Leave it to the guy who (literally) wrote the book on sharpening pencils — and gets plenty of folks to pay him $15 to artfully sharpen a single Ticonderoga No. 2 — to spend his time at the Television Critics Association press tour teaching reporters to fold the perfect paper plane. And then cheerfully asking us to throw the finished products at him en masse.
As the star of National Geographic Channel’s family-friendly new series Going Deep with David Rees, which premieres Monday, author/cartoonist/comedian David Rees sets out to shed fascinating new light on such mundane tasks as tying your shoe, climbing a tree, digging a hole or dispensing with a pesky house fly.
But before you dismiss those things as being about as interesting to watch as drying paint, consider this. Do you really know which kind of shoelace is strongest — and why? Did you know there’s a specific way to tie your laces if you don’t want them caught in your bike spokes or your treadmill? And that it takes more than just a shovel to dig a proper hole, no matter what the size?
The lanky, deceptively somber faced Rees says he and the show’s other producers considered a hundred ideas before narrowing the field to stuff that most folks thought they’d mastered in childhood — or shortly thereafter. Rees also wanted subjects that genuinely captured his imagination, allowing his unique knack for humorous instruction to shine through.
“it has to be something where you think there’s nothing to learn, because the whole point of the show is to celebrate and really examine the everyday — the mundane — to prove that it’s only a matter of perspective,” he said. “Paper airplanes are amazing. Shoelaces are amazing.”
Rees admits that one episode in particular came to pass because of an unfulfilled lifelong mission — to climb the magnolia tree in the backyard of his North Carolina childhood home. Forbidden to do so by his parents, Rees goes back home with Going Deep cameras in tow.
“At the end of episode, I go home and I literally climb the childhood tree that my mom and dad didn’t let me climb,” he mused. “I make them sit there and watch me. It was profoundly satisfying.”
Rees says a favorite part of doing the series is meeting the experts who help him explain the magic behind the mundane — citing “Professor Shoelace” Ian Fieggan and a Tibetan monk (who revealed to him the intricacies of ice) as particular favorites. And while he says some of the pros were skeptical of the show’s intent at first, when they recognized the unabashed investment and affection Rees and the show display for the subjects at hand, they happily pitched in to make for great TV.
“It’s an honest‑to‑God how‑to show,” said Rees. “Sometimes it takes them a minute to wrap their heads around it, but as soon as they do, they’re like, ’Oh, OK, I can see how this connects.’ The show is a celebration not just of the everyday — it’s also a celebration of these people who are so passionate about what they do, whether it’s a scientist who is dealing with the really specific sub-speciality about frozen ice cores and the release of carbon gases or a guy in his garage who builds Asian fighting sticks who wants to talk to me about why match sticks are important and how that influences how to strike a match. For me, meeting all these people is such a privilege and so awesome.”
And occasionally a little goosebumpy. In an episode involving how to shake hands, Rees found himself working with a highly unusual — and, he says, uniquely humbling — visual aid.
“They had a cadaver arm, and they had removed the skin and tied strings to all the ligaments in the forearm — and when you pulled on the string, the finger moved,” he explained. “That was such a profound experience for obvious reasons, but also because it made you realize that a handshake doesn’t originate in the hand. It originates all the way up the arm.”
Ultimately, Rees says he hopes that viewers of all ages learn something new about the stuff we do every day. And that grownups — like a roomful of paper-plane-chucking reporters — can revisit a childlike sense of wonder and accomplishment when we learn to tie our laces in two seconds flat.
Going Deep with David Rees premieres Monday, July 14 at 10/9CT on National Geographic Channel. Check out these upcoming episodes:
How to Make an Ice Cube (series premiere)
Monday, July 14, 2014, 10:00 p.m. ET/PT
David is tired of sullying his beverages with inferior ice. When he fixes himself a drink at home, he wants it to look like the cocktails you see in high-end liquor ads: a tumbler filled with ice that glitters like diamonds (only cubed). Join David as he gathers expert advice from icemakers, ice sculptors, ice harvesters, glaciologists and venerable Buddhist monks — you’ll never freeze water the same way again. The final result is a series of steps guaranteed to turn your freezer into an ice factory that churns out heirloom-quality cubes.
How to Tie Your Shoes
Monday, July 14, 2014, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT
Think you know how to tie your shoes? Think again. Most of us still keep our laces knotted the same way we learned when we were kids, but what other methods are possible, and which one will lead to optimal shoelace tying? Is there really such a thing as the perfect knot? David consults with survivalists, surgeons and even an evolutionary biologist to find out what kind of laces and knots we should be using in our footwear, as well as an answer to the age-old question — should we be wearing shoes at all, or are they actually nefarious foot-coffins?
How to Dig a Hole
Monday, July 21, 2014, 10:00 p.m. ET/PT
Learn the tools, techniques and talents needed to carry out any type of excavation, including mines, graves, golf holes and even uniquely personal holes that express something about you as an individual. Join David as he embarks on a journey of hole (and self) discovery that brings him in contact with some of the world’s foremost experts on digging. He then synthesizes all he learns into a series of simple steps that even those who are unable to tell a spade from a shovel can follow. He also uses them to dig a customized hole of his own design that, if he’s not careful, could kill him.
How to Flip a Coin
Monday, July 21, 2014, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT
Heads or tails? Whichever you pick, there’s a better than 50-50 chance that your mind ends up blown by David’s rigorous investigation into the history, the physics and the shadowy known unknowns behind the ancient practice of coin flipping. He’ll consult with physicists, circus performers, the New York Lottery draw team and an engineer turned “kinetic sculptor” in order to determine with 100 percent scientific certainty the ideal method for flipping coins — then go out and impress your friends while taking all their money.
Additional episodes include “How to Swat a Fly,” “How to Open a Door,” “How to Climb a Tree,” “How to Throw a Paper Airplane,” “How to Shake Hands” and “How to Light a Match.”