P.A.D. – Post #7: Modern Marvels

by Christopher Paul on October 18, 2006

Modern Marvels is one of my most favorite shows on television. It’s up there with The Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, (the original) Law & Order, Nature, Nova, and Smallville. And while I don’t rush home to watch the show or record every new episode like I do my prime time shows, I watch it more often than I do those other programs – in fact, I’m watching it right now as I type. And although the format and topic vary, the true subject matter is always the same: technology.

One of the reasons why Modern Marvels is in the list of my favorite shows is number of shows they produce under the series. You can watch the show several times in a day and still not see a repeat. There are so many shows that I’ve only seen two or three topics replayed. Now, I know there are repeats but there are so many shows that I don’t ever feel like I’ve seen an episode before – very different from the programs (especially those with limited runs).

Another reason I love the show so much is the wide array of topics they highlight. For example, tonight they are showing the world’s fastest; the fastest air craft, car, boat, and train. Soon, they will air an episode on the space shuttle. They have also broadcasted shows on stealth technology (some devoted to air craft only and others that talk about stealth for boats). But the also talk about historical accomplishments and not just about the latest and greatest that we enjoy today.

Modern Marvels has talked about major achievements like bridges (Golden Gate Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, etc.) and dams – Hoover, for example. They also highlight intellectual accomplishments like the assembly line, construction techniques and materials, and skyscrapers. They review past technology and speak about how it shaped present or future inovations. They even review the tools used to create the world’s inventions. But what keeps the show interesting is how they show how technology (and the humans that create and use it) fails us.

There is a regular recurring series called Engineering Disasters that catalogs many of the mistakes – and lessons learned – from bad design and poorly implemented technology. Some of my favorite disaster shows talk about an accidental lake draining, the Great Fire of 1906 in San Francisco (after the earthquake), and sinking bridges. There are at least 17 different episodes that follow this theme and it makes for some interesting television. But disasters aren’t the only thing that keeps the show interesting.

The show also reviews common household items and food like candy, hot dogs, pizza, snacks, and all types of desserts. They also talk about drinks like coffee, soda, and spirits. They even go into the history of paint, exterminators, ice, glue, TNT, map making, Las Vegas tech, leather, sex, oil, sewers, sport technology, towing, and torture devices (useful with the leather and sex episodes ;)). The list goes on and on… there are 325 DVDs available on the show’s website and each episode is on one DVD.

There are a lot of great shows out there – especially on the History Channel – that I really enjoy watching. But Modern Marvels is one of those shows that always entertains, informs, educates, and amazes me – I even laugh sometimes at the disaster shows. And because they are shown frequently on the History Channel, I can always be comforted that when there is nothing good on the networks or they are full of repeats, I can always find something cool and new on Modern Marvels.

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