Penn & Teller: Fool Us
Penn & Teller: Fool Us airs Thursdays at 8/7c on The CW. If you're anything like me, you discovered this show in 2017, only to learn that it had been running for several seasons already. The show originally started in Britain before moving across the pond and is now taped in Las Vegas. If you watch clips of the show on YouTube, you'll quickly learn that the online commenters prefer the original host, Jonathan Ross, over the current host, Alyson Hannigan. While some of that might be your general internet issues with women, Ross was generally more humorous and composed, whereas Hannigan plays up the awkward host persona.
The concept of the show is simple. Magicians, illusionists, mentalists, and the like perform a trick for the audience, including Penn & Teller who sit front and center. The host makes a few minutes of small talk while Penn & Teller try to work out how the magician did the trick. The rules of the show are well documented. The stage has no trap doors and the illusionists aren't permitted to use plants in the audience. They must explain the trick to producers in advance, including a senior judge, who determines whether or not Penn & Teller's explanation of a trick is close enough or not. Some of the most compelling moments are when a magician does not believe Penn & Teller's explanation of how they did the trick is correct, and they have to go to the judge's decision, although this rarely happens.
Part of the fun of the show is that Penn Jillette does not want to simply spoil how tricks are done, so he spends some time in their deliberations figuring out how to communicate to the performer in "code." He has stated in interviews that he wants to say enough that a 14-year-old could Google the answer if he wants, but a family could choose to just enjoy the trick and not have it spoiled for them if they prefer that. It makes the show interactive for the viewer at home, if you want to try to understand Penn's code and learn how the trick was done.
The show is refreshingly positive. I can't recall an act that Penn & Teller slammed or destroyed (its unlikely acts that bad would ever get pass the producers anyway). They seek to name positive aspects of any act, whether or not it fooled them. Often they are more impressed with acts that did not fool them, but were really good, than by acts that did fool them.
That leads to one of the only less-than-sincere aspects of the show. Some of the performers, in the spirit of fooling Penn & Teller, add sleights to the tricks just to try to throw them off. I understand their motivation, but it seems more fun for everyone when they focus on performing a great trick and entertaining the audience than just "winning" the show. Some of the "wins" will feel a bit more hollow than others.
What I love about the shows on this list is that I believe that what I am seeing on the show is what is really happening. Part of that is ascribed to the credibility of the stars, Penn & Teller, and part is credited to the concept, filming, and editing of the show. I love that they let performers put their clips online as it has gotten more exposure for the show, and just feels honest. Shin Lim put his performance from season 2 online and it went viral. This clip has over 43 million views at the time of writing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAN-PwRfJcA. He came back with another great performance in season 4 as well.
I love that a show about magic is one of the most honest shows on TV. And its an uplifting and positive show too!
Treehouse Masters airs on Friday nights at 9/8c on Animal Planet. Pete Nelson is the star of the show and the heart as well. If you're familiar with all the different Tiny House shows on TV right now, this is like Tiny Houses... in trees! Currently airing their 9th season, there is plenty of backlog if you'd like to bingewatch this feel good TV show.
The first time you watch Treehouse Masters, you'll wonder if Pete Nelson is for real. He has a passion and excitement about trees that is foreign to a guy like me. He also has a passion and a love for life that I'd love to emulate. As you watch more episodes, I believe you'll find what I found. Pete Nelson plays himself. He really likes what he does. He really likes trees. He really has fun making treehouses. He gets to be a big kid and help others do the same. The show is a delight! He may be "turned up to 11" for the cameras, but he is not playing a character.
The show begins with Pete visiting a new customer who wants a treehouse. They typically walk the property begin brainstorming what the customer is looking for. Pete adds his expertise while making sure to stay true to the desires of his customers. The moment when the find the spot, or more appropriately, the right tree or trees is played up as a significant moment on the show. Glorious music plays and Pete fawns over how perfect the trees will be for the house. And remember that this is played completely sincerely. Its not cynical or ironic in the least. And I love it. Pete begins drawing up plans and the show goes into high gear as he is joined by members of his team who begin constructing the house.
Seeing the variety of people who want a treehouse in their life is a treat. Some are retired couples looking for something their grandkids will love to play in. Others are outdoors families looking for a home base for their paintball tournaments. They even built a treehouse bar and tasting center for an apple orchard! Some of the treehouses are simple places for people who like to rough it. Others are ridiculous in their in-air luxury. Some are a few feet in the air, others are high up in the trees.
Each show usually includes an aside where Pete visits an already made treehouse and either adds his expertise to a repair or an update, or he simply enjoys it and lets his passion bleed through the screen in another place. The last episode I watched saw Pete visit Dale Earnhardt, Jr to see a treehouse he built from one of Pete's designs. As a fan, it was fun to watch both Dale and Pete be fans of each other too!
The reveals at the end are your classic home makeover reveals, except in a tree! Many episodes even feature a designer who finishes the interior of the treehouse. And usually extended family comes to enjoy the treehouse at the end of the show too.
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The biggest reason I love this show is the star, Pete Nelson, and the people he has surrounded himself it. The show exudes positivity and a love for life that I want to have more of in my life. I can't recommend it enough.
These Shows are Honest!
Penn & Teller: Fool Us
Thursdays, 8/7c on The CW
Magicians try to fool top Magicians
Fridays, 9/8c on Animal Planet
Grownups build treehouses for other Grownups
Tuesday Nights on CNBC
Businessman tries to make money, probably helps people along the way
Like the rest of the shows on this list, I did not discover The Profit until it had been on for a number of seasons. I blame a title that explains nothing about the show but makes complete sense after you watch the show. I spent a long time thinking a show called The Profit that aired on CNBC was another Jim Cramer Mad Money type show and I had no interest in watching. I discovered while staying in a hotel room and had nothing better to do, and I fell in love with the concept.
The show stars Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World as he invests in real business and then leads efforts to renovate those business to make more money. Imagine a show like Restaurant Impossible meeting Shark Tank. If you're a fan of the latter, but wanted to see a show that followed the Shark as they worked with the entrepreneur, The Profit might be just what you're looking like.
I love how honest Marcus is about the process. Every show's opener explains that he is doing this to make money, and also to save jobs (but making money is clearly the driving principle.) So many of those business makeover shows will leave you wondering how things are going after the celebrity host and the show leaves. In this show, Marcus has a literal financial interest in helping the business be successful long after the cameras have left.
Marcus tends to focus his renovation on three P's "People, Product, Process." If you have the right people in place, the right product to sell, and the right process to make and deliver that product, you can be successful. I find that this principle cuts across all types of business, which Marcus illustrates by investing in outdoor sports companies, and women's accessories lines, and various food and dessert brands, among many more.
Deals are done with a handshake and instances of Marcus and the business of the week deciding to pull out of the deal have occurred on the show. The show has been out long enough that enough businesses have felt slighted by Marcus that there is some online blow-back to his practices in real life. In some ways, I like the show even more knowing he's not in the business of making people feel good. He's pretty up front about what his bottom line is... that is... the bottom line.
Marcus makes a deal with the business owner for his investment to earn him an amount of equity. Regardless of his share, he takes complete control of business decisions, which creates most of the drama of the show as the business owners deal with the loss of control and (sometimes) butt heads with Marcus's decisions. Usually they come around and appreciate his expertise and contribution.
While not as positive as some of the other shows on this list, the show is given a very honest presentation. Some of the moments are downright cringeworthy due to the conflict. Sometimes you are left wondering if the business owner was dealing on the up and up with Marcus. If you search around online long enough you might start to wonder how fairly Lemonis deals with these folks after the show is done airing.
But that's business as far as I'm concerned. This is one of the more honest looks at it. One of the shortcomings of Shark Tank is that it often presents the Shark's investment as the final hurdle the entrepreneur had to overcome. The show tends to only revisit the successful businesses later on in their lifespan. You may already know that many of the deals made on the show are not followed through on as the due diligence is done after the show is over. The Profit shows all those parts. We see Marcus walk away from a deal. Some shows abruptly shift from the business you thought the show was going to be about to another business in the same space that Marcus chose to do business with instead.
Marcus Lemonis is a charismatic center of a show that seems as honest and practical about business as any show I've seen on TV.
About the Author
If you're familiar with some my other articles you may wonder why I'm writing about TV I recommend. I mentioned in that piece that I never chose to remove TV from my life for some misguided moral reason. I needed to reassess the role that TV was playing in my life. For me, that meant going without for a significant season, and then being much more careful about what I started to watch again. These are 3 shows that got reintroduced to my schedule when I have the time to watch. I love that they are honest, I love that they are sincere and not typically cynical, and I love what they produce in me. I am entertained and uplifted by Penn & Teller: Fool Us. I am inspired to love life by Treehouse Masters and I feel smarter about the world by watching The Profit.
Got a differing opinion, or a show I missed? Share it in the comments below!