Sunday, November 20, 2005

Review: " Penn & Teller: Off The Deep End."

Review. “Penn & Teller: Off The Deep End.”

Last Sunday the world was treated to one of the boldest experiments in TV specials. “Bad boys of magic” Penn & Teller presented “Off The Deep End”, a magic special filmed under water. That’s right, under water.
Quite frankly, it’s the type of concept that could only come from a man who wrote a noir mystery book from the point of view of a stuffed monkey puppet and his partner.
Unfortunately, no matter how bold the plan was, the show fell flat on presentation. Why? Because there really wasn’t enough stuff to fill out an entire two hours.
Think about it, they presented a good five minutes on how to make people scream for the camera (an obvious stab at David Blaine). They got people to give wonderful quotes on air by showing that they prompted them. Interesting yes, but not entertaining.
And I think that sums up most of the special. Yes, it was interesting, but very little was entertaining.
For example, you now know how to do a four ace card trick on the beach. Ok, fine, but when exactly are you going to be able to do it? And even if you found yourself on the beach with a pack of cards, are you really going to bury the four aces with shells for markers? It was a trick that didn’t need to be in there because it didn’t advance anything except the idea that the exposure was a real one so they could set up the last joke exposure at the end. Quite frankly, it slowed the whole show to a crawl.
Ah yes, the exposures. In my last post I defended Penn & Teller’s exposures as a ruse to raise the hackles of magicians and to act as a kind of mis-direction to the audience. In this special the exposures were used the same way, allowing you to see how real tricks are done so you will believe the final “exposure”. (Which, by the way, was a joke.)
Unfortunately it didn’t feel that way. Because the show was done mostly under water there was no speed, just slow swimming, and the exposures just felt like exposure for exposure sake. It was as if they were saying “We expose, it’s what we do and is what we are expected to do, so we will expose.”
Even once the final gag “exposure” is done with, and you realize that the other exposures were just a set up to a punch line, it still just feels wrong.
The reason, I believe, it feels wrong was a question of speed. In my last post I used the idea of Penn & Teller’s exposure of the classic cups & balls, the fact that they use clear cups and actually tell you what they are doing but you actually never see what is happening and are just blown away by it. That trick requires a certain amount of speed to work, in this special speed was impossible so the exposures were, for the most part, just too damn slow.
Even the big illusion, making a submarine disappear, was too slow. It took forever for the blanket of bubbles to get high enough to cover the sub, too much build up. By the end, while I thought it was pretty neat, it still took too much time.
Not to say there wasn’t good magic in the show. Remember Teller making a glass goldfish bowl filled with fish appear? I know how that trick is done above water, and it requires a certain amount of mis-direction and speed. Teller had neither and yet there it was. I’ve watched the tape over and over and still cannot for the life of me see how he did it. Plain and simple, it was good damn magic; something the special could have used more of. (I won’t go into the pain given by the so-called “music” of guest Aaron Carter and that horrible song he sang about Penn & Teller.)
So, in the end, it was just a mediocre special with some wonderful moments. It should have been an hour shorter but then if I was given two hours on prime time TV I guess I would have stretched it out too.

For more on Penn & Teller, visit their web site at

Next post: Penn & Teller review my TV special. Oh wait, I don’t have one. A fact they will just repeat over and over for two hours.


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