In the current climate — both literal and political — defenders of science education and policy like Bill Nye, née The Science Guy, are more important than ever, dropping knowledge on children and Tucker Carlson alike. So the timing of his new Netflix series couldn’t be better.
Bill Nye Saves the World most closely resembles a late-night talk show. There are funny-ish demonstrations from the host, panel discussions with experts within a single topic, and field segments that work as more in-depth vignettes on topics like polio vaccination in India. So while Nye has dropped the “Science Guy” moniker, the Netflix series is not light on interesting fact. And all of the information shared in targeted, focusing on issues that are real threats to the future of our world like greenhouse gas emissions. Nye is very much still the Science Guy, but this time, there’s a welcome activist bent to this lessons.
And that’s all well and good, but Bill Nye Saves the World is first and foremost an entertainment, and on that level, it’s less successful. The show’s major issues stem directly out of the format, which leans heavily on Nye to be both an educator and comedian. And he was never Billy Nye the Funny Guy. Not just anyone armed with a team of comedy writers can jump into a hosting gig with the expectation of striking the same info-laughs ratio as someone like Samantha Bee.
The other curious choice is tone. Though the series is expressly made for adults, the tone is confused thanks to an overly laugh-ready audience and Nye’s listen up, kids way of explaining concepts.
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What’s most frustrating about the show is that these are kinks that could have been worked out. As much as the format doesn’t suit Nye, Netflix doesn’t suit the format. This setup requires trial and error, time to establish a show’s strengths and weaknesses. We’re seeing it play in out right now as Stephen Colbert’s Late Show makes up ground that his rocky start ceded to Jimmy Fallon. The all-at-once release model locks in a comedic style and rhythm before a single second has air.
It’s not that Nye was never meant to host a show like Bill Nye Saves the World; he just needs a bit more experimentation.