There’s plenty to love about White Rabbit Project, the new science and technology-focused documentary series on Netflix starring MythBusters alums Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara. The show’s focus on narrative investigations of real-world ideas (as opposed to testing half-truths) offers fans something new to chew on while they binge-watch all 10 episodes. Yet as an early scene between Belleci and Byron demonstrates in the first episode, “Super Power Tech,” the trio’s social dynamics haven’t changed at all. In other words, longtime MythBusters viewers still get to watch the latter torture the former.
“I don’t trust you,” admits a somewhat nervous Belleci after sitting down for dinner with Byron. Turns out their “private” meeting at an Italian restaurant is “going to be completely filmed and on the show.” Why? Because Byron and the Backyard Brains gang will use the scene to demonstrate cutting-edge neuroscience behind what comic book geeks would call “mind control.” Ergo the various electrodes attached to the pair’s arms and faces, which allows Byron to “hijack” Belleci’s motor neurons and control certain muscle movements.
What results is a scene straight out of MythBusters‘s heyday, when the build team members often found themselves on the targeting range of the show’s latest contraption. (Especially Tory, whose bloody fall during the 2010 episode “Soda Cup Killer” epitomized the many terrible things that befell him.) “Tory and I are friends off camera, so I torture him even when you’re not seeing it,” says Byron. “I was laughing so hard. So was the camera crew — so much that the cameras were shaking because they couldn’t keep them steady from laughing. It’s my favorite combination of things — hilarity, torturing Tory, and fun. Pretty much the pinnacle of my television career.”
Yet White Rabbit Project isn’t just another excuse for Byron to embarrass her friend and colleague on camera. For as she, Belleci and Imahara revealed in a series of telephone conversations with us, the mind control gag and other segments like it fostered what felt like a giant family reunion. But, you know, with mind control.
“Many of the same producers and crew members we worked with on MythBusters were there for White Rabbit Project,” explains Belleci. “It felt very much like a family again. There wren’t really any of those awkward moments where everyone is trying to get to know everybody else and figure stuff out. We already knew our roles, so it was really easy to jump back in.”
Imahara, who spends most of “Super Power Tech” building a “freeze ray” and dropping puns that would make even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin would wince, couldn’t agree more. “When you work with someone for 10 years then take a short break, it’s like no time has passed at all when you get back together,” he says, adding: “It’s the best possible family reunion you could imagine, minus all the talk about politics and religion. It’s rare in this business to be able to develop a rapport with a group of people, have that come to an end, then be able to work with them again on a totally different project. I’m thankful that we’re able to pull that off.”
“Totally different” is right, as White Rabbit Project is by no means a MythBusters spin-off series. Perhaps the greatest distinction is the format, which eschews the predecessor’s penchant for testing mythical devices. Instead the new series devotes its resources and talent to exploring actual, down-to-earth technologies with one of the oldest narrative frameworks in the television playbook: storytelling. Each of White Rabbit Project‘s 10 thematic episodes organizes itself around a competition between Byron, Belleci and Imahara, who investigate their own related subjects via reenactments, recounts and the occasional build. When the three reunite at the end to compare notes, they determine whose story takes the cake.
“We felt like we wanted to keep it in the same world of weird stories and technology, but with a different approach,” says Belleci. “It dives into these stories from pop culture and history to figure out what’s really going on. What’s the truth behind it all, what’s the technology looking like now, and what’s it going to look like in the future? We felt it best for each of us to take on a different story, which would allow us to cover more territory.”
“The types of stories that we have, they’re grounded in reality,” explains Imahara. “Historical things that actually happened regardless of how improbable they may seem, and that’s part of the fun. We’re testing things that actually happened or existed, and from the audience’s perspective people can question whether or not these things actually happened, look them up on their own, and find out more about them. Even the modern stuff, the technology that we look at — they’re existing technologies, or tech that’s on the cusp of being commercially available. It’s neat to be able to take these things and go a little bit deeper with them. That’s what this show is really about — taking a particular story and following it wherever it goes.”
In addition, Byron believes the new format “is all just a way to foster your curiosity about things,” especially since White Rabbit Project “is more about investigation” and therefore requires more storytelling. Though she is “hoping that as the show evolves and hopefully progresses much further,” she and the team get to do more hands-on work with additional builds and testing. “I personally love doing the hands-on stuff a lot,” she adds.
One example: the final episode “Speed Freaks,” in which Belleci digs into “the fastest electric cars from the past and the present” — including the infamous Baker Electric Torpedo. Walter Baker’s oddly shaped electric car crashed in 1902 during a speed trial held in Staten Island, New York — killing and injuring several bystanders and thereby effectively ending the supposedly speedy electric vehicle’s chances at ever breaking the land speed record. Over a century later, however, Belleci and his White Rabbit Project producers decided to give Baker’s model another go — albeit under safer conditions.
“It blew my mind since this car was going up against steam engines and gas-powered vehicles. That was just fascinating, as was the way it looked. It was the only car that worked aerodynamically — a ‘torpedo car,'” recalls Belleci. “We rebuilt this car with the technology available in 1902, then brought out the modern world record-holding, street-legal electric car and compared the two. You know what? The torpedo car was a monster.”
Belleci notes “it was fun to look back at something from the past, rebuild it and test it, see how it works, then bring in the modern day equivalent” — all of which bears the hallmarks of a MythBusters investigation. Yet a Ken Burns-esque review of Baker’s automotive experimentation, the torpedo’s design and the events leading up to and following the crash adds a detailed layer of narrative to the segment viewers may not be used to, but will surely welcome. Which is precisely what he hopes, as White Rabbit Project has plenty more stories to tell should Netflix deem the series worthy of a second season order.
“The way these episodes turned out, we’re so pumped. They’re crazy. There’s so much going on in these episodes, which means there’s so much for everyone who decides to watch. We hope we find an audience and that they love it so we can keep going. These shows feed off of that curiosity that so many of our fans have — especially people from the tech world, backyard engineers, and so many others who gravitate towards this great, weird stuff. I really hope we continue doing this with their support.”
“On a show like this, where you’re open to a variety of different topics, there’s so much variety that you have a lot of choices,” adds Imahara when asked if he has anything he’d like to try in a second season. “Certainly when I was working on the show, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself but it’s hard to not have ideas. I’ve got a few things I’m hoping I’ll have the opportunity to build for future seasons. It’s all a matter of pitching to the producers, but it’s great that way because our team is so collaborative about those kinds of things.”
Byron, on the other hands, can barely restrain her excitement at the prospect of additional seasons of White Rabbit Project. “Oh heck yeah! I’ve got a whole list of ideas, though maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud because I’m going to get myself in trouble,” she exclaims. “I’m hoping for season two so bad. I want to dive in even deeper, especially since we had so much fun this time.”
White Rabbit Project is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.