The Boyfriend of the Week

April 11, 2006

Holy distraction, Batman!

I was all set to post another write-up -- in fact, I was all set to post it last Friday -- when something happened, as so often things do here at the Boyfriend site. I was swept off my feet. I was wooed. I was seduced. And not even by a single other man, which at the very least would've been fairly acceptable, but instead by TWO other men. I am trash! Put me in ice skates and call me Slutskaya! (My apologies to Irina.)

And so, once again, a Boyfriend is put on the back burner and I find myself cranking out a speedy write-up in a single day for Another Man. I had to rush through this one for a variety of reasons. For one thing, you've waited long enough -- I didn't want to wait another week to get something new up on the site. And for another, Ed Evangelista and Peter Jones are two judges on a new reality TV show that could get cancelled at ANY MINUTE. Or, even worse, could become unwatchably dull. Therefore, before things go all to heck in a hand basket, I wanted to tell you all about my latest guilty pleasure -- a new reality TV show called American Inventor.

This show completely crept up on me a few weeks ago. I never saw any press about it, never heard any buzz. Even though it was developed by the ultra-famous ex-Boyfriend and American Idol judge Simon Cowell, I don't remember ever hearing anything about it until it was practically upon me. Luckily, as fate would have it, I happened to find myself alone on a Thursday night at 9pm the very night it was starting up. Hey, I figured, can't hurt to at least see what this one is all about.

Why would I be interested in such a thing? Me, lit major, librarian, horror movie lover, etiquette snob? Well, here's a little known fact about me -- I love inventions. Actually, to be more precise, I should say I love Rube Goldberg machines. What's a Rube Goldberg machine? Hmmm, how best to explain. Wait, I got one -- you know that scene in The Goonies when Chunk shows up at the house and to open the gate, they set off an intricate contraption made of balloons and chickens and rolling balls and moving parts? All to accomplish a task they could've done faster and with less energy had they just walked down the front steps and turned the gate handle themselves? That's a Rube Goldberg machine. I love them because they are clever and creative and they essentially serve no real purpose other than to be really fun to think up and put together. I love stuff like that.

And, what's more, I love the people who DO stuff like that. I love mechanical things. I love clever things. I love ideas. I love inventions! Why do you think I fell so hard for robot scientist Rodney Brooks, after all? Why do you think I love MacGyver so much? It's because those guys spend all their time thinking up crazy ways to get things done. So, what could be more fun than a show where thousands of people all across the country get together and show off their gadgets? At the very least, I'm sure to see some hilariously nutty stuff. And, who knows, I might even get to see the Next Big Thing before it IS the Next Big Thing.

Little did I know that the judges would be twice as entertaining as the inventions themselves. And, as with American Idol, so would the kooks and, yes, the idiots, who brought their "inventions" in despite all common sense and better judgment. Take for example the older man who brought in "toe jam," a jam-dispensing device made out of a amputated baby doll's leg filled with jam and pierced in the toes with a few little holes. You squeezed the leg, and the jam shot out the foot. That's A) not an invention, you idiot; and B) totally disgusting. Even weirder was the sheer number of "inventions" that had to do with toilets or somehow disguising the smell and/or sound of people passing gas. What is it with America's fascination with poop, I ask you?

The judges, though. They are the part that truly makes this show entertaining (which is not to say this is a good show, mind you -- it's utterly inane, actually -- but I'm still thoroughly enjoying it). It was obvious this panel of judges started off with a plan to emulate the American Idol panel as much as possible. You had the cranky Brit, Boyfriend Peter Jones (see above, left). You had the sweet female, Mary Lou Quinlan. You had the, uh, the "Randy Jackson," played by Boyfriend Ed Evangelista (above, right). And you had -- well, you had the nerd-boy (I guess he's Clay Aiken?), Doug Hall.

They all started off solidly playing their respective AI roles and, at first, I was somewhat disappointed because it wasn't going to be any fun if this panel was just going to be the Poor Man's American Idol. Luckily, it didn't take long for everything to shake out quite a bit differently. For one thing, though he's British and can be a wee bit on the cranky side, the utterly adorable Peter Jones is actually a total sweetheart. Instead, the Simon Cowell role is being played by geek Doug Hall, the only actual inventor on the panel, who seems to relish making people burst into tears-- including his panel-mate, Mary Lou. I love Doug, but the man is a total troll. And besides, I'm still bitter he said no to that kid who made the portable dog air conditioner. That thing was cool.

Ah, and Mary Lou Quinlan. She of the savvy chick marketing skills. She who got up and started yelling at two women who came in and took off their shirts -- you go, Mary Lou! I thought Mary was going to be a really awesome example of what strong women in the business world are really like. Tough. Savvy. Professional. But, alas, it became clear by the end of the first episode that she was, in fact, everything that gives the rest of us a bad name. Moody, for one thing. And for another, unable to keep the waterworks turned off for longer than five minutes at a time. This woman will burst into tears at the drop of a hat, and no matter how completely useless and kooky your invention, if you can make Mary Lou cry, you've got her "yes" vote in the bag.

Fortunately for us, the voices of reason staff the opposite ends of the judges' table. On the left side, Peter Jones, British entrepreneur and famed panelist of the BBC business reality show Dragon's Den, who is not afraid to say no to an inventor, even if that inventor has just tearfully confessed he's now living out of his car because he's put $500,000 into one of the stupidest non-inventions ever invented. But Petey's not without heart, and I love that he's often willing to take a risk on something that, while maybe not being quite thoroughly thought out yet, shows enough potential to be worth thinking about some more down the line. I have a crush on Peter not only because is he totally gorgeous and has an irresistible accent, but because he's level-headed, smart, honest, and yes, sometimes even downright gentle (he hugged that granny, after all! Shucks!).

Compared to Simon Cowell, in other words, he's an absolute pussycat.

On the other end of the judges' table is our other Boyfriend of the Week, New Yorker Ed Evangelista. Ed looks and talks like a guy who owns a pizzeria in the Bronx, but in reality he's an award-winning advertising guru, who has spent his career creating ad campaigns and brands for some of the biggest clients in the world (Rolex, Smirnoff, Merril Lynch, e.g.).

Now, to be honest, when I first started watching Inventor, I didn't even really notice Ed, so smitten was I with the dashing Peter Jones. But the more I've gotten to know him, the more I've started to both crush on and respect him. And I loved the way he interacted with that retired New York boxer guy last week. He kicked down with the thick New York slang, and it was just unbearably cute. I also love that he talks with such fondness about his kids and has a soft-spot for anything designed to engage or educate the little ones.

Of course, my other favorite thing about Ed is the way he starts off almost every evaluation with, "I do a lot of [insert whatever activity the invention is related to here]. . . " Apparently, Ed does a lot of EVERYTHING. Such a multitasker! And even though Doug Hall does the same thing, when it comes from Ed, it's somehow different. Doug opens an evaluation with that line so that he can smash the inventor down -- "I do a lot of falling into holes on the ice, and I can tell you, you have no idea what you're talking about." With Ed, it's more, "I do a lot of falling into holes on the ice, so I know where you're coming from. . ."

Now, so far on the show, we've only see the audition episodes, which were pretty entertaining because we got to see all kinds of ridiculous crap, as well as a few interesting gadgets that made the first cut. I will say that my one major complaint at this point is that we weren't allowed to see nearly enough inventions during this process (I wonder if a lot of the rejected contestants are refusing to allow their inventions to be shown on the tube because they are afraid someone else will steal their ideas?). Lots and lots of inventors were selected to take their creations to the next round, and this week's two-hour episode (Thursday at 8pm) takes the top fifty choices and narrows them down to a final twelve. After that, the final twelve will receive $50,000 to get them started on transitioning their stuff from prototype to actual sell-able item.

My concern at this point is that after we finally get to the last twelve, there won't be much to show us each week. I mean, will we be watching them in the library doing research on marketing trends? Cuz, borrrrrrring! Will they have challenges they have to compete in? Do we have to watch them pick out paint colors and plastic molds? I'm a little confused about how this is going to play out. Somehow, we viewers will be involved -- we get to vote on the final winner, at the very least. But how they are going to keep us entertained until we get to that point, I'm not entirely sure.

However, I'm definitely willing to keep watching to see how it turns out. I will confess, however, that a solid 90% of the inventions that made it to the final round were not all that exciting to me. Some were practical -- I could see myself buying the double-layered bowl that had a dish on top for nuts or cherries and a semi-hidden layer below where you could conceal the discarded shells or pits, for example, but I won't be racing to the nearest store to stand in line for one the moment it's released. And there was the gadget that you could use to secure your public restroom stall door when the latch was broken. I could see that being something I'd stick in the glove compartment for road trips (the only time I use public restrooms, for the most part). But that branch cutter? Yawn. Those edible snow globes? Yeech. And that revolutionary new car seat from last week? As much as I felt for the guy who had developed it (his child was killed in a car accident), I have to confess I can't see that making it too much further, simply because you have to do a LOT of safety testing on something like that before you can even begin to market it. And you can't buy that kind of research with only fifty grand.

Nevertheless, despite my disagreements with some of the decision-making on the show (I'm still nuts about that little boy and his rejected dog A/C -- I totally would've bought one of those, and I don't even HAVE a dog), I confess I'm really, really enjoying this one. So, tune in this week to see which of the fifty semi-finalists make the last cut. And pay special attention to the extremely cute accent of Peter Jones, and the equally extremely cute personally of Ed Evangelista. Or wait, pay special attention to the troll-like Doug Hall instead -- keep your hands of my mans!

Incidentally, I also think the host of American Inventor, Matt Gallant, is super-cute. He used to host Animal Planet's The Planet's Funniest Animals, which I would watch periodically at 6am when I was getting ready for work. I know, I know, it sounds ridiculously cheesy. But it was actually pretty funny and he's a big goofball, which is a quality I love in a guy. I would've made Matt a Boyfriend this week too, but I confess I find his teeth somewhat distracting, and not in an entirely good way. This is not an uncommon problem for me and potential Boyfriends -- I haven't been able to feature Christian Bale for the same reason (well, that plus the fact he'll always be an American Psycho to me). Anyway, he's cute enough to make it worth tuning into this one too, in case you needed another reason. And if that's not enough either, I have two words for you: Flatulence Deodorizer (see link below).

MacGyver Factor Score: 91.2589%. A high Mac Factor Score would really be more befitting of some of the inventors than of the judges, given the fact it's the inventors who think a bit more like MacGyver. However, it's hard to give these two guys TOO low a score, because they do have one major quality in common with MacGyver, and that is the fact that they all make me blush with giddy pangs of adoration. Not a bad quality in reality TV show judges. Now, if they can just come up with a way to get themselves out of a locked vault using only a harmonica and a piece of scotch tape, they'll be all I ever need in a Boyfriend ever again. . .


Boyfriend-Related Links

The Official American Inventor site
An Interview with the Flatulence Deoterizer Inventor
MAKE Zine's recap of Episode One (includes invention photos)
American Inventor Spot (show fan site)
The Official Rube Goldberg site

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