Penn and Teller’s Fool Me: Wednesdays at 8 Eastern on the CW
I have opened numerous CW reviews talking about the networks love for supernatural dramas and teen dramas, but the other pillar they stand on is obscenely cheap unscripted programming to get them through the summer months. This time around however, they’ve managed to cross two of their pillars yet again, with a reality competition built around the paranormal (or whatever fancy word for magic you wish to use this time around). As a fan of fourth-wall breaking duo Penn and Teller’s last TV effort (Bulls**t), I figured I would take a look at their newest offering (not actually that new, this is a port from across the pond) to see if it brings the same level of entertainment.
Fool Me puts the titular duo head to head vs. a magician, who performs a magic trick. Penn and Teller, then need to replicate the trick after seeing the trick only once. Any magician who fools the veteran illusionists gets the right to perform with them during a show at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Hosting the show is well known British TV personality (and equally obscure on this side of the pond) Jonathan Ross.
You can tell that Fool Me was originally not shot on a CW budget from moment one, as the show opens with a very cinematic and swooping crane shot. Even the shows interview segments look particularly polished (even in relation to the standards of US reality shows). This runs contrary to CW’s prior summer offerings, which seem particularly cheap in comparison (see: the revival of Whose Line is it Anyway and Oh Sit for example)
The truest advantage of this show is that Penn and Teller have such a good grasp of the show that you simultaneously never feel like they’re not the stars but at the same time know when to step back and let the acts win over the crowd. This is particularly notable by their raucous closing act – a number in which Penn razzes a crowd member for a while with a basic card trick before the true trick is revealed when the card in question was palmed with a knife through his hand.
There are some flaws with the show however. Ross is not nearly game enough as a host, often dropping empty platitudes and awkwardly playing off of Penn and Teller’s charisma. This shows itself most glaringly during the opening act, a loaded dice trick where Ross’s cellphone was under the threat of being smashed during the entirety of the trick. Even with his own talk show across the pond, it often seems like Ross feels the need to one-up everyone on stage, creating a very awkward vibe whenever he has to interact with anyone on the stage.
The Final Verdict: I don’t expect a lot from my midsummer filler programming – don’t bore me, and don’t make me think too much, and in a lot of ways Fool Me works on both counts. Ross is kind of annoying, but there’s a reason that Penn and Teller command the amount of attention that any other magician (even the ones who get the occasional one off special cannot). Check it out, especially if you enjoy Penn Jillette’s acerbic wit or enjoy seeing some theatricality.