pennIn the sea of network mediocrity that is Big Brother, America’s Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance the CW pulls a wonderful surprise on Wednesday at 8pm with the premiere of Penn & Teller: Fool Us. Originally filmed and shown in the UK three years ago for ITV, and broadcast here in the US for the first time, the show gives magicians the opportunity to open in Las Vegas for the well known illusionists Penn Jillette and his silent partner Teller. That is if they can fool the duo, hence the title, with their performance as the two sit back and observe.

It’s a clever premise that uses the celebrity power of Penn and Teller to introduce the audience to four different acts each week. Filmed in front of a live audience, Penn & Teller: Fool Us is hosted by English television and radio personality Jonathan Ross who has been something of a fixture in British media for the past 25 years with numerous shows, not least the chat show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross which ran for nine years on the BBC. Ross works well with Penn and Teller and provides the necessary framework of patter on which to hang the show, not least when the illusionists are trying to figure out the act they have just seen.

Yet another in a long line of acts that got their start at a Renaissance Pleasure Faire, joining the likes of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, Mark Hamill, Richard Hatch and the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Penn and Teller have for the last dozen or so years headlined at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas winning numerous awards for their unique combination of comedy and magic. A long running series on Showtime, Penn & Teller: Bullshit! and numerous appearances on television from the Late Show with David Letterman to The West Wing just emphasize how much the talented duo should regularly be on the small screen and as such Penn & Teller: Fool Us is a long overdue and welcome addition to summer programming.

Clips from the show have been available on YouTube for some time and my favorite is that of Mathieu Bich who so happens to be one of the magicians featured in the opening episode. Teller’s reaction at the end is an absolute classic and shows an excellent level of respect for the performance of the Frenchman.

– Wallace Poulter