Simple, low-key (read: cheap) and a great deal of fun, “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” manages to wed some of the pizzazz associated with old-fashioned variety shows with the peeking-behind-the-curtain quality of “Breaking the Magician’s Code.” Not that the central duo really blow the lid off the tricks that are demonstrated, but they explain enough to show the point at which they can discern how they’re done – and share in the audience’s admiration when they can’t. The approach brings a game-like component to what’s otherwise just a magic showcase, and makes this U.K. production a shrewd summer acquisition for CW.
Hosted by Jonathan Ross, “Fool Us” features a handful of European magicians performing what amounts to their best trick in front of Penn & Teller and a live studio audience. Those who completely stump the duo regarding how it’s done win the chance to perform at the P&T venue in Las Vegas, along with the benefits of receiving the pair’s seal of approval.
The competitors aren’t novices, so all of the tricks are pretty impressive. And Penn & Teller (OK, Penn) do a nifty job of articulating what makes them special or not, and whether they can tell how the illusion was achieved, by asking questions about elements like the box, die or deck of cards involved.
In a sense, this is a lot like “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” another CW transplant, where, as Drew Carey was fond of saying, “everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” But the idea that viewers might actually learn something about how magic works – coupled with the interplay between Penn & Teller, Ross and the contestants – lifts this above just the average Vegas magic revue.
The premiere also closes with Penn & Teller performing a trick, providing a reminder of how deftly their act mixes comedy, magic and playfully letting the audience in on the gags.
“Fool Us” isn’t built for a long run, necessarily, but the number of episodes slated for summer (nine) sounds about right – and offers the prospect of perhaps turning this into a utility player if the show exhibits any kind of pulse.
Granted, those aims are pretty modest, but the good news about this sort of acquisition is that ratings-wise, at least, there’s not much pressure to pull a rabbit out of a hat.