National Geographic Channel Monday, May 29 (8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT)
National Geographic Channel’s SuperCoasters is an entertaining, informative and somewhat exhausting spin through the world of rollercoasters. While it serves up ample Newtonian scholarship, scientific research into brain impulses and body functions and a primer on the history of coasters, it is ultimately most effective as a high-definition opportunity to ride some of the world’s most extreme coasters without leaving the house.
Thrill-seekers will undoubtedly relish the white-knuckle experience, while the vertiginously challenged may not have the stomach to ride out the special’s two hours.
SuperCoasters examines the engineering behind building these monster rides, while also providing some insight into why the fear and euphoria these coasters inspire keep millions of people climbing on board. Serious coaster enthusiasts will appreciate the special’s look at the science of gravity-suspended sensation and how catapult technology from the U.S. Navy may help usher in even more extreme rides in the future; while viewers who just like the rush of a good ride will not be disappointed by all the in-the-coaster camerawork.
Still, there’s a reason why these rides typically last only a few minutes; and some viewers may opt to disembark before SuperCoasters comes to a full stop.
Independent Film Channel Monday, May 29 (9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT)
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor), the IFC Original Documentary Wanderlust chronicles the history of road movies in America, from early classics such as Frank Capra’s 1934 screwball comedy It Happened One Night to contemporary outings such as 2002’s About Schmidt.
IFC’s core audience of serious film buffs will appreciate the clips from nearly 50 films as well as the insightful commentary from filmmakers (including Peter Bogdanovich, Gus Van Sant and Wim Wenders), actors, writers, cinematographers and historians.
The documentary also does a fine job chronicling how writers such as Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck and photographers like Walker Evans have been inspired by the American landscape.
Unfortunately, Berman and Pulcini indulge the conceit of weaving in a narrative storyline concerning a director (Tom McCarthy) and editor (Paul Rudd) who take to the road for inspiration and meet a young woman (Kat Dennings). The fictional story is a contrivance that feels forced and intrusive, without being particularly engaging or enlightening.
Still, Wanderlust devotes most of its time chronicling the genesis and evolution of the road movie and, in so doing, manages to say a thing or two about the movies’ (and people’s) fascination with the open road.