No spoilers yet: I just finished the show. I’ve grown to love it. I think it may even deserve a tile in the great travel shows out there. Probably not up there with “The Greats” (my interpretation) but it can be in the top 10. Down to Earth nothing to scoff at, for being in the top 10 alone would be a prestige already. It’s definitely worth watching and it’s equally entertaining, informative, and insightful; characteristics I look for for “great travel shows”.
This review may sound harsh but I definitely do not want to show Down to Earth in a bad light. It may receive some tough love only because I’m not new to this. I’ve watched a TON, and I’m pitting it against the best (in my list), which is a compliment in itself 🙂 Keep up the good work Zac!
So What’s a Great Travel Show for Me?
I tend to like travel shows when (as I’ve said) they’re entertaining(has personality), informative, and there are insights and wisdom to be gathered.
I want a show to be entertaining not in a mainstream/pop culture way but rather…a unique presentation of that shows how they present themselves, present information, and present their goals.
Being informative starts to become grey. One can be informative by saying “this is where you go when you visit X”. It is information but it’s…shallow. I mean, I appreciate it but I find it more useful if you present information like: “Here you do / do not tip” or “Here it’s offensive to say/do Y”. Now it starts to become useful and valuable.
Taking that one step higher, it becomes truly, truly, TRULY valuable when it starts to provide you insights. Here’s an example (this is something I learned mostly due to travelling, not by just a show):
“If you’ve noticed in North America, households are made of wood. Apart from the fact that it’s an abundant supply, it’s used because North America has four seasons (winter) and wood’s a good insulator. Conversely you can see that countries in warmer climate use hollow blocks for construction to keep cold in (among many other reasons). In addition, Japan prefers to use wood due to earthquake reasons. “
So from there, you learn something. Not only that, but now you also have an insight, a usable knowledge you can leverage for later use. The show entertained you and you come out a better person on the other end. Now that’s awesome!
(spoilers may start showing here)
Before I watched the Down to Earth, I really had a big chunk of salt with me. I’ve been spoiled by Departures (UGH, best so far. They’re (one of the main) reason(s) why I started to travel did you know? ), anything and everything Anthony Bourdain like No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown (OH MAN did you know he had a dinner with Obama in Vietnam?). These guys are my top top, toooop, most favourite travel shows of all time!
There are other flavours too like Travel Man. It has a more comedic approach to it. Have you watched The IT Crowd in Netflix? Yea that guy, Maurice!
Anyways, at first I was cautious because you know, they’re using a pretty face to promote a show and no offense to the hollywood star but my initial thoughts were “well what do you know“? Not to be condescending but if (I assume) your world is LA…LA is not the world, right? Another thing that comes along with the popularity is that not only that the show can be a fad, but I don’t want them mainstream-ing travel and then also making travelling a fad. I also had this gut feel that maybe this show was 70% entertainment, 30% (or less) insights/wisdom. I was really scared: “Oh maaan, don’t fuck it up…”.
But hey, I told you I finished it, I liked it, and I see the value of the show Down to Earth!
Why Did I Watch It?
Despite my reservations, oversimplifying it, it’s kind of a FOMO. It’s a travel show so at its core it’s definitely something I’m interested in. I’m also a big believer of “there’s only one way to find out” life motto. If I don’t watch it, I’m just speculating.
More importantly, I don’t want to dismiss Down to Earth and then turns out there are lots of valuable things in it (which I always enjoy).
Overall, general curiosity I would say.
I realized eventually that the show Down to Earth is definitely trying to provide value, it’s just that I’m not the demographic for this style and presentation. First, being that it’s Zac Efron, it would then be for the younger generations, most like women. At the same time you’ll notice that they would be discussing things and encouraging people to open their mind to new ideas. But then you also realize it’s an “American talking to another American” sort of conversation. You see a lot of this in last episode, season 1.
Is it bad? Not at all! The conversation is not towards me but I definitely, DEFINITELY appreciate and value educating other non-travellers or those who are just starting. In a sense it makes sense: why make travel shows for avid travellers? They know these already and they’ve “been there; done that”. This is for a totally new group; one where there would be a lot for them to learn instead of “preaching to the choir”. I’m all for that. It aims to educate and provide a 101 for its target audience.
For this, I would rate it as 60% entertainment / 40% insights/wisdom (for me, remember where I’m coming from). In my books, that’s not good at all but then I remember my point above and this is meant to be a “to get your feet wet” type of show. This is the show you recommend to a non-traveller friend when they have no idea or you think they’re not in the Departures or Anthony Bourdain level just yet.
By realizing this, that’s when you know that the “more entertainment” is a tactical approach rather than contextual. I’m definitely all for any and all efforts that motivate people to travel, to learn more about different places, culture, thinking, perspective; ultimately to make a better person out of that viewer and to make this world a better place.
Subject focus: Travel, Energy, Sustainability, and Food
The show touches on a lot of very important social, environmental issues we have: (renewable, sustainable) energy, travel, culture, food, etc. Those are hard-hitting topics. Energy alone you can make a multi-season show out of it. So my expectation (which was the effect) is that if you’re going to touch those big ones, you’ll probably end up just grazing the tip if you want to cover each.
For me it leaves me with a sense of incomplete-ness (is that a word?) and a “tell me something I don’t know”. Again I feel like that because I have watched so many travel shows, docs, not just about travelling but about energy, business, economics, etc.
But again, realizing that this show is a sample platter definitely helps; maybe not for people like me but for the rest of the world.
The other thing that was big for me is that it deals with food. No, it’s not like food like Anthony Bourdain type of show where he showcases different cuisines, how cultural, and how delicious it is. It’s food in the sense of: health and fitness, how it’s made, nutritional information, how to make it sustainable, etc. I was definitely 100% interested with these things because I rarely expose myself to food and bio tech documentaries. This alone, coupled with the all-important topic of travel, is more than enough for me to watch the entire show Down to Earth.
Pace of the Show
This one was tough. I’ve had other friends who have the same (high) levels of expectations and they’ve probably gave up two to three episodes in. Admittedly I think it’s around half of the episodes of season 1 when I started thinking “Oh, this may not be all bad at all”.
The first few episodes show the…”innocence” of Zac Efron. He admits it in the show too where he doesn’t travel much (at least he didn’t use to). The start of the show reflects the start of his adventure, his realization. It’s not a bad thing at all. We’ve all been there and it’s definitely step 1. Everybody will go through step one, no matter how well-travelled you are. Maybe I guess I just had high expectations from it but hey, let me go back there. This is definitely not a bad thing. I do appreciate the journey he’s going through. I will tell you that he grows throughout the show which is definitely a good thing! It’s nice to see him grow and that this show is definitely an invitation to do the same.
For their target demographics watching the Down to Earth for the first time and exposing themselves to the idea of travelling, of introducing yourself to the much bigger world, I think it would’ve been a perfect pace. For some of us who are seasoned…you just can’t wait to get to the meaty parts.
That brings me to the next beautiful factor of this show Down to Earth: There are just so much (personal) growth in this show; both for Zac and Darin. Since he’s just starting from the bottom, there are definitely lots of opportunities for growth here.
I remember when I was watching episode 1, Iceland, and there was this art installation where if you push against this wall (basically a stack of touchscreen monitors), a bright light will show in proportion to how much energy you’ve exerted on it.
Darin and Zac joked: “What if I throw you against the screen”
I was nervous-laughing already and starting to cringe with the joke. Turns out they actually did it (albeit not too strong). AND OMMGGGG I cringed so hard. I was so close to just turning it off and just chucking that entire show and “fuck that shi~”.
In my head, “CLEARLY, you don’t travel much”. If you can’t see what’s wrong with that (clearly you don’t travel much too lol) but it’s a disrespect and disregard for the hard work of the people who did that. What if it wasn’t designed to withstand a body slam? Now they’re gonna be liable for their injuries? What if a person took months to build that? Even if it’s fixable, you then deny experience for the next set of visitors after you. There’s just…UGH.
I don’t know what I mustered to move forward but I did. It’s been worth it and yes, you can see their personal development. You can see Zac’s second-hand shame in Costa Rica, his “enough talk; let’s do” also in Costa Rica I believe where he helped move rubble, he has respect for anything spiritual (e.g.: you don’t have to be religious to respect other people’s religion) in the France/Italy and some Latin America episodes.
You can see the realization and the start of appreciation of life things. You can see his appreciation for generating electricity (Iceland), for something so mundane like water (France), for the very real fact of growing old and appreciating your time in this world (Italy) to name a few.
They really emphasize the realness of our impact in nature, climate change. Not to be hippy on you but damn man, if we’re having tornado warnings in cities, pandemics that kill travel, climate change that cause famine, what else will be left for us to relish and enjoy man… I really appreciate that they’re putting all these important social and environmental issues front and centre.
The end of Season 1…omg damn…
All in all, I think the show Down to Earth is beautiful. It definitely serves the greater purpose of informing, educating, all while giving us a taste of travel. It has its own personality, it has its own pace and origins and a framing of important issues.
Down to Earth is perfect for you if Zac Efron is your idol, or if you’re just starting to travel (or starting to think of it). If you’re a fan of Darin, this is also good. I really think he did a great job and has definitely offered a lot of valuable information in this show. I think he also helped shape Zac’s global insights.
Overall, I think everybody should watch it still. If you’re a seasoned traveller, it may be a slow start for you but I’m always up for encouraging people to go over educational materials like these. Usually there’s at least this one tidbit you don’t know that you would discover in these shows. No matter how small it would be, that’s still a valuable bit in life right? At worst, you’ve had watched an entertaining travel show.