Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bullshit! Bullshit

I've gushed about comedian-magician duo Penn & Teller before. And I usually list atheism, libertarianism, and skepticism as my three primary interests. So it's no surprise that one of my favorite televisions shows is the one Penn & Teller host that's about atheism, libertarianism, and skepticism: Penn & Teller: Bullshit! It's a documentary series championing freedom, liberty, science, and rationality in a fun, light-hearted fashion It's that focus on freedom and liberty that makes all the more disappointing the recent DVD release of the show's seventh season, which is missing a controversial episode.

The episode in question is “The Vatican,” the season finale in which Penn & Teller berate the Catholic Church for its anti-homosexuality activism, condemnation of condom use, and cover-up of the priest sex abuse scandal. It also highlights Sabina Guzzanti, a comedian who was threatened with criminal charges for criticizing the Pope. It tackles some important issues, and it's one of the series' better episodes.

The Vatican
“The Vatican” is one of several subjects highlighted during Bullshit!'s seventh-season opening titles.

Unfortunately, no longer can viewers see that for themselves, as the episode has not appeared in Apple's iTunes store (all other episodes are available), and is omitted from last month's DVD release. In fact, the episode is no longer listed on Showtime's official Bullshit! website. To be fair, the DVD's packaging notes that the episode is not included (it's also advertised as containing “The Seventh Season,” rather than as “The Complete Seventh Season,” as it was referred to in an earlier version of the packaging), and the remaining episodes retain their original opening titles, which list on-screen the subjects covered during the season, including “The Vatican.” So it's not as if Showtime is trying to completely erase all evidence that the episode ever existed. Nevertheless, it's extremely disappointing that the episode is unavailable.

Penn & Teller:  Bullshit!  Season Seven DVD
The original version of the Season Seven DVD release, before the word “complete” was removed from the cover.

What's especially bothersome is that, as far as I can tell, nobody actually knows why the episode is unavailable in the first place! The popular assumption seems to be that Showtime or Paramount (who distributes Bullshit! on DVD) caved to pressure from the Catholic Church. That's quite cowardly of them, if true, and especially ironic considering how strongly the show champions free speech (it even touts “The Right to Free Speech” right there on the DVD cover!). But no one affiliated with the show has actually commented on the issue. I even posed the question to executive producer Star Price via Twitter, to no avail (he'd previously answered a different question I'd asked about the series, so he's at least willing to respond to fans online). Without any answers about the episode's omission, I'm reluctant to call anyone out for it. A lot of fans have been quick to trash Penn & Teller themselves over the issue, but it's not like Penn & Teller personally authored the DVDs—I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't even know that the episode was omitted. And even if they did know, we still don't know the reason for the omission; it could even be that Penn & Teller were dissatisfied with the episode in some way and didn't feel it worthy of inclusion alongside the others. That seems unlikely, I admit, but the point is that without knowing why the episode was omitted, I don't feel comfortable chiding anyone for the omission. And yet, it's frustrating to have no answers after the DVD has been out for a month. I wish someone would give viewers an explanation. Even if that explanation was just, “Yeah, the Church pressured us to remove the episode and we complied,” then we'd at least have the comfort of knowing.

Surely someone out there must have some information about the missing “Vatican” episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!?

4 comments:

  1. I'm happy to report that Penn Jillette has addressed the missing-episode issue in this Vanity Fair interview. As I suspected, he had no idea the episode was omitted until fans started asking him about it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, Carl.

    I read the link you posted (thanks for posting it, by the way; it's been hard as hell for me to find any news/explanation on what happened), and I'm not satisfied with the answers contained there.

    Penn seems to be just shrugging it off and saying, "Those crazy suits! Who knows what's on their mind?" Penn doesn't seem bothered in the least, and the interviewer doesn't seem inclined to follow up on the subject at all. I'm left still not knowing why it happened or whether the omission will ever be corrected.

    I remain a fan of Penn and Teller and of the show, but I'm still quite conflicted about buying the DVD set knowing that it's incomplete. I want to support the show, but hate the idea of supporting 1) censorship (even self-censorship), 2) revisionist history, and 3) willfully deceptive packaging.

    I'll be seeing P&T when they perform in my city in a couple of weeks, and hope to ask Teller afterward what his thoughts are on the subject -- assuming they still meet with the audience after shows like they used to.

    Again, thanks for posting the link!

    --Allan
    (Redmond, WA)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Did you ever find out what happened and why it did?

    ReplyDelete
  4. No, I'm afraid I never heard anything more about it.

    ReplyDelete