Hosted by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (also the hosts of Discovery Channel's Mythbusters), Unchained Reaction has a very simple premise. Two teams of five people (and the teams are folks who have worked together in an area, like engineering or robotics) are given a theme (such as light and heavy, fire and ice, or tools) and identical materials. Each team has five days to build a Rube Goldberg-type contraption that incorporates that theme; in addition, the final device has to have at least ten parts, and each part has to be set in motion by the previous part. The "twists" are that the team has to get the first part of their contraption up for demonstration on the first day, and near the end the teams are given a surprise element that has to be incorporated in their contraption. At the end both contraptions are set in motion judged by Adam, Jamie, and a guest judge; and the winning team gets, well, bragging rights.
Chain Reaction might as well have been named "build something big, weird, and cool." While this supposedly demonstrates how chain reactions work, the teams also use special effects and visual tricks to get the job done. Since we see the designs and machines getting built step by step (as do Adam and Jamie), there's not a lot of surprise what each section will do. While it's fun to watch the final results, I'd be just as happy skipping the first 45 minutes of the show and just seeing the final result. And really: No actual prize?!? I'm amazed that they couldn't come up with something -- a cash prize, a car from a sponsor, a year's worth of electronic parts -- for the winning team.
The only thing Unchained Reaction has over other reality show competitions is that it skips many of the annoying gimmicks other shows use: rivalries and romances between competitors, dramatic pauses right before a commercial, etc. That said, Unchained Reaction is more of a scientific goof than a serious endeavor, a way to build something creative for its own end. And for no prize.
Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch