I see myself in Zac Efron. You know? I see myself in him. That's what I thought to myself after watching the very first episode of Down To Earth With Zac Efron, Netflix’s eight-episode documentary that took so long to get to Australia, it may as well be the Pfizer. Can I get an amen? Sorry.
Anyway, the eagerly anticipated series somehow just dropped on Netflix Australia almost a year after its US release and sees High School Musical alumnus Zac Efron trundle around the likes of pre-pandemic Iceland, France, Costa Rica, Sardinia, Puerto Rico, Lima and Iquitos. Must be nice. And look, while there are a lot of popular figures who I see myself in: Sandra Oh. Fran Lebowitz. Ziwe Fumudoh. Aparna Nancherla. Zac Efron was never on that list.
And yet, here I am. Relating to Zac Efron.
And while Vulture warns that “nobody can or should try'' to see themselves in this man, who they are convinced has “has lived 10,000 lives and is weighted down with several millennia’s worth of inescapable angst”, I found myself endearing to him for those very reasons. It’s almost definitely not what it set out to do, but Down To Earth has revealed that even Zac Efron – even a rich white guy who the Western world was pretty designed for – is not completely comfortable in this world.
It’s hard to articulate how the documentary series – which Efron co-hosts with “wellness expert” Darin Olien, for some reason – led me to such a dramatic conclusion. But my main finding was that whether he’s traipsing through Lima, France or Iceland; Zac Efron is a ball of barely-contained anxiety throughout. It doesn’t matter if he’s nervously mixing flour with yeast by an Icelandic volcano, lowering himself into a tub of hot water or looking intently at a bunch of bees, this is a man who is simply not at ease.
Luckily, the relatively relaxed Darin (who is about 20 years his senior) is there to pick up the slack when it comes to smoothing out the duo’s many social interactions with gracious locals, while Zac mumbles incoherently to himself and sometimes even stares – bug-eyed – at the crew.
Yep, Zac Efron’s choice to make a travel documentary was an odd one. But look, he’s not a travel host. He’s not Anthony Bourdain. He’s just a guy trying to figure it all out; who has the profile and influence to get Netflix to film him doing it.
Not all of us are slick, camera-ready explorers ready to drop profound observations while riding a zip line in Costa Rica. Sometimes all we can say is “Whoa!” So what? It’s endearing. Not everything has to be mind-blowing. Not everyone is Bo Burnham. And this is the documentary that proves it.
Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer for MTV Australia. Follow her on Twitter @purpletank.