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A Ten Year-Old Ben Affleck Made His Screen Debut on This PBS Series

Flashing back to the Oscar winner's educational TV roots.
  • Ben Affleck in Voyage of the Mimi. (Peace River Films)
    Ben Affleck in Voyage of the Mimi. (Peace River Films)

    The humble beginnings of A-List actors can be a fascinating journey through guest starring roles on big hits — like Tom Hanks on The Love Boat — or starring roles in out-of-the-way experiments — like Renee Zellweger on Showtime's Rebel Highway. But few trips on the wayback machine are as fascinating as when you uncover a childhood performance of a future star. Some actors, like Jodie Foster, have been with us since childhood and never left, growing up on camera all the while. Others — like Natasha Lyonne — popped up as a kid in some commercials before eventually emerging years later as a full-fledged adult. Not Ben Affleck, though. You couldn't stretch the definition of the term enough to call him a child star, but he did act in his childhood. The earliest and most curious role of the Early Affleck era was definitely the educational program The Voyage of the Mimi, and luckily the show is available to stream on YouTube to satisfy all of our Affleckian curiosities.

    Created in 1984 with the intent of teaching middle school students learn math and science in an more engaging way, the premise of The Voyage of the Mimi was that of a ship captained by a rather uncharismatic old man (in real life, the man playing the captain was a scientist, Peter G. Marston) who would go on various seafaring excursions, encountering various teachable scientific concepts along the way.

    These lessons are all very important, of course. Kids need to learn about how thermometers work sooner or later. But if the mission of The Voyage of the Mimi was "learning, but fun!" the equation was maybe a bit imbalanced. It doesn't help that the filmmaking itself was quite low-budget and drab; without intending too much shade to our neighbors to the north, it very much has the look and feel of Canadian-produced educational content.

    Affleck, just ten years old at the time, played C.T. Granville, the grandson of the ship's captain who accompanies him on these shipping excursions, providing a necessary youth perspective. Each episode was divided in half, with the first 15 minutes playing as a narrative drama (well, "drama") and the second half playing as an educational explainer of the concepts introduced in the first half. As the kid, Affleck's character was the one who got stuff explained to him. And sometimes he was the character who got really excited about a big vat of peanut butter.

    Four years after The Voyage of the Mimi, a second series was produced, The Second Voyage of the Mimi, this one focusing on a search for a lost Mayan City. Affleck returned, now a teenager, with his heavy Boston accent toned down a bit.

    With the educational TV exploits of his youth easily accessible on YouTube, Affleck has talked about The Voyage of the Mimi in several talk show appearances, grinning his way through clips on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Graham Norton Show. While the video quality on YouTube isn't great and the episodes themselves are as dry as the deck of a ship that hasn't been taken out to sea, there's something meditative about watching a young Ben Affleck, years before he acquired that A-List star persona. And hey, if you learn a little something about condensation or map navigation along the way, all the better.

    The Voyage of the Mimi and The Second Voyage of the Mimi are both available for streaming in their entirety on YouTube.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Ben Affleck, PBS, The Voyage of the Mimi