The tagline practically writes itself: “Beakman’s back and Captain Disillusion’s got him!” In the 1990s, young viewers seeking scientific knowledge and guidance through television had two major options. Sure, there was PBS’ Bill Nye The Science Guy with its pleasant, bow tie-loving host. But over on The Learning Channel, there was a wilder, more colorful option: Beakman’s World, whose wisecracking title character regularly donned a fright wig and a neon lab coat. His persona was about half mad scientist and half racetrack tout from Guys And Dolls.
Beakman’s World went off the air in 1997, but performer Paul Zaloom has continued to reprise the role occasionally since then. His latest gig brings him right into the YouTube age. It’s a collaboration with Captain Disillusion, the silver-faced alter ego of Latvian-born filmmaker Alan Melikdjanian. The skeptical Captain regularly debunks internet hoaxes, but at the beginning of his latest episode, he’s having a career crisis. All the good hoaxes and conspiracy theories have been taken, he whines. Just then, sidekick Ellie (Crystal Shannon) shows up with a mysterious silver capsule from which Beakman himself emerges.
A meeting of Beakman and Captain Disillusion is too good an opportunity to pass up, the men decide. They decide to team up to discredit those so-called “free energy” devices or perpetual motion machines supposedly powered by magnets. Apparently, these scientifically impossible gadgets have been getting some play on the internet, so Beakman and Captain Disillusion explain why they don’t work. First up, Beakman gives the audience a tutorial on the always-disappointing laws of thermodynamics. Sorry, true believers, but energy cannot be created, not even by magnets.
So what about all those amazing video demonstrations? Captain Disillusion shows how those could be faked using hidden or disguised energy sources. “The possibilities for fooling an uninformed audience are endless,” he says. But the video does not rule out the idea that a perpetual motion machine might one day be possible. “In the future,” Beakman says, “we might make new discoveries that change our core assumptions about how the universe works.” In the meantime, however, it’s probably not wise to invest in anything billing itself as a ”free energy” machine.