Mythbusters Review: The Simpsons Specialby Alan Eggleston / January 11, 2015
It’s finally here – the new season of Mythbusters on Discovery Channel. For fans of this EmmyⓇ-nominated series, and I am one of them, the seasons never last long enough and the new seasons never come soon enough. This new season started off with a bang of Homer-Simpsonian proportions. Literally.
But before I get to that, let’s consider some of the other finer details of the new season.
New Mythbusters, New Look
We ended last season with a big bang (after all, explosions are the heart of Mythbusters): the news that three fan-favorite regulars would be leaving the series: Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara. Fans were enraged and some even started a petition to get them reinstated, to no avail. Exit the trio. (Here’s Adam and Jamie’s homage to the fab three.)
While we will all feel a hole in our hearts for the missing three amigos who offered so much to the series, I think fans will still enjoy the new, more focused version with Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.
Adam and Jamie have done plenty to prepare fans for the changes with updates on the Mythbusters website and Mythbusters Facebook fan page: Says Adam, “We’re back with a brand new season of Mythbusters, and by brand new I mean totally new in so many ways. We’ve really gone to great lengths this time to make the show look aesthetically gorgeous.” The cameras are higher resolution for a more cinematic look.
Adam continues, “In addition, we have a whole new graphics package going on where, while we’re building stuff, you’ll actually see measurements and information about what we’re building pop up on screen. That’s new.” Adds Jamie, “It looks really sharp and it should serve to explain things more clearly, which is what this whole show is about.”
And how to fill that hole left by the Kari, Tory, and Grant exit?
As Adam explains, “One of the other things that we have done in this season is, well, it feels kind of like a returning to roots. We’ve decided to tell less stories per episode, which gives us much more time for what we love most about the show, which is the process.” Says Jamie, “Yeah, it’s all about the process. When you get into the process, it teaches so much, and so we’re focusing so much more on that, trying to emphasize how much more important the methodology is and investigative sort of science that we do.” Adds Adam, “And because we have such a long history of making things, we have accommodated space in the stories to really talk about the that. It just feels like we’re going a lot deeper into the personal journey of discovery that for us is the fun part of the job.”
That’s one of things we’ve always loved about Mythbusters, right? The behind-the-scenes builds and the thinking behind the mythbusting.
Now about that Homer-Simpsonian thing.
The new season begins with a special on the myths of The Simpsons show. Adam and Jamie are big fans of, and even had a cameo appearance in 2012 on, The Simpsons, so they decided it would be fun to explore some of the goofier “science claims” of that series. (Check out a Mythbusters cameo on the Simpsons in season 23.)
This episode began with a visual reference to The Simpsons with Adam and Jamie sitting on a sofa TV-channel surfing and digging into a box of donuts – just like on The Simpsons. Throughout the program they showed Simpsons’ clips. At one point, Adam even wrote multiple times on a blackboard as Bart does in the opening of many Simpsons episodes.
To introduce the segment, Adam and Jamie brought in The Simpsons Executive Producer, Al Jeans, who humorously discussed the show’s attempts to be as scientifically accurate as possible – for a cartoon. That was the cue for Adam and Jamie to test that hypothesis.
One of the set ups from The Simpsons is that Homer Simpson’s home is about to be demolished by a wrecking ball. To save his home, Homer jumps on the wrecking ball to get between the wrecking ball and his home. Is that concept even possible? Adam and Jamie decided to tackle it.
How do you test a situation presented in an animated cartoon? You build a life-size replica!
Adam created a life-size version of Homer Simpson from stacks of upholstery foam and using additive foam building – and it looks convincingly like that tubby father of three. All 5 feet 11 inches, 239 pounds of him!
Then they had to come up with a 5,000 pound wrecking ball. “In the demolition industry, wrecking balls are kind of iconic,” said Jamie, “but we’ve come to find out they don’t actually use them that much anymore.” So Jamie built one. He came up with an inventive tool to drill half spherical holes in the ground and pour cement into rounded rebar-reinforced half-spheres, which he then “glued” together with epoxy just for cement.
Finally, they built two replicas of Simpson’s home – one for a control test and a second for the actual mythbusting, adding Homer to the wrecking ball. (Note: They tried to find real homes ready for demolition for the exercise, but surprisingly none were to be found, even in neighboring states!)
One issue Adam and Jamie had not envisioned: A crane swinging such a heavy ball may tip if they swing the ball too far. So they had to figure out how far to safely swing their monster ball. Turns out, they couldn’t swing it as far as shown in the cartoon.
SPOILER: While the control house took significant damage from the wrecking ball alone, the second house slammed by a wrecking ball with Homer attached took only minor damage. The Mythbusters call? Surprisingly plausible.
The second Simpsons myth that Adam and Jamie tested was from an episode in which Bart Simpson flushed a lighted cherry bomb down a school toilet as a prank to force all the school toilets to gush water like a geyser.
Of course, Adam and Jamie first set up a controlled scale model. Only, even as much as the Mythbusters crew loves a good explosion, they didn’t use any actual cherry bombs for that initial test.
“Not in my shop, we’re not!” said Jamie. “Number one, it’s illegal. And number two, it’s potentially very dangerous and it’s definitely very messy, so we need more control.” Mythbusters only does explosions where it’s safe, at the bomb range.
So Adam created a mock three-toilet set up with transparent sewer plumbing and caps. And Jamie salvaged a rig from a previous mythbusting episode, as he explained, “using a ‘pop gun’ with a fast-acting valve that releases a blast of pressurized air, and that’s essentially what an explosion does, it creates a volume of rapidly expanding gases in a pressure wave.”
The mocked up system replicated the cartoon version fairly well, regardless of where in the mock-up they put the pressure, although the water plume wasn’t spectacular. So Adam filled the sewer pipes with water to simulate a blockage and they set off the pop gun at the lowest point. That replicated the cartoon effect perfectly.
As usual, once Mythbusters finished the controlled experiment, they “ramped it up” to full scale.
In this case, they moved to the bomb range and built a more realistic bathroom with three fully functional toilets and a realistic cast iron sewer system on a 7-foot platform. Then they armed cherry bombs with an electronic spark that allowed them control the time and place of explosion.
SPOILER: The toilets were bolted onto the wooden platform and the force from the water pressure created by the explosion was so great, it blew the toilets off the platform. So Adam and Jamie bolted new toilets directly onto the cast iron plumbing and tried again. Once again, the water pressure was too great and the toilets blew off the platform. The Mythbusters call? Busted!
From analyzing the myths, to figuring out the builds, to mixing in the metaphors and slipping in the The Simpsons clips, this was a fun episode, and it didn’t lose a bit of the Mythbusters magic fans have come to love.
My call: Mythbusters Magic Preserved? Confirmed!
If you’re a long-time fan of Mythbusters as I am, you miss Kari, Tory, and Grant. But you will see that the new format – effective new graphics, improved cinematics, and return to the roots of mythbusting – is really an improved product worth watching and loving all over again.
Where once the show had become two separate teams quickly confirming, busting, or calling a myth plausible, now there is much more time for the science and the creativity of the build. And now you will have more of it all to enjoy in upcoming episodes, such as the Indiana Jones and A-Team specials. I even saw hints of attempting to ride a motorbike across a pond. There’s much more fun to come!
Mythbusters airs on the Discovery Channel Saturdays at 9 pm ET/PT, 8 pm CT; Episodes repeat the following week at 8 pm ET/PT, 7 pm CT