You love the MythBusters. Even if you never saw a single episode, chances are there’s a black little rock inside you that simply hasn’t been cracked yet, but once you do, it’ll reveal a core of affection singularly aimed at Discovery Channel classic. It was an unlikely but perfect blend of science, chaos, personality, and nigh pornographic engineering. Basically everything that made The Martian a hit but with severely less stakes and A-list celebrities.
Enter the White Rabbit Project. While the show launched Adam Savage into geek stardom (now doing his own thing at Tested), it also put the so-called Build Team squarely in the hot seat. They had the chops and they had the bare minimum of cachet to get something going of their own. And they certainly tried. Tory Belleci, Kari Byron, and Grant Imahara reunited a few times for Pumpkin Chunkin; Belleci and Byron gave Thrill Factor a whirl; and Imahara ended up being a McDonald’s spokesperson. None of it quite caught on.
But this swirling storm of unique qualifications and panache was a perfect one for Netflix, home of many Little Engines That Could. Point a money gun at any number of the cliques of the Internet and fire away. This is how you end up with White Rabbit Project, a series in which the trio attempt to dive down the rabbit holes (get it?) of various topics like jailbreaks, scams, and superpowers via experiments, build projects, and, most likely, explosions. Isn’t this what we’ve all been clamoring for, after all?
And to an extent, that’s exactly what we get. They diverge from the MythBusters formula in that they aren’t trying to prove or disprove anything in particular, but more that they take six examples of a single thesis (e.g., heists, tech we love to hate, etc.) and explore them and then judge them against a set of criteria. In investigating g-force junkies, for example, they determine who in history endured the most g-forces, the most sustained g-forces, and potential for more g-forces.
In that, we get to see the sort of in-the-field research we’ve seen them engage with before, which is always a treat. Imahara goes on a solo theme park adventure while Belleci goes down an Olympic bobsled track with the US national men’s team. Seeing their particular science minds come into contact with experts of exceptionally niche fields is fascinating. You can see their spinning gears of their heads slowly come together and eventually spin together.
And in other instances, you get to see this build team do exactly that: build. One of the standouts include Imahara attempting to build a hoverboard in an episode aimed at tech sci-fi has promised us but science as yet to deliver. And then another is Byron making her best attempt at recreating what may very well have been the very first and totally analogue turn-by-turn, in-car navigation system.
The problem is that there simply aren’t any stakes to these things. Who was the greatest g-force junkie? Oh, I dunno, probably Colonel John Fucking Stapp, the guy who endured 46.2 g on a god damn rocket sled and had to deal with burst fucking eyeballs. Oh, you want to recreate the hot air balloon from when the Strelzyk and Wetzel families escaped East Germany in 1979? Why bother; just talk to one of the guys who built the damn thing.
There’s simply nothing interesting they can do at this superficial level of investigation when so much of it is veritable fact that one thing or another happened. Yes, we know a bunch of old guys broke into a bank. We don’t necessarily need to see you do it yourself because we already know it’s true. Worse yet, we never get to go deep enough to find the insightful bits. Each episode covers six subjects across 42ish minutes. That’s not nearly enough time to get much deeper than what a cursory Wikipedia reading will provide, and that’s even when three of them are usually glossed over with a “here’s this” and a pat on the back.
Granted, it’s entertaining enough to see these three friends back at their hijinks. In many of the “dramatic” reenactments, you get to see them all give their best cheesy, scenery-chewing performances, and it’s fun. But it’s also inconsequential. There’s no reason for any of it. Throw down the bullet points and then get to the investigation. That rabbit hole isn’t going to explore itself.
The show hits its stride enough times, though, to carry promise into a second season, whenever that may hit. When their strengths of build prowess and analytic insight and curiosity all collide with a story that’s just too good to be true, it’s a damn joy to watch. Mind control, rocket-powered delivery, a wholly unbelievable jailbreak. That’s their jam. Everything else is just filler.
Final Score: 8 out of 10