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TV Review: ‘Inventions that Changed History’ is a Blast to the Past

Over the past 2 years, Discovery+ has excelled at becoming the streaming center for learning; crafting a niche in a landscape full of binge-able drama series. And Inventions that Changed History is a fine addition to their lineup, being both informative and entertaining in ways few other shows can be.

Its premise is simple enough: each week, the history of a variety of famous (or infamous) devices will be presented to the audience in bite-sized chunks. Around 6 inventions are discussed in each episode, and they are all linked to a larger theme, like water or food. Historians, Scientists, pop-culture experts and Hollywood Celebrities all weigh in on these important devices and make learning history exciting.

That excitement is the biggest success of the show. Narrator Jeff Bottoms brings his A-game, utilizing vocal inflection and rhythm to keep the show from getting stale. Even for inventions that aren’t the most intriguing, such as the puke bag, Bottoms does a great job of keeping the audiences interest. This is furthered by the all-star cast of guests, who are either reacting to the invention or teaching the audience about it. And no guest is off the table either.

In the first episode, the inventor of the modern Water bed, Charlie Hall, makes an appearance to tell us all about it. The other truly great aspect of Inventions that Changed History is its production. These historical inventions are shown on-screen through photographs, portraits, and even puppeteering. The documentary format works well with these different visual styles and keeps each individual invention memorable. 

That’s not to say everything is done exceedingly well. There are a lot of minor editing issues that keep this show from becoming truly great. Some guests, like Allen Pan (known for his YouTube channel where he builds insane devices), have a subtitle with their name that last for a whole second. The insert cuts to celebrities’ reactions to specific inventions at times have little to do with the history we learned as an audience. And while these are small issues in the grand scheme, they do add up and can be extremely jarring. 

Inventions that Changed History is worth watching for anyone, and especially for those who love to learn insane facts about our favorite inventions. It may not be the most riveting television, but its sincere dive into the past is truly accessible for all people of all ages. It’s a great background TV show where you can learn a little while you lounge around the house. The series is streaming now on Discovery+, with a new episodes arriving on Thursday.

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Written by benjaminwiebe

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