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 first episode of the season and while Alyson Hannigan is back with us, the crowd is still virtual. Many other TV game shows are already back to in-person audiences but Fool Us still has giant screens with faces on it. While unfortunate, we're all here to really watch the performances so it's not the end of the world.
Like usual, we were treated to four acts. The variety of magic between the acts was wide and spectacular, hopefully a hint at what we can look forward to for the rest of the season too. Typically, the name of the episode is brought in from a piece of a single act, something that stands out. This episode, Single-Handed Three-Legged Twin Bullet Catch is actually made from each act (in reverse order, no less).
The show was, also like usual, ended by an act from Penn & Teller. I'll get into that one in a little bit though, but first...
The fooler of the night's episode was the Van Hargen Twins. All the acts were great in my opinion. I, of course, have opinions on how each were done -- one more of a guess than others -- and some more right than others. In either case, if you want info on each, keep on reading!
Jon Mobley (@mobleymagic) is a magician based out of Indianapolis who likes to perform Sleight of Mind. Based on his website, he says that every one of his shows is interactive and fun in an attempt to bring magic to a whole new level. If his shows are anything like his performance on Fool Us, it's bound to be a great time.
Right at the start of the act Jon laid everything out, plain and simple. He was going to perform a new version of Penn & Teller's Bullet Catch routine. Except, different. He would be doing it with invisible bullets and a, get this, a hand gun!
Jon had Alyson choose an invisible bullet from a dish and, using an invisible marker sign any card she thought of onto the invisible bullet. I hope you're able to follow this while reading, if not, it's one of those "you had to be there" kind of things =P
The rest is kind of easy to guess. She fired the invisible bullet, and he caught it in his mouth! Ta-Da!
The first magic element here was that he caught a real bullet in his mouth -- not invisible! The second element was, the card Alyson thought of (the 9 of Diamonds) was actually signed on the bullet. Seeing the bullet up close (on the TV), my first idea was that that 9 also looked like a perfect 6. This was on par with Penn's hint at how the trick was done, which was the actual solution.
I came away with two questions though. The first, which wasn't addressed by Penn's hinting, was how the bullet actually got into Jon's mouth. My only idea is that it was always there; my time working with LIT makes me know it's possible, but I still doubt it. Then again, maybe...
The other question was, what if a non-Diamond was chosen? I know that the show is edited, I feel like they may have cut something out. Yes, yes, he could just be that good and I really hope he is. However, it feels like too clean of a selection to show up with only two possible solutions. It's definitely possible that, if they did cut something out, it was purely for brevity and it didn't really make a big impact on whether it was fooling, or it might have provided the viewing audience with the solution itself. Maybe we'll never know.
The Van Hargen Twins
As their title suggests, these two are in fact twins! Sasha and Poppy Van Hargen (@vanhargen) are both 17 and have a wide array of skills and passions. Their introduction on Fool Us had very little to do with magic, but it did set the stage for their mentalism-based routine. I'm not going to lie, my first impression from the intro was a little aligned with the Fox sisters, but we won't got here just yet.
Full of energy, these two started their act with a simple warmup exercise. Sasha, or Poppy -- I'm not sure which was which =P -- grabbed a deck of cards, shuffled it and selected three in a row. Poppy, or Sasha, then called out which each was. Nice!
For brevity, I'll just say Sasha was holding things and Poppy was calling them out (apologies girls, you look identical and weren't wearing name tags!).
Kicking things up a notch, they then had Alyson join them and select a large card from a big fishbowl, on it was written a sport or something. Each card was different, Alyson mixed them up in the bowl before selecting, then selected one and handed it to Sasha. Poppy instantly knew what it was.
This was followed this with one more selection from Alyson, a gold medal from a bowl and each medal had a country name on it. Sasha took it behind her back, Poppy blew a whistle, and then Sasha began twirling it around -- nobody could see what it was, but Poppy was able to call out "Mexico" and even Alyson, before the medal stopped spinning, yelled out "it's good!"
Their finale was to let Penn pick a ping-pong ball from a bowl of I think 200. Each had a different name written on it, but even still, when Penn picked one and gave Sasha a glance, Poppy knew what it was right away.
It was a great act with a lot of energy. I did, almost, think it was "rushed" just a little, however, their entire theme was speed-telepathy, so it actually worked out quite nicely.
The very first trick, the warm-up read, I can say with 100% certainty I know how they did it. Everything after that, well, my guess was as good as (and identical to) Penn & Teller's. Penn's guess at then using "codes" was very ambiguous though and could either cover only one very specific answer, or a long list of answers. Unfortunately, we the audience don't know which is which. My son asked, "what if they were lying when they said they weren't using codes?" and I had to explain to him how the show worked, I also had to mention that while for us it could be ambiguous, for them it might literally mean a specific "code".
Personally, I think they used different methods for the different telepathic thought transferences. Or, magic. Either-or!
They definitely earned their trophy, and I can't wait to see what else they come up with in the (near) future!
Axel Adler, this guy! He creates magic routines for others, but also performs himself. On his Instagram account (@axel.adler), you can see clips from his four-arm act which preceded this act on Fool Us (I highly recommend checking it out). And his website has some very choice quotes on it that I can't help but to agree with:
I don't really know a great way to describe Axel's performance, beyond the quote above. He walked out, with three legs and a chair. And then for a few minutes, he dazzled the audience as he rotated, twisted, turned, stood, and sat with his three legs moving all around. And then, each leg detached. Each revolved around his body. All three were fake. All three were real. It was really, really cool to watch.
My thought when watching, besides being amazed, was "but this isn't really a magic trick..." My oldest kid also said right after it was over, without prompting, "this is more of an illusion than a magic trick." And Penn & Teller agreed.
They had really great things to say about it like how it was such a beautiful act and if the show was called "enchant us," he would have won a trophy. Unfortunately, though it was an amazing performance, he didn't take home the beloved F.U. trophy.
I know I didn't write a lot for Axel's performance, but that's really because it's hard to put into words -- go check it out if you haven't already!
Chris Canfield, @chriscanfieldmagic, "creator of magical things." His personality, at least in his intro and during his performance, was very pleasing. Relaxed, refined, and happy to be bringing a magical experience to others. Such a pleasure to watch =]
Chris started things off by bringing Alyson and Penn up to the table where he then kicked off a one-handed shuffle and flourishy cut. And then, he cut to all of the face cards. Nice!
What followed was a three-part series of dealing, picking up, and dealing again. Each time he dealt the cards out, things would change. They would be paired together - Red King with Red King, Black Queen with Black Queen, and so on. Then, it would alternate to be a Red King with a Black Queen, and so on. Then, mixing the cards up into piles on the table he'd show they were all mixed and yet, after getting a little magic love from Penn and Alyson, they were all back in color-matching pairs!
I'm not the biggest Oil & Water fan, personally. However, this routine was different. Rather than separating all of one color, he was moving pairs around. It was a different kind of presentation and it just flowed very nicely.
Penn only slightly coded his "you didn't fool us" message for Chris though. He directly called out Bill Simon's Call to the Colors routine, and also leaned into René Lavand a lot. Those two alone should have been more than enough to say "hey, we know how you did it," but Penn continued to go on and then did throw in some coded messaging hinting heavily at the idea of second dealing.
While I doubt I could perform the routine with half of the dexterity that Chris does, I do know how it's done. But again, I enjoyed watching it and it was very well performed. I can't wait to see more from Chris!
Penn & Teller
These guys, always gotta be causing trouble! They ended the show with a routine I've never seen before and right on time for the Halloween season too. Originally titled Bucket of Blood, Penn led the narrative of how they wanted to perform Bucket of Blood, but the network told them, no blood. So, they tried gasoline but that was too expensive. Going further down the liquid chain, they unfortunately had to settle on something more family friendly, so the trick became Bucket of Milk.
Penn poured more than half of a pitcher of milk into a bucket that Teller was holding, only to later reveal that there was no bottom in the bucket! That alone was really neat, except teller then put a piece of metal onto the now upside-down bucket and Penn poured the rest of the milk... which just disappeared!
Kicking things up a notch, after Penn talked for another good minute, Teller tipped over the bucket and blood ran out everywhere! Bucket of Blood, a great twist on classic magic!
Like I said in the beginning, this episode's magic covered a lot of different areas. We were given card magic, mentalism, safe danger magic, and even a wonderful mind-boggling leg performance! We had a single fooler, or rather, a single act that fooled them, but each performance was quite well done.
The season's just getting started and I can't wait to see what they have in store for us next time!
You can see this episode and more on The CW.