channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 May, 2008, 12:00am

The tagline of Smash Lab (Discovery Channel; Thursdays at 9pm), 'Dangerous experiments for a safer world', implies either scientific inquiry with the hope of results that benefit society (at no small risk to participants) or, if your mind works like that of the late scientist Albert Hofmann, a bad acid trip. In the case of Discovery Channel's latest offering, little evidence supports the former description and while Channel Hop is not qualified to comment on the latter, we'd say, at the very least, the 'bad' part is true.

The show's basic premise is not unlike National Geographic's I Didn't Know That, or Discovery Channel's MythBusters, in which two fun-loving amateur scientists put their heads together to come up with whacky but convincing ways of outing a science myth or testing the limits of a household item.

In each Smash Lab episode, four presenters aim to test every day technology and use it in extraordinary situations. Rather than playing with hammers and toy helicopters, they use Rhino Lining (spray-on polyurethane used in waterproofing truck beds) and other heavy duty industrial materials to build colossal structures with the intention of knocking them down.

Who doesn't like a big bang once in a while? But why bother cloaking it in the guise of science when it's obvious the team's understanding of experiment variables and controls is shaky at best?

A case in point: while comparing impact resistance between 1,800kg and 3,600kg blocks of aerated concrete, they ram a Toyota Camry into one and the much larger Ford Crown Victoria into the other.

One thing we'd like to see them prove: would anyone actually shell out US$60,000 to flameproof their house with aerogel powder and carbon fibre blankets? The only theory Smash Lab debunks is that large explosions and car crashes can pass for practical science. It might help it reach the right demographic if the tagline was changed to 'Pointless explosions for a noisier world'.

On the subject of putting oneself in harm's way for the greater good, you might find a more palatable example in Cooking in the Danger Zone (BBC World News; Saturdays at 10.30pm).

In this hybrid travelogue-current affairs series, host and food writer Stefan Gates (above right) does very little cooking himself. Instead, he relies on the skills and resources of his subjects for meals, in places such as Afghanistan, South Korea, Chernobyl and the Arctic. In one episode, Gates sits down to a meal at a refugee camp in northern Uganda, where people survive on meagre UN food rations, and in another, he takes a non-sensationalist look at the different aspects of farming dog meat in South Korea, all presented with his unassuming, affable attitude.

'I realise now that food has so much story, history and symbolism to it,' says Gates, during a chat with Channel Hop. 'It's hard to just eat something and not think about its wider implications. It's odd, but fish sauce reminds me of refugees in Burma [Myanmar], goats remind me of the famines in Ethiopia and beetroot is all about Chernobyl. It doesn't make for an easy life.'

Well, Stefan, you know what they say about food being the way to a man's heart.