The heartthrob swaggers across the globe in full Daddy mode in Netflix’s latest bit of disposable travel-doc fluff.
During this Summer of COVID-19, we’re all lamenting the vacations and travel plans we’ve canceled to mitigate the spread of the virus. Thankfully we have a wealth of travel series to let us view the world vicariously through the lavish lives of handsome hosts, as we bake bread and live our best couch potato lives from the comfort of our homes.
Zac Efron’s new Netflix series Down to Earth with Zac Efron is not one of those shows — instead, it’s as if the characters from SNL’s sketch “The Californians” took the 405 to LAX and went on a backpacking trip across the world that no one asked for.
The premise of the show is Efron (in Full Daddy Mode) journeying the world to explore healthy and sustainable ways to live by traveling the world. It’s a travel show with an eco spin on it. Those tuning in thinking they’ll see Troy from High School Musical will be in for an awakening: Efron wastes no time shedding his teen heartthrob image (and many t-shirts) along the way. He’s bearded, rugged, and chiseled — he’s an Adult now, and he’s on a grown-up mission to save us and the planet. So watch out David Attenborough, there’s a new natural historian in town! He’s young, can skateboard, and is ready to take a smoke bath shirtless!
Joining Efron on this mission is his friend Darin Olien, a guru on healthy living and superfoods who literally wrote a book on wellness. These buds connected years ago and decided to take a study abroad trip paid for by Netflix. The pair come across as friendly, as indicated by calling each other “bro” and “dude” multiple times per episode. It’s an odd-couple dynamic, the middle-aged wellness guru Olien dropping some dope science knowledge on young actor Efron. At one moment Olien mentions apples originated from places like Kazakhstan and Efron replies “Kazakhstan? Isn’t that where Borat’s from?”
Their sustainability exploration first takes them to Iceland, where they get up to all kinds of travel-show hijinx. They bake bread and eggs in a boiling water pit! They make fancy chocolate in a factory! They have a “Viking spa” at a Hilton hotel! They also visit a “sick” geothermal plant that blows their minds! Sick bro!
In episode two, they set-up their trip to France by visiting a “water sommelier” in Los Angeles, sampling unfiltered, untreated water from various places in the world. Anna Kendrick joins them at this tasting and worries that she’s being pranked. No Anna, you’re not being pranked. You, like the viewers, have been lured into a thirst trap that will leave you parched.
You, like the viewers, have been lured into a thirst trap that will leave you parched.
The show’s not entirely two Cali guys palling around the world, visiting “sick” sites, though. There are some facts scattered throughout the show, mostly in the scripted voice-over narration as opposed to the banter between our duo. I learned that Iceland generates 100% of its electricity from renewable energy. I also learned that New York City has more bees than people! Perhaps the most educational moment we learn from Efron is his secret to crying on command (Hint: he makes a weird face and thinks of something sad).
If you choose to sit down and watch an episode, I recommend the one where they visit Puerto Rico, an island still in recovery from Hurricane Maria. Our duo lends a hand and helps build houses to replace houses that were destroyed. They visit a solar-powered bed and breakfast in San Juan that provided shelter and resources to many residents who were displaced from the storm. The city has been forced to rebuild after the disaster, and they’ve chosen to try to rebuild as sustainably as possible. Efron ends this episode with voice-over narration, saying that “Striving for sustainability is easier said than done; I know that I have a long way to go.” And with a pat on their backs, our duo and crew are off to their next destination.
This is where the show’s veneer of earnestness falls flat. Efron and Olien are free to use their platforms to shine a light on health and environmental sustainability, but it means nothing if they don’t acknowledge the unsustainability of their own show. They hop on planes, trains, and automobiles throughout their journey, but never address the show’s carbon footprint, or any measures they took to offset the pollution caused by their travels, outside of one moment where Olien hops on a bike in London. At best, it shows that sustainable living is reserved for the rich and privileged. Want clean water? Hop on a jet to Paris! Want the secret to living a long and healthy life? You gotta hit up some centenarians in Italy!
The show intro states they’re traveling and “searching for healthy, sustainable living solutions for the planet and all who live on it.” They find plenty of interesting perspectives, from eco-villages in Costa Rica to geothermal energy in Iceland. They fail at breaking down these perspectives for all of us who don’t get to gallivant around the world on Netflix’s dime. Not every person has access to a “water sommelier,” or the resources to plant outdoor gardens to help bee populations. I can’t afford a trip to Lima to eat regional superfoods like “yacon.” Efron and Olien contemplate their new-found knowledge, but then the next moment they’re yukking it up and performing an idiotic “science” experiment by freezing a go-pro in liquid Nitrogen.
Maybe I’m too harsh on the show. After all, the biggest lesson Down to Earth with Zac Efron teaches us is that saving the Earth shouldn’t be left to an actor and wellness guru. It should be left to the experts who had to deal with Efron and Olien pranking it up in their facilities.
Down to Earth with Zac Efron might not provide us with the tips we need to live sustainably on a day to day basis and save the planet. But all is not lost — at least Efron’s abs can distract us from our impending doom.