Penn & Teller have been telling us who is full of shit (and who isn’t) for eight seasons now. With their trademark Libertarian skepticism in tow, the comedy team takes it to beloved left-leaning movements like eating organic and going green, while being equally critical of religion, the War on Drugs, and the Boy Scouts of America. The two are at their best when boldly doling out controversial opinions like their support of Wal-Mart despite widely discussed ethical concerns about the company, or calling the Vatican out for the copious amounts of bullshit that it dishes out, but are at their worst when using the show as an opportunity to grandstand about things like taxes or simply pointing out the obvious. Astrology is bullshit? No shit, Bullshit!
As abrasive, rude, and outlandish as Penn & Teller can be, though, the two retain a knack for structuring a solid argument that’s bolstered with boatloads of creative vulgarity and girls with giant, fake tits. Like previous seasons, the new season of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! keeps a steady pace of taking on amusingly kooky and weightier topics in equal stride, with slated episodes on Area 51 and easy money schemes to pricklier ones like the criminal justice system, vaccinations, and old people. The season’s premiere, titled “Cheerleaders,” even takes a turn for the unexpected as Penn & Teller loudly stand behind the movement to make cheerleading an official sport in the face of disapproving feminists and corporate stooges out to drain as much money from eager young girls as possible.
The episode concentrates on the amazing fact that cheerleading isn’t considered a sport in many states despite an enormous amount of injuries and competitive meets to qualify it. Consequently, this means that many of America’s cheerleaders don’t have reliable health and safety standards to protect them from the slew of grotesque injuries that could befall them. For a sport that requires girls to do handsprings over a concrete track every Friday night, safety standards seem like they might be an important thing to have.
Penn & Teller make a strong case for the obvious in this episode, showing the dangers that go along with cheerleading with ample footage of cataclysmic 14-year-old girl avalanches, and countless girls being launched 15 feet into the air only to crash-land directly on their faces. They claim that the groups responsible for cheerleading’s exclusion as an official sport are Varsity Brands, Inc., which virtually controls the entire industry, and uptight feminists who think that cheerleading promotes negative gender stereotypes.
Penn & Teller’s argument against Varsity holds more water than their feminist bashing. Varsity controls 66 national cheerleading championships and would stand to lose millions in revenue if the sport were managed by the states, while their anger at feminists simply seems brash and unwarranted. They make abstract, unsupported claims that feminist groups target the institution of cheerleading simply because they don’t like it. They go so far as dragging the crustiest, spinster stereotype of a feminist on for an interview and even she doesn’t go to such extremes as to claim that cheerleading promotes negative gender roles. Still, the heart of the episode is in the right place, and it wouldn’t be Bullshit! without Penn & Teller pulling some bullshit of their own.
Regardless of whether the show’s politics fall in line with your own, the duo has a refreshingly frank take on the world and neither cares if their beliefs offend anyone’s precious sensibilities. At its core, the show seeks to unmask the wolves that are out to take advantage of others, regardless of left, right, or center, and Penn & Teller’s—well, just Penn’s—will to scream about how utterly full of shit someone is can be bizarrely cathartic. Even if the show sometimes slips into murky pseudo-scientific experiments and has a tendency to rely too heavily on supposed experts from the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank that seems to pop in just about every episode, Bullshit! ultimately remains true to form: funny, well argued editorials that expose the crooks and liars of the modern world.