If, like me, you grew up in the 1990s, you learned a lot about the world from Bill Nye and Ms. Frizzle. I still remember the episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy about matter, and the cheesy, yet informative, “Solid, Liquid, Gas” song set to the tune of The Brady Bunch. I remember, with bizarre clarity, the episode of The Magic School Bus when Ms. Frizzle’s class travels through Ralphie’s body, which to this day remains the basis for what I know about white blood cells, bacteria, and antibodies.
Now more than 20 years since these shows both debuted, Netflix wants to help a new generation of kids learn about science—and have some fun in the process. At a press event in New York City yesterday, the streaming service released the first trailer for its new science talk show starring Nye, Bill Nye Saves the World, and announced that Saturday Night Live‘s Kate McKinnon will voice Ms. Frizzle in a reboot of The Magic School Bus.
Launched on PBS in 1993, Bill Nye the Science Guy immediately became a staple in American science classrooms. The show, and its host, a mechanical engineer by trade, were beloved for their inventive skits and quirky sense of humor. The animated series The Magic School Bus debuted a year later on the same channel and was nominated for seven Daytime Emmys, winning one for actress Lily Tomlin, who voiced the teacher and driver of the bus, Ms. Frizzle.
I’m usually the first person to write off TV reboots and remakes. There are just too many—most not very good—and Netflix has been perhaps the biggest culprit. Its algorithms know what subscribers are nostalgic about, and Bill Nye and The Magic School Bus are not much different from Gilmore Girls or Full House in that respect. There are millions of adults who’d love to see Nye or Ms. Frizzle and the gang back on their TV screens, and Netflix has the data to prove it.
Cynicism aside, these particular reboots are especially timely and could prove important in the education of a next generation of TV watchers.
US president Donald Trump and his administration have been openly hostile to scientific pursuit. Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has funded groups that champion creationism, worrying some scientists that she’ll neglect her responsibility to ensure evolution is still taught in schools. The president’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, once called for the abolishment of the department he is set to run, before assuming the role. Trump has said that the scientific consensus on climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.
A report in The Hill last month said that the Trump administration plans to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) as part of a series of spending cuts. PBS is funded in part by the CPB.
This is the political climate in which young people in America and around the world will learn about how things work and what stuff’s made of. Which is why Netflix’s interest in investing in educational and science programming is heartening: Trump can’t defund Netflix or stop it from spending $6 billion on content this year.
So despite my aversion to most reboots, I, at least, can get behind these two, and hope the rest of America does as well. Nostalgic millennials or curious kids, it matters not: Bill Nye and Ms. Frizzle are returning to teach Americans science again.
Bill Nye Saves the World premieres April 21 on Netflix. (The streaming service has not yet announced the release date for The Magic School Bus Rides Again.)