Penn & Teller: Off the Deep End
A&E Video // Unrated // $24.95 // April 25, 2006
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 1, 2006
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Graphical Version
In a Nutshell:  Cheesy magic underwater is still cheesy magic.

The Show:

Penn and Teller, a pair of magicians/comedians, have made a career out of making fun of cheesy magic while also staging some entertaining effects.  I've been a fan of their work since I accidently stumbled upon their very first TV special on PBS, Penn and Teller Go Public, way back in 1985.  (When will that be released on DVD???)  Since then I've have seen many of their broadcast and cable special, watched them on SNL, read their books, own both seasons of Bullshit! that have been released on DVD, and even catch Penn's radio show when I can.  I missed this special when it was first broadcast on NBC, so I was excited when I heard it was coming out on DVD.  After viewing Off the Deep End though, I was less than impressed.  They came up with an idea that just doesn't work, and more of the segments miss than hit.

For this special, Penn and Teller head down to a resort in the Caribbean, the Atlantis on Paradise Island, as they mention a couple of times and show in several helicopter fly overs.  They had the idea that if they were to do some really old dull magic tricks underwater it would be funny!  It turns out that cutting a lady in half is even less impressive underwater that it is on dry lady.  They purposely fill this show with hokey effects that you can get in any beginner's book of magic, changing the color of a handkerchief, make a bird appear, etc.  Penn tells everyone that the tricks are a bit dumb, but pointing out that they are much harder under water.

Not only were most of the tricks old, but they were really poorly done.  They apparently didn't have time to practice much, and a few illusions are flubbed.  Penn points these out in his voice over, but just because he's willing to point out that he knocked out an assistant's air hose during a trick, doesn't make the trick funny or entertaining.

Like most of their specials, they do show how many, but not all, of their tricks are accomplished.  I've never liked this aspect of their act, as it cheapens the effects they are doing, but I understand that it's part of their shtick.  They usually wait until after the effect is completed to revel the secret, but this time a couple of illusions are reveled as they are performing them, which really destroyed the effect.  I have the feeling that they did this because the effects weren't that great to begin with.  In one they take a ring from a model, put it into a fish and feed that to a dolphin.  The mammal then return the ring in a water proof container.  The use of the container at the end was a little odd.  It didn't fit in with the rest of the trick.  It was as if they couldn't find any way to end the gag and just picked something.  Also, they used a really small fish to conceal the ring and it was obvious when they switched it since the replacement fish didn't have a huge bulge in its stomach.  I think the only way they could come up with saving the routine was to reveal it as they went.

For the finale of the show, Penn and Teller vanish a submarine.  This was a good effect, though a clue to how it was done is revealed in the fact that the didn't make it reappear.  The build-up was a little long, but that's only to be expected.  The illusion itself worked well.

Another big problem with the show though is the way it was edited together.  Originally broadcast on NBC, there are commercial breaks, which is only to be expected.  The problem is that someone apparently didn't think the show would be able to keep viewer's attention through a commercial break, so they padded the program with up to a minute of "stay tuned and see Penn and Teller make a submarine disappear!" promos before each break (except the very last one.)  There were a lot of these interputions too.  Luckily they put a chapter stop right after each interruption for a commercial, so it's easy to skip past these.  Though there aren't any actual commercials on the disc, one of the advantages of having a show on DVD is not having to worry about skipping past them. The several minutes total that this 'stay tuned' crap takes up really feels like a commercial.

The DVD:


The stereo English soundtrack was fine.  It was easy to hear Penn's patter as the pair were doing tricks, and the background noise during the locations shots wasn't a problem.  An average sounding disc, this unfortunately didn't have subtitles.


The full frame color video was likewise solid.  The colors and detail were fine.  The underwater photography was good, with everything clean and clear.  There weren't any digital defects worth mentioning.   A good, if unexceptional presentation.


For bonus items there are about 11 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes.  The two additional magic bits were nice and should have been included in the show.  In the first one the two prestidigitators take some sea water and remove the iron, gold, and even the salt from it, and in the second Penn Jillette moves the tan line from his watch up his arm.  There's also the full magic act that Teller did in the aquarium, and some behind the scenes shots.  I can see why this latter bit was left out.

Final Thoughts:

I like watching Penn and Teller because I enjoy magic and I like to laugh.  This special didn't impress me in either category.  Doing lame magic tricks is just lame, and performing them underwater in a three piece suit isn't funny.  Mildly amusing the first time, but not funny and definitely not hilarious enough to last the whole show.   There were a few good tricks, Teller did a good Kerskin like cold reading to determine which of three people were holding a $20 bill.   The ending were Teller pushed Penn into a pool was easy to see coming, and as cheesy as the magicians they usually make fun of.  Overall this show didn't have the laughs or enough good magic effects to make it worth while.  It pains me to say this, but you should just skip this disc.  Instead, check out either season of Bullshit!

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