Essentially a show about the love of discovery, Mythbusters was the perfect fit for Discovery. The series, co-hosted by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, took the idea of trial-and-error DIY science and turned it into an entertaining series. The show ran for 13 seasons, even though it more or less stopped testing the urban myths of its namesake around season 3. When Discovery bifurcated the show, getting more bang for their buck by enlisting the Mythbusters build team of Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara to run their own tests in order to prove or disprove everything from luxury car commercials to Shrek‘s earwax candles, they created a team worthy of Netflix’s White Rabbit Project.
Aside from a name and venue change, you would think the concept would be essentially the same as the series that came before, this time with Byron, Belleci, and Imahara taking center stage. And for the most part it is. The core effort of each episode is to follow along with the hosts as they lead the audience through a series of tests ranging from jailbreaks to famous heists to, well… just about anything involving explosives. White Rabbit Project takes the same love of science and real-world testing Mythbusters had to a more obvious extreme. This time, instead of busting myths, the crew is heading down the “rabbit hole,” with no other agenda other than investigating various pop-culture related bits of trivia with a dash of history thrown in for good measure.
But the show eschews the DIY attitude of Mythbusters in some interesting ways. By pitting the three hosts against one another to see which one can come up with or discover the best or most practical solution to the topic at hand, the show explores more than what the trio can make themselves. And often times, it’s not even about creating and testing a device at all, but just using or exploring tools and innovative tech others have created. In that sense, White Rabbit Project makes use of expert – or as close to expert as your going to get when it comes to cockroach mind control – testimonials to a far greater degree than the previous show ever did. This lends a sense of credibility to the series, while also demonstrating how wide a gamut this DIY subculture of scientists and entrepreneurs really runs.
The first episode strikes at the heart of the show’s pop culture-loving target audience by tasking the hosts with discovering ways in which a human being can become a superhero. The challenge, then, isn’t just to craft tools or implements that would grant them superhuman abilities, but also to discover who else has made them and, accessibility permitting, test them… sometimes on each other. Each segment becomes less about the actual making of something and the iterations that go into making a design work, to become more about learning what others have already accomplished and how it’s being used. This is probably the biggest shift away from the original Mythbusters appeal: two smart, creative dudes essentially MacGyvering their way through a series of questions to arrive at a semi-scientific conclusion. White Rabbit Project is more akin to a scavenger hunt with a heavy show-and-tell element.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because Kari, Tory, and Grant are still doing their usual thing. In the first episode, Grant goes deep on becoming a supervillain – which, to him is all in the laugh, apparently – building a device to deploy liquid nitrogen. Here the familiar iterative process comes into play, as the would-be villain goes from a small handheld canister to a large tank of liquid nitrogen attached to an oversized squirt gun. By the end of it, he’s essentially assembled the bizzaro version of a flamethrower – freezing his victims over several minutes of exposure.
Admittedly, some experiments aren’t the most captivating to watch. In the freeze ray segment, most of the entertainment comes from seeing Grant’s amusement at freezing an apple and dropping it to the pavement from inside a refrigerated trailer. The same is true for Tory’s lightning bolt experiment. The bit relies so much on experts and the specificity of their equipment that Tory’s participation in it is nearly as passive as the viewers. The demonstration is impressive, though, as Tory eventually get to direct electricity through a wand and explode some methane-filled ninja heads while standing atop a Tesla coil draped in chainmail. But the sequence is missing a crucial step: The sense of joy in discovering how something works by taking part in its actual engineering.
To a certain degree, its distance from that engineering stage defines White Rabbit Project early on. Later episodes bring more of that element in to the show’s benefit. Watching Tory construct a hot air balloon from the same materials used by a family who escaped East Germany makes for a solid sequence, and the real-world historical implications give it the added weight it needs to elicit a response that goes beyond the audience agreeing firing lighting bolts into stationary balloon-headed ninjas is indeed cool.
For the most part, White Rabbit Project relies on the chemistry between Grant, Kari, and Tory. The mind control bit from the first episode is a terrific example of this, as it’s less a demonstration of the tech and more an example of the sheer pleasure Kari derives from making Tory twitch and jerk his way through an Italian dinner. It’s Mythbusters lite, but it’s fun. The same goes for the show. To its credit, White Rabbit Project isn’t a complete rehash of the trio’s former Discovery show. It shares a lot of the same DNA, but in the end, it on its way to becoming its own distinct series.
White Rabbit Project season 1 is available in its entirety on Netflix.
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