Discovery Channel // 2007 // 540 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // December 20th, 2009
Fascinated with how things are built?
Then watch another show. Discovery's Some Assembly Required isn't an original idea -- it essentially rehashes the same premise as two previous factory shows, How It's Made and Made in America -- but in the right hands, it could have at least been interesting. Unfortunately, this is a show that wasn't assembled (ahem) so well itself.
The format for Some Assembly Required is standard stuff. Each episode examines the factories that make ordinary items like golf balls, guitars, crayons, and sugar. It's your typical behind-the-scenes show, where you get to see machinery humming along and employees working, all to make something you've always been curious about. What woods make the best Gibson guitars? What does Crayola use to make washable crayons? Why is making aluminum foil one of the most dangerous jobs in the world? It's all stuff you could look up online or in a book, but at least here you get some nice interviews and entertaining visuals.
The key problem is the show's host, ex-Daily Show correspondent Brian Unger. He's painfully smug and his jokes are never as funny as he thinks they are. Too often his incessant mugging and wisecracks are tiresome, but he continues on and on, drowning out the informative parts of the show. His co-host for the first season, physicist Lou Bloomfield, is actually full of useful information and tells it thoughtfully, but the fact that he has to play second fiddle to Unger is a sad statement. By the second season, he's gone, much to the show's detriment. Whatever interesting scientific explanations he provided go with him and the rest of the show consists of Unger hamming it up as he attempts to perform some of the factory jobs himself. Unless you're a big fan of Unger, that's not necessarily scintillating TV.
The departure of Bloomfield isn't the only change for the worse that the show underwent for its second season. The seven episodes that make up the first season, all compiled on the first disc, are 40 minutes long (or one hour with commercials). Though this does make them drag a bit, at least there's enough room to explain the scientific reasons for manufacturing techniques. The twelve episodes that make up the second season (compiled on the second disc), however, are only 22 minutes (or 30 with commercials). While this does make them tighter and more focused, it also tends to make them shallower. With much of the scientific content excised, what's generally left is corporate PR flacks repeating talking points and Unger goofing around. It's hardly educational and even less entertaining.
There are a few revelations here and there. It's interesting to learn that highly coveted musical instruments like Gibson guitars and Steinway pianos are, for the most part, crafted by hand by skilled artisans. You'll see that real San Francisco sourdough bread gets its taste from unique bacteria that only grow in the Bay Area. In the episode on the making of sushi knives, Bloomfield explains why the exact mixture of steel and carbon makes for the sharpest and most durable blades. Those types of revelations, however, are too often buried amidst Unger's unending attempts at wit.
Ultimately, Some Assembly Required is simply not one of the better Discovery shows. If you can endure an aging hipster cracking wise as he pulls a lever/opens an oven/turns a screw/steers a wheel, then this is the show for you. Otherwise, you'd do just as well to watch any of the other two series that Discovery has done covering the same subjects.
Video/audio quality are both standard TV quality anamorphic transfer, stereo mix. There are no extras.
Guilty of not adding much to the genre.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Discovery Channel
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 540 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated