In Rainn Wilson And The Geography Of Bliss, The Office star travels the world to try and see what makes people happy in different countries and cultures. The series is based on Eric Weiner’s book The Geography Of Bliss, but Wilson certainly makes this five-episode journey his own, mainly by telling the audience that he’s been in a funk lately and wanted to know what happiness actually means to people.
RAINN WILSON AND THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: On a chilly grey spring morning, Rainn Wilson is in a bathing suit and yellow knit beanie, lining up with a group of women, also in bathing suits and yellow beanies.
The Gist: Wilson starts in Iceland, routinely ranked near the top of the list of the “happiest” countries on earth; in other words, the highest percentage of that country’s population report that they are happy with their lives. It’s a beautiful country, no doubt, but it also is shrouded in snowy darkness during the winter months. So why are people there so happy?
The first person he meets is his friend Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, with whom he starred in The Meg. They strip down and sit in one of the volcanic island nation’s many hot springs. This is when Wilson is introduced to a saying that Icelanders use all the time: Þetta reddast, meaning “It’ll all work out.”
He then tours the Saga Museum with former Reykjavik mayor Jón Gnarr, a comedian who got elected in 2009 after running mostly as a goof. The sagas are how Icelanders keep their history, and the museum is full of wax figures of violent Viking battles. That’s happy, right?
Wilson visits a farm that’s been in a family for 7 generations, then goes on an “ice cream tour” with Jewells Chambers, who moved from Brooklyn to Iceland six years ago when she got married to a native Icelander. He talks to the punk trio Ateria, who discusses the heavy use of antidepressants in the country and how depression had a stigma in the country until recently. Finally, Wilson joins two women who are in a group that take a dip in the frigid North Atlantic every morning.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? In essence, Rainn Wilson And The Geography Of Bliss is a travel show along the lines of The Reluctant Traveler, which tries to infuse a little bit of comedy into the beautiful vistas and fun activities its star is doing.
Our Take: At this stage of the celebrity travel show genre, the places that are featured aren’t quite as critical as the host that’s participating in these adventures. You know the footage is going to be spectacular, and you know that the producers are going to find interesting people for the host to interact with and camera-friendly activities for them to do.
Rainn Wilson was a good choice for a show like this, and not just because his sense of humor is dry and snarky, but with a sense of positivity bubbling underneath. It’s because the subject matter of this series is in Wilson’s wheelhouse. Anyone who has followed his career knows that Wilson has been searching for bliss for awhile, via his Soul Pancake production company. In different parts of the first episode, he alludes to his general unhappiness, along with the circumstances of his upbringing that contributed to that.
This lends a depth to the show that makes it more than just about the travel aspect. In fact, as a person who is keenly interested in how people’s upbringing affects their current worldview, we would love to hear more from Wilson about his early years, specifically in the context of his search for bliss. It really hit home when he visited with the family who owned the farm; he was moved by how the family members supported each other no matter what they did.
His narration during the farm segment is telling: “We help each other because we can, not because there’s some future payback. There’s a word for this: Love.” It’s a concept that he has tried to build in his life, but he’s building from scratch, if you go by what he says in his selfie videos. It’s definitely a fascinating concept to explore, because many people are trying to do the same. We hope the rest of the series stays with this emotional anchoring; it makes what Wilson’s doing more than just traveling with a camera.
Sex and Skin: Besides seeing Wilson’s and Ólafsson’s bare bums, there’s nothing.
Parting Shot: As a preview of the next episode, Wilson is dropped off in the middle of what looks like a depressed town. “What does it mean to live in an unhappy place?” he says in voice over.
Most Pilot-y Line: When Ateria sings their song about cod liver oil (yes, they have a song about that), Wilson chugs an entire bottle of the stuff. Acccck.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Rainn Wilson And The Geography Of Bliss is aided by Wilson’s history, genial grumpiness and what seems like a true desire to figure out what makes people happy.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.