MythBusters takes on The Simpsons

Mythcrackers

A new season of MythBusters means new pop culture-related myths. After previously doing episodes that focused on Star Wars, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Titanic, Adam and Jamie (sans Kari, Grant and Tory)decided to kick off the 2015 episodes by taking on some myths from everyone’s favorite Springfield residents, The Simpsons.

Now, one of the issues that I’ve had with MythBusters in the past is that they sometimes test myths that are not grounded in reality. For example, the entire show that looked at zombies was ridiculous to me since unless everyone knows something that I don’t know, there aren’t any zombies in real life. For a show that is some painstaking about its science and authenticity of replication during their experimentation, these pop culture related shows seem to throw some of that out the window. So when I heard that MythBusters was testing myths from The Simpsons, I just kind of shook my head. Most television and films are only loosely grounded in reality to begin with – what is important for moving the story forward or what looks cool overrides stuff like plausibility – and this is taken to the nth degree with animation. Any illusion of reality is kind of shattered when characters don’t age, there are few long-term consequences for actions and continuity is only as binding as you choose it to be. That’s half the fun of animated programming – they are only limited by what the animators can draw. The fact that Kenny used to die every week on South Park, only to resurrect without explanation or comment in the proceeding episode, was part of the show’s charm. The Simpsons may make some more conscious efforts at grounding their program, but the idea that anything on the show was depicting anything close to reality was kind of ridiculous to me. This issue bothers me so much that I debated whether I was even going to watch this episode; after all, I’m not a regular MythBusters viewer so skipping the show would not be any great sacrifice on my part. In the end, however, curiosity got the better of me. I wondered what they were going to test from The Simpsons; the show may have been on for twenty-plus years, but because it is so episodic I couldn’t immediately think of any myths that needed testing – other than Marge’s seemingly limitless patience. So despite my reservations, I decided to tune in.

Adam and Jamie set their sights on two very different Simpsons myths to examine – whether a cherry bomb dropped in a public restroom toilet would cause a geyser of water to pop out of several toilets (from The Crepes of Wrath) and whether Homer attaching himself to a wrecking ball would have any effect on the damage said demolition instrument would have on his home (from Sideshow Bob Roberts). On the surface, the former seemed like a (semi) legitimate inquiry, while the latter seems like a primary example of the type of myth-busting that I find annoying. The probable outcome of both these myths seemed pretty obvious to me, but in the interest of intellectual curiosity and the need for something to blog about I swallowed my doubts and continued to watch.

The Crepes of Wrath

The Crepes of Wrath

Sideshow Bob Roberts

Sideshow Bob Roberts

SPOILER ALERT – DISCUSSION OF THE OUTCOMES FOLLOWS

To test the impact of a cherry bomb on the plumbing of the Springfield Elementary bathrooms, Adam and Jamie first constructed a model to see what would happen. Since cherry bombs are illegal, they improvised a bit and recreated the explosions by other means, but the results were ultimately the same – no matter where the explosion happened, all three toilets released a geyser of water. The one caveat was that there had to be some blockage in the sewer system to generate the necessary volume of water – not an unreasonable assumption, especially for the boy’s room of an elementary school. This myth seemed to be on track to be proven.

However, once the experiment was done with actual toilets that were to scale, things went a little haywire. The force of the explosion was too much for the toilets to handle – while a minimal amount of water did gush out of the bowl, the toilets themselves were damaged significantly in the process. The pressure from the explosion was just too much for the poor ceramic thrones to handle; they were blown off the floor and most of the energy that should have forced the water out was displaced into the fixtures. If the toilets were made of some special indestructible or reinforced material the experiment might have worked, but given the current constraints, that myth was deemed busted.

MB1_Result1

To test what impact, if any, Homer’s body would have on the destruction wrought by a wrecking ball, the team created to scale models of Homer and the wrecking ball. Because the size of the wrecking ball in the episode of The Simpsons was much larger than your run-of-the-mill wrecking ball, they had to create that from scratch as well. For me, watching them figure out the construction of the instruments that they are using for testing is one of the more interesting portions of the show. I’m always impressed with how dedicated they are to getting it just right and their overall craftsmanship. I’m a stickler for details, but I’m also not very talented, so the fact that they always created a scientifically accurate and generally aesthetically pleasing item surprises me no matter how many times I see them do it.

After all the necessary components were created, Adam and Jamie did the experiment twice – once without Homer attached to the wrecking ball and once with the dummy that they created attached. A concession had to be made to how far they could swing the wrecking ball without tipping the crane over – the arc used in the episode was simply impossible to pull off exactly. The hit without Homer did a lot of damage to the model home; the structure was definitely compromised after the wrecking ball hit it. Adding Homer’s body to the experiment made a great deal of difference; his body was able to absorb enough of the energy that while the home did not escape unscathed from the wrecking ball, the damage done was considerably less than in the first trial run. Homer holding on to the wrecking ball would have made a difference, though of course this experiment didn’t examine what damage the impact would have done to Homer’s body. I’m just going out on a limb here and guessing that putting your body between a 5,000 pound and a home is going to leave a mark. And yes – during this entire segment I had Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” playing in my head. That girl has totally co-opted that word. So surprisingly (to me at least), this myth was deemed plausible.

 

You came in like a wrecking ball.....

You came in like a wrecking ball…..

This was actually a fairly interesting episode of MythBusters for me; I’ve never been much of a science nerd, so I’m not totally surprised that my initial guesses on the outcomes of the myths were both wrong. I just enjoy the problem solving and brainstorming that go into devising how to test the myths more than the actual science. I will say that the absence of Kari, Grant and Tory was very noticeable; I think it helped focus the show more, but it also made the show less fun. They added some much needed personality to the show. Adam and Jamie are pleasant enough, but they don’t have the same energy as their crew had. MythBusters feels more educational than entertainment now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and may be what they were going for. But if you were a regular viewer of MythBusters, you’ll probably notice the tonal shift of the show going forward. I’ll never be a regular viewer, but if they keep doing pop culture inspired myths I’ll continue to pop in every once in a while.

MythBusters airs Saturday nights at 9 pm (ET) on Discovery.

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