You can’t blame Zac Efron admirers (yes, there is a legion of us out there) for being confused when the actor’s new travel show was announced. So far Efron’s progress from lanky teen pinup Troy Bolton in High School Musical to dashing lifeguard Matt Brody in Baywatch has followed perhaps a predictable trend paved by fresh-faced young actors in the past. But Netflix’s new series, Down to Earth with Zac Efron, is the wrinkle that none of us expected.
The show, co-hosted by Efron with wellness expert Darin Olien, is niftily summed by the star right at the outset: “We’re trying to find some new perspectives on some very old problems.” Efron and Olien travel to Iceland, France, Puerto Rico, London, Lima, Sardinia, Costa Rica and Iquitos during the course of eight episodes, unpacking sustainable living in each of these locations, from rainwater harvesting and community building in Puerto Rico’s San Juan to ‘blue zones’ in Seulo, Sardinia.
In London, for instance, Efron—donning protective gear long before any whiff of a pandemic—tangles with a swallow of busy bees as Olien and he learn to extract the purest form of honey. Later, while Olien rides through Soho on a bamboo bicycle, a rising preference among more environmentally conscious Londoners, Efron meets with chefs in boutique cafes practicing plant-based eating.
In Puerto Rico, the duo’s philanthropic instincts kick in. Touring a survivor’s home in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Efron generously helps the woman rescue what is left of her abode from under the debris. Our hero swoops in and saves the day in the ultimate triumph of hope and altruism but, in the island’s specific case, any questions about why did its infrastructure collapse and who shares real responsibility for that remain unanswered.
By contrast, the pair shine with lighter, happier fare in Sardinia. The Mediterranean island has been declared a blue zone (a place in the world where residents are believed to live longer than the global average). En route Seulo, the duo traverse through the rugged landscape littered with nuraghi–bronze age stones shaped like bee hives–and zoom past sandy beaches and hiking trails. The hosts’ best interactions on the show happen when they meet a dozen centenarians along the way, uncovering perhaps the mantra to their health–simple food and living.
For all the sincere do-gooder vibes, one cannot ignore the show’s glaring flaws. Efron and Olien’s stated quest—sustainable solutions to age-old problems—is noble, but their curiosity and indeed participation in these ideas never seems to rise above earnest wonderment; the hosts’ own processing of these revolutionary concepts is limited to a “Sweet” or “Cool!”
For passionate climate change adherents, this is frustrating because as is wont in the case of a Hollywood star-backed vehicle, the Efron-Olien bro conversational patter, somehow eclipses any substantive debate on living in harmony with our planet.
Sanjana Ray is that unwarranted tour guide people groan about on trips. When she isn't geeking out on travel and history, she can be found walking around the streets, crying for Bengali food. She is former Digital Writer at National Geographic Traveller India.