The White Rabbit Project is a Netflix project in which former MythBusters cast members Tory Belleci, Kari Byron, and Grant Imahara lead the viewer down various rabbit holes to explore a range of interesting and often strange things.
Before going any further in this review, I need to tell you two things. First, since this is a MythBusters related thing, and Mythbuster fans hate everything (especially myths, of course), you will probably see a lot of iffy reviews of this project. (This isn’t just a MythBusters thing, it is a skeptics thing, a science-cheerleader thing, a geek thing. Just comes with the territory.)Second, the White Rabbit Project is really good, you will enjoy it. There will be many “oh wow, I did not know that” moments even though you are smart, and there are a few spots where you can not legally watch the show while holding a hot drink because you will damage someone or something while ROTFLYAO.
Since this show’s roots are planted firmly in MythBusters, it is fair, and even necessary, to make comparisons and references to the earlier show. In case you didn’t know, Imahara, Byron, and Belleci were forced to leave the Discovery Channel production for what I think were relatively dumb reasons, having to do with contracts, and “the way things work” and such. In MythBusters, for the last several seasons, stars Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage would take on a primary “myth” — a thing people believed to be true but may or may not have been true — while the so-called “build team” of Byron, Belleci and Imahara would take on some other presumably secondary topic or set of topics, sometimes but not always related to the primary topic. Everybody had their specialties. Hyneman is a master builder and explosives expert. Savage an expert designer of things and experiments, and fearless of danger. Kari Byron is expert on firearms, explosives, and prop design. Tory Belleci is an expert on rigging, and falling off and onto things. Imahara is an expert on anything that resembles a robot or that uses Pulse Width Modulation.
Over time, MythBusters spent less time busting classic and well known urban myths and more time on more obscure things such as how cars, people, guns, or other things are made to act in movies, or historical stories that really weren’t urban myths though they were interesting.
In the new show, the White Rabbit Project (in which Savage and Hyneman are uninvolved), Imahara, Byron and Belleci do not follow a “myth busting” model. Rather, they pick a topic that could come from fiction, reality, mythic or not, such as the effects of extra gravity, navigation, jailbreaking, super hero abilities, or weaponry. Then, they come up (arbitrarily, I assume it is a design thing) with six exemplars, and explore them. The team makes no effort to address these six instantiations of the focal topic uniformly. Indeed, they do quite the opposite. Some of the specific “builds” (as it were) are treated in detail, others are glossed over.
For instance, consider Episode 2 on jailbreaks. One of the jailbreaks involved a guy’s wife showing up for a visit, they swap clothes, and he tries to walk out of the prison in drag. This is done with actors (though they do show the real before and after mug shots) and there is no serious analysis and zero attempt to replicate the event. This one is jut for fun. A second jailbreak involved over 100 British officers escaping from a Nazi prisoner of war camp. For this escape, the team went into great detail as to how it was done, and took it very seriously, but did not replicate anything. A third case involved two families trapped in East Germany behind the Iron Curtin escaping via a home made hot air balloon. For this escape, Belleci actually builds a replica of the balloon and gets it off the ground, reveals problems with the technology, teaches how the technology works by demonstration and interviews with one of the original builders as well as a ballon expert, etc. So that historical escape got the whole nine yards.
By not attempting to give even treatment to each instance, but covering several instances, the final effect is one of richness and thoroughness. We don’t need to see Grant Imahara in drag trying to see if he could get past prison guards (though I suppose that would be interesting …) but Tory’s balloon build was fascinating.
One of the funniest things I’ve seen on television is Kari Byron’s absolutely fascinating and instructive sequence on mind control, in the Super Power Tech episode (Episode 1). This treatment comes in three segments of the show. I give a regular guest lecture in a human anatomy class at a nearby school. Imma show bits and pieces of Kari Byron’s segments to the students because I know it will cause some of them to focus their academic interest on medical devices (and we live in a medical device manufacturing neighborhood) or, perhaps, clown school. Either way is good.
So, I guess I’m trying to make a point here. Did you ever watch a Mythbusters episode and realize that the format and design of a segment was hampered by the overarching theme of busting myths? If not, then you haven’t watched many episodes. I imagine that Byron, Belleci and Imahara and their off camera associates designed the White Rabbit Project the way they did because they thoughtfully deconstructed their experience at Mythbusters, looking at what was good and what was limiting. They could have sat down and tried to figure out how to be totally different from Mythbusters, because, after all, everything has to be different. Or, they could have sat down and figured out how to be better than Mythbusters, because, after all, everything has to be better. But I don’t think that is what they ultimately did. Instead, it seems like they sat down to figure out how they can be themselves, playing to their own strengths, while at the same time defining and avoiding some of the constraints that might have been working against them previously.
And, I’m really glad that they’ve decided not to shy away from familiarity. In Episode 3, they did not have to go to a gun range and fire hundreds of bullets at targets to test one of the anti-German WW II weapon systems (the weapon was not a firearm). But they did, even if the firing range was perhaps the out of studio Mythbuster milieu used most.
I regard Season 1 of White Rabbit Project to be a success, and I hope they do a Season 2.