Penn & Teller: Bullshit (2003)

Starring Penn Jillette, Teller


Released by: Showtime
Rating: NR; (generally for mature audiences, mostly for language, but sometimes nudity)
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Own it.

Penn & Teller have been doing magic for years. I remember seeing their Broadway show in the mid-80s. Just amazing stuff. But one of the aspects of the show that you can miss, if you're not careful, is the fact that they will, from time to time, let you see behind the curtain. In the Broadway show, for example, they did a cup and ball trick...and then did the same trick over again with clear plastic cups so you could see exactly how the thing worked. This is just the tip, with Penn & Teller, of the skeptical, cut through the bullshit iceberg.

It makes sense that they would eventually let the rest of the 'berg show...and smack into various and sundry hulls of pseudo-science, urban legend and shit that is just plain wrong. Hence this show. And it is a brilliant piece of work. Managing to be both scathing, educational and entertaining all at once, the two magicians appear in a blank white space filled with whatever props or set they need, and then proceed to tear into the subject at hand. They do this with video segments that Penn narrates (naturally, since Teller doesn't talk in their act), populated with both those scamming, those being scammed, and those countering said scam.

The variety of subjects tackled is nicely varied, even for a season lasting only thirteen episodes. From feng shui to speaking with the dead to whackjob environmentalism, they'll address pretty much anything if they think it's fooling people and, as Uncle Bill might say, making us pay a higher psychic price than we should. Now, granted, the show's not the least bit objective--these two are out to skewer the ne'er-do-wells and make that pretty damn clear--but they do so with style and back up their smackdowns with facts and a small army of talking heads. Most times, they don't have to do much of anything, just stand back and let the scammers or the scammed hoist themselves on their own petard. And when they do wade in and start duking it out, they do so with logic and reason and facts, which they back up. Of course, they don't allow for a bibliography or anything of the sort. But hey, it's a short show. They make a compelling case regardless.

Speaking of style, when someone is interviewed, a nice touch I enjoy is that after the first line or so of their argument is presented, you cut to a different shot of them introducing themselves, then right back where you left off with the argument. It keeps things moving and lets you think about what they've started to say while also processing who the hell they are and why we should be listening to them. The show is just pulled off well and it's certainly changed my mind about a few things: bottled water, for one.

The DVD set here is pretty choice. The first bonus bit of note is the "Ghost Segment." I have no idea why this wasn't an episode (although it's a bit more specific than most of their things have turned out to be, though it probably could have been edited down to fit with other ghost debunkings), since it's one of the funniest things I've seen all year. A paranormal researcher and a guy who works at a junkyard going into an adult novelty store to buy a blow-up doll? That's comedy gold, people. I really can't say anything else about it. But it's almost worth the price of the DVD set all by its lonesome.

Next, there's the segment with James "The Amazing" Randi, one of the world's premiere skeptics. It's basically Randi, Penn and Teller sitting around and shooting the shit, talking about skepticism in general and how people get hooked into pseudoscience and garbage. It's equal parts fun and also serious, as Randi talks about behind the scenes at an evangelist's sideshow. Other bonus footage is bloody well hilarious: including an extended bit from the "water steward" segment of the bottled water episode, and a waiter wearing a plastic schlong down the front of his bicycle pants just to see how female restaurant patrons will react.

Basically, this show is so good it's almost worth getting Showtime just to catch it. Thankfully, they have sense enough to put this out on DVD and also, they had sense enough to renew it. Note how this set doesn't say anything about "Season 1," as though they thought this might be all she wrote. So for God's sake, buy this set so Showtime will have added incentive to keep the boys on board.


Discuss the review in the Gabfest!

Greetings to our visitors from the IMDB, OFCS, and Rotten Tomatoes!
Stick around and have some coffee!