‘The World According to Jeff Goldblum’ is Pretty Awkward
Over the past four decades, the hepcat presence of Jeff Goldblum has intrigued moviegoers and transformed him into a sort of avant-garde icon. Something about his lanky stature, intense features, and propensity to play scientists makes him seem intelligent, while his unabashed joy absolutely pops onscreen whether he’s reading thirsty tweets about himself or portraying Marvel’s hedonistic Grandmaster. He inspires adulation in the form of gifs, fan art, and, in one instance, a 25-foot statue that sexily lounged along the Tower Bridge in London. Therefore, on paper, it makes sense to give Goldblum room to run amok, asking questions and sharing himself with us, which is what the new Disney+ show, The World According to Jeff Goldblum attempts to do.
Each week, a fresh episode invites viewers to explore the ordinary with the actor, who’s seeking something extraordinary. As a woman who’s seriously considered purchasing the Jeff Goldblum Dress-Up Magnet set, the show piqued my interest. With National Geographic producing it on the heels of their award-winning, nail-bitingly intense Free Solo, it seemed like this show could really usher in some magic, or at least a few clever new gifs. Instead, it plays like one of the awkward finalist pilots on The Next Food Network Star, which is to say, the content feels forced, empty, and quickly produced.
While it’s swell that Jeff Goldblum embodies a positive, upbeat persona in direct contrast to the smarmy men crawling around out there today, he’s an actor, not an interviewer, and The World According to Jeff Goldblum really reveals his limitations. If he weren’t an established personality, it’s unlikely the interviewees would tolerate his shenanigans, and National Geographic would definitely avoid filming them. Frustrating hints of provocative segments that could have been crop up from time to time, tantalizing the small subsector of the population that yearns for a modern-day Fishing With John, but this is Disney+, meant to provide a safe, calm streaming experience for everyone.
The pilot, “Sneakers,” opens with Goldblum introducing himself before sharing a vintage family photo, apparently to verify his long history of sneaker wearing…or something? He proceeds to ramble along for approximately the next twenty-five minutes. During this time, he ventures to Sneaker Con, says “wow” at a level to rival Owen Wilson, and frequently holds the cliché man-in-an-art-museum posture, with his hand cupping his chin, to visibly demonstrate his interest in his surroundings. He checks out the Adidas factory, hops in on a pickup basketball game, and lobs softball questions like, “So, shoes make you feel a certain way?”
Episode two, “Ice Cream,” follows a similar structure. This time, though, the show leans more heavily on stock footage, trippy cartoonish segments, and voiceover narration. During Jeff’s meeting with the renowned Ben and Jerry of ice cream fame, the trio ponder the relationship between a baby’s ecstasy while drinking mother’s milk to an adult’s love of ice cream before swiftly sliding right back into more vanilla conversation. Goldblum disperses topical factoids throughout the episode to keep it from feeling like total junk food. But anyone with the internet could google “ice cream facts” and end up with the same knowledge and an extra half an hour to watch something better.
“Tattoos,” the third episode, opens again with a Goldblum introduction, and ever so skittishly touches upon the Jewish aversion to tattoos before quickly scooching back into the show’s safe zone—clunky interviews, voiceover stock footage, and Jeff’s unfocused enthusiasm. This episode provides an excuse to plop Goldblum in a kayak in Hawaii so he can marvel about native tattoo practices before returning to the mainland for Jeff Goldblum Day in Pittsburgh, PA. The most comfortable moments of the series to date occur when Goldblum basks in the adulation of his fans, and finds tattoos of his own face pretty nifty.
Someone seeking a few hours of content to stream while vacuuming, doing cross-stitch, or napping might find this an appropriately soothing, moderately interesting, and certainly inoffensive binge. It’s not a think piece, or clever work of art, but more of a “How It’s Made” with a distinctively handsome host. As the show portrays it, The World According to Jeff Goldblum is disappointingly every bit as ordinary as the world according to all the rest of us.