Penn & Teller: Fool Us



Jonathan Ross


Illusionists: Penn Jillette and Teller

Voiceover: Dominic Byrne


September Films and 1/17 Productions for ITV1, 7 January to 28 August 2011 (Pilot + 8 episodes in 1 series)


Jonathan Ross hosts as magicians perform in an attempt to baffle world famous illusionists Penn & Teller. If they can successful fool the duo, they win the chance to perform as the opening act at Penn & Teller's Las Vegas show. Following a successful pilot episode in January 2011, an eight episode series followed in Summer 2011.

Now, were this, we'd probably be saying how nice it is to see magic back on primetime TV, how good it is to see fresh talent given a showcase, and how excellent the acts were. But this is, and that leaves us with a bit of a problem. Because when it comes down to it, the conventions of the magic show and the conventions of the game show aren't just different, they're fundamentally opposed. The game show runs on "reveals" - of winners, obviously, but also of answers and solutions. The magic show, on the other hand, tends to be about non-reveals. It doesn't have to be, and if the performer has any modicum of genuine skill, it really shouldn't be (how insecure about their performance skills are these people, exactly?), but usually, it is.

This isn't to say that magic can't be incorporated into a gameshow format. You could vote on who gives the best performance (like The Magicians) or abandon the "no-reveals" concept (like Secrets of Magic). But what would be really fantastically stupid would be to base a show around the question "how was that done?" and then not answer it - which is exactly this show's approach. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And then some more stupid.

And yet, out of this show and the two mentioned in the previous paragraph, this is still probably the best. The others were middling-to-poor executions of decent concepts; this one is a deeply flawed concept but executed well. Judged as a light entertainment performance show, it's little short of a triumph. But as a game show... no.

See also

Weaver's Week review


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