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 V.20 No.33 | August 18 - 24, 2011 
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Idiot Box

“This Old House” Meets The Road Warrior

“Stuck With Hackett” on Science Channel

Perhaps it’s the bad economy that’s got us all hunkering down in survival mode. The very week that Science Channel premieres “JUNKies” (a show about no-budget inventors making cool machines out of junk), the cable station also hands us “Stuck With Hackett.” Following in a similar Dumpster-science vein, this show introduces audiences to survivalist savant and “post-apocalyptic MacGyver” Chris Hackett.

Each week, Mr. Hackett is dumped (more or less) alone into some extreme environment and must find a way of surviving. But this guy is no gung-ho outdoorsman like Bear Grylls. The nerdy-cool, dreadlocked and seemingly unflappable Hackett isn’t trying to dig up grubs in Siberia or walk across Death Valley. No, his idea of extreme environments is the crumbling remnants of civilization. We’re talking abandoned railyards, decaying hospitals, teeming junkyards. With whatever the man can scrounge or scrape from the scrap heap, he teaches us how to make luxury survival items—from air conditioners to hot tubs. Hey, with a little gumption and an empty oil drum, maybe the impending apocalypse won’t be so bad!

In the premiere episode, for example, Hackett sets out to cobble together a full-sized locomotive. Easy as pie. Until he runs out of gasoline and attempts to resurrect a little Victorian technology, turning wood into explosive hydrogen gas. Steampunk is alive and well in Mr. Hackett’s neighborhood. What else is on the agenda? Building a washing machine in a grody junkyard, assembling a carbon arc lamp in a crumbling hospital, taking an abandoned suburban house “off the grid” and making a flush toilet in the middle of the woods: It’s all in a day’s work. At its core, “Stuck With Hackett” is educational, but it’s the sort of science we all loved as kids—the kind that could end with an explosion, a severed limb or a tetanus shot.

Unlike most docu-reality TV show hosts, who spend their days yelling and cursing, Hackett seems to be having a ball most of the time—even if his time is spent digging through rotting asbestos tiles in a sweltering garbage heap or shaving his face with a broken beer bottle. The result looks something like Neil deGrasse Tyson trapped in “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” by way of Fallout 3—which sounds exactly like the sort of future I want to live in. Hey, the economy may be melting down, the government may be collapsing and all of Western civilization might be on the verge of total destruction. But with a bent bicycle wheel, some rusty chain and Chris Hackett, hell on Earth is gonna be a blast.

“Stuck With Hackett” premieres Thursday, Aug. 18, at 8:30 p.m. on Science Channel.

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