Not just another how-to, Discovery Channel's Mythbusters features the scientific knowledge and construction prowess of two veteran special-effects artists, now dedicated to testing the practical viability of outrageous urban myths. The almost comically stoic Jamie Hyneman and the puckishly enthusiastic Adam Savage have become cult heroes for the ingenuity and wit they apply to finding out if, say, a penny dropped off the Empire State Building could kill a person, or if a Civil War soldier could get shot through the scrotum and inadvertently impregnate a woman standing across the battlefield. The dozen episodes included on the four-disc Mythbusters: Collection 1 set capture the show's irresistible hook: Hyneman and Savage grab the audience with their clashing personalities and over-the-top stunts, but by the end of the hour, they've made a real case for scientific evidence over pure conjecture.
But watching a bunch of Mythbusters in a row also highlights what's wrong with the show. While the hosts and the premise are unconventional, the Mythbusters format is straight-up basic-cable how-to, complete with MTV-style editing and camera moves, superfluous graphics, grating music, and an obtrusive narrator. By the end of the set, the proudly nerdy Hyneman and Savage have been joined by a trio of young, attractive "assistants" who lack the stars' hardcore science background, but appear more comfortable talking and smiling into a camera. The show's structure gradually changes too, from three distinct segments to an hourlong mash-up, with three mythbusting operations running simultaneously. It's a style designed to catch channel surfers, who can come in half an hour into the show and not miss much, but it's frustratingly repetitive and time-wasting for DVD watchers.
On the other hand, where else can science buffs get to see two wonks try to reconstruct a mythical "perfect assassination" by making ice bullets, meat bullets, and gelatin bullets? Or see those wonks admit defeat by saying that their makeshift bullets lack "a certain amount of 'stay-in-there-ed-ness'"? Awkward package aside, Mythbusters' actual content remains unique and valuable, especially at a time when more and more people are willing to shrug off rigorous research as a waste of time, easily supplanted by something their cousin e-mailed them yesterday.
Key features: A DVD-exclusive behind-the-scenes special that documents Hyneman and Savage's equal parts affection and irritation for each other.