Zac Efron’s Netflix Show Is a Sexy, Grizzled, Delightfully Earnest Mess
Will watching one of Hollywood’s beefiest hunks milk goats and take Ayahuasca steams really help anyone live greener? Probably not. But only a wet blanket could resist enjoying it.
The greatest pleasure of Zac Efron’s Netflix show, Down to Earth—and there are many—is that no matter what he’s looking at, or doing, or eating, he appears to be experiencing it for the first time.
Hand Zac Efron a slice of bread cooked in an Icelandic hot spring, and he’ll grab a hunk before murmuring in awed appreciation, “That’s wonderful bread.” Introduce Zac Efron to a Sardinian centenarian who can still ace a cognition test, and he’ll wander away hours later gushing, “What a cool chick!” (Somehow, coming out of his mouth, it’s not obnoxious—I swear!) Show Zac Efron a freezer full of cryogenically frozen potatoes, and he’ll even do a gleeful dance—clicking his heels and everything.
Down to Earth with Zac Efron finds the High School Musical actor trekking the globe with wellness podcaster Darin Olien to examine different approaches to sustainable, healthy living. The two jet from country to country to interview scientists, sample rare, luscious fruits, and pet manatees. Sometimes their activities are educational, and other times Zac Efron is milking a goat for some reason.
Down to Earth serves more as a survey introduction to the concepts it examines than an in-depth explainer; if this were a college course, it would definitely be a 101 class. The series is also undeniably scattered, zipping Efron and Olien from one site to the next with little time to dig into any of their chosen topics with real depth. Efron also provides the narration, alternating between humorous internal monologues and earnest realizations that stop just short of Carrie Bradshaw’s frequent and infamous “I couldn’t help but wonder”s. If the goal of this show is to teach its viewers practical ways to reduce their carbon footprint, it’s not great at its job.
But that doesn’t seem to be Down to Earth’s mission anyway. Instead, Efron seems earnestly interested in using his platform—and his beefy bod—to generate interest in lifestyles that intertwine personal health and environmental health. And as cringe-worthy as some celebrity attempts to Raise Awareness around certain causes can be, Efron’s winning attitude and boyish enthusiasm are simply too pure to mock.
I mean that as a compliment. If we’re being honest, anyone looking for a Serious Documentary on environmentalism and sustainability would likely pass over anything fronted by Efron anyway. What Efron brings to the table is twofold: a massive audience and heaps of charisma. He understands his influence as a celebrity, and even expresses occasional frustration with the vapid and even dangerous ways some stars use their platforms. At times, Efron’s expressions of humility can be a little tiresome. (We get it! You might be famous but you’re so honored to be here!) But they never register as insincere.
Also, it must be said: After months spent locked (mostly) indoors contemplating the possible end of the world, I can think of worse things to do than watch a sexy, bearded goober and his friend “ooh” and “aah” their way around the globe, gawking with Owen Wilson-like disbelief at every scientific advancement and rare fruit they see.
And really, there is so much to see! Down to Earth traverses Iceland, the Amazon rainforest, London, Paris, Sardinia, and more in its quest for green living. Some of its revelations are obvious. (Did you know that bottled water is bad for you and also the environment?) Some of its activities are a bit pointless. (How is Zac Efron helping us save the world by making a locally sourced chocolate bar?) But some of the show’s destinations, like an eco-village in Costa Rica, are genuinely fascinating. And throughout these journeys, you will witness such amusing activities as Zac Efron Staring in Skeptical Wonder at Bees, and Zac Efron Steaming Himself Over a Hot Pot of Ayahuasca, and Zac Efron Downing a Skewer of Grubs. (They taste like teriyaki!)
But for Efron fans—“Efronologists”?—the real point of interest might be Efron himself. What, exactly, is he doing here? Between Down to Earth and his jungle-survival Quibi show, Killing Zac Efron, the one-time teen heartthrob certainly appears to be on a journey of some kind. Every now and again during Down to Earth, Efron pauses to muse on celebrity culture, his old, carb-phobic obsession with body-building, and the ways his fame has left him feeling isolated and even alienated. It’s a fascinating peek behind the curtain of a celebrity whose public persona and film roles tend to be too over-the-top for us to discern anything about the human being beneath.
And as many breathless fans noted upon Down to Earth’s release, Efron is serving up some looks here. Gone is the fresh-faced teen idol—and the hairless, impossibly ripped twentysomething Efron. We are now in the age of Grizzly Bear Thirtysomething Zac Efron—the perfect Efron for these times, as a pandemic has forced us into an extended, off-season hibernation. (I refuse to call his physique a “dad bod,” however, until someone tells me where all these swole dads are hiding and whether any of them are single.)
So, yes. Down to Earth with Zac Efron is more entertaining than it is educational. But Efron seems genuinely invested in sparking curiosity around a subject that is both vital and, speaking as a former environmental reporter, difficult to make people actually care about. And at least he’s not taking a page from Gwyneth Paltrow’s book and using his Netflix money to spread misinformation. If Netflix is down to sponsor Efron’s casual environmentalism—and abs—for another season, I say why not?