Six episodes were provided for review.
“I’m Bill Nye, and I’m here to save the world.” With those audacious words, Nye opens each episode of his new Netflix series, delving into a broad range of hotly debated topics that currently sit at a critical crossroads in the global conversation. The focus isn’t on the the straightforward science that children grew up with during Bill Nye the Science Guy back in the 1990s, but it’s clearly intended for the now-adult audience who revered Nye’s rare ability to make science palatable and even fun for all ages.
Structured as a kind of talk/variety show, each episode of Bill Nye Saves the World centers on a particular issue (topics include alternative medicine, climate change and GMOs) and sees Nye break down the science behind it all as well as the far-reaching impact that may result. Along the way, the show works in a number of entertaining segments, ranging from comedic skits to roundtable discussions with scientists, authors, journalists and other experts. A team of correspondents – including model Karlie Kloss, YouTube star Derek Muller and comedian Nazeem Hussain – also plays an ongoing role, as they present taped segments that report back relevant findings on the topic at hand.
The greatest asset in Bill Nye Saves the World, not surprisingly, is the man himself. Still sporting his trademark lab coat decades after first winning the hearts of a generation, Nye educates his audience with such a fervor for knowledge that his passion easily becomes infectious. He presents information with such a lightly comedic touch – the “Bill Needs a Minute” segments are among the highlights here – and brings such a genial spirit to it all that any topic he covers invariably attracts attention. This Netflix version of his “edutainment” routine nicely dovetails with his personable attitude. Since each episode is filmed in front of a live studio audience, Nye has the freedom to play to the crowd and riff spontaneously during many of this segments.
Yet whenever Nye is off-camera, Bill Nye Saves the World slips a bit into generic territory, and the entertainment value is instantly deflated. Sure, the taped correspondent segments are cute, and the roundtables are interesting to watch, but neither ever really amounts to much more than establishing a show spinning its wheels. Rather than presenting a balanced view of different opinions, there’s a clear agenda at work on the show, and it’s rarely interested in pursuing any argument that threatens to undermine the message Nye is trying to convey. If this was a program aimed at children (like Nye’s 1990s show), then perhaps it’s one-sided approach would make more sense. After all, there would be little point in presenting complex issues as such to children barely familiar with the concepts.
Instead, Bill Nye Saves the World offers a simple perspective on some of the most complex issues facing the world today. The show and its host don’t feign interest in stirring up the debate but only to shut it down with science. The ill-conceived premise at work here is that Nye’s fanbase likely doesn’t need much convincing of the validity of the science behind climate change, for example, and the skeptics probably won’t be convinced by the matter-of-fact way Nye tackles each topic. So it’s unclear who exactly Bill Nye Saves the World is intended for, as it winds up either preaching to the converted or breezing past the other side of the argument.
In the end, the show turns out to be another bit of nostalgia programming on the part of Netflix. It doesn’t offer a deep enough dive in any of the topics it tackles, at least not in the six episodes provided for review, to sway public perception in any discernible way. Modern science aficionados looking for something as mind-expanding as Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos will be disappointed though, since Nye remains firmly earthbound for most of the show’s run. In fact, Nye’s best intentions are likely to be dismissed by the very people from whom he’s trying to incite action.
Bill Nye Saves the World still has a lot to offer longtime fans around the world – the show is clearly designed to appeal to a global audience – and, with any luck, may help Nye’s science-positive attitude reach its broadest audience to date. Yet, no matter how many surprise guest stars and celebrity appearances are sprinkled into Bill Nye Saves the World, the format and tone of the show are fundamentally flawed and lacking enough Nye to satisfy people tuning in just to revisit their youth.
Despite an entertaining return by the famous scientist, Bill Nye Saves the World only offers a surface-level investigation into some of the biggest issues our world faces today.