When any subculture comes into the limelight, there’s sure to be backlash. While outlets like Vulture have attempted to weakly define “geeks” versus “nerds” (which one commenter said makes them “dorks”), there are now lines being drawn within the genre about fakes and wannabes (like the Fake Geek Girl debate) infringing upon the earned rights of social outcasts whose interests suddenly are becoming mainstream.
With its “for nerds, by nerds” mentality, Science’s new series Stuff You Should Know (based on the popular podcast of the same name) asserts its bona fides. On the podcast, which bears some resemblance to NPR’s RadioLab. Atlanta-based duo Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant chat about things for a few minutes to a half-hour such as why orange juice tastes so bad after we brush our teeth, why people blush and whether there are real-life fight clubs.
The television version weaves the facts from the podcast into an absurdist world, where the hosts get up to themed high jinks that are grounded by their explanation of the facts. The format could be enticing to new viewers as a quirky way to learn about strange topics (like Alien Hand Syndrome, or “The CSI Effect”), but by opening up the world to show Clark and Bryant in their (augmented) lives, it also gives fans of the original podcast something new because much of the material covered is a rehash (and not delved into as deeply as in the podcasts).
The men are as likable onscreen as on the podcasts, though the supporting cast (as of the first two episodes) feels a little weak. It’s not as outright entertaining (or absurd) as HBO’s The Ricky Gervais Show, which presents animated versions of Ricky Gervais‘ hilarious archive of podcasts, but it’s more visually engaging than ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning, where viewers watch the two men as they do their radio show.
When Clark and Bryant are just in front of their mics, things drag a little, especially for those who already are familiar with the material. Still, the fictionalized scenarios keep things interesting, and the second episode flows much better than the first, suggesting the show could keep improving.
Stuff You Should Know is a curious blend of lecture and sketch comedy, but overall it works.