A Question I Would Like NatGeo to Answer: So What?

Showdown of the Unbeatables (Photo: NatGeo)
Showdown of the Unbeatables (Photo: NatGeo)

National Geographic Channel’s new series None of the Above and Showdown of the Unbeatables sound interesting on paper. Why are they a chore to get through?

The National Geographic Channel (or NatGeo as my cable guide calls it) has a couple new programs that I went into with a lot of enthusiasm and exited with a great deal of boredom. The first is the pop science quiz None of the Above. On this program, Tim Shaw travels to places1 and asks people on the street what they think will happen when presented with a scientific dilemma. For example, if two electrodes are jammed into your average pickle, what will happen when the power is turned on? Will it:

  • Explode
  • Start to smoke
  • Light up
  • None of the above

Shaw completes the experiment and responds to the oohs, ahhs, and “huh?”s of the people he just quizzed. Then it’s on to the next act of randomness. There is no theme to any of the experiments/parlor tricks Shaw executes, and his locations are just as random. One segment could feature him chatting up a waitress in a London pub2 and the next could have him asking randos on Santa Monica Boulevard what they think will happen next. It’s as if they were trying to make Billy on the Street educational and as dry as toast.

The most recent addition to NatGeo’s schedule is the program Showdown of the Unbeatables. Two contenders of the immovable object / unstoppable force variety are pitted against each other to see which one wins. In the first episode, we saw a pneumatic rockbreaker take on a safe that touts itself as indestructible. Each contender goes through a series of preliminary tests to see if it is even worth going through the main challenge. A good chunk of this show is seeing the three-second test from 17 different angles and motion speeds. Will the I-beam crush the safe? No, no, no, no, still no, not from the beam’s point of view, not from the safe’s point of view, nope, there’s some shrapnel in slow-mo but otherwise no.

Eventually the two contenders face-off, but first we have to hear predictions from hosts Brian Unger and Zane Lamprey. First, why are there two hosts? Unger especially lacks any sort of enthusiasm for what he is presenting. Second, why is this show an hour long? The first portion of rockcrusher v. safe took 14 minutes before the 1-minute actual battle. This could easily be formatted as two battles in a half hour.

The problem with both None of the Above and Unbeatables is that the question “so what?” comes up instantly. NotA comes off as a series of science-based parlor tricks with no connective thread. Although the battle winners get to take home bragging rights, the battles themselves are rather pointless.3 To say these are educational is a bit of a stretch, but there isn’t enough zing to qualify as infotainment.

  1. it’s that non-specific  
  2. or the bartender happens to share Shaw’s accent—again, unclear  
  3. To borrow a line from The Simpsons “what about Johnny Mathis vs. Diet Pepsi?”  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv
  • Aaron Mucciolo

    Oo, I know this one! The pickle will light up! I think it’s the sodium ions being excited.

    Penn and Teller taught me so much…

    • Yup, the salt works as a filament. Though “Start to smoke” did get partial credit since that also happened.

      • Aaron Mucciolo

        It’s a shame that there are so many young pickles picking up that habit.