Image:Mechannibals logo 2.gif



Louise Brady


IWC Media for BBC Two, 25 September to 22 December 2005 (8 episodes in 1 series)


Two family teams are challenged to make machines out of bits from everyday household items. The trouble is, they're not allowed to leave their homes and must cannibalise what they already have to make their contraptions. Hence the name. Clever, innit?

In essence then, this show plays out almost identically to an episode of Scrapheap Challenge, with the first section of the show chronicling the teams' efforts to build their contraption (cue lots of shots of children upset that their bike/scooter/bed is being destoryed to scavenge parts) with the second portion devoted to the challenge itself. In the first episode, the challenge was to build a machine to demolish a garden shed (thankfully not the teams' own - they'd already used enough of their belongings by this point). The winning team is not simply decided by some objective criterion built into the challenge as in Scrapheap, but rather is decided upon by a panel of three judges picked from a field somehow related to the challenge. (At least, we assume they're picked from a field related to the challenge. Their qualifications - if any - aren't adequately explained on the show.)

The victorious side gets their mangled appliances replaced with brand-spanking-new ones; the losing team get "nothing but the Mechannibals toolbox". Strangely, considering how much emphasis is placed in this rather harsh reward system thoughout the first twenty-nine minutes of the show ("Dave's wife won't be happy that he's used her brand-new tumble-dryer to make a giant cupholder for their machine, because if they lose all she'll have is the Mechannibals toolbox"), the programme ends abruptly after the winner is crowned, with no sign (and indeed, no evidence) of the winners' new licence fee-funded kit, and conversely no shots of the losers attempting to mend their broken lives (er, I mean consumer durables). It has to be said that this leaves a rather bitter aftertaste to the whole affair. Without any evidence to the contrary, we're left to assume that the losing team is left sitting there in their ransacked shell of a home, with nothing to clean their clothes, cook their food or iron their sheets. It'd be nice to be able to see that everything turned out all right in the end.

Indeed, one wonders how much is actually staged for the cameras. In the first show, one team dismantled a brand new tumble dryer while the lady of the house was out. And they didn't even dismantle it by carefully undoing the screws. No, they hacked it open with an electric saw. And after all that, the motor inside turned out not to be powerful enough for the machine they were building anyway. Now that has got to be a set-up, surely? Or to put it another way, we really, really hope it's a set-up. Recklessly encouraging familial discord doesn't strike us as a great basis on which to build an entertaining gameshow. Fortunately, the second episode was a great improvement, featuring families who were really into it, rather than being unwilling participants dragged into Dad's schemes, and very little truly wanton destruction (it looked like the only thing trashed that couldn't easily be repaired was a electric kettle worth maybe a tenner). With a bit of luck the rest of the series will continue in this vein and we won't be seeing too many of the arguments that characterised the first show.

Anyway, the machines are quite ingenious and the science fairly well-explained and the host seems to know what she's talking about, so if the prize system were ironed out a tad, and it weren't on just a couple of hours after Scrapheap Challenge finishes on the other side, it'd be a nice diverting half-hour.

Web links

IWC Media: Mechannibals


Image:mechannibals logo.jpg An early version of the show's logo


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