By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
Penn & Teller have made a career out of pissing people off. Sure, the illusionists have got legions of fans who revel in their irreverent humor, elaborate and often gory set pieces, and ingenious frick-and-frack personas. Yet, over the years, they've also yielded intense criticism for their decision to expose the secrets of not only their illusions, but sometimes other people's as well—a renegade practice carried down from Houdini, mind you. They continue to ruffle feathers in their Showtime series, Bullshit!, which is about to enter its fourth season; the third year debuts on DVD this week, along with a box set encapsulating the entire run thus far.
It's fair to state that above all else, Bullshit! seeks to entertain—Penn & Teller are consummate showmen, of course, and though their series in theory seeks to expose the loopholes and inconsistencies of everything from TV psychics to alien "abductees," conspiracy theorists and miracle diets—it's hardly strictly scientific. (Nor does it fail to take full advantage of its premium-cable outlet; to save themselves millions in slander lawsuits, the duo refer to everyone as "assholes" and "fuckers" rather than "liars" and "frauds" because, legally, vulgarities are not subject to slander laws.) All participants are made aware of the nature of the show and still tend to dig themselves a hole all on their own. (The episode in which three feng shui "experts" proceed to contradict one another over and over again is priceless.) Bullshit! also strives to force its audience to think critically about issues from both sides of the political spectrum (one episode is on creationism; another is on gun control) and even sets its sights on the occasional sacred cow ("Holier Than Thou" in season three offers critical views of Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama.) In doing so, Penn & Teller are virtually guaranteed to maintain their streak of offending just about everyone, eventually—yet in the current climate in which there simply doesn't seem to be enough open, vocal questioning of the status quo going on in the public arena, raising hell is in and of itself a relevant practice these days. Whichever shade of bullshit we're dealing with, no one does it better.
Also recommended this week: 21 Grams: Special Edition; Body Double: Special Edition; Lewis Black: Red, White & Screwed; The Maltese Falcon: Special Edition; MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, Vol. 1; Thank You for Smoking.
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