Blightyvision: “Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab”

Presented by Richard Hammond
Produced by James Wiseman

If you’re anywhere close to my generation, your armchair science teachers were likely Don Herbert (a.k.a. Mr. Wizard) and/or Bill Nye.  To be honest, unless you’ve taken AP physics from my friend Cynthia, you likely learned more from these two gentlemen than you ever did in class.  For a while there, today’s kids seemed to be one charismatic after-school mad scientist short of a well-rounded education.  But in 2009, CBBC had a brilliant idea: make a science-based game show, and have it hosted by a man who’s spent a good portion of his career blowing things up in the name of, if not science, at least curiosity.

Thus, “Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab,” a two-series kids’ quiz show that’s one part “Top Gear” to two parts “Double Dare.”  The choice of Hammond as host is a natural fit: in addition to his regular duties, he also spent some time presenting the “Mythbusters”-esque “Brainiac: Science Abuse.”  Add to that his style — self-effacing and enthusiastic while still possessing the ability to be a bit sarky — and he’s a perfect choice for teaching kids how to cause massive amounts of collateral damage.  Er, I mean, how to do science.

“Blast Lab” has a fairly rigid setup week to week.  Two teams of three — the Red Team and the Yellow Team, despite their weekly efforts to come up with their own names — compete in four rounds: basic science knowledge, “Mini Science” using household items to complete experiments, a toss-up round to guess the outcome of a larger experiment, and the “Messy Messy Mess Test,” which has no educational value at all but involves jumping around in vats of slime to win stuff so who cares.  And as with all things involving a “Top Gear” presenter, “Blast Lab” eventually turns to heavy machinery every episode.  The mid-point almost always transitions from “Mini Science” with the phrase “… but what if we used a car?” At the end of the game, both teams end with a barrow of prizes.  But while the winners take theirs home, the losers have to blow theirs up in a bidet.

If that last bit doesn’t sell you on the concept, nothing will.

“Blast Lab” is not solely a Hammond vehicle, though.  He has something of an impressive cast of characters with him.  Ninja Nan — his grandmother in frumpy pink karate gear — guards the entrance to his super-secret lab.  Any grudge work, stunts, or dangerous experiments are handled by a team of “Lab Rats,” expendable extras who also serve as humorous set dressing.  The aforementioned “Mini Science” round is hosted by Mini Miss, Hammond’s 65-year-old science teacher who, via a mistake with a time machine, appears as a ten-year-old girl.  But fans will be happiest to know of the presence of Oliver, Hammond’s beloved ’63 Opel Kadett, as the executor of the first round quiz.

Sadly, the show was canceled after two series, and is very difficult indeed to find.  A pity, as Hammond’s rapport with the kids — even and especially when they inevitably get kid-competitive or kid-discouraged — is a fun thing to see, and he can be as much of a kid as the rest of them.  Also a pity because, really, you’ll learn new things no matter what your age or intelligence.  If you do find it, you’re in luck, and guaranteed a good watch.

“Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab” does, indeed, destroy a caravan at one point.  But do you expect anything less?