In 10 Words or Less
The merry pranksters poke a whole new set of holes
The second season of "Bullshit!" is more of the same for Penn & Teller, which is definitely nothing bad. Picking up where they left off in the first season, the magic men aim their cameras and wit at 13 new targets, exposing those who would take advantage of others, especially those looking to make a buck off the innocent. Hosting from their stark white "BS!" set, they provide most of show's comedy through Penn's snarky voiceover and Teller's mime-like performances between interviews. Though the comic Houdinis are the funniest part of the show, the interviews are normally a riot, even if it's normally unintentional as people reveal their true selves to the audience.
The expected targets are the broad social concerns hyped by the media, such as death, safety and anti-aging miracles, but it's the more specific topics, like profanity, recycling and love that result in the best episodes. The set almost gets off to too-good a start, with one of the best episodes presented first, which takes at aim at P.E.T.A., the animal rights advocacy group. Taking the group's hypocrisy and media-friendly facade apart with the skill and precision of a surgeon, the show reveals a more sinister aspect of the group that is likely unknown to the majority of people. Of course, the incredulous reactions by Penn sell the comedy of the show, so it's not an investigative report. Think "The Daily Show" with the anger and outrage cranked up a bit.
It's amazing after the first season that the show can still get people to appear on camera. I can only guess that there are three types of people appearing on "BS!" (other than the ones supporting whatever viewpoint the guys support.) Those who are so blinded by their beliefs that they no longer recognize reality are "BS!"'s main targets, while those desparate for fame are also key fodder for the show's jokes. The third group, the uncurably stupid are good for a few laughs as well, but that's just too easy for this show. They are much better at making the intelligent but misguided look eminently ridiculous. Take the episode about hypnosis for example. "Clinical Hypnotherapist" Wendi Friesen is interviewed, and her therapy is documented, and then ripped apart by Penn. On her website though, she acts as though she came out looking good. It's the ability to lie to oneself that makes a person a purveyor of bullshit.
Of the 13 episodes in this set, the most enjoyable and most informative episodes are the ones tackling P.E.T.A., profanity, safety hysteria, death and the Bible. You may not agree with it all (your humble reviewer certainly didn't) but I don't think Penn & Teller would like to know if you did. The whole point of this show is to question what you're told. If you didn't question them, you'd be exactly what they are railing against.
Showtime provided the producers with plenty of disc space, releasing the 13 second-season episodes of "Bullshit" on three DVDs. For some odd reason, the packaging for the first season, a gatefold digipack, was abandoned in favor of three standard keepcases in a slipcase. A change to ThinPaks would have been fine, but to actually increase the bulk of the packaging makes no sense. On the plus side, the episodes are spread out a bit better this time, with 4-4-5, instead of 5-5-3. This may be a result of the lack of extras, but it still spreads things out a bit.
The animated menus, presented in full-screen, are slickly done, with 3D transitions from screen to screen. Options on the main screen include episode selections and audio set-up (English 2.0 and 5.1 and Spanish mono.) Unfortunately there's no play-all option, so after each episode, the player returns you to the episode's preview screen, which includes a shrunk-down version of the episode's intro, a text description, and a scene index. There are no subtitles or closed-captioning.
2. Safety Hysteria
3. The Business of Love
4. War on Drugs
7. Yoga, Tantric Sex, Etc.
8. Fountain of Youth
9. Death, Inc.
11. The Bible: Fact or Fiction
12. Exercise vs. Genetics
The footage shot specifically for this show looks tremendous. Obviously, the video shot on stage with Penn & Teller and in one-on-one interviews, which is lit extremely well, looks the best, with crystal-clear details, good color and a nearly-complete lack of dirt, damage or noise. Video shot during events or without set-up looks good, just not as good as the rest of the newly-produced footage. The show uses a large amount of stock footage and previously-recorded video, which isn't nearly as good, but it's not a mess either.
The discs provides a 5.1 track to go with a 2.0 track, but there's not much difference between them. The 5.1 track kicks in during the show's theme song, with a nice active mix, but during the show itself, there's nothing much going on in your surrounds. The show didn't need this kind of presentation. Any disc space taken up by these tracks should have been used on some extras (see "The Extras"). The audio is as perfect as could be, with Penn's voiceover cranked up slightly to give it heft.
Unlike the previous set, where deleted scenes, bonus footage and more were included, this set is nearly free of bonus features. All you get are a pair of text filmographies for the guys, a full-screen photo gallery (which is somewhat interesting) and trailers for the second season of "Bullshit!," "Queer as Folk" Season Four and Kirstie Alley's "Fat Actress." These are all in bad shape, with tons of digital compression errors, while "Fat Actress" has an odd disclaimer across the bottom that says the clip is not for broadcast. "Fat Actress" is actually kind of funny, as she eats a big dish of buttered pasta and talks about giving oral to producers.
The Bottom Line
Anyone who loves to see hypocrites get what's coming to them will love "Bullshit!" This isn't an unbiased consumer-report type of show, but a show with an agenda that is definitely on the side of the little guy. If you find yourself on the sharp-end of P&T's stick, you probably wouldn't be too happy, but if you were bothered by, say, undertakers ripping off people in mourning or holier-than-thou protesters who go against their own creeds, then this show is going to entertain you for hours. While the topics can get serious at times, Penn & Teller keep things light and often hilarious, and Penn's voiceovers have perfect timing. Unfortunately, the DVD is a clear step-backward from the first season, with almost no extras and a weak packaging design. Here though, substance trumps style, and this DVD is easily recommended to anyone with a taste for the truth and comedy.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.