If you love a good — no, make that great — illusion and you missed any of Penn & Teller's previous TV projects (e.g. Penn & Teller Go Public and Penn & Teller's Bulls for example), NBC is offering a can't-miss opportunity to see what the acclaimed magic duo has up their sleeves in the brand-new — and filmed entirely underwater! — two-hour special, Penn & Teller: Off the Deep End, airing Nov. 13 at 7 pm/ET.
What on earth led the performers to take their act straight off a pier and into the drink? "Probably a lack of sleep when we were [appearing] on Broadway," Penn quips. "Teller and I have always had this love-hate relationship with magic, where we grew as kids absolutely loving it but then, by the time we got good enough to earn a living at it, it got to be kind of old hat. A lot of it had been done before and seemed cheesy, so we had to go off in a [new] direction."
Indeed, when immersed in water — Off the Deep End was filmed off the shores of Grand Cayman and Paradise Island in the Bahamas — everything old is new again. "In a very odd kind of way, moving the whole thing underwater allowed us to do much more traditional tricks, like sawing a woman in half, with a new visual look and enough new problems to make it seem really fresh."
What sort of problems? You'd be surprised. "There's one shot in this show," says Teller (who never speaks on camera), "that takes 11 seconds to happen but took us eight hours one night to get right, because the way you move underwater is so different from the way you move on land."
As Penn tells it, "The simplest thing [turned into] days and days of frustration in a pool. Nothing behaved the way you needed it to behave. Even if you wanted to do a trick with a silk handkerchief and you stuck that handkerchief in your pocket, it would start to creep out and walk away."
Off the Deep End's centerpiece has Penn & Teller making a submarine — no, not a sandwich, but an 80-ton submersible vessel — disappear. As the duo continue to push their sleight of hand to the nth degree, we have to ask: Which is harder, coming up with such an idea, or actually making that idea happen? "That kind of hinges on your definition of 'harder,'" Teller responds. "The ideas are so important, and what is going to connect and get those conceptual ducks in a row does take some work, but it's not physical work — and you're less apt to drown doing it."
As they usually do, Penn & Teller will not just wow but show some of the how, revealing the way a trick or two are done. Black-art blasphemy, you say? Not so much. As Penn explains it: "I don't believe the exposure of magic does any harm, because you can't give away any real tricks, because [the mechanics] aren't that interesting. When the 'masked magician' [who spoiled illusions in a series of Fox specials] was giving away tricks, he was giving away tricks that were 100 years old and stuff that looked good to give away. But if you went through the stuff we do that's really complicated, for the most part giving it away would just be too dull. If you want to listen to Abbey Road, I'm not sure you want to sit through all 64 tracks that the Beatles did to see how it came together.
"The biggest lies in magic are secrets; there aren't really any," Penn says in conclusion. "You will always have people who make their living giving away tricks, and you will always have people making their living complaining about that. When it all comes down to it, it's professional wrestling. Not that professional wrestling is fake, because they'll beat the s--t out of me if I say it's fake!"