Sunday, June 23, 2013

The End of MythBusters

My wife has spent the last week out of town, staying with her mother, who had surgery on Monday. With so much time to myself, I've ended up watching a fair bit of "MythBusters," because we don't have real TV reception here and I tend to default to what I know on Netflix.

Netflix is a few years behind, so I've only actually seen one new episode, and that was only because it was one I'd somehow missed on my previous passes through. Of the episodes available, I've probably seen most of them half a dozen times. I've been watching "MythBusters" for years. But, as it enters its tenth year on the air, I find myself increasingly nervous about how, sooner or later, it will be cancelled, and take another of my lines to the past with it.

The show follows a fairly simple premise, but it's undergone a number of revisions as it's evolved. The first season introduced the setup: Two men, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, "with over 30 years of special effects experience between them," tackle myths to see if they're possible or not. The net for "myths" has widened over the years: Originally the mix was mostly urban legends and historical tales, but as time went by an increasingly large number of things seen in movies came up.

Those earliest episodes seem downright primordial to someone who's kept up with the show. Adam and Jamie, somewhat uncertain before the camera, would introduce a myth and then test it. And then another. Then, usually, a third. Quick segments by Heather Joseph-Witham, credited as a "folklorist" on IMDb, would give context to the myths. She only did 18 episodes and, without being mean, I don't think anybody missed her. Interview segments seemed out of place as the series found its footing and became all about the explosions.

The very first episode I ever saw was "Explosive Decompression," the first episode of 2004 that was in reruns by the time I saw it in 2006 or so. This was classic "MythBusters": five episodes before the show's build team made its first proper on-camera appearance, and eight before Heather left. I don't remember her being in this episode, though; it was just Adam and Jamie.

By now the show had a good rhythm down. The very earliest episodes seem ponderous in retrospect: The guys would test one myth, then another, and yes, if there was time, a third. The introduction of the build team as a separate, autonomous group allowed the show to stagger the myths. Adam and Jamie would start a myth, then the build team would start a separate myth, then we'd go back to Adam and Jamie while they finished up, then the build team again, then Adam and Jamie would start something else, then the build team would finish, then Adam and Jame would finish their second myth as the credits rolled.

And, with a little more ironing to be done, that was the gist of it. The build team originally consisted of Tory Belleci, Scottie Chapman and Kari Byron. Scottie left the show in 2005 and was replaced with Grant Imahara. Like Scottie, he had a specialty - she did welding, he was into robotics. The others were more general-purpose, although Tory gradually built a well-earned reputation for hurting himself.

And that's how it is today, minus a period in 2009-2010 when Kari was off on maternity leave and was replaced with Jessi Combs. But a decade is a long time, and the popular consensus is that the show is beginning to flag. I remember having a discussion with a friend of mine, Eric, in 2010. He'd been my boss in college, and after I'd graduated I'd left the area to live out of state for six months. Coming back, he and I caught up on all sorts of things, including the show. We'd both been fans when I was in college, but he'd become disenchanted of late, calling them the "Fun Busters." He disliked how they took movie myths apart, feeling it ruined the fun of the movies.

When I got back was also when I lost track of the show. My mother - yes, I moved back in with my mother - didn't have full cable, and when my girlfriend and I moved in together, we didn't get it either. We didn't have the money. From the time I first saw the show before I left for college until the time I got back from Florida (where my rented room had cable), I kept up with the show. These were its best years, too - I'm currently rewatching the episode where they build and burn model Hindenburgs, but I remember when this episode was new in 2007. I also remember seeing a clip of it on the air years later, when narrator Robert Lee introduced it as a "classic episode." And that might have been the first time I felt a twinge of sadness, because I hadn't been aware of the passage of time before.

I'd comment now on how the hosts have aged, but the funny thing is that only Adam really has. Tory, Grant and Kari all look like they're in their late 20s to early 30s, but Kari is 39 and both the guys are 42. Jamie, born in 1956, looked 55 when the show started, and he looks 55 now. Adam, born in 1967, is the only one who seems to be aging normally. Over the show's run, his beard has grayed as his hairline has (unevenly) receded. It's possible they could push this another decade, but it seems incredibly unlikely. As the cast ages and the myth well depletes faster than it can be replenished, I see "MythBusters" hanging on for at least two more years but not more than five.

And it's going to break my heart when this happens, because "MythBusters" has always been there for me. I watched that very first episode in 2006 with the whole family gathered around the TV. Nobody does that anymore, not without also checking their phones and laptops while they watch. And there we were, and my brother looked at the hosts' vast shelving units full of improbably labeled bins and said to my father, who was to die 18 months later from a cancer we had yet to discover, "they have more crap than you do." My God, how we all laughed.

It was there for me in college, and I watched who knows how many episodes in my dorm room on a black-and-white TV I'd originally picked up as a gift for my then-girlfriend but grew too to love too much to give away. If I wanted to see an episode in color, I would go out to the dorms' common rooms and watch it there. I'd stay on campus during the summer to work at the print shop (with Eric, the friend I mentioned earlier), and I'd sit in the common rooms and watch "MythBusters" there while summer thunderstorms rolled in across the mountains. It was there when I joined DeviantArt in 2008, and has been the source for what is frankly the best body of fan art ever (sample above by Arashicat).

And it was there for me in Florida, a travel experiment that sucked. It's there for me now, even though I can't see the new episodes. Actually seeing the show is of secondary importance, believe it or not. It's enough for me to know that there are yet people in this world busting myths. I can catch up with the actual episodes later.

EDIT: Today, Adam Savage tweeted this:

I hope they live forever.


  1. Don't we all wish that it could go on forever?

    Actually, I have enjoyed the movie MythBusting. As a person who gets somewhat frustrated that there are so many people out there who believe movie scenes more than real life physics, I have enjoyed them looking at movies and debunking the 'science' of some of the worst. I have also enjoyed the internet MythBusting as there are again too many people who say "But I saw it on YouTube and it totally works that way!"
    As I also only get free to air, and even then only get to sit down to TV about once a week at best, I know the disappointment of not being able to keep up with the latest shows... but there will always be reruns to look forward to..... and cement mixers to blow up... or cars to crash..... or some fun bit of robotic trickery.....

  2. If you think about the most attractive character was Scottie Chapman

    1. thank you, its about time someone said that