Appellate Judge Dave Ryan wishes P&T had drowned Aaron Carter while they had the opportunity.
"Taking magic to the next level—underwater!"
Between their steady gig at the Rio in Vegas, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, and all their other obligations, it's been a while since Penn Gillette and Teller (yes, that is now his legal name) had done one of their network television specials. Unfortunately, this special—which tanked (pardon the pun) in the ratings when it aired—was not a triumphant return. Although it is entertaining (well…most of it is), and has some of that good ol' Penn & Teller wit and attitude, it lacks the anarchy and sense of danger that have been P&T's hallmarks over the years. It doesn't help that the show is padded out to the extreme: what should have been a nice, tight hour-long show was stretched to a full two hours for broadcast purposes. And not with additional magic tricks, but with teasers and bumpers promoting the next trick on the show. Zzzz. Thank goodness you can fast-forward a DVD.
As the tagline above indicates, this special is aquatic in nature. The action takes place in the Caribbean, specifically the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, and Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island. All the tricks are either done in the water, near the water, or with the water. As is the case with all of Penn & Teller's magic work, we're let in on the secret of how each trick is done, sometimes as it is taking place. About halfway through, teen heartthrob Aaron Carter shows up to "perform" a "song" underwater, while P&T perform some underwater tricks. The excruciating nature of this portion of the show cannot be understated. Aaron's "song" consists primarily of him singing "trick guys…eccentric guys" over a Casio-keyboard-quality reggae beat. This, surely, is the song that plays while Satan welcomes you to Hell. Thankfully, it only lasts about 732 minutes, then it's over and Aaron goes away. (Um…sources inform me that the song is only about 4 minutes long. Could have fooled me…)
Aaron's presence is the most glaring component of what sets this show apart from the bulk of P&T's work: this show is very family-friendly. So the good news is you can watch it with your kids—even very young ones—without fear. But for us adults, this isn't the Penn & Teller we know and love. It's a neutered version.
Back in the day, when P&T (and their contemporary Harry Anderson) first came to our attention, their act was, in many ways, contemptuous of both "magic" as practiced by the Doug Hennings and David Copperfields of the world, and of the audience itself. You were a rube; they were there to show you how much of a rube you were. Yet, paradoxically, they still respected both you and magic. Instead of feeding you a diet of safe, bunny-in-a-hat illusions, they'd take a standard trick and turn it into something obscenely dangerous or grotesque. (I remember one bit that involved the illusion that Teller was slicing his eyeball open with a razor blade.) In doing so, they illustrated the real skill and talent that any magician (including Henning, Copperfield, et al.) must possess to pull off these illusions. By rebelling against the traditions of magic, they put the magic back into it. However, they took things one step further: they started to give their secrets away. This, of course, earned them immediate ostracism from the fairly small magic community—but it made their act even edgier and riskier, as they had to come up with more elaborate illusions, lest you figure out the trick too quickly, having seen them do something similar in the past. In they years since, they've taken that anarchic, rebellious attitude into every project they've undertaken, culminating with Bullshit!, one of the best shows on Showtime. But that attitude is completely absent in this show, which was designed to air on a Sunday night during "family time." This is the kinder, gentler Penn & Teller. They're still entertaining—I mean, they're great magicians, and even better showmen, and you can't take that away from them—but if you're familiar with their past work, it just feels like there's something missing.
This particular special aired on NBC back in November of 2005, and…well, it didn't do well. At all. As in, I believe it was one of the lowest-rated prime time shows of the year. That's a shame. It's solidly, if unspectacularly, entertaining (save for the Carter bit). There are many funny bits in here, too. But the magic is tame by P&T standards, and there's the aforementioned abundance of padding. Picture quality on the DVD is what you'd expect from a TV-to-DVD transfer; sound is provided in the original stereo, which does the job just fine. The sole extras are a pair of short excised magic bits (entertaining, but thin), an extended version of one of the underwater bits, and a text biography of P&T. Not exactly a great haul.
This is far from the best thing Penn & Teller have ever done, but it's a relatively entertaining diversion for family viewing. If you don't expect vintage edgy P&T, you'll be okay. I'd suggest a rental at most—there's not enough here for ownership. And remember…
Trick guys…eccentric guys.
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