Like many, when I heard Bill Nye was going to have a new show on Netflix, Bill Nye Saves the World, I was excited for the possible resurgence of what was. No matter what your interest or level of comprehension of Science was, Bill Nye made science fun and engaging. Being in my later years there was another reason I was excited for this; Science seems to be under a constant state of attack right now. From a historical perspective, science has always been a target of those who do not understand and those who do not want the change it brings. In my childhood it seemed there was more of an acceptance for scientific study and theories with programs such as Bill Nye the Science Guy, Magic School Bus, Modern Marvels, School House Rock and Reading Rainbow. So with this news I was excited to bring back what seemed like the golden years for science and learning. 30 seconds into episode 1, that hope, that thought, was crushed.
The first season of Bill Nye Saves the World is 13 episodes roughly 30 minutes each. Every episode follows the same format; A tiny experiment related to the topic of the day, a video with a correspondent investigating the topic of the day, a panel that discusses the topic, and a demonstration from a guest related to the topic. Bill starts episode one stating that this is show is not like Bill Nye the Science Guy (damn). The purpose of this show is for adults to talk and learn about the topics affecting us today, and that this show will discuss controversial topics. That is not a bad thing if done right because as I said, science is being stonewalled and we need these shows to talk about those topics in an open, fun and enlightening way. Talking about Bill, he constantly panders to his live audience, why there is one I don’t know. Like most show hosts who are trying to draw a younger crowd they poke fun at their own age with quips like “On electric internet machine” and “the selfie camera” while the live studio audience constantly lends its uncomfortable laughter. They are also there for a few forced oohs and ahhhs, which makes it all the worse. Throughout the episodes Bill seems scattered and not fully enjoying what he is doing. For the past year he has been an attack dog when defending science. When he is on stage by himself talking about a very trivial understanding of a topic, he often doesn’t have that same fire. Even his little experiments seem rushed to vaguely prove a point. It is clear that Bill has an agenda and is using this show to push it, however he is not demonstrating how and why the science supports the agenda. An example of this is in the episode “Tune Your Quack-o-Meter” where Bill stumbles through attacking alternative remedies and several times contradicts himself. There are some moments where Bill does a good job explaining how science has evolved, but those episodes are often ruined by the other segments. In “The Sexual Spectrum”, Bill does a great job starting off talking about a very controversial topic, explaining with visual cues to help people understand how our understanding of gender and sex has changed. This is to only be overshadowed by this gem.
Like in Bill Nye the Science Guy, Bill comes with a group of “little helpers”, although this group is all grown up.
Every episode, one, of the correspondents is given a 5-10 minute segment where they research and discuss the episodes topic that is shared on Bill’s, “Wall of Wonder.”I call it this because every time it comes down Bill tries to get the audience to go ‘Ahhhh’ like we have never seen a projection onto a wall before. This segment is good! It feels like we are learning something together and makes connecting with the correspondents and the topic easier. The one exception was Derek Muller.
He wasn’t terrible and probably covered the toughest topics; GMOs, Gender and AI (sidetrack), but he wasn’t as easy to connect with as the other. Bill also hijacked the correspondents segments with more uncomfortable jokes and quips, again trying to connect with a younger audience, which is a shame because these segments were the shiny moment for the show. The only downside of this segment is that it was too short to be meaningful. You are given a very small taste at what could be something very thought provoking and meaningful only to be interrupted by Bill’s battle area.
The Discussion panel, or what could just be called Bill’s Battle Area, was where Bill clearly felt at home. But why wouldn’t he? As previously stated, he has been the science attack dog for the past few years and has participated in these types of discussions in the past. Bill’s panels broke down the same way every time; An expert in the field, a friend of Bill, and someone who was either Blogger or researcher who didn’t agree with Bill. Bill would ask the person who disagreed for their reasoning, then Bill and the other two would mock or tell them why they are wrong. It felt like Bill never gave, or intended to give, any fair time to someone with a differing viewpoint. He was using his show to turn the tables for all those times where he ambushed on news shows and now he is putting skeptics on the defensive. This disheartening to see because Bill, who use to be against GMOs, changed his opinion and now supports them. If you are able to hear through the mocking, “Tune Your Quack-0-Meter” has a good discussion where Donald Schultz, Host of “Wild Recon” is defending alternative medicine. In summary, Donald states that all medicine was once alternative and through trial and errors it became standard practice. Earlier in the episode correspondent Joann was investigating how sound was being used for medicine, (watching a guy yell at someone’s stomach was amusing) but Donald talks about how we currently use a form of sound to dissolve kidney stones. Donald is immediately attack by Bill and the other panel members. Which is funny because in the closing statements made by Bill, he talks about how all medicine was once alternative medicine and through scientific method it became mainstream.
The episode ends with a special guest and it is here where the show takes its final plunge. If it ended with the discussion panel I would say it’s an ok show and worth a watch. However the special guest and music numbers are where it goes off the rails and is unnecessary. It’s here where you get that gem I spoke of earlier. You get a weird rap by Rachel Bloom who raps about how life started on earth using incorrect facts because that’s what kids want.
All this segment does is discredit Bill Nye’s initial goal, “to talk about important and controversial topics from a scientific point of view.” and it provides a negative view for those who are trying to understand the impact of science on everyday life. A quick search and see all the blogs and “right wing” media outlets using these raps as more fuel for the fire of a “liberal” agenda being pushed.
We are living in a day and age where people are denying climate change, refusing vaccinations, and stalling technological advances to support outdated energy sources. This is being done by labeling science as “Liberal” and forcing people to pick political sides over knowledge and facts. The hope of Billy Nye Saves The World was to show that science is political but only have years of theorizing and testing do these conclusions come to be. Unfortunately, Bill Nye Saves the World misses its mission statement “To talk about important and controversial topics from a scientific point of view”. Instead of teaching and explaining, this show comes off as pushing an agenda because it’s right and you’re wrong. If Bill manages to get another season, I hope they focus on what worked. The correspondents and experiments. Drop Bill’s Battle Arena, and for the love of god, no more raps!
Let us know your thoughts below. I would be happy to discuss.
I give this 4 out of 10 Fractured Worlds.