Penn & Teller Tell A Lie is Penn & Teller's six-episode Discovery Channel show. The premise is that in each episode they will present six or seven outrageous claims, complete with video demonstrating them and experts explaining the science behind them, except that one of them (but only one) is a big fat lie. The show challenges the viewer to try to spot the lie and vote on it live on Discovery.com as the show airs; then, at the end, the lie is revealed along with the results of the vote.
Perhaps best summed up as Penn & Teller: Bullshit! meets MythBusters. The style of writing and presentation is very similar to Bullshit! (sensibly enough, considering they have the same writers, producers and presenters) aside from the milder rating, but the subject matter is uncannily MythBusters - they even inadvertently included stories in the first and six episodes that the MythBusters had tackled before.
For those wondering, no, you can't stop a tiger attack with a punch to the gullet, nobody's ever used a jet engine to put out a forest fire, La Résistance never weaponized wine with yeast to make bombs, termites haven't caused a house to explode (yet - the science behind why it would happen is sound, and it is the cause of grain silo explosions), there is no such thing as a floating helium foam dessert, and magnets can't remove a tattoo. note
The show provides examples of:
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the hair story in the first episode, Penn starts off saying the hair is going to be lifting the car, followed by the weights of the people in the car, followed by the weight of the bowling balls placed in the trunk of the car, followed by the weights of the Oxford English Dictionary and camera that they're carrying, followed by the weights of other insignificant additional objects Teller brought with him into the car (including a bag of quarters and a CD of Meat Loaf's Bat Outta Hell album).
- The Bet: One of the stories in the second episode purports to be settling a bet between Penn and Teller about whether a match can be lit on the wing of an airplane in flight. When Teller apparently loses the bet (though he protests that since the plane was doing a hammerhead stall at the time it doesn't count as in flight), he is forced to kiss a monkey. He incidentally does it while wearing a tutu, but according to Penn that wasn't part of the bet.
- Blatant Lies: Though they do their best to make the false stories sound plausible, they employ this humourously a lot, such as when the narration pretends the "stunt doubles" of the first episode's plane story are actually Penn and Teller at the start.
- Braids of Action: The claim of the hair-lifting-a-Mustang story in the first episode is that simply braiding the hair makes it strong enough to hold up a car with three people (and a bunch of stuff) in it.
- Brown Note: One of the stories in the first episode involves alligators being turned on by a particular B-flat, which supposedly sounds like their mating call.
- Chirping Crickets: Used humourously at one point in the airplane story in the first episode.
- Cluster Bleep-Bomb: Used during and in the introduction of the pain-relieved-by-swearing story in the first episode.
- The Coconut Effect: Lampshaded when Penn points out the sound used for a slow-mo shot of a bullet hitting a butter knife is completely fake, because sound in slow motion sounds terrible and "everyone loves the sound of breaking glass against a golf cart".
- Criminal Mind Games: Penn and Teller intentionally leave hints that not all is right with the story that turns out to be false. For instance, the first episode's lie was that tigers can be fought off by punching them in the gullet; it featured "security camera footage" from the zoo where the incident supposedly happened that randomly showed lion statues from in front of a library.
- Dramatic Shattering: The revealing of the lie is punctuated by Penn and Teller smashing a glass pane with the false claim written on it with sledgehammers. However, in one of the episodes, they failed to shatter the pane in question on the first swing, causing them to hammer away at it for a good 15 seconds until it finally broke.
- Informed Obscenity: One of the subjects of the "swearing helps relieve pain" story in the first episode uses what appears to be an eight-syllable swear word. As it is masked by bleeping, we don't hear it. Neither does Penn, to his dismay.
- Important Haircut: Johan gets his hair cut for science. (Or rather because he's unemployed and needs the money.)
- Ludicrous Precision: Subverted in the hair story in the first episode - Penn starts rattling off the weights of not just the car and the people but also small objects Teller happens to be carrying, making the viewer expect him to add together all the numbers he named, but then when he totals it all up, he just summarizes it as "four thousand three hundred and blahdy-blah-blah-blah pounds".
- Mythology Gag: In the climax of the piranha story, Teller is in a straitjacket on a platform over a tank full of piranhas while Penn reads a passage with Teddy Roosevelt's discussion of piranhas, with the platform supposed to drop when Penn finishes the passage. If you happen to have watched Penn and Teller in the eighties (or seen the appropriate YouTube videos), you'll recognize this as a variation of a trick they used to do, 'Casey at the Bat', where Teller would hang upside-down in a straitjacket over a platform of steel spikes, struggling to escape before Penn finished reading the poem Casey at the Bat aloud (at which time he would jump from the chair he was on, which held the rope suspending Teller). Sadly, Teller is no longer able to hang upside-down for extended periods of time due to aging, so for Tell a Lie he had to do it right-side up, which isn't quite as dramatic.
- Panthera Awesome: The first episode has a story about how to fight off a tiger and makes a point of talking about how dangerous and powerful tigers are.
- Piranha Problem: Featured in the third episode.
- Pixellation: Used on Penn's mouth during the Cluster Bleep-Bomb (but curiously not on the subjects of the swearing experiment) and the copulating alligators in the B-flat story in the first episode.
- Rapunzel Hair: Johan in the first episode, until Penn and Teller got their hands on him.
- The Reveal: At the end they reveal not only which story was a lie, but also how they hinted at it and how it was faked for the show.
- Self-Proclaimed Liar: The premise is made clear from the beginning, and Penn's narration describing the stories repeatedly reminds the viewer that each story could just as well be faked.
- The Silent Bob: Teller, as always in their act.
- Spotting the Thread: As part of the premise of the show, the "lie" contains several hints that the story is not genuine, beyond the general premise. Just one example: The story regarding using the jet engine to extinguish the forest fire is stated to happen near Laramie, the capital of Wyoming. As Penn reminds the audience after the "lie" is exposed, the capital of Wyoming is actually Cheyenne.
- Think of the Censors: Frequently. During the alligator story in the first episode, Penn's narration wonders out loud how much alligator-sex Discovery is going to let them show, only to be disappointed as it is pixelated. In the same episode, in the middle of the tiger story as they're about to cut to a commercial break, Penn suggests they wouldn't actually show a tiger eating a guy on Discovery, but then contends they might because it's animals.
- Unit Confusion: Invoked in "Piranha Will Not Kill". The yeast-based wine bottle bomb being fake was hinted when the generated pressure was given in joules.
- Unreliable Narrator / Unreliable Expositor: They try to make you believe each story, including the lie. They also repeatedly point out that each story, including the true ones, could be false.
- The Voiceless: Teller, of course, maintains character - though he has a fairly long audible argument with Penn in the second episode about whether an airplane in hammerhead stasis counts as "flying". It's just played over footage of the plane, so you don't actually see him speak. This is similar to various gags on Bullshit! where Teller also speaks off-screen.