Friday, February 19, 2016

One problem with being intelligent is that television will always be disappointing. It's aimed at mainstream America, so when we turn on a program that's ostensibly about cooking, we discover people forced to make coq au vin using six chopsticks and a piece of cheese. When we turn on a program about design, we see a guy try to make a coffee table out of two thumbtacks and a sweater-vest. When we encounter a program about extraterrestrial life, we find a rubber alien on a card table being cut up by Michael Strahan.

Of course, maybe I'm not all that smart, because I thought Treasure Detectives would be educational. The name implies a modicum of brainpower, and it airs on CNBC, which sounds like a news channel. It starts off promisingly enough: somebody brings in something they found -- an art object, antique or collectible -- and then a bunch of "experts" delve into the history of the piece. Unfortunately, eight seconds into the program it dives straight into a bucket of stupidity and doesn't surface until the end. I compiled the idiocies endured in a dozen programs into one typical, fake episode.



HOST: Ralphie Klumsted of Tecumseh, Tennessee writes in and says, "I was going through the trash behind a Taco Bell the other day when I found a giant metal cannister under an old chalupa. I've seen five Peter Sellers movies so it immediately hit me: could this be a nuclear bomb?"

We'll certainly help you out, Ralphie. As you know, bombs are dangerous. Bombs are frequently carried into the sky by airplanes, and then dropped onto things. You might feel stupid when you drop a frosty mug of beer, but this can be far worse.

First, let's take Ralphie's bomb to somebody who doesn't know anything. Here's Tatum, a six-year-old who lives next door.

Tatum, one of our viewers thinks this might be an authentic nuclear bomb. What do you think?

TATUM: I saw a bomb on TV once. It sort of looked like this, except it had numbers on the side so the coyote would know when it would blow up. This doesn't have numbers on the side. [PAUSE] I bet it's a bomb. Can I keep it to throw at my brother?

HOST: No. But interesting! Lots of information! We certainly learned a lot, though the main lesson seems to be that if you ask total randoms for their advice you aren't the smartest tool in the shed. Next let's ask an old Italian exactly how bombs work.

OLD ITALIAN: Bombs work by splitting atoms. It's very dangerous. It's not like splitting a pizza. When you split a pizza, everybody gets a slice. Maybe somebody winds up with sauce on their shirt. But when you split an atom, something called "fission" happens. Every building in a thousand miles explodes, radioactivity burns up the atmosphere, and a billion people melt like cannoli cream.

HOST: Wow! Ha! I guess I'd better stick to splitting pizza! Now that we know how to make a bomb, can just anybody do it? Let's ask the director of Johnny Depp's Mortdecai.

DAVID KOEPP: A bomb works by causing a chain reaction among unstable atoms. One atom breaks apart, which causes another to break, and so on until the unstable material is spent and incredible amounts of energy have been dispersed. Can anybody build one? Absolutely not. Even if you had a machine shop and could fabricate all the metal parts, you'd still need enriched uranium.

HOST: Hmm. I eat cereal all the time. Is that like regular uranium with a multivitamin thrown in?

DAVID KOEPP: [PAUSE] Yes. Yes, it is.

HOST: Okay, we've learned that regular people can't make a nuclear bomb. But there's another possibility: let's see if maybe Ralphie found a nuclear bomb that some government agency made. Let's consult an actual expert.

HOST (CONTINUED): The United States supposedly dropped a bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. Is it possible they missed? Could somebody have caught the bomb before it hit the ground, and they kept it and it somehow ended up in a dumpster behind a Taco Bell?

ACTUAL EXPERT: For that to happen, you'd need a five-thousand-foot trampoline, a hydraulic elevator, a Winnebago the size of the Hindenburg that was impervious to sound and movement, and eight thousand assistants who'd fake the devastation wreaked by a nuclear bomb and then not tell a soul.

HOST: So that's a yes?


HOST: Okay, I think we've decided. Let's call in Ralphie to give him the news.

HOST (CONTINUED): Ralphie, it's been a long week, but we've finally reached a conclusion. This is not a nuclear bomb.

RALPHIE: Huh. That's a shocker. How'd ya figure?

HOST: Well, first we decided that it's virtually impossible to make your own bomb. Then we determined that no government has ever lost a bomb. And finally we saw the word 'HOOVER' on the side, and when we hit the ON switch it sucked our curtains into that tube. We're 99% sure this is actually an old vacuum cleaner.


HOST: I know you're disappointed. If this had been an actual nuclear bomb, it would be worth millions of dollars, assuming you have no problem in dealing with bedouin. As a vacuum, though, it's worth approximately ten dollars.

RALPHIE: Oh. Okay. Thanks.

HOST: Everybody tune in next week when we examine a diary possibly written by Hitler where he talks about rollerblading through Disney World. See you then!

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