Bill Nye: Science Guy tells the story of Bill Nye, the guy you probably best known for starring in a PBS series that ended every episode with an objectively nerdy parody of a famous pop song. He spent five years doing this, educating the youths of yesterday (and the adults of today) on topics like dinosaurs and gravity by making somewhat mundane topics bouncy and energetic and, above all, digestible.
And that has been his image since then. Over 20 years of being known as “the Science Guy,” and that can be painful in so many ways. This documentary follows Nye as he goes about his modern life, both capitalizing and fighting against this picture of him as a children’s entertainer as he advocates for the critical and analytical thinking necessary for science and fact to win out in an age where gaslighting is the singular and full-time hobby of the US President and Flat Earthers gain notable support from cosmically ignorant NBA stars and has-beens.
It’s thought-provoking that way. A beloved celebrity tries to shed the stigma of the thing that made him famous and beloved in the first place in order to stand up for the very thing that formed the core of his personal and professional life. And that’s what it focuses on: the future of this man. If you are looking for an exposé on the trials and tribulations that formed him, then this won’t be it.
That’s an entirely appropriate format, however, considering that he is also fully aimed at the future of humanity. He avoids to his best ability the trappings of celebrity, plowing through selfies with fans at a pace that can either be regarded as efficient or untoward. He similarly dodges the societal platitudes of engaging in a traditional family life, albeit for myriad reasons beyond a singular dedication to the advocacy of science.
You can see why he would lock his life into this single track, too. When he appears on any number of his public forums to discuss climate change or his position as CEO of The Planetary Society (an organization founded by his mentor and legendary astronomer Carl Sagan), his persona shifts. There is less of a dour shade about him and his harder edges become less wantonly dangerous and more purposefully honed.
When Nye does deviate from this, however, it is fascinating but the documentary tends to give those moments only a superficial inspection. His highly publicized and memorable debates with the likes of bullheaded creationist Ken Ham and bodybuilder/weather forecaster/climate change-denier Joe Bastardi could warrant their own documentaries of the Best of Enemies variety.
Simply peering into the detritus of his professional face is interesting—understanding the criticisms of how his debates, no matter how effective, will always end up also shining a light on anti-science stances—but the effects of that tend to be distilled as well. His dismissal as a pseudo scientist with his kids show platform, eye-catching bow ties, and mechanical engineering degree (as if engineering isn’t based on science) is also relegated a more conceptual obstacle here rather than the material consequences.
That doesn’t, however, stop Bill Nye: Science Guy from being a wholly welcome and mesmerizing look at someone that has long been in the wings of the public, would rather stay there, and has to step out to do what he feels he is obligated to do. The contrasting shades of this single person are captivating, and to attach them to an idol of many test tube-wielding children of the 90s, it’s as heartbreaking as it is inspiring.
Final Score: 8 out of 10