Screen-savors: Science for the very silly

Brainiac: Science Abuse attacks dozens of theories of science, questions and queries presented by a gang of crazies.

Remember those strange kids in your high school chem lab who used to like to see how much stuff they could blow up? They've got their own TV show now, one that blows the barn doors off practically every science program we've ever seen, leaving a large grin on viewers' faces. The show's title, Brainiac: Science Abuse (Channel 8, weeknights, 18:40 and other times; check schedule) says it all: dozens of theories of science, questions about science, or other queries presented by a gang of crazies who make those fellows from the chem lab look downright responsible. Leading the fun is host Richard Hammond (Top Gear), a spiky-haired fellow who's never seen an experiment too weird to try out, and who has a sense of humor as sharp as his hair cut. Introducing "the show that takes science, strikes it down and gives it a damn good oiling," as he says at the beginning of one episode, Hammond is the running commentator on a rat-a-tat series of gags, sideshows, more major experiments and the general fun that makes up Brainiac. Now to the question we've all been wondering about: Can you smell fear? To get to the bottom of that, Hammond sent one poor staffer (termed Brainiacs on the show) known to be afraid of heights way up in a crane, sat another on a deck chair for half an hour, and sent a third running. To make sure the fellow sent skyward got the full effect, Hammond berated him: "This is science - take your hand off the rail!" Then it was up to one of the program's comely volunteers to see if she could literally smell the fear on him. Sure enough, she could, picking up on the pheromones his body sent out after he was scared almost to death. And, as Hammond explained, women are far better at this than men. That's the thing about Brainiac - it's funny as heck, but you also learn something. And the little bits in between - whether they're Celebs on Helium, in which UK celebrities sound like chipmunks for the cameras after sucking down some of the gas, or Tina Turner and Her Bunsen Burner, which should be self-explanatory - make the hour program zip by faster than the speed of light. And on that subject, wondered one Brainiac, if you're traveling at the speed of light and break wind, do you smell it before you hear it? Another great experiment had the Brainiacs trying to determine if they could impact the testosterone level of two men through outside influences. Brawny Harry, who "sometimes punches people just for the fun of it," clocked in at 964 on the testosterone test, while gawky, skinny Simon clocked in at 198. Then the Brainiacs dressed Harry up in ladies clothes, had him watch children's TV shows, read him a bedtime story and made him take a nap. Meanwhile, they brought a stripper over for Simon, had him work out in a gym, and screamed at him. The result: Simon went up to 349, while Harry dropped to 783. Viewers can also write in to the show suggesting experiments in the I Can Do Science, Me section, although few are likely to come up with the cue ball in the side pocket blowing up caravans that the Brainiacs did. However, when Mariah Gomez wondered how many pieces of bubblegum you could get into your mouth and still blow a bubble, there were the Brainiacs "kidnapping" her off the street, bringing her to their lab, and having her do the math with her own mouth. The result: 34 pieces, but who's counting? OK, sure the lads are a bit sophomoric sometimes - the Brainiac Babes with the Explosive of the Week at Big Bang Farm, featuring Page 3 girls having fun with things that go boom is a little much. But it's easy to forgive it after watching the Brainiacs test a dirt cheap pair of jeans against a very expensive pair, and find that the man or woman on the street can't tell the difference after both pairs have been subjected to anything from being shot at with a gun to being driven over by a car. Yes, they think of just about everything on Brainiac, "the show that other science shows cross the road to avoid," as Hammond puts it, including a chainsaw putting paid the theory that "You can't stop rock 'n' roll," Dr. Bunhead's Pub Science, and most importantly, a running segment on What Office Product Should You Grab If While Working You Find Yourself Surrounded by Water? Hint: not the box of files. Along with it comes Hammond's occasional warning: "The following experiment is dangerous. Don't try it at home. No, really - don't." Not to worry, though - you'll be too busy laughing to try any of the hilarious experiments that are at the crazy heart of Brainiac.