In recent years, Bill Nye has become a vocal, outspoken advocate for science and reason, tearing down any public figure disseminating ignorant views on topics such as climate change and evolution. He is not only an internet sensation, with videos garnering millions of views, a Dancing with the Stars alum, and occasional TV pundit, but CEO of the Planetary Society and a lecturer who travels to colleges around the US encouraging students to spread the good word of science and “change the world.” Sometimes it’s easy to forget how his career in entertainment began, with the beloved children’s TV show: Bill Nye the Science Guy.
The show ran from 1993–1998 on PBS (it is now owned by Disney) and was nominated for twenty-three Emmy Awards, winning nineteen. Netflix Instant has recently released a collection of 30 episodes from all five seasons.
Kids of the 90s will fondly remember Nye’s kitchen-style experiments, pop-culture references, and fast-paced delivery of basic scientific concepts. Each episode’s theme was announced from “Nye Laboratories,” repeated often enough to sink into young minds, and demonstrated with various scientific contraptions. The segments continued on with the topic: “Way Cool Scientist” features an expert (in quick edits to make them seem more exciting); “Consider the Following” is where Bill highlights a specific aspect of the topic; in “Nifty Home Experiment” the audience is shown how to do a simple home experiment; and “Did you know that… …Now you know” underlines an interesting factoid. What most fans remember, and is arguably the most brilliant part of the show, are the song parodies in the “Soundtrack of Science” segment, which substitutes a roundup of the episode for the lyrics to a popular song. Sadly, the best one is missing from Netflix’s collection: Nyevana, “Smells Like Air Pressure.”
While those who grew up learning from the Science Guy will undoubtedly overdose on nostalgia when they binge these episodes, the show is still valuable for young viewers. Even with the wealth of knowledge at their fingertips that the all-encompassing internet provides, there is something to be said for quality children’s TV programming. Maybe you haven’t checked out PBS, the Disney Channel, or the host of other cable networks aimed at kids recently, but trust me, they don’t have anything remotely close to Bill Nye. Current shows don’t even address science as a primary topic. (Although the reboot of Cosmos may be suitable for the same age group Science Guy is aimed at, depending on the kid.) This is one of the best aspects of streaming; as a parent/caregiver, you now get to show the children in your life all the great shows you grew up with.
Nye understands that in order to truly reach people, to engage them, you have to be entertaining first, and then you can teach valuable concepts. The show’s humor holds up even if the pop-culture references are dated (the first episode has a cameo from Blossom’s best friend), and some of the information is no longer true (sorry Pluto). His passion for science is infectious (during the shows it seems as if he is trying to jump through the screen), and this is one of the keys to his success in teaching and inspiring children. The host of twenty- and thirty-somethings who have pursued careers in science and engineering because of Nye are proof that the show worked.