Penn & Teller: Fool Us (2011 TV series) review…

Penn & Teller: Fool Us (2011 TV series) review after the break…

Penn & Teller: Fool Us (2011 TV series) review…

There’s an old saying that the reason why people like roller coasters isn’t because of the thrill but because they can control when the thrill begins and ends. There’s an unsettling truth to that statement – People enjoy experiencing extreme emotions, such as fear and sadness, when it is as easy and predictable as turning from one television channel to another. When the unpredictability is removed from an event, it makes experiencing such emotions more palatable.

Everyone knows that a magician can not channel the otherworldly forces that their acts allude to. Humans and all devices in the universe must abide by the laws of nature. No one can walk through solid walls, no one can levitate, no one can be sawed in half and then put back together again. People like magical acts not because of the illusion itself but in the knowledge that even though they know that the act itself is fake, the presentation makes it look real. Just like the roller coaster, it isn’t the fast turns or upside down spins that causes the pleasure but the knowledge that despite the illusion, everything is safe and predictable. We know that the roller coaster isn’t going to careen off the tracks; We know that there is a false deck of cards (or other such maneuver) that the magician secretly switches to give the illusion of predicting which card an audience member picked out. Knowledge ultimately brings comfort and comfort ultimately brings happiness.

“Penn & Teller: Fool Us” is a 2011 television show that is more magic show then competition; It highlights accomplished but not yet famous magicians attempting to fool the magical duo of Penn & Teller, two magicians who are arguably in the top-tier of contemporary magicians in both popularity and ability. The format is deceivingly simple – There’s a brief introductory bit about the magician themselves, the magic act follows, Penn & Teller converse amongst themselves in private as the show’s host briefly chats with the magician and then the magical duo asks some pointed (semi-revealing) questions about the act to demonstrate whether or not they were fooled. Although Penn & Teller’s acts tend to be self-revealing (a strict taboo in the world of magicians where the artistry of deception is as closely guarded a secret as a baker’s recipes), no such direct revelations are on display here; The closest one may get is typified by one magician who was asked if a magical act would still work if any of the prop CDs he used could work in any of the prop CD players he also used. A sheepish grin reveals more then a direct answer into how the act was performed.

Should a magician be fortunate enough to actually fool Penn & Teller (a highly subjective standard, to be certain), they are afforded the opportunity to “open” one of many Penn & Teller’s acts at Las Vegas. One can only guess that performing in Las Vegas with accomplished magicians is a “big deal” for up & coming magicians, much like the rock bands that “open” a concert before the main act finally takes the stage.

Unlike Penn & Teller’s previous television effort, “Penn & Teller: Bullhsit,” this television show is perfectly geared towards both Penn & Teller and the world of magic alike. Everyone likes a magic show and the additional entertainment draw of Penn & Teller’s analysis of the act is educational. The bonus of seeing a brief act by Penn & Teller at the end of the episode simply adds to an already delightful experience. Jonathan Ross, the host, is both professional & unobtrusive in his duties which is the best compliment one can provide to these proceedings.

One aspect of the show that is very refreshing is the absence of intentionally bad acts. In a lot of competition reality shows, placing intentionally bad acts (such as bad singer or similar people of poor talent) for purposeful ridicule is seen as a positive trait. “American Idol” enjoys displaying horrible singers; “America’s Got Talent” occasionally has ridiculous acts. The judges certainly do not help matters, with plenty of judges on these types of show feeling that they need to bring a level of snark and maliciousness in order to entertain. On “Penn & Teller: fool Us,” none of those characteristics are in evidence – All you get are great magical acts with Penn & Teller being respectful to the magicians involved. No magicians are pretending to have supernatural powers; No judges challenging said magicians with envelopes or the like.

As I’ve written about before, I soured on “Penn & Teller: Bullhist” because it strayed from what Penn & Teller were good at: Magic and the dispelling of pseudo-science. I can appreciate everyone having an opinion on something (read: this blog) but, when you’re popularly known for a talent, people would like to see the talent rather then hear the opinion. Yes, Mr. Shatner, I’m glad that you and Mr. Nimoy can sing but now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, would you care to read these scripts? Yes, Penn & Teller, I’m happy that you’ve expressed your views on the environment and gun control and now that we’ve gotten those views out of the way, perhaps you’d care to entertain us by breaking out of this sealed box?

“Penn & Teller: Fool Us” is currently not readily accessible to the American market and that’s unfortunate; Magic acts are entertaining the world over and the opportunity to see fresh acts is always inviting. Imagine a slight expansion of the franchise to include guest magicians such as the Amazing Randi when Penn & Teller are unavailable. Imagine setting up franchises in other countries as a showcase to their talents.

One can only hope that the forces to be sees the vast potential in this series. This is the type of “reality TV” that I’d prefer to watch and, barring a few slips of the tongue from Penn (Teller is always quiet), would be appropriate and enjoyable for the whole family. Imagine that: An entertaining, wholesome reality television show that the whole family can watch which is also educates. Now there’s a magic trick I’d like to see and see more of.

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