Host Tom Cavanaugh takes us for a tour of the some of the lesser known or rarely seen corners and byways of the Smithsonian Institution. The tone is breezy and mildly irreverent, and the exhibits encountered are unfailingly interesting. The episodes this season are “Let’s Eat!”, “Top Secret,” “Nature’s Vault,” “Crystal Ball,” “Going, Going, Gone,” “Sex 101” and “Villains and Rogues.” The episodes are actually even less specific than the titles might suggest (and they already grant a fair bit of freedom to jump from topic to topic). Thus, “Villains and Rogues” looks at a couple of, well, rogues, and then having Cavanaugh refer to them as snakes is enough of a segue for the episode to suddenly shift its attention to – you guessed it – actual snakes.
Neat as many of the topics are, the sheer range of items covered in a single episode does tend to rob the show of focus. And I’m of two minds about Cavanaugh’s hosting. Young viewers will likely enjoy the horsing around, but older ones might well find the steady stream of one-liners a bit grating. Still, if there isn’t something here to make you sit up and say, “I never knew that!” then you haven’t been paying attention.
A little bit rough, it must be said. The ratio appears to be 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I hesitate because that’s such a strange format for a TV show, yet when I tried looking at it in 1.85 non-anamorphic, things looked a bit compressed, so there you go. The colours and contrasts are strong, but the image itself is plagued by aliasing and softness. When the camera pans, which is often, the result is an open invitation to migraine.
So maybe that 2.35:1 isn’t that strange after all, since we definitely have the deluxe audio treatment, being given both 2.0 and 5.1 mixes, which is more than one would expect for a documentary series. The music keeps things lively in the rear speakers, but neither Cavanaugh’s narration nor his interview with various experts are drowned out. Good stuff.
Behind the Scenes at Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Premiere: (5:05) Promo fluff for the museum and the movie. Hardly worth your time.
Top 5 Reasons to Watch Stories from the Vault: (1:15) Commercial for the show.
Inside America’s Vaults: Three 2:48 segments showcasing eccentric private collections: “The Whole World Toilet Paper Museum,” “The Troll Museum” and “Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum.” Concentrated, charming weirdness.
While this isn’t exactly Nova, nor is it trying to be. Call it breezy edutainment. It is fun, but the picture is harder to watch than it should be.