“It’s so hard for me to choose between my babies,” says Conover, who created and stars in the show. “There are so many that I love. The ones I gravitate most towards, honestly, are the ones that have the strongest stories behind them, in addition to the information.”
It was tough, but he narrowed it down to five (of 27) episodes, but not in any particular order. They’re listed here in the order they aired.
“Adam Ruins Forensic Science,” (Season 1, Episode 4)
“I love that we do sort of a ‘CSI’ parody, which was really fun to do,” Conover says. “The three topics — polygraph tests, eye-witness testimony and fingerprinting — are things people believe are absolutely foolproof. Like there’s such a thing as a lie detector! They believe it because they see it TV.” The real-life implication comes when people have jury duty and believe that fallible evidence is infallible. “It was a really satisfying set of misconceptions to take down,” he adds.
“Adam Ruins Death,” (Season 1, Episode 12)
“I like it because it’s a real twist on our normal concept,” Conover says. “If you ask people, ‘Hey, are you going to die one day?’ they’re like, ‘Yeah, of course I will.’ But they haven’t really internalized it or thought about it. They’re in denial. This episode shows why that’s such a harmful point of view.” Conover, who loves that this is the first episode where his on-air alter-ego can’t learn his way out of an issue, says the episode was profoundly influenced by Atul Gawande’s book “Being Mortal.”
“Adam Ruins Hollywood,” (Season 1, Episode 13)
“Another one I really love is our Hollywood episode,” Conover says of an admittedly lighter episode that covers awards season, movie ratings and reality TV. “I think the audience really latched onto that one because of how enjoyable it is to peek behind the curtain. I believe very deeply that learning how something is done doesn’t ruin it; it makes it better because you have a whole new level to work on. You can watch an awards show and say, ‘They campaigned really hard for that Emmy this year.’”
“Adam Ruins Immigration,” (Season 1, Episode 18)
“This episode is one of the ones we’re all proudest of. It was our first time doing anything remotely topical,” he says. Instead of focusing on the cost or impracticality of building “The Wall,” Conover and crew viewed it from a fresh perspective. “We found in researching that, actually, the problem was it would INCREASE the number of undocumented people living in this country because that’s what border enforcement has always done. I’ve very proud of that episode, but I didn’t write the story. One of our writers, Gonzalo Cordova, did. I found it very moving.”
“Adam Ruins Prisons,” (Season 1, Episode 21)
“We feel really passionately, on the staff, that mass incarceration is one of the biggest problems facing America today. And it’s largely an invisible problem because it’s one that we, by design, keep far from the rest of society,” Conover says. In a twist, the goal wasn’t to offer the audience information about the penal system, but to make viewers feel its effect on people. “Also, the expert we had on that episode, Daryl Atkinson — a formerly incarcerated fellow who’s a civil-rights attorney now — is one of my favorite people we’ve had on the show. He does really incredible work, and his story is also incredible.”