A new TV series debuts tonight on the National Geographic Channel. And it's totally bananas. Going Deep With David Rees reveals the hidden complexity of topics you thought were simple, like "How to Make an Ice Cube" (the premiere episode), or "How to Tie Your Shoes" (also airing tonight). The joy of the show comes from Rees's ability to embrace the silliness of spending a half hour of TV on ice-cube-making while actually teaching you how to make really great ice cubes. I implore you to check this out. This is the kind of TV we need.
Recommended for: fans of deadpan humor and/or people who think explainer TV shows have gotten out of hand.
When it airs: Monday nights at 10pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel, starting Monday, July 14, 2014. Each Monday you get a Rock Block of two half-hour episodes.
Here's a trailer, though other videos below may give you a better sense of the show's tone:
Just Look at This
In the third episode of the series, host David Rees goes deep on
"How to Dig a Hole." He consults miners in his quest to dig the hole of his dreams (mild spoiler: it's a party hole), but it turns out that digging a party hole is extremely difficult when you pick a spot right above a layer of shale. Here's a brief promo video from mid-dig:
"It's so much work making this much emptiness," Rees says, laughing, sitting in his unfinished party hole. That really is deep. It's also a dumb joke, and that's the beauty of this show. The show comments on this tension when Rees visits a Buddhist monk to explore the impermanence of sand mandalas, and meditate on the impermanence of ice cubes. Rees gets to play the dumb host when he "gets schooled" by the monk, but he's also presumably the guy whose idea it was to go talk to monks for his cable TV show. It's not every day that we get such a smart injection of practical Buddhist wisdom in the middle of an explainer show.
Also, here's an important outtake from the "How to Shake Hands" episode. Note that Rees plays at least three characters here: Fake David Rees (at the beginning), Cable TV Host (at 0:23), and a glimpse of Real David Rees right at 0:39 when he breaks. I mean, COME ON:
This show requires viewers to confront ambiguity. This is a pretty minor challenge in the larger scheme of things, but judging from fan reaction to Rees's previous work (he's the artisanal pencil-sharpener), sometimes this really bugs people. A common reaction to Rees's recent work is for someone to ask, "Is this a joke?" That is the wrong question. The right question is simply: "Do you enjoy this?"
Layering the Joke
Let's go deep on Going Deep for a moment. Here is a genuinely educational show on a channel that carries educational programming—okay, so it's an educational applied-science show. However, the show is presented by a (very deadpan) comedian, and the premise of each episode is totally absurd—okay, so I guess it's comedy. Add to that a healthy layer of parody of the "educational TV" genre itself (and a very refreshing parody of the everyman host character), and you're left with a crazy layer cake of meaning, in which the show parodies itself as it's happening, but also has actual educational stuff that pokes through. For me, this is hilarious and beautiful. For others, it's just confusing. This is a true "love it or hate it" show. I love it.
Here's another outtake, from an episode I haven't seen yet. The fact that this is happening while a slow loris is just kinda hanging around...well, again, I think you simply need to experience this, and see whether you'd like to watch a half hour of it:
Now Watch This
The show premieres tonight, Monday, July 14, 2014 at 10pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. There are two episodes each airdate, each running a half hour. Go have a look (or check out the show online) and come back to thank or yell at me.