In the investigative tradition of master illusionist and early 20th-century ghostbuster Harry Houdini, magicians Penn Jillette and partner Teller debunk the paranormal in their wildly entertaining Showtime series, Penn & Teller: Bullsh*t!
The first season of this unusual show finds the garrulous Penn and silent Teller taking aim, over 13 episodes, at such perennial hokum as “Talking to the Dead,” “ESP,” and “Ouija Boards.” But they also go after a couple of contemporary, exploitation-driven industries they believe con vulnerable people in the same way phony mediums rip off the bereaved and “regression therapists” lead on would-be alien abductees.
One of these industries is the network of charlatans promising sexual enhancement through bigger breasts or male genitals; the other is the publishing world’s raging river of self-help books. But our boys don’t stop there. Just to make sure each viewer comes away impeached at least once for championing a sacred cow, Penn and Teller take on creationists, anti-smokers, vegetarians, extreme environmentalists, and feng shui enthusiasts.
Everyone is bound to feel a little offended at some point in this boxed set’s 360 minutes, but P&T offset their indignation with wily humor and the occasional, dazzling trick.
Penn and Teller introduce their series and explain their use of profanity. Then they look into the practices of popular psychics of today and reveal how those who claim to be in contact with the dead are actually performing an age-old trick called “cold reading.”
2. Alternative Medicine. A look at chiropractic medicine, reflexology, magnet therapy, and a trip to an alternative medicine fair that ends in an operation at a crowded mall.
3. Alien Abductions. This show features three days spent at a UFO convention and a visit to an alien abduction group therapy session. It also explores the psychological explanations, and the influences of pop culture, on the typical abduction story.
4. End of the World. Criticizes the viewpoints of persons predicting the end of the world, with special focus on the Left Behind series and extreme survivalist methods. Also exposes the dangers inherent in the belief that the world is about to end.
5. Second Hand Smoke / Baby Bullshit. Critiques concerns on second-hand smoke and attempts to ban it, and the usefulness of baby education products.
6. Sex, Sex, Sex. Attacks penis and breast enlargement products, questions the usefulness of aphrodisiacs.
7. Feng Shui / Bottled Water. Seeks to disprove Feng Shui as a science while challenging claims on the quality of bottled water.
8. Creationism. Examines the constitutionality and scientific validity (or lack thereof) of creationism and intelligent design and defends evolution, with focus on a Georgia school board debate.
9. Self-Helpless. Attacks various forms of self-help programs, with an emphasis on firewalking.
10. ESP. Attacks people claiming to possess and teach Extra-sensory perception.
11. Eat This! Attacks various weight loss diet products and plans while questioning GM food concerns. Features 1970 Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug.
12. Ouija Boards / Near Death Experiences. Challenges the Ouija board and investigates the nature of near-death experiences.
13. Environmental Hysteria. Question mainstream opinions on various environmental issues, including global warming, with a criticism of Greenpeace and Julia Butterfly Hill. Includes an experiment where people at an environmental rally sign a petition to ban water, disguised under the name Dihydrogen Monoxide, without thinking out the proposal critically.