True story: my younger sister is an Ivy League-educated physician, so I know she has to be at least slightly brilliant, but a few years back she came to me with just the funniest story about her roommate's sister's best friend. It seems that this roommate's sister's best friend (who, for the purposes of this story, we shall call 'Eucretia') was preparing for a date with a hot young hunk (whom we shall refer to as Jeff), but the unfortunate young lady had been stricken with a chronic case of flatulence that just wouldn't end. Well, Jeff picked Eucretia up and, being the perfect gentleman, held the door open for her and helped her into the car. As he closed the door, Eucretia felt the painful pressure of a fierce air biscuit building up. As Jeff walked around to the other side of the car, Eucretia seized the moment and let a huge one rip, carefully controlling her sphincter as to not, shall we say, blow a little mud. She then quickly rolled down the window and fervidly fanned the remaining embers of flatulence out into the great outdoors, quietly thanking the universe for the principle of osmosis. As Jeff opened his door and settled into the driver's seat, he turned to Eucretia and announced, "Oh by the way, we're going to be double-dating with Ellis and Eunice Verdano. They're sitting in the backseat, have you said hello?" Eucretia turned a shade of deep vermilion, and faced the rather shocked Verdana couple in the rear seats, their faces a clear portrait of nausea and revulsion.
My sister swore this happened. And anyone who knows anything about Urban Legends knows that the infamous "Fart in the Dark" story is brilliantly entertaining and hysterically exquisite bullshit.
People will believe just about anything, especially if said piece of information preys upon their deepest fears, most prurient desires, most fervent religious (or anti-religious) convictions, or even if it just sounds convincing enough. But that's not exactly news, isn't it? With thousands of years worth of human civilization before us, one would think that we - and by we, I mean you - would have a firmer grip on reality, and that the seeds of ignorance and idiocy would be laid by the wayside in favor of a harmonious society built on the concepts of truth, empirical observation, and practical sensibilities.
The emmes is that we all love a good bullshit story. We thrive on it. We delude ourselves into subscribing to as much wackiness we can muster, even if, in our heart of hearts, we know we're full of shit. That doesn't necessarily make us terrible people - well, not me, anyhow - but it does mean we love to take a dive into magically non-existent swimming pools every now and then because - let's face it - everyone has peed in the real ones.
The problem inevitably occurs when people start really believing their own bullshit, and that is the subject of Penn & Teller's Bullshit, the magnificent Showtime series in which the famed magicians investigate and thoroughly debunk a variety of different bullshit topics and frankly pathetic fads, styles, mores, activities, medical treatments, and other ersatz panaceas that promise to make our life more meaningful, fantastic, and extraordinary. Over the course of 13 episodes, the brilliant illusionists (and costars of 1986's epic My Chauffer) proceed to rip apart such thoroughly ridiculous topics as Feng Shui, Penis Enlargement, Talking to the Dead, ESP, Creationism, and other buttloads of exquisite horse-crap that, for some reason, too many people are buying into.
(Let's face it: some of you guys are following up on those "Make Your Penis Grow" spam emails, because they just keep on coming. And believe you me, these offers don't work... er, so they say!)
Showtime has released Penn & Teller's Bullshit: The Complete First Season on DVD, and for the cynics, realists, skeptics, pragmatists, and grand poobahs of common sense in all of us, Bullshit is must viewing.
The following episodes are included on this three-disc set:
Created expressly for television, Penn & Teller's Bullshit: The Complete First Season is presented in its original full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The quality of the video is very good; in fact, it's about as pristine and clear as one could imagine. There's a tad too much sharpness to the transfer, resulting in some occasional shimmering and line noise, but other than that I have absolutely no complaints about the quality of the video. Colors are strong, images are very sharp, contrast levels are exquisite, and the transfer features little in terms of compression noise or pixellation. This is a fine transfer.
The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 (a mono Spanish dub is also included, which results in some unintentional hilarity as Penn explains how Creationism is utter horseshit with pure Castellano gusto). The soundtrack is mostly frontstage, with some expansion of soundfield to enhance the show's musical score. Dialog is clear, bright, and warm, while the score demonstrates some reasonably dynamic range. This is not an aggressive presentation, but it doesn't need to be. It gets the job done, and done well.
The Bonus Features are contained entirely on Disc Three. Naked Promo is a seventeen second promotional clip for their "Sex, Sex, Sex" episode. Junkyard Ghost! is a fourteen-minute featurette that examines the phenomenon of ghostlike images appearing in various photographs and videotapings. Is there photographic existence of otherworldly phenomena? (Short answer: no.) Next up is a James Randi Interview with Penn & Teller, an eighteen minute conversation between Penn and famed magician/skeptic James Randi. This interview makes for a fantastic companion piece to the Bullshit series. Randi has offered up a $1 million prize to anyone who can prove that they have actual supernormal "powers." Number of prize-winners to date: zero.
More Bullshit! is a twenty-eight minutes of bonus footage that was excised from various episodes of the show, and makes for some extremely entertaining viewing. Bullshitting Around! includes ten minutes of bloopers, outtakes, and on-set footage. Behind the Scenes! consists of seven minutes worth of "behind the scenes" footage from the taping of the show. We get tons more naked people here, and, unless you're Michael Powell, that certainly can be considered A Good Thing. Wraparounds! runs just over six minutes, and features some more outtakes and bloopers that occurred during the filming of the introductions and conclusions to various episodes.
Penn & Teller Bio is a six-page text biography of the acclaimed duo. Wrapping up the extras are trailers for The Boys 2nd Street Park, A Woman's A Helluva Thing, Rio: Go Wild, and weblinks for the Showtime cable channel and the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where Penn & Teller perform nightly (except for Tuesdays.)
There are loads of wonderful platitudes I could ladle upon Penn & Teller's Bullshit: The Complete First Season, but what impressed me most about the series is that, amidst the comedy, yuks, and acerbic criticisms thrown around these episodes, there is a real sense of warning and anger throughout the proceedings. For example, look at John Edward, James Von Praagh, and Rosemary Altea, three alleged "mediums" that have made a cottage industry out of convincing people that they can speak to the dead. When Penn rips them apart for exploiting people's inconsolable grief and mourning for their own financial benefit, there's genuine anger and bitterness in his tirade. Bullshit might be one of the funniest shows I've ever seen, but it's also one of the most incisive and informative.
So, no bullshit: Bullshit is definitely worth your time. As illusionists and magicians, Penn & Teller are self-professed purveyors of bullshit. But - as they remind us in the first episode - the difference between them and the people they go after is that Penn & Teller admit up front that their act is full of shit. But their investigations are as insightful and biting as their illusionary parlor tricks are gloriously silly and entertaining. Penn & Teller's Bullshit: The Complete First Season remains one of the best DVD box sets I've seen in a long while... and that's no bullshit.