Smash Lab, Season One, Discovery

It seems like the Discovery Channel has one runaway hit these days: Mythbusters. Some days, they can show reruns from morning to night, and faithful fans flock to see the great myths of our day tested. Unfortunately, it's hard to make a whole channel out of one show.

So, in the 10 PM Wednesday time slot, after Mythbusters, Discovery has been airing a new show for the last few weeks by the name of Smash Lab. The idea is that a team of four crafty science types take existing materials, and try to reengineer them to solve a problem in ways that would make any Lifehacker proud. Examples of recent attempts include fireproofing a home with Nanogel, blastproofing a house with truck bed liner, and using a magnetic descent system for high rise fire escape. Like Mythbusters, things are tried on a smaller scale, and we end with something going down in flames or being destroyed.

To put it bluntly, this is no Mythbusters. While the team all have their strengths, I don't necessarily buy into their labels as three are really engineers, and the last is an industrial designer. (As an aside, I don't think of engineers as scientists, even though they certainly use science). Anyway, with Mythbusters, it never feels dumbed down, even when they're doing something useless, ridiculous, or just clowning around in some goofy outfit. In comparison, Smash Lab has a dumbed down feel as they rarely explain any of the science beyond a very cursory level that many of us outgrew by elementary school. It's a shame because this is another missed opportunity to (a) get children more educated in science, and (b) get more adults interested in the why's and the how's of our physical universe (obscure reference inserted). Also contributing to the dumbed down feel of the show is that each time they go to commercial break, they come back and give a lengthy summary of the last few minutes as if I had the attention span of a gnat.

If the show is really this bad, why the heck am I watching it? I suppose it's from a lack of other science related television choices, and I've probably painted it poorer than it really is (also, I've probably seen just about every Mythbusters episode, and many a few times). For example, when writing this article, I came across the Smash Lab blog. In it, they expand on, and give some of the physics behind what they're doing. It's too bad that more of that type of content doesn't make it into the show. While I'm sure a whiteboard full of formulas won't make for compelling TV, we shouldn't have to get a Sesame Street version of science brought to us by the letter "n" and the number "5." Catch Smash Lab on Wednesdays at 10 PM, or online here for the next few months, just be prepared to be talked down to.

Overall Grade: B-

Reviewed by Jonas

PS: I've found that fast forwarding the show after each commercial break, thereby bypassing the incessant summarization makes Smash Lab a lot more watchable.

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