Entertaining as hell, and a celebration of this great nation's people, too. Discovery Channel has released Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal, a 13-episode collection of this fun Discovery Channel reality series' first - and perhaps only? - season (it premiered in 2008, but I'm not aware of it airing this year). A salute to the "ingenious, dangerous, and dubious ways Americans kill time," Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal manages not only to showcase the innumerable ways Americans build and compete (and destroy) in their spare time, but it also honors the achievements of average Americans who make "excellence" a goal even in their pastimes...and even if those pastimes seem, to the non-believer, stupid as hell.
Embarking on a road trip covering the four corners of America, host Dave Mordal introduces us to the various competitions, festivals and private pastimes of average Americans who like to play their games fast, and who like to play to win. Whether it's swamp buggy races in Florida, or pumpkin boat racing in Maine, or lumberjack competitions in Oregon, or alligator wrestling in Colorado, or demolition derbies in Minnesota, or interpretive freestyle canoeing in Ohio, Dave meets the dreamers and the competitors who take their hobbies and sports seriously. The hook for each episode is Dave's participation in the activity, which usually leads to a last place finish for the good-natured host. And then it's off to another location where someone has figured out a unique way to blow something up, or how to race something you'd never dream could race.
Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal is a clever title, no doubt, but it's a tad misleading, giving the impression that the show is nothing more than another basic cable series devoted to guys blowing up crap (I certainly thought that before sitting down to watch this for the first time). There are segments in the various episodes centered around destruction for destruction's own sake, but many more segments feature competitions or events that feature people mastering a skill rather than destroying an inanimate object. And I think it's fair to include the host's name in the title. He's a genial presence here who can be quite funny in a laid-back fashion (as long as he doesn't overdo the cowardly bumbler shtick they had him enacting in some of the episodes). A comedian (I read where he participated in the NBC series, Last Comic Standing), Mordal interacts well with the show's various participants, getting off solid ad-libs along with the well-written narration. In the segment on paintball enthusiasts hunting a Bigfoot, Dave the existentialist states, "What better way to prove he exists than to make him not exist anymore?" In a derby challenge, where a stuntman successfully jumps a limousine over a considerable distance, Dave deadpans, "To all those naysayers who said God doesn't want limos to fly, I say: who's your Messiah now?" That's good writing (or ad-libbing) for this kind of show. More importantly, both Dave and the show never look down on the participants or the events, no matter how silly it all may seem. Even when someone is competing in the world's largest gathering of zombies, or trying to push juggling as an Olympic event, the show's attitude (through Dave) is one of good-natured respect and eventually a healthy admiration for the high levels of skill and ingenuity on display regardless of the event's so-called "worth." That respect is unusual for this kind of show, as well; we've all seen these kinds of documentary and reality series that mock so-called "eccentrics," but Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal shows us the real "average Americans" who overpopulate this land, and who have an overabundance of good humor, practical no-how, and a keen competitive edge.
And that's the element I liked most about Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal. I love to see positive representations of average Americans, particularly when you see how creative and ingenious we are (yes! I will include myself there, and you, too!). Watching Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal, it gave me a much-needed reminder of how unique and talented this nation is when left to our own devices (are you listening, Washington dimwits?). These are the dreamers that don't just sit around - they do. They build and they compete and of course, they tap into that American DNA that states both of those activities should and must be fun (it's right in the Declaration of Independence, baby: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"). As Dave meets one unfailingly polite and generous American after another, who invite him to participate even though it might mean he screws up something they've been working on for years, you see the great good humor of our people. And best of all, our pursuit of excellence means "good enough" is never enough for us. Even taking something as nonsensical as barstool racing, the participants invariably strive to perfect the tools and their skills, putting serious time and energy and thought into making that effort as perfect as possible (thank god twenty years of non-scoring soccer playing hasn't destroyed our competitive edge yet...). And if that means putting a bigger engine inside a Jeep to help it climb up an 80° rock incline, or putting more explosives in your grandmother's car to achieve more bang for your buck, or specifically developing a hybrid pumpkin so it can better withstand the force of being shot out of a cannon - so be it! No wonder Americans of all stripes are finally fed up with hearing from their dubious so-called "leader" on how America is "sick" and every aspect of it is "broken" and needs a "fundamental transformation." What absolute horseshit. When a festival in Manitou Springs, Colorado wanted to create a fun little event centered around tossing Christmas fruitcakes, they eventually had freaking Boeing aerospace engineers working hundreds of hours in their spare time to design the biggest, baddest cannon to fire those fruitcakes off! That's Americans left to their own devices: creative, fun-loving, insatiably curious, resourceful, perfectionist, and most importantly, free to do whatever the hell they want (California underground gravity racer Sam Freeman - read his name again - sums up it best: "Authorities are always after you. When you do anything fun, they want to screw it up."). Amen, Sam. Amen.
Here are the thirteen episodes of Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal, as described on reverse side of the DVD cover:
Lawn Mower Racing
Dave travels to Ohio for the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Championships, proving that all you need for a race is a couple of guys and any kind of engine. Then he enrolls in alligator wrestling school, despite his mortal fear of alligators.
Dave heads to Tennessee for the World Extreme Rock Crawling Championship where drivers scale up to 80-degree inclines in their homemade trucks. Then on to Tug Fest, where it's Illinois vs. Iowa in a 2400-ft. tug-o-war across the Mississippi River.
In Waverly, Minnesota, where there are only two seasons, winter demo season, Dave learns the finer points of demolition derby with 30-year demo veterans. Then Dark Ages Europe meets Tolkien's Middle Earth in a live battle game called Dagorhir.
Figure 8 Races
Driving a school bus on a figure 8 track may just be the craziest thing Dave's ever done. Then he's got both guns blazing at California's Cowboy Shootout before he's off to Colorado to meet a man who spent the last 39 years building his own castle.
Dave proves that real men ride little bikes at the Mini Moto Florida Invitational Championship where he gets in the big race on a bike he can lift with one hand. Then Dave gets burly in an Oregon lumberjack competition, and he helps zombie enthusiasts break a world record.
Dave faces battle while hunting for Bigfoot in a Florida scenario paintball game. He learns that cardboard boats are serious business for rival teams at an annual race in Arkansas. Then he meets a man who has spent decades designing a real-life "Iron Man" suit.
Dave tackles rodeo bullfighting in North Carolina. Then it's off to Utah's famous Bonneville Salt Flats, where people compete to break land speed records on everything from a barstool to a big-rig. Next, it's the world championship of freestyle canoeing.
Dave races swamp buggies in Florida at the world's only professional swamp buggy track and sparks up some fun at FireFest, a convention for pyromaniacs who make their own fireworks. Later he meets a man who is developing some very unusual exercise equipment.
Dave visits Punkin Chunkin where teams launch pumpkins with homemade machines. Then he travels to Dynamite Shooting, where items are stuff with dynamite and exploded with fire. Afterward, Daves goes to the World Juggling Federation in Las Vegas to see why juggling should be in the Olympics.
Soap Box Racing
Dave fixes up his own soap box racer for renegade soap box racing in Los Angeles with guys who don't like to play by the rules. Then he learns how to launch fruitcakes with specialized machines and how to train falcons to hunt small game.
Vintage Snowmobile Racing
Dave enters the world's largest vintage snowmobile race where riders soup up their motors and race on ice to achieve record speeds. Then he participates in a vindicating adult dodgeball championship and meets a couple of guys who have taken ice sculpturing to a whole new level.
Dave competes in the first-ever Tank-athon. Then he faces off against 60 sleigh teams for the title of "top dog" in the national human dogsled championships, and he drives a boat that looks like a dolphin - and rides like one!
Dave travels to New Hampshire for Skijoring, a sport where skiers are pulled by a rope behind a galloping horse while navigating an obstacle course. He then learns how to make his own barstool on skis to race in Wisconsin's legendary barstool race.
Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal is presented in a pristine, 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer, with a super-sharp image, and no compression issues.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 stereo mix is the best when you want to immerse yourself in those screaming swamp buggy machines (some nice separation effects to the rear channels, and crystal-clear dialogue), but there's also a 2.0 if you're not particularly picky. English subtitles are available.
There are about three minutes worth of highlights strung alone for a minisode - but it's presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, so what's the point in watching that?
That title is catchy but it's misleading, as well. Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal is more than just a show about stuff blowing up - far more of it deals with average Americans who strive for excellence in even the most unconventional of pastimes. It's a terrific show to watch with your family, particularly younger viewers who will not only enjoy all the action, but who will get an alternate view of an America they rarely see in the State-run media: the true, "unbroken" America (the America that doesn't need a "transformation"), filled with ingenious, fun-loving doers. I highly, highly recommend Wreckreation Nation with Dave Mordal.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.