A while ago I wrote for my love of Deadliest Warrior, which despite its attempts at jockishness and bad-assery is one of the nerdiest shows in the history of television. I’ve recently been thinking of another show that is almost its polar opposite: Human Wrecking Balls, a resolutely dumb show that makes faint stabs at nerdiness.
Human Wrecking Balls is a show that ran for two seasons and 20 episodes on G4, the gaming channel that launched Olivia Munn into superstardom (their cross to bear). It’s unclear if new episodes are in the works, though I believe G4 still reruns it from time to time. The show consists of “breaking champions” The Pumphrey Brothers, Craig and Paul, destroying stuff with their bare hands and brute force. You probably didn’t know you could be a champion at breaking (unless you used to watch Cheap Seats), but guess what? You can be a champion at anything in 21st century America. *eagle flies across purple mountains’ majesty*
The Pumphrey Brothers didn’t just bust tables or chairs, either. They massacred entire locations, like a post office, or a bar, or an amusement park, until the entire place was completely destroyed. Now, what constituted “completely destroyed” was somewhat mutable and indefinable. But when they were done with a building, it definitely looked like two meathead tornadoes had been throught it. Each episode was cast as The Pumphrey Brothers versus a location, as if it were a foe that needed to be conquered.
Would two dumb guys breaking stuff be enough for a show? It certainly would be enough for me, someone who has spent his entire life thinking nothing is funnier than watching things be destroyed. Add in the possibility of people getting hurt, and I’m even more on board than I was before. (See: Jackass) But for some reason, Human Wrecking Balls decided to add a dash of Mythbusters to their mix and feature a structural engineer named Chad Zdenek in each episode. (I wouldn’t feel good laying out money for a building if it was structurally engineered by someone named Chad, but that’s just me.) Chad explained some of the science involved with the breaking of things: how much force was needed, what would be the best angle or method to use against a particular item, and so on.
Basically, Chad was there to add an educational veneer to a thoroughly anti-intellectual endeavor. Unfortunately, the Pumphrey Brothers were as dumb as a bag of hammers. Lovably dumb, like huge dogs scraping at a door when they think Daddy’s coming home, but dumb all the same. Whenever Chad attempts to explain something to them (more like “at them”), you see the Pumphreys furrow their brows and nod while taking nothing in. Meanwhile, the viewer at home is just anxious for more stuff to get pulverized.
I remember an episode where they destroy an abandoned bar, and one of the brothers desperately wants to kick a pool table surface in half, but Chad is busy explaining just how hard he’s gonna have to hit it, and how the slate will probably snap into jagged, razor-sharp edges, delaying the inevitable awesomeness for no good reason. I was whining at the screen like Milhouse. (“When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?!”)
You might call this “building tension,” while I call it “a bad decision that wastes precious smashing time.” And more often than not, Chad’s advice was sublimated to the brothers’ caveman strategies, which were usually discussed thusly (in a vaguely southern drawl):
PAUL: Whatta ya think, brother? Wanna blast through this sheetrock shoulder first?
CRAIG: Let’s do it!
The producers also tried to heighten the drama by strategically placing commercial cuts right when one of the brothers was about to plunge into/over/through something, like when The Dukes of Hazard would freeze-frame with the General Lee mid-air and Waylon Jennings would talk about what mess them boys was in. This was presumably to worry the viewer that we might cut back from an ad and see them collapsed in a bloody heap. If either brother did manage to injure himself, Human Wrecking Balls had a nurse on set ready to administer to their needs. More often than not, the brothers refused treatment for their cuts and bruises, so the nurse mostly just stood around and looked vaguely nervous in a conveniently low-cut EMT uniform whenever the boys were readying themselves to smash stuff.
I’m nitpicking. My main point is that there was a show where two huge, dumb guys destroyed entire buildings with their bare hands. I was given a gift by the TV gods and I should just accept it.
As professional “breakers,” they were not allowed to use anything but their own brute strength, and they had to smash everything. There’s an episode in which they demolish an abandoned movie theater, and that involves them crushing every single item in the theater from the seats and the projection screen to the whirling coolers of fruit drink and vats of nacho cheese in the lobby snack counter. (Suspend your disbelief and try not to think about why an “abandoned” movie theater would still have these last items out on display.)
But my favorite episode by far—perhaps one of my favorite episodes of anything ever—was one in which they destroyed a hotel room. This obviously echoes the old rock star cliché of a musician on the road, trashing his home for the night in a fit of excess and decadence. So Human Wrecking Balls decided to ask a real rock star to help them in their quest. The rock star in question was Jerry Montano, who you may know (but probably don’t) as a former bassist in Danzig.
I certainly didn’t expect a show on barely basic cable to get Keith Richards. Jerry Montano toured with a famous, headlining band (albeit well past the height of their fame, while playing the least glamorous instrument), so I suppose he technically fills the bill of “rock star”. But when he arrives on set, he immediately tells the Pumphrey Brothers about all the thousands of dollars’ worth incidental damage bills he’s run up on the road, trying to pump up his Crazy Rock Star bona fides. (Speaking of pumped up, he looks like he was inserted into his leather vest and jeans outfit, then inflated.)
Which is what makes what happens next so hilarious. The Pumphrey Brothers invite Mr. Rock Star to join them in trashing their hotel room’s lounge area. He starts by smashing a prop acoustic guitar, Pete Townshend style, but even this fairly simple task proves arduous. It takes him at least four tries of bashing it against a bass drum before the neck snaps.
Then he tries to break other stuff in the Pumphrey Brothers’ fashion, and this too does not go so well. While the show’s hosts easily destroy furniture, Montano hurls a table against a wall, and it bounces back at him limply. The Brothers pick up a few chairs and plunge their legs into the drywall, but when Montano tries the same (twice), the chair just caroms off the wall ineffectually. The Brothers end the scene with primal, roid-rage screams and “that’s what I’m talkin about!”s, while Montano looks sweaty and exhausted.
It is easily one of the most epic yet lightning-fast come-uppances in television history, and for this alone, Human Wrecking Balls and the Pumphrey Brothers deserve a spot in the Scratchbomb Pantheon of Heroes. (Also, keep watching to the end of this video to see the one of the brothers literally run through a wall.)