Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters has been on the air since 2003, and has rarely produced a bad episode, though admittedly the series improved markedly once the second team of three younger ‘busters was formally introduced. That’s a feat to be proud of. I know I caught occasional episodes over the years, and have devoured at least a few dozen episodes in the past few months alone.
This week they revisit Archimedes’s Solar Ray, a myth that they have put to the test twice before. Though I can’t recall the team tackling a myth thrice before (twice, yes), this comes at the special request of President Barack Obama, who guest stars in the episode. POTUS’s theory is that the mistake made in the past is the lack of human element. Though hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman have used actual people on small scale tests, their larger scale experiments were done by computer and mirrors mounted on a board. The President asks them to give it one more shot and report back to him. The episode is part of Discovery Communications’s support for the current administration’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) campaign.
Admittedly, the scenes featuring President Obama are a little cheesy. The series is no stranger to corniness, but usually that’s done in the name of humor, whereas in this instance it’s supposed to be more serious. In fact, it seems likely to me that the scene where Obama makes the request and the scene where the Mythbusters give him the results were probably done on the same day, and that slightly ruins the magic. However, everything outside of the White House is classic Mythbusters stuff, and as thoroughly enjoyable as most episodes. I won’t ruin the results, but the guys seemed to be having an absolute blast staging the test with a group of 500 middle and high school students. Perhaps even more fun than the kids themselves.
The question is, was this worth the effort of revisiting the same thing for the third time? Probably not. To be honest, I would have rather liked to see something new. The night before I had watched the episode “Hidden Nasties”, which featured a car being skipped across water, and I thought that was way cooler than seeing sun beams on a sail… again. However, I am all in favor of the STEM push, and Discovery and Mythbusters surely deserve credit for helping in something vital to America’s future. As an educator myself, I may be biased in that regard.
The second part was a bit more action packed. Tory Belleci, Grant Imahara, and Kari Byron, the second team, attempted to see if the scene from Hellboy where the titular character flipped a car by punching it was realistic. Well, of course, the devil boy isn’t, but they were checking force and fulcrums. It’s physics, of course. Again, no results will be spoiled, but watching a number of SUVs crushed as the trio tried over and over again to get things right was thoroughly enjoyable. My impression was they tried far more variations and adaptations than usual, or at least more were shown, really putting this myth through its paces.
My one caveat is, is something shown in a movie really a myth? Sure, it may be decades from now if people remember what happened. The Archimedes story fits the title better than the Hellboy thing. But after eight years of making episodes, I doubt they could survive on myths alone, and the point of the show is not semantics, it’s science, so that can be overlooked.
As I said, this was not the most enjoyable Mythbusters ever, but as always, it was entertaining and fully rooted in science. Any children watching it (and I’ll bet there are at least 500 that will be) will learn something cool. The hosts were as engaging as always, and their enthusiasm always seems genuine, even after all of these years. Even neater, next week the Mythbusters will meet up with Seth Rogen in “Green Hornet Special”, looking at myths from the upcoming movie. I’m really looking forward to that one.
Mythbusters “President’s Challenge” airs this Wednesday night at 9pm on Discovery Channel. Check it out.