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"Penn & Teller: Bulls**t!" Review

By Shawn McKenzie 02/11/2003

Have you ever been duped into believing something that, if you sat back and looked at it closer, you’d realize was a bunch of bull?  I will admit, I’ve been duped myself.  One time I paid for a seminar that claimed they could hypnotize me into losing weight.  They started out with a lecture that was actually very helpful in learning some dieting tips, and then came the hypnosis part.  I was sent home with some decent diet tips on paper (that I could have just as easily gotten online for free) and a sense that I had been hypnotized into the will to lose weight.  It actually ended up being free, because one of the hypnotist’s assistants found out that I was a member of the media, and he might have thought that the next day I would realize that I had been duped and I would spread the word about them.  I guess you could say I’m doing that right now, but it happened almost two years ago, and I can’t remember the name of the hypnotist or his organization.


I’d rather spread the word about a great new series on Showtime whose I have a little trouble writing.  While I don’t claim to review only movies, TV shows, and music that is family-friendly, I do try to keep this site on a PG level.  Penn Jillette and Teller, the comedy magic duo that specializes in letting their audience know how they do their own tricks, now are on a mission to expose other fakeries.  The reason that the show is what it is called (according to their explanation in the first episode) is because it is apparently for legal reasons, not just to shock.  They say that you can’t call the people they expose liars or fakes (because it would invoke lawsuits), but ironically, you can call what they do bulls**t.  I’m still not sure I understand the legalities, but the concept for the show is very interesting.  Each week they debunk something that millions of people hold as a truth.  They feel it is their responsibility to educate the public on these huge scams.


The first episode tackles a subject that was actually brought up recently on an episode of “South Park.”  It is the phenomenon of some so-called “psychics” claiming to be able to talk to the dead.  They single out John Edward and James Van Praagh as the most popular examples.  They claim to be talking to the dead, but they are actually using a practice called “cold reading.”  It’s where they throw out generic suggestions and make the person believe that they are getting messages from their dead relatives through a pattern of observations.  It’s hard to explain, but the point is, there is nothing supernatural about it.  You could tell they had watched the “South Park” episode (in which Stan tries to expose John Edwards by demonstrating how cold reading works), because they call Edwards what he was called in the episode, “the biggest douche in the universe.”


In the second episode they expose the fraud of alternative medicines.  Reflexology, magnet therapy, and even chiropractic medicine are all shown as a bunch of hooey.  To make matters worse, they demonstrate the power of suggestion by setting up a booth at a mall and suggesting to people that if they put snails all over their faces, they would feel more relaxed, it would moisturize their skin, and it would get rid of their wrinkles (none of that is true, by the way.)  It was very funny to see these people become so easily conned into thinking that snails on their face would do anything but make them look silly.


In the third episode, they talk about people who claim to have been abducted by aliens.  Some of these people have spent thousands of dollars on “regression therapy” to bring up “repressed memories” of being abducted by aliens.


If you are a major skeptic like me (okay, at least since the hypnosis seminar), then you will love “Penn & Teller: Bulls**t!”  Next week on the show they explore the topic of “the end of the world” theories (personally, I’d rather watch the portrayal of the end of the world on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” since it seems to almost come on both shows every season.)  The only problem I have with the show is this: couldn’t you have picked a better name?  It’s hard to talk about it in a review!


Ratings System:


Try to catch this show every week...

If a better show is on, tape this one...

If nothing else is on, maybe this will be good...

If this show is on, change the channel immediately!


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