Idiot Box: Learn-Ey Tunes

“Man Vs. Cartoon” On Trutv

Devin D. O'Leary
3 min read
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The best science programs are the ones in which things blow up a lot and there is the distinct, recurrent possibility that someone could get hurt very badly. I can’t vouch for the fact that viewers actually learn much from these sorts of shows, but they’re definitely more entertaining than that high school science lab you had.

Picking up the explosive science-as-entertainment thread started by “MythBusters” and running off a cliff with it (literally) is truTV’s six-episode series “Man vs. Cartoon.” The show was shot over the course of four months last summer at New Mexico Tech down in Socorro. New Mexico Tech has been a frequent stop for Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” cast when they need to blow something up. Now the teachers, students and staff members of the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at NMT get their own time in the spotlight.

Each week on “Man vs. Cartoon,” two teams of techies are challenged to re-create, in non-animated form, various elaborate stunts from Warner Brothers’ old Coyote and Road Runner cartoons. You remember the ones: Where poor, starving Wile E. Coyote orders an endless supply of gadgets from ACME Co. to create complicated traps in an invariably failed bid to capture the roadrunner. Rocket skates, pendulum spears, giant boulders and a whole host of Rube Goldberg-inspired contraptions are put to the test.

Those old Looney Tunes shorts had a surprising amount of (not necessarily realistic) physics on display. “Man vs. Cartoon” gets credit for using them as a fun and clever springboard to bring science and engineering to life. “MythBusters” long ago figured out that dragging science out of the “calculator and computer simulation” age and actually performing practical, real-world tests was a good idea (and mighty entertaining to watch). Wanna know if you can mount a giant fan to your back and scoot down the highway at a high rate of speed? Get out there and do it!

When it sticks to testing cartoon science, “Man vs. Cartoon” is good, nerdy fun. The show stumbles a bit, though, by introducing the dramatic “reality competition” element from several other building shows (Discovery’s “Doing DaVinci,” for example). This isn’t a competition, there are no prizes awarded and I’m not interested in listening to team members fight amongst each other or bitch behind each other’s backs to the camera. I’m here to watch things go boom. Obviously, the students aren’t nearly as skilled as the “MythBusters” crew when it comes to building things. It’s occasionally a little frustrating to be sitting at home thinking, “I could make a better slingshot than that!” Of course, that goes against the explicit warning at the beginning of the show not to attempt any of this yourself. Still, it’s better to have viewers imitating the exploits of science and engineering show hosts than the stars of “Jackass,” isn’t it?

“Man vs. Cartoon” airs every Saturday at 8 p.m. on truTV.

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