It took just over 13 minutes for Zac Efron’s new travel series, Down to Earth, to win me over completely. I was teetering in that direction before that, to be fair. The first episode takes place in Iceland and is all about sustainable energy and how the country has weaned itself off fossil fuels. It opens with a segment where Zac and his co-host, wellness guru Darin Olien, meet with an awesome Icelandic dude who a) showed them how to bake rye bread by burying it underground in the piping hot soil that is heated by a nearby volcano, and b) explained that he watched the same volcano’s most recent eruption from his hot tub. This is an excellent way to start any episode of television, for any show. Kick off the next season of Succession with Cousin Greg and a bearded Icelandic dude soaking in a hot tub while a volcano blows fiery lava towards the heavens in the distance. Do it in a cold open, before the opening credits and tinkly pianos hit. You don’t even need to explain it. I cannot stress in strong enough terms that I am not joking about this.
So, yes, teetering, understandably. But what came next pushed me over the edge. Zac and Darin hopped in a car with a guide to go to a geothermal plant so they could learn more about how Iceland uses water and steam to power huge chunks of the country. As they pulled up, the guide and Zac had this conversation, which I promise I have not edited or taken out of context in any way.
This is my favorite show now.
I’m going to back up, quickly. I don’t have time to do it any other way. I have way too many screencaps from this show to share with you. But it is important, I think, to note one thing: I came into this show with cynicism. I was expecting it to be one of those humorless celebrity vanity projects where an A-list star frowns while discussing your carbon footprint. I was expecting, at best, to point and laugh as a couple of Los Angeles bros “discovered” electricity. And it is that second thing, sometimes, to be sure. But it’s also more than that. Let me put it this way: I was not expecting, at all, to be completely won over by the earnest enthusiasm of two dudes who were just super excited to learn cool shit about the Earth.
I mean, look how freaking stoked they are about turbines.
The whole series is like this. It’s incredible. Huge chunks of the show are just scientists and experts explaining stuff and then these guys being blown away by how cool it is. They meet with urban beekeepers to learn about how city bees can produce healthier honey because they’re not messing with plants that have been doused in pesticides. They go to the Amazon to climb trees and explore natural ways humans can boost their immune system. They go to Peru to learn about potatoes and cryptopreservation efforts to make sure there’s a food supply to sustain the survivors of a near-apocalyptic event. They go to France to learn so, so much about water and water purity, and they meet with an incredibly weird dude who in Los Angeles who calls himself a “water sommelier.”
If you play a drinking game during the show where you take a sip every time you hear “whoa,” “wow,” “rad,” or “sick,” you’ll be watching the second half of the season from the hospital. It shouldn’t be nearly as charming as it is. And yet!
My favorite episode takes place in Sardinia, a small island off the coast of Italy known for being a Blue Zone, one of the places in the world with an abnormal number of residents who live to be 100 years old. They talk to doctors and experts and dozens of very old people, and yes, all of the very old people find Zac Efron very adorable. You cannot possibly imagine how much 100-year-old women love Zac Efron. Maybe you can. It’s a lot.
The best part of the episode is when the people of Sardinia explain multiple times that one of their secrets is a diet that is both low in protein and does not shun carbs. This information absolutely shatters Zac Efron, a man who spends about 15 percent of this show shirtless and just shredded out of his mind thanks to a high-protein diet and an avoidance of carbs that, by his own admission, included a six-month carb-free stretch to prepare for the Baywatch movie. His face in these moments is the face of a man discovering his whole world was a lie. It’s like The Truman Show but with spaghetti.
An example will help. This is a screencap of him eating pasta he made. It does not do the scene justice. He really is so deeply happy to be eating these carbs.
It’s the most pure thing you’ve ever seen in your life. There is not a droplet of cynicism present in the entire show, except for when Anna Kendrick joins them briefly to make fun of the water sommelier, a little bit, to his face, which is also charming and fun in a different way. The whole thing is somehow both the polar opposite of a Bourdain-style travel show and one that accomplishes a similar purpose. Both of them just want to bounce around the globe and show you the cool stuff they found. They want to make the world a little smaller and better. They would not have gotten along even a little bit, sure, largely because Bourdain would have hated Darin so much, but whatever. Not the point. There’s more than one way to experience the world, you know?
Here’s the craziest part: By the end of the show, I was kind of envious of Zac Efron. His worldview is so refreshing, so free of the kind of forced irony you see from a lot of people on television. Would I have felt this way without the melancholy of a pandemic hanging over me? I don’t know. Maybe not! But that’s not really the point either. The point is that Zac Efron is just so powerfully enthused — so jazzed — to be learning all this stuff and to be sharing it with people. He is sharing it with a lot of people, too. Between his name recognition and the show’s platform on Netflix, he might be reaching more people with these messages than anyone on Earth right now. That’s pretty cool. That’s rad. That’s, well… that’s kind of… okay, I’ll say it. Fine. I’ll say it. That’s…