When I think invention, I think 1950s silver spacesuit futurism, I think time machines and teleporters, laser beams and diabolical laughter. Or at least toaster ovens and waterproof wristwatches. Those who answered ABC's casting call and were featured on last night's premiere of American Inventor, however, subscribe to a different definition. They think "slight variations on already existing products" or "necessities that haven't been available due to complete absurdity."
The first invention introduced to the panel of judges allows its owner to climb into a beautified garment bag and relieve himself should nature call at an inconvenient time. Then carry around a backpack full of my own refuse? Ew! There has been many a road trip where I have uncomfortably passed a "Next rest stop 25 miles" sign while simultaneously finishing a Big Gulp. But reduced to pondering the brilliance of a built-in car seat facility... no. Just no.
Later, we meet another toilet-o-phile who has attached a soap pump to a tissue roll holder, and whose pitch -- involving a brief discussion about sandpaper and moisture --almost convinced one of the judges! A recurring theme, I hope.
What I loved most was the inter-panel warfare. Whenever two or more of the judges felt strongly about a product but another expressed doubt, the fireworks flew. At one point, Mary Lou Quinlan (who strikingly resembles Catherine O'Hara at her manic best) and master inventor Doug Hall (an unironic Hawaiian shirt aficionado and two-time Inc. cover-boy) got into a tangible spat over an inflatable suit for tantrum-throwing toddlers. While Hall genuinely encouraged the Ph.D.-toting mom/inventor to pursue her dreams, Quinlan and Ed Evangelista (a boxing, ad veteran/family man) likened the floaties to torture chambers intent on smothering intolerable children. I side with Hall on this one. Throw the kids in a sack like so many fighting cats. Let them sort it out on their own!
Although most of the two-hour debut consisted of wackiness and mockery, brief moments of human drama made the time commitment worthwhile. The correction officer with the traveling fitness center tugged at my patriotic heartstrings. Full of American pluck and determination, he maintained a delicate balance between happy tears and crazy tears. The judges were touched. Even the stony Brit (co-creater/co-producer with Simon Cowell) Peter Jones, betrayed a hint of emotion.
Admittedly, none of the inventions elicited an "I might actually buy that one day," but as far as entertainment goes, the concept is hard to beat. I will tune in next week to root my favorites on toward the million-dollar prize, and maybe be inspired to bring to life one of the kooky ideas knocking around my own brain.