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
Figure 8 Races
Soap Box Racing
Vintage Snowmobile Racing
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.