The Unofficial Science of Home Alone review – what, no charred skeletons?

My grand unified theory of Home Alone is that, while people might think they enjoy it because of all the nightmarish torture Macaulay Culkin inflicts on the Wet Bandits, they actually enjoy it because of Old Man Marley, the figure ruined by loneliness after becoming estranged from his son. This is because Old Man Marley reminds us that, for all the ribbons and celebration, most adult Christmases come laced with an indelible streak of melancholy.

The good news, then, is that Sky’s new Christmas special The Unofficial Science of Home Alone nails this tone to perfection. It is ostensibly a show where comedians James Acaster and Guz Khan recreate all the main stunts from Home Alone to see if any of them are survivable. But there’s melancholy, too, because watching it makes me really miss Mythbusters.

Because, while The Unofficial Science of Home Alone is a perfectly fun – if a little haphazard – way to spend a couple of hours, you have to agree that Mythbusters would have turned this premise into a masterpiece. I won’t get into a long description of Mythbusters for those who never saw it, but in a nutshell it was a series where a handful of very charismatic scientists went about recreating a bunch of urban legends to see how plausible they were. Not only was it the sort of show that stays with you – I think about the episode where they choose the best time to climb out of a fully submerged car every single time I drive over a bridge – but it was scientifically rigorous. And while Acaster and Khan are two of the funniest men in the country, no one would describe them as scientifically rigorous.

Instead, their job here is to largely react to an actual engineer, in the form of Dr Zoe Laughlin. Can the human body withstand a blowtorch to the head, like the one that Macaulay Culkin used on Joe Pesci in the film? Laughlin gets out a Christmas turkey, draws a face on it, attacks it with a blowtorch then starts muttering darkly about necrosis. She does all of this, then Acaster and Khan go “Woah” for a bit. Same with the stunt where Culkin slams a tin of paint into Daniel Stern’s face. It’s Laughlin who does the legwork here, making a ballistic gel head from agar then slamming a tin of paint directly into it with the force of several hundred kilograms, while the comedians stand on a balcony and wince.

When the pair actually get involved in the science of it, things pick up dramatically. There is a scene in Home Alone 2 where Stern gets electrocuted so violently that he briefly becomes nothing more than a charred skeleton. Obviously that can’t be recreated in full, but Laughlin does at one point hook Acaster and Khan up to a Tens machine, and makes them jerk about like a couple of fleshy puppets. More of this – more sense that the hosts are active participants, rather than wisecracking observers – would have made the show sing.

But at least they have some involvement, and take part in a climactic sequence where they (fairly unconvincingly) endure recreations of all of Culkin’s murderous traps. Poor Alex Brooker, meanwhile, doesn’t even get to do that. Instead, he is flown out to the US to interview Stern and a stuntman, then sort of creep around the real-life Home Alone house, filming himself on his phone because cameras aren’t permitted, like the worst kind of stalker. In fairness, Brooker has fun – he’s a Home Alone superfan, we are told with punishing frequency – so it’s a shame that his bits come off as filler.

Sometimes specials such as this act as back-door pilots; you can imagine that, if this does well, Acaster and Khan will be hauled back for a full series called The Unofficial Science of X. If that’s what happens, great. But if I could make a few suggestions: future episodes should stick to the science, give Laughlin a much bigger role (or maybe just let her host the whole thing), and pay Acaster and Khan enough money to make them want to actually get bashed around a bit.

Or, failing that, you could just recommission Mythbusters, you cowards. A Mythbusters Home Alone special would have been amazing.