The new Netflix docuseries Down to Earth with Zac Efron casts the titular actor in the role of inquisitive global traveler. Throughout eight episodes, Efron and wellness guru Darin Olien explore different parts of the world in search of sustainable, eco-friendly ways to live. The actor apparently went method for his role as rugged journeyman, appearing onscreen at his scruffiest—and, for some, most appealing.
n Costa Rica, though, Efron and Olien mostly eschew touristy activities, other than a poorly explained afternoon zip-lining, but they also eschew purely local experiences as well. Their focus is on strange expat communities — Efron’s voiceover assumes his fans don’t know what an “expat” is — that bridge the gap between neo-hippie commune and straight-up New Age cult, as they learn about small groups living completely off the land, schools that teach without homework or testing and the logistics of waste disposal and methane collection. There also are monkeys and homemade pancakes.
Both episodes feature rudimentary explanations of the environmental science at work and end with the vaguest of platitudes about how the lessons gleaned here can impact our perspectives on change in the world (“Change has to start somewhere, and even if it’s a little uncomfortable at first, if the change is for the better, it’s worth it!”). But neither episode is anything resembling rigorous, nor does either take the opportunity to include a call-to-action URL. Efron has unquestionable curiosity about the advancements he and Olien are learning about, but it’s a curiosity that remains at an introductory level, and the show seems to assume that the fans Efron attracts will be coming from a similar perspective.