Penn & Teller: Fool Us is a TV talent show that is filmed in front of a live audience (or, virtual audience during the pandemic). Oh, and we can't forget to mention that Penn and Teller are there too -- they're the judges!
During each episode, four magicians perform a magic act for Penn & Teller which, at the end of each act the magician-comedian duo try to deduce how the trick was done. In very articulate speech, Penn -- as Teller remains characteristically silent -- commends the magician on a job well done. If the magic act fooled Penn & Teller, they win a sweet Fool Us trophy and a trip to Vegas to be the opening act for Penn & Teller's show!
I want my opinions below to reflect those of a spectator who just saw a performance live. To achieve this, I've only watched this episode once. In real time - no pausing. No slow motion. Once through, with commercials and with my kids enjoying it with me too. Did I remember everything I saw? Did I see everything that happened? Do I remember the exact words that were said? Maybe, but likely not -- which means if I over-portray an effect below then it was just that great of a trick. If I under-portray it, well, yeah. So let's see what this episode's got in store for us!
The episode P&T's Big Game Halftime Show first aired on January 28, 2022 as Season 8's episode 12 (episode #117 overall!). At first I thought it was called "Super Bowl Halftime Show" and Wikipedia says the same... but now everything I'm seeing is "Big Game" so maybe I just completely misremembered. However, I think that the flag Teller was holding during the final act by Penn & Teller was for a sports event, so perhaps that's why the episode's rocking that name. Well, that or maybe because the Super Bowl is in a few weeks?
The fooler of the night's episode was the duo Rick Smith Jr. & Rokas, the first performance of the show. They put on a pretty neat demonstration of card throwing -- something I definitely can't do -- and mixed it with magic. Penn described it as "a combination of juggling and magic" and I think that really sums it up quite nicely. My instincts on this one were identical to Penn & Teller's, so the fact that it was wrong is definitely a fooler to me! I have two other ideas as to how it was done (which came to me while writing this, not during the performance) but I think I'll keep them to myself since I'm interested in coming up with a similar routine... except, without throwing cards.
One really cool thing about this performance though, and I honestly think they deserve even extra credit for this, is that they had met in person for the first time ever only 24 hours before their act! Before then, they'd only communicated remotely. How awesome is that?! They had great chemistry, like friends that have done this for quite a while. Now that's magic!
You can check out their card throwing performance on YouTube.
Lindsey Noel's performance, while extra bubbly and whacky, lacked a real climax in my opinion. It was what I would imagine a fairly straightforward card trick to be, except performed with polaroid pictures instead. What would have made it much, much stronger would have been Lindsey "reading and revealing" the word that was written down and then building that into the revelation of the photo that was selected. Or, making the written word somehow appear in the bubble itself -- that would be pretty cool. She had no real chance at a peek at the slip of paper during the performance so yeah, to accomplish these "extras" the routine would need to be altered. Going through this big grandiose act and ending it abruptly by saying exactly what polaroid was selected rather than what was on the paper draws all attention towards the cards, or rather the photos, and the first thoughts are that it had to have been forced or marked in some way. Unfortunately, Penn kind of went straight to the point and called those things out so he didn't really skirt around it too much.
This routine though, it irked me on a different level. I've seen a few like it in the show's history and my problem with it is that there have been red-herring's added in specifically to try to force Penn & Teller to call one of them out to make it a fooler. The tricks themselves aren't anything special, but these extra slow card drops, the fidgeting hand towards the pocket with the slip of paper in it, little things that magicians know are sleights … purposefully added in only to try to grab that trophy but not having any actual impact on the performance. I think that P&T are very keen to this too and pick out the obvious solutions (like how she very carefully tried to force a polaroid...) and throw them out. Which left, of course, the real solution.
I really enjoyed Jason Suran's "swear jar" performance. It is a classic mentalism routine, so there wasn't anything super original about it other than the personality and theme added to it, which was fun. Similar to Lindsey's commentary from Penn, he didn't skirt around the solution to this one either. Well, actually, I guess he did a little. He built up a nice story about being in a swearing competition with Al Koran. If they did actually have that competition "in real life", Penn would have been in his low-to-mid teen years given Koran passed away in 1972. But either way, directly calling out Koran's Medallion is a bit of a tip to the crowd there.
Roddy McGhie, what a fun routine. Or, skit? Yeah, definitely a skit. I could see this being an actual stage show, or heck a virtual show. Build up the theme of mindlessly thumbing through channels and your brain turning to mush. There were a lot of gimmicks used in this routine and the ending felt a little overboard to me but I did enjoy it all overall. To comment on the overboard piece though, with all attention focusing on the box in the middle of the screen and having it change before our eyes makes it pretty clear that it's just a trick (e.g. flap) box. If there was a little added misdirection pulling our attention elsewhere and it subtly changed without us noticing, then when the "remote" changed we'd kind of naturally notice the box too and that would be a much stronger ending. Same ending, but stronger. Totally in my opinion though. Really cool to see it all done in one take with no camera edits too.
Penn & Teller ended the show with a little levitation act. Penn talked his head off, more than usual I feel because it sounded like his voice was giving out a bit. And Teller went up and up and started flapping a flag around! My youngest said "oh oh, I know how he's did that! strings!". So I (contrary to what my introduction paragraph said... but this doesn't count =P) rewound the show to when Teller was just getting up in the air and started waving the flag around his head. "Wait what?! yeah I have no idea then" were the next words from his mouth!
I have a guess as to how it was done -- levitation acts only have so many possibilities -- but my guess is actually fueled by what was under the flag that the bowl of chips was hiding. If the timing and camera angle hid that lump it would've been a lot more fooling (to me). That, and Teller's legs remaining robotically still the entire time.
I liked this episode a lot more than last week's. The acts were very different, featuring card throwing and a full skit even. It was just fun. Given that they only have a single fooler per episode, lining up the first act to be the fooler is kind of a let-down for the rest of the episode though. Sure, I keep watching to "watch the magic," but knowing that they won't actually fool Penn & Teller does kill the whole "will they fool them?!" suspense. Maybe next season (yes, it just got renewed!) they'll throw us a twist and put multiple foolers in a single episode!
Speaking of episodes, I can't tell if there are more this season or not. I looked up the episode list (for the "Super Bowl" comparison) and the lists I'm seeing only show 12 -- this one being the last. Most of the other seasons have 13, last season had 28. Why drop this one at 12?
Either way, I'm excited for the next round of magic!