30 June 1999 | Rosabel
A bit of everything - from dirt to diamonds
"Sin City" was a boon to Penn and Teller fans, delivering a guaranteed weekly fix of these two brilliant and uncommon performers. Although they acted as the hosts of the show, performing themselves for only a small percentage of the time, they almost always made the hour-long program worth watching. The idea of the show was to revive the genuine variety shows from the past, such as Ed Sullivan, where, as Penn put it, you could see Pavarotti singing an aria, followed by a man with trained performing housecats. Although Pavarotti for some unaccountable reason never performed on SCS, we did get to see the amazing housecats, and the show was always to true to this genuinely democratic approach to performing. A lot of the acts featured on the program were bizarre, sideshow-type performances, like Katzen, the tattooed lady who ate bugs, and her husband, the Enigma, also covered with tattoos, who swallowed swords and lightbulbs, and had two horns surgically implanted into his forehead. I think it would be almost impossible for any one person to like everything on SCS, but its varied format ensured that eventually something would come along to interest the viewer and keep him watching. Most of the musical guests I found frankly uninteresting, and often painful to listen to, but there were some pleasant surprises, like the barbershop quartet that sang "Cocaine", and great performers like Dr. John and John Popper. (They should have won an Emmy for the piece where Popper jams on the harmonica while Penn narrates a story and Teller illustrates it with tricks done with a deck of cards.) But it was really Penn and Teller themselves who made the show great. Some of their pieces, like "Cuffed to a Creep" where Penn finds himself handcuffed to a bizarre stranger (Teller) on a park bench, and "Balloon of Blood" in which Penn eloquently describes the strength and vulnerability of humanity, were borrowed from their stage show, while others, like Teller's unforgettable Hitchcockian "zippo lighter" piece, were written especially for the TV show.
To match its ability to entertain everyone, this show was also guaranteed to have something, somewhere that would offend pretty well everyone. As the season went on, however, the hosts became more careful about warning people in advance when controversial subject matter was about to appear, so the chances of being unfairly ambushed by lewd material and Christian-slamming diminished. One thing that never did let up, however, was the show's generally demeaning approach to women. With the exception of a few female guest performers, most of the women on the show (especially the attractive ones) were treated pretty insultingly, despite Penn's frequent claims to the contrary. Perhaps this may be because of the very obvious minority status of women in the credits at the end of the show - I have a feeling that this was a largely male-written and driven program.
The show completed one season and then was not renewed by the FX network. It will stand as a collection of some of the most unusual and unlikely acts you will ever see on TV, punctuated by moments of breathtaking genius from Penn and Teller.