“Doing Da Vinci” (9 p.m., Discovery) takes a fun idea and runs with it for twice as long as it has to. “Doing” asks a group of historians, engineers, artists and gear-heads to build some of the devices and weapons that the artist, inventor and visionary Leonard Da Vinci left behind in his legendary notebooks.
The first challenge is to build Da Vinci’s 15th-century version of an armored tank. The gang gets right to work using methods both ultramodern and venerable to cobble together Da Vinci’s war machine. A professor appears via computer screen to offer construction hints and insights while still keeping his distance.
“Doing Da Vinci” has the let’s-build-something-and-then-blow-it-up spirit of “Mythbusters” combined with history and insights into one of history’s true geniuses. But the lessons are ladled out in meager portions between shop talk and hijinks. The pilot spends almost as much time on the “crisis” of a broken saw blade as any historical concept.
Among Da Vinci’s drawings, none demonstrate how to stretch an interesting half-hour show into an hour-long time-killer. That device would have to wait until the 21st-century.
• “College Life” (9:30 p.m., MTV) gave four college freshmen cameras and invited them to document their experiences. There’s a party dude, a self-professed virgin, a moody commitment-phobe and a bookish nonconformist whose mixed-race background makes him exotic to his classmates. “Are you French?” they ask.
“College Life” may remind viewers of their youth, or provide a cautionary tale for the pre-college set. It made me thankful that cameras were not around during my campus orientation.
Despite its self-documenting formula, “Life” follows the pattern of every reality series. It is virtually an idea-free zone. You’d think college students, of all people, would be passionate about books, sports, movies, music, politics, you name it. But as on every show from “The Hills” to “Real Housewives,” they can only talk about themselves.
• For a real antidote to this mental and spiritual vacuum, check out “Before Sunrise” (7 p.m., IFC), director Richard Linklater’s 1995 romance about a chance encounter between an American (Ethan Hawke) and a French student (Julie Delpy) who spend the night walking through Vienna discussing art, books, ideas and life while falling in love and showing us and each other that the brain is the sexiest part of the human body.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Chuck must rescue his dad (Scott Bakula) on “Chuck” (7 p.m., NBC).
• An environmentalist succumbs to a mystery ailment on “House” (7 p.m., Fox).
• The competition continues on “Dancing with the Stars” (7 p.m., ABC).
• Angela sifts through her past on “Heroes” (8 p.m., NBC).
• She’s baaaaaaack! Jack’s annoying daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), returns on “24” (8 p.m., Fox). Frankly, I think he’d rather die.
• “American Experience” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presents “We Shall Remain,” a multipart series on American history told from the Native American perspective.
• The New York Mets host the San Diego Padres in their home opener at their new ballpark, Citi Field (6 p.m., ESPN) boasting the most notorious name for a stadium since the Astros played in Enron Field some years back.
• Extreme cosmetic surgery strikes on “CSI: Miami” (9 p.m., CBS).
• After an incident, Allison awakens in her own past on “Medium” (9 p.m., NBC).