It doesn’t take long for the newly revamped version of “MythBusters” to take part in some mythmaking of its own. For anyone who might stumble on the title in a program guide and wonder why former hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman aren’t the lead scientists on this unscripted TV mainstay anymore, there’s a handy introduction of new faces Jon Lung and Brian Louden. Specifically chosen as part of the “MythBusters: The Search” competition series from earlier this year, the quick intro to the newest “MythBusters” season (premiering Wednesday night on Science Channel) feeds into the idea that these two were destined to take the reigns and shepherd the series forward.
The result is Lung and Louden now heading up a show that’s a slightly revamped, but still true to its predecessor, a thoroughly enjoyable romp through surface-level scientific inquiry that’s still a valuable part of the TV world. Despite the fresh influx of front-of-camera talent, it’s largely the show that has populated holiday marathons and lazy weekend afternoons for many Americans since the program’s debut in 2003. But Lung and Louden aren’t the only new tweaks to this time-tested format, and those slight changes only help to prove why this is a science-based comfort food show that not only benefits from being on TV in 2017 but, in some ways, needs to be.
As in its past seasons, each episode of “MythBusters” sets out to dispel or prove an urban legend or piece of commonly held wisdom. The team’s methods range from rocket-powered engines to symphonies of destruction and crash test dummy carnage, even when dispelling the most harmless of assumptions. (As one upcoming episode gleefully explains, “In finest ‘MythBusters’ tradition, that means ramping it way up to get a result.”)
The entrance of Lung and Louden bring a fresh dynamic to a show that came from much more humble, upstart origins. When tasked with replacing Savage and Hyneman, the natural decision was to bring into hosts who could be affable, photogenic, and easier stewards of the brand. As a result, some of the lingering tension that used to be the subconscious motor of “MythBusters” is gone. Hyneman had a crusty, slightly misanthropic exterior, while Savage was more of an agent of mayhem. You used to get the sense that although the two had a mostly friendly on-camera relationship, there was always the sense that one failed motor or disagreement about methodology could quickly have the two at each other‘s throats (or at least their respective forms of facial hair).
In contrast, 2017’s kinder, gentler “MythBusters” even comes complete with a house dog named Bo. Lung, in particular, manages to maintain a hostly command of explaining all of this material, but in a way that feels like a rookie getting to wear Yankee pinstripes. It’s rare for a show like “MythBusters” to have shoes to fill, much less by people so visibly happy and excited to keep it alive. Louden’s near-constant smile is a perfect example of the show trading in some of show’s uncertainty for exuberance, which ends up as a smart swap. This is scientific exploration that’s joyful without feeling frivolous as a result.
Often, when shows like this segue to a more agreeable tone, it’s in a pursuit of a broader, less-defined audience. But even if Lung and Louden give off an easier working friendship, the emphasis on science might be a little greater in this iteration than before. With a tad more on-screen number crunching and some airtime devoted to terms like “stoichiometry” that you wouldn’t normally encounter outside a chemistry textbook, this is a show that has maintained that pre-existing sweet spot between informative and awesome.
Show announcer Robert Lee is still on board. Ditto the backstory goofiness for cadaver stand-in Buster and the occasional heavy metal guitar riffs, so the connective tissue of each individual episodes is still preserved. But instead of a more anarchic vibe to what some of these experiments had had in the past, this newer version has a little more childlike wonder. This is still “MythBusters,” but in a lot of ways this now feels closer to vintage “Bill Nye the Science Guy” than the new Bill Nye show does.
Admittedly, beyond the standard top-of-show “This is for professionals only” warning, it’s weird to see some of these experiments like explosions and measuring the lethality of bullets played for levity. And some of the show is still contrived: If you’re familiar with the normal rhythms of a unscripted TV show, you can tell which segments were filmed out of order and which were spontaneous, in-the-moment parts of these experiments.
But along with that comes a version of “MythBusters” that isn’t afraid to show some of its seams. An errant drone in the background here, the failed first attempt of an elaborate car crash there, and you have a show that’s a little less insistent on being an unchallenged authority in the room. In a culture where science is under attack and interest in the STEM fields is more important than ever, “MythBusters” continues to send a message that it’s OK to fail sometimes. Not all of these pursuits are going to go completely swimmingly.
In the end, “MythBusters” is still a TV show. But it’s one that’s definitely nice to have around these days.
“MythBusters” airs Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m. on Science Channel.