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Showtime presents
Penn & Teller Bullsh*t! The First Season (2003)

"We start with psychics who claim they can communicate with the dead. The only truly amazing thing about it is how many people believe it."
- Penn Jillette

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: March 28, 2004

Stars: Penn Jillette, Teller
Other Stars: James Randi, Ron Jeremy
Director: Star Price

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, nudity, explicit sexuality, frauds, scams and assorted bologna)
Run Time: 06h:05m:59s
Release Date: March 30, 2004
UPC: 758445204520
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+A C+

DVD Review

As P.T. Barnum was well aware, one can profit well from the infinite capacity of humanity to believe the ridiculous and the absurd. This three-disc set collects the first season of a Showtime original series, hosted by magicians Penn & Teller, devoted to debunking a wide assortment of these scams, frauds, and delusions that come in an amazing array of varieties.

Among the subjects covered by Penn & Teller are supposed psychics who use both cold and hot readings to delude their audiences; for television such scammers also use creative editing to make themselves look even more amazing. Alternative medicines such as reflexology, magnetism therapy, and chiropractic also get the treatment, as do assorted scams for penis and breast enlargment and self-help therapies. Alien abductions, predictions of the Apocalypse and creationism (with some rare footage from the Scopes Monkey Trial) are examined and discarded, as are such bad science as second-hand smoke, the Mozart Effect, genetic engineering, and environmental alarmism.

Of particular note are the supernatural segments looking at ESP, Ouija boards, and near death experiences. But there are also highly practical looks at the scam artists pushing feng shui, bottled water, firewalking, fad diets, and aphrodisiacs. There are plenty of sacred cows that are tipped in these 13 episodes, and nearly every viewer will find several cherished beliefs challenged. No one will come away without being offended by one episode or another, giving food for thought on any number of topics.

The best segments are terrific examinations that use Penn & Teller's act to the hilt, exposing how the various scams work. A few bits aren't quite as good, particularly in the episode on self-help, which occasionally just degenerates into name-calling when it could be doing more in the manner of exposé. The language is strong, as is indicated from the title (though there is a censored version available for more tender ears). Although a healthy skepticism is encouraged, on a couple occasions there are deferential references to the FDA and EPA, which seems a shade odd considering the increasing politicization of these agencies (though the EPA's willingness to adopt poorly executed studies is referenced in the segment on second-hand smoke).

Although the series is certainly controversial in its willingness to take on the (frequently well-respected) hucksters, hustlers, scam artists, con men, and bullslingers in both business and religion, the series does make many essential points. It should be required viewing for everyone and might engender a little more critical thought, which would certainly be a very good thing.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The main issue with the full-frame video with a significant amount of ringing that is prominent when Penn & Teller are standing before a stark white background. There is some moderate aliasing, but color and detail are quite nice. Black levels are well represented, without visible blocking or artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The disc somes with both 5.1 and 2.0 English tracks as well as a 1.0 mono Spanish that sounds quite inferior. The 5.1 track is recorded at near deafening levels; I couldn't play it at anything approaching halfway to reference levels. The 2.0 track is much more reasonable. Both English tracks are exceedingly clean, and the lounge-type theme music sounds terrific.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 52 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Boys of 2nd Street Park, A Woman's a Helluva Thing
1 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtakes
  2. Behind the scenes footage
Extras Review: There's quite a bit of additional material, though it's not all very valuable. The best bits are a debunking segment on the infamous "junkyard ghost" video that was making the circuit on the internet a while back, and a substantial interview with magician and professional skeptic James "the Amazing" Randi (18m:15s) containing an interesting discussion of the difference between skepticism and cynicism. A 27m:33s segment collects (mostly without comment) other materials with loons, True Believers, and a candid-camera type segment. A group of outtakes (10m:10s) is accompanied by behind-the-scenes bits (6m:27s). It's a little disappointing, but the strength of the main program makes up for the minimal quality of these copious extras. Anyone going to Vegas will, however, be interested in another bonus: a $10 coupon good against tickets to Penn & Teller's show, good through December 2005.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The latest offering from Penn & Teller is essential viewing for just about everyone, though there are certainly cautions regarding language and sexuality. This humorous and highly entertaining release is supplied with a very good transfer and quite a few extras.


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