As the longest running series on Showtime, this two-disc final season set of the Emmy-winning Penn & Teller: Bullshit! does exactly what we've come to expect. A potentially hot-button subject is highlighted and analyzed during each half-hour episode, and though there is a definite slant to the narrative there is an attempt to show two (or more) sides to the issue, balanced by the distinctive Penn & Teller brand of humor and outrage. As an added plus there is plenty of nudity, certainly there to remind us this was broadcast on pay cable.
Not bad for a couple of magicians, eh? All of this quasi-investigative journalism is really a bully pulpit for Penn Jillette (he's really the mouthpiece here) to deliver some wonderful, expletive-filled rants, whether it be about teen sex, vaccinations or a greasy hamburger.
The format of the series remains intact, with Penn & Teller appearing as inserts during the episode, highlighting or elaborating on a point (often augmented by plenty of nudity), while the remainder feature interviews with the pros & cons on a topic, with Penn providing his distinctive brand of volatile voiceover narration. The slant here is to make the opposition look foolish, which often doesn't require much more than letting them speak for themselves. The show does rely on a gimmick where extra footage shot before an interview is used, where the subject has obviously been told to just sit there. It's a cheap shot to use that candid footage, but it does provide an easy target for Penn to jab away mercilessly under the guise of a news magazine show.
Plus, when was the last time you heard Diane Sawyer call someone a "mother%^&er?
There are some informative topics examined during season eight (criminal justice, pyramid schemes) while others (martial arts, old people) seem to lack the bite and substance of previous seasons. Thankfully even a weak episode is better than most of what is on television these days, so the opportunity to wallow in a carefully crafted Penn rant is still a thing of beauty to sit through. I would have loved longer episodes on controversially rich subjects like vaccinations - which is impossible to cover fully in 30 minutes - as opposed to the meandering fast food episode that never really seemed to find a center of balance, though it did make me want to make a road trip to a Carl's Jr.
There's an agenda to be played out, and Penn Jillette - along with the ever silent Teller - construct a a whole swath of expletive-laced digs, rips and then surprisingly sound explanations that perhaps won't win over those on the religious right, but as an alternative to the safe approach taken by network news magazines it is pretty liberating to sit through. As much as I hate to see this series end, clearly there has been an issue with consistently coming up with valid topics in recent seasons, as the Teen Sex ep here borrows more than a little thematically from season four's Abstinence ep.
Here's the episode/topic list from season eight:
All ten episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and that's the good news. The bad news is that with the show being condensed down to two discs it seems the transfers themselves have taken a hit. Sure, it's completely awful - the colors look good, as do fleshtones - but the eps are peppered with an assortment of compression issues, worst of which is prevalent edge enhancement. If you've seen this series on Showtime HD then this SD release will be underwhelming.
Audio options are offered in 2.0 stereo, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround and Spanish mono. For some infuriating reason Showtime loves to default to the 2.0 stereo, so it is necessary to manually have to make the switch to 5.1, as I assume most of you reading this will want to do. Aside from that beef, the aural presentation is pretty solid, albeit uneventful. The opening theme music sounds big, but unfortunately there isn't much during the course of an episode to truly show off the limits of the 5.1 mix, though I did sense a bit wider spatial feel across the front channels when compared to the 2.0 option.
Things have really changed from the big, bulky packaging from previous Bullshit! seasons, here condensed down to a single clear plastic case to house the two discs - which is down from three discs on earlier season sets. Inside the case is a $25 cashback offer insert from Showtime, which is handy if you're a subscriber already.
The only bonus material shows up on disc two, and consists of bios for Penn and Teller, as well as a photo gallery (featuring some pleasant nudity). Also featured are the first two episodes of the Showtime series Episodes for your viewing pleasure.
As much as I've loved this series, I'm sure even Penn & Teller would admit that at some point the idea pool would eventually get shallow. As a result this final season may not be the high water mark of the show's run, but it is still entertaining, even when the occasional subject (martial arts, for example) does not really come off as all that controversial.
Uneven, but still recommended. Especially for you season set completists.