TV Review: Sundance Channel's ‘Quirky' Brings Inventions to Life

Author:
Publish date:

If you've ever had a good idea for a new household product -- or even just spotted the flaws in an existing one -- Quirky can help you see that sometimes those visions come true. Like winning the lottery, only better, because more than pure luck is required.

Perhaps you've experienced the frustration of trying to plug several devices into a power strip, only to find that oversized plugs block some of the outlets. A college student named Jake Zien took the idea of a pivoting power stick -- one that can be bent to accommodate oversized plugs -- to the product development firm Quirky.com.

Quirky, Ben Kaufman, Jake Zien

The conversion of his concept into a retail product in a matter of weeks forms half of the drama in the first episode of Quirky, a six-episode series on Sundance Channel.

The other story line involves a Pittsburgh homemaker who wants to create a combined strainer and bowl, something to strain and serve pasta with.

Zien's idea for Pivot Power is entering the production phase as the episode begins, but faces a critical moment in testing and certification.

Amanda from Pittsburgh's idea for a "bowl with a hole" is only approaching the moment where Quirky.com's evaluation team of staff members and an online "community" of designers and inventors deem it the best prospect among hundreds submitted that week.

The personality behind Quirky.com and the glue holding the show together is founder Ben Kaufman (pictured with Zien), a 24-year-old who built and sold a company (Morphie) that makes iPod accessories. Now he solicits product ideas and, if they succeed, shares the wealth with the inventors. When an idea is picked, that sets a three-week process in motion to get a finished product ready to sell.

Kaufman comes across as a nice guy, although his designers say he can be blunt in his assessment of the sketches and models they come up with while making the product. We hear him use the occasional strong word, and the occasional memorable phrase (like "please don't punch me in the face"), and feel his stress when a million-dollar investment might be blowing up.

But mostly we see the joy he gets from showing the inventors what they've collectively produced. In Zien's case, we also see him handing over one of those oversized posterboard checks in a 5-figure amount.

The process he created at Quirky.com is fascinating, and viewers get a look at advanced computer-aided design and 3D imaging, along with pencil and paper sketching and metalwork model building.

Later episodes promise to introduce "ideators" pitching a two-tiered BBQ tray, a twist on a can opener and a "bracelet wallet" suitable for a night out dancing.

Quirky starts tonight (Aug. 30) on Sundance Channel at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Related