diseases, modeling T-shirts with names like "POLIO" and "INFLUENZA."
These vignettes are harmlessly goofy but also wholly unnecessary, feeling like a form of pandering in a series that seeks to arm its audience with greater scientific knowledge.
Like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nye has a lot to offer at this moment in time, when there's such a strong, politically motivated culture of science denial. His eagerness to deliver straight talk on these matters -- from asking whether vaccinations should be mandatory to lambasting the U.S. for failing to lead on climate change -- will surely feel like a tonic to those share his concerns.
While "Bill Nye Saves the World" is a relatively modest enterprise by Netflix's standards, it is, overall, an admirable addition to its lineup. If it's not quite a rescue mission, Nye appears to have taken to heart the concept of trying to provide a small beacon of light rather than just cursing the darkness.
"Bill Nye Saves the World" premieres April 21 on Netflix.