Growing up, Mr. Wizard’s World was one of my favorite shows. I was never a big science fan in school, but it made the subject fun and approachable for kids. Over the years it was followed by Beakman’s World and Bill Nye, the Sciene Guy—though those never drew my attention. One thing they share, however, is their male hosts. Is it any wonder so few women go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields?
Enter Emily’s Wonder Lab and its vibrant host Emily Calandrelli. Each episode Emily takes a group of kids through a messy science experiment that is equal parts educational and goofy fun, such as making their own fluorescent paint or tornado. What kid could resist? All of this is done with bright colors and enthusiasm, capped off with an experiment kids can do at home with their parents. Sounds like a lot of the previously mentioned science shows for kids, right?
Not really. There’s definitely a modern vibe and sensibility to the show (episodes are bite sized at less than 15 minutes each). To its credit, it never really talks down to the kids. When an episode focuses on non-Newtonian fluids it doesn’t simplify the language but does its best to put them into terms (and often illustrations) kids can understand. Mr. Wizard often did this, but over time some other series seemed to shy away from this approach and it really makes a difference. Kids aren’t dumb, and they sniff out something talking down to them fairly quickly. In fact, about the only negative I can lay against the show is that it does the reality series trope of confessionals having the kids at times talk directly to the camera about how they were feeling during an experiment. I suppose this is so common today that maybe kids expect it? It felt slightly off to me, but I’m not the target demographic either.
I mentioned Emily’s gender mattering earlier, and I know some will scoff at it. But there is something important about young girls seeing a woman at the center of science. It’s even more important that Calandrelli isn’t given wacky hair or a lab coat to wear. She’s not some bizarre image from a 1950s monster movie of what a scientist is, but a big sister/cool aunt teaching the kids. This point is driven home even more by the fact that she apparently filmed the first season while nine months (and noticeably) pregnant. And before you think she’s just some random actress from central casting, Calandrelli is an MIT graduate who regularly debunks viral junk science via her Twitter and Tik Tok accounts. Her gender isn’t beside the point but embraced. It matters to the producers and will matter to little girls watching at home.
If you have kids, they should be watching along. Emily’s Wonder Lab, along with She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, shows Netflix not only has a commitment to quality children’s television, but television that puts women in the forefront without having to sacrifice male viewers (a common sexist concern). Some might find it a miracle, but I’m sure Emily could explain it with science.