Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mythbusters: The End of an Era of Calculated Chaos, Maniacal Mayhem, and Blowing Sh*t Up

As with any good television series, an audience is dragged in kicking and screaming, or at least, being anchored with high expectations for some damn solid entertainment. Few shows last more than a few years, as their premise wears thin, or their cast or production team changes. Enter unto the world of television, Jamie Hyneman (below, right) and Adam Savage (the other guy). Together with the help of narrator, Robert Lee, the Mythbusters were unleashed.

The balls to the wall insanity through science long term adventure (B2WITSLTA for short) began in January of 2003 with, of all things any male human of any age will eat insects to see, jet engines strapped to a Chevy Impala. From there, the first season kept me stupidly hysterical while at the same time educating me with...say it. SAY IT! Science! That first season set the formula for years to come: Myth explained, problem described on blueprints, sometimes solved on said blueprints, then to the build, and onto experimentation, where we were shown whether the myth was 'Busted', 'Plausible', or 'Confirmed'.
Season one's jet car, exploding toilets, pissing on the third rail, the escape from Alcatraz, and other things that may come in handy in a pinch, were covered that magical year. Season two carried right on with the carefully calculated madness. The ancient death-ray, beating a radar detector, salvaging a pleasure boat with ping pong balls and other things that made you smacking your forehead for not discovering, hypothesizing, and solving the issue yourself over the weekend came to our television screens. It was freaking magic!
On it went. The adventure and excitement, the running for cover and blowing sh*t up, and the education-almost-by-accident formula kept us all enthralled.
Then, 2005 happened.
For the first time at the forefront, the trio that were only seen in glimpses and credited as 'builders' in the credits, were knighted and given magical hosting powers. Kari Byron was there from the beginning, floating in the background and doing a lot more than just tinkering like Tinkerbell. Tori Belleci was also a builder from season two on. Then, there was Grant Imahara, another builder brought on in season three.
Viewers that paid little attention to these three were taken aback by this sudden stellar propulsion. I remember thinking something like...
Little did we know at the time that true scientific magic was going to come together to make the already amazing show something really special. While Jamie and Adam were the obvious head honchos, Byron, Imahara, and Belleci were never pressed into the background again. While their tasks may have been considered secondary to any given episode, they quickly made it clear that they were every bit as mythbustery as a mythbusting Mythbuster could become.
The series carried on with the five and we tuned in faithfully to see our favorite quintet play with the laws of physics, gravity, chemistry, aerodynamic principals...and blow sh*t up. They sparked the imagination of countless people, hopefully more in the positive sense, and became themselves, a linchpin of pop culture. So popular and quotable had they become, that even I got into the meme game, where I mashed Mythbusters in with a heavy dose of "Star Trek".
We Mythbusters Faithful were blissfully happy in our accidental education.
And then people happened.
In 2009, the Mythbusters set off a mass amount of a high tech explosive that shook the town of Esparta, California and broke some windows. Big Boo-Mother-Flippin'-Who! Am I right? What's a little broken glass in the name of science?
In December of 2011, there was a minor incident involving a cannon. It was the result of a great many variables lining up to kick the show's ass and again blemish their reputation. A cannonball was fired in the wrong direction, blowing through a house in Dublin, California and damaging a minivan.
Okay, so, no joke, I guess, but mistakes happen, and Mythbusters was always a game with high stakes. Perhaps these incidents were the beginning of the end of the era, or perhaps it was the rising cost of the cast, and/or insurance, but whatever it may be, all things must pass. At the end of the August, 2014 episode, "Plane Boarding/Bite the Bullet", it was formally announced that Byron, Imahara, and Belleci would not appear again. I remember being shocked, upset, and rather beside myself over this hammer-blow of an update.
With the three 2005 additions now gone, the thirteenth season of Mythbusters seemed like an empty nest. While there were glimmers of the original greatness, "The Hyneman and Mister Savage Show" seemed off. It started wrong, with a poor premise of testing stunts from "The Simpsons" and misfired throughout the rest of this year. For crap's sake, the 6th episode was testing the stunt featured in "The Blues Brothers", where they spun the car in a 180 to park in front of the Chez Paul and whether or not drift racing was quicker than traditional racing.
This went on for the entire hour.
Still, even that episode was fun to watch. It was like spending time with your grown-up high school friends after they sent their kids to bed. They had to be quiet to make sure that they didn't wake anyone up, but they're still your friends and still fun.
No, there won't be another show like it unless a miracle happens and everyone is hired back and allowed to party like it's 2-0-0-5, but what are the chances? Not good.
After fourteen seasons, the show will end where it began, with our dynamic duo of utter madness and nearly fearless shenanigans at the helm. So, for the Mythbusters Faithful, we'll watch and hope they go out with a bang, not a whimper. In any case, we are better, smarter, and more inquisitive people because of them.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Teenage Christmas Ritual

Born in 1970, it certainly takes minimal mathematical skills to come to the conclusion that I was a teenager in the 1980's. It was a wonderful, strange, confusing, stressful, and often, heartbreaking time of my life. I'm glad for it, I sometimes want the magical ability to go back, and I'm glad that I can't.

Having lost my right eye in a household accident when I was four meant that I did not play sports in high school, stood out from just about everyone else and, therefore, was about as popular as rabies. I did manage to get along with just about anyone that bothered to speak to me, though that happened rarely, as I kept to myself. There were a decent amount of people I considered my friends at the time, mainly because they would have a decent conversation with me, or allow me to be funny. The pretty ones known as, 'girls', would usually just smile and nod politely.

There were a few bullies here and there, mostly left over from 'Junior High', which is what the kids today call 'Middle School', but they never caused me as much trepidation as the ones that seemed to waver back and forth between being friendly and being asses. I never knew where I stood with those people and they added to my stress greatly.

As for dating, I didn't. I had asked a few girls out early on in my Froshman (Yeah, I used an 'o' in that word. Deal.) and Sophomore years and quickly got the weirdness out of the way once I got shot down. Then, I just sort of gave up. It's not like I knew what in the world I would have done if one of them had answered in the affirmative.

Anyway, when the weather turned cold and the "Big Four" happened, attitudes of my schoolmates would change. There were smiles, costumes, gags and candy at Halloween, extra days off and family trips around Thanksgiving, the same around Christmas, but with gifts, and the anti-climatic, but still joyous New Year's Day. Even my fellow students who were on the fence with me as to whether they were dicks or not, generally weren't for that time, and the stress was off. We could smile, laugh, be stupid, and go home at the end of the day.

Christmas vacation, to me, meant a lot of time without my friends, save for one, and that was only for a brief time, as his family spent time elsewhere for Christmas. Yes, Gianfranco (a.k.a. John) Del Core, I'm lookin' at you, my bruddah. Love you and miss you. How's Canada? :D

Anywho...I got through the quiet times during the Christmas holiday with the help of music and video games. Mostly music. I listened to a great variety of things in my teenage years and still do. At the time, the '80's pop, hard rock, and metal got equal attention, but I spent a lot of time with the oldies as well, primarily The Beatles, especially around the holidays. I spent a ton of allowance money on vinyl records and many of them were of The Electric Light Orchestra, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, and pretty much the usual suspects. There were a lot of Beatles albums, too. These artists would come to my rescue, soothing that feeling of belonging nowhere. When I was at school, I wanted to go home, when I got home, I wanted to be at school. I think we all know that feeling.

In my little bedroom in the townhouse in Schiller Park, Illinois, I hung a string of Christmas lights, using paint-destroying Scotch tape, which was the standard at the time for my collection of posters and such. The string would start from one wall, dangle across the doorway, and continue around the head of my bed. It was an expensive string at the time, being about $15 for the 100 lights with every other one being a randomized blinker. It gave my little room a festive, if not a little bit melancholy, fluttering glow that I reveled in as I listened to whatever it was on my headphones while I cranked away at some Colecovision game, seated in my brown bean bag chair.

Invariably, late into night, I would move to my bed and listen to music on my big bulky Realistic Nova 16 headphones until I fell asleep. Usually, I'd get in a couple albums of some kind, before passing out completely. But, on Christmas Eve, if it was spent at home, I would pick a quirky little Beatles collection, entitled: "The Beatles Reel Music".

With the lights twinkling, I'd lay serenely, listening to the fourteen tracks and contemplating all sorts of things, like what my friends or perceived friends were doing at that moment, or perhaps what the girl or girls that I liked were up to. I would think about my distant future, my meager past, and wonder what I was yet to receive for Christmas. You know, all that teenager stuff.

Ah, those fourteen wonderful tracks. Amidst all the Christmas music on the radio, these classics I clung to like a child would a teddy bear.

I never felt more at peace.

Now, I'm 45 years old and life, of course, is a lot more complicated and dynamic in its ups and downs. Successes are celebrated no matter how small, and losses felt more deeply than ever before. There's a lot going on in the world, much of it wonderful, the rest horrifying. We're inundated with bad news on the television, mindless crap on the internet, and all on top of our daily routines, all of which are stressful. I highly recommend taking an hour or maybe an evening, picking out your favorite classic album or albums, a nice set of headphones (ear buds if you have nothing else), and let yourself go back to a time when your world was mostly unexplored. Do it this Christmas time. Just a little time for yourself. You know you deserve it.

May your holidays be peaceful, joyous, and full of love.