Penn & Teller Tell a Lie

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Penn & Teller Tell a Lie TV Poster Image
Slightly edgy science/comedy show with interactive element.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The show attempts to fool viewers. The series offers some interesting scientific information about machines, animals, and other subjects.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Researchers and scientists offer concrete explanations about why things happen (or do not happen). Penn and Teller have been outspoken about their political opinions -- which don't come up in the show.


The show features lots of dangerous stunts that are performed by professionals (in the name of science) and should not be tried at home. Throughout the show the hosts alert parents to segments that include footage that can be disturbing to small children. The hosts break glass panels representing the lies at the end of each show, but use safety gear when doing it.


References like "horny" are occasionally used. Contains subtle references to sex and sadomasochism that might go over the heads of young viewers.


Words like "bad ass" are audible, while occasional curses ("s--t", "f--k") are fully bleeped; some with mouths blurred. One story examines the use of swear words in an experiment.


During the show viewers are prompted to launch the "Guess the Lie Experience", available as a downloadable app for iPhones and iPads; it is also available on the show's website. Occasionally specific makes of cars (like Mustangs), planes, etc. are used for stunts.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this series features comedians Penn and Teller as they try to fool viewers about what scientific stories are fact vs. fiction. There is some sexual innuendo (some of which will go over younger kids heads), some strong language ("ass," stronger ones bleeped with mouths blurred). The show encourages the use of an app to vote while the show is on the air. It also features some dangerous stunts being performed by professionals; viewers of all ages should be reminded to never try them at home.

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What's the story?

PENN & TELLER TELL A LIE features comedic illusionists Penn Jillette and Teller as they share seven unbelievable scientific stories. The problem? Six of them are absolutely true, and one is nothing but a lie. From lifting a Mustang convertible with a single strand of hair to trying to stop a lead bullet with a butter knife, the show offers scientific evidence that supports each of their claims with the help of experts and stunt professionals. Clues are given that support or reject the validity of these stories while they are being shown. After each story, viewers are invited to vote on whether the story is true or false using the \"Guess the Lie\" app available for download and on the show's website. At the end of the series the the hosts will reveal which story is a hoax. The home audience's final results are also revealed in real viewing time both on the East and West Coasts.

Is it any good?

The fast-paced series combines science with Penn and Teller's trademark (albeit toned down) dry humor. Adding to the fun is the use of interview bloopers, replays of crazy moments, interesting archival footage, and dangerous stunts performed by professionals to tell every tale.

The audience's ability to have their votes registered and processed while it is actually airing is unique, but most folks will probably tune in to watch the eccentric hosts rather than to think about the validity of the scientific data they are being presented. Nonetheless, it still offers viewers who want to learn a chance to do just that.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about science. How do researchers find the answers to many of the questions posed in this and other science-oriented shows? What kinds of scientific questions do YOU have? How could you go about finding the answers?

  • Do you think quirky TV shows like this one help educate viewers, or is it mainly for entertainment? What does this show teach you about critical thinking?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science

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