Stage magicians Penn Jillette and his partner Teller bring all the back-alley information on every topic imaginable from the death penalty to the Boy Scouts of America in their show, “Bullsh*t.”
The show, originally produced on Showtime starting in 2003, features the dynamic duo examining major topics from popular culture and politics. Each episode makes an in-depth breakdown seem manageable to a wider audience and is genuinely informative as well. Even when an episode’s focus is seemingly grim or macabre, the pair always find some way to lighten the mood in their signature fashion.
Each episode opens with a comical cold open related, sometimes only tangentially, to the topic at hand. For example, the first episode is about “Talking to the Dead” and other cross-dimensional communication and thusly, they open with a short skit of the pair explaining that they’ll always know if someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes with their own secret code words to tell if it’s really the other person from the other side. These cold opens are refreshing and get the audience accustomed to the format of the show if they have never seen it before.
One thing to talk about is the show’s datedness. As mentioned, the show originally started in 2003 and therefore, there are some topics that we know much more about now or the points brought up in the episodes are just no longer relevant. These topics include things like climate crisis or marriage equality, things that are moot points to modern eyes and ears. In the “Climate Change” episode, they point out that at the time there was a lot of supposed “co-opting” of the climate crisis movement that related climate issues to social and racial ones. We now know through more research that these topics are related, given the impact of climate change and pollution on lower income and POC communities. It is also a little humorous to watch the episode on “Marriage Equality” because it’s been enacted now and watching some of the arguments for and against can be both refreshing and infuriating, respectively. These dated episodes aren’t really a criticism, so much as something to remember while watching.
The show, as one might imagine, takes a political angle on a lot of topics. Penn and Teller are outspoken members of the Libertarian political party and as such use their beliefs to inform the topics they talk about. They often talk about personal freedoms and how taxing something for the gain of others can potentially be bad. However, they also point out that the American system isn’t designed for a true libertarian system and that some things need public support such as public education and healthcare, and that corporations should be reined in when they intentionally hurt consumers, unlike most modern libertarian ideals.
Ultimately, the show is quite informative and can be an eye-opening take on a lot of issues. It should be noted that the series is quite adult in its delivery of content, using both adult language and nudity, so viewer discretion should be advised. “Bullsh*t” receives a B-plus rating.