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All the views that are fit to print (and then some)

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Times Staff Writer

“Anyone can talk to the dead,” says Penn Jillette. “Getting an answer, that’s the hard part.”

Nevertheless, there are people out there claiming to have a hotline to heaven, and Jillette, the talkative half of the comedy-magic team of Penn & Teller, has plenty to say about them tonight at 11 on Showtime. Some of it is even printable in a family newspaper, but that doesn’t include the title of the pair’s new series.

Each week, P&T; take on topics that rankle their skeptical souls, such as the purported dangers of secondhand smoke, alien abductions and creationism.

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In tonight’s half-hour premiere, psychics, whom Penn says he finds particularly loathsome after losing his mother recently, are put in the cross hairs. But the expose feels a trifle weak and obvious, laboring too long over “cold-read” techniques allegedly used by psychics to “connect” the bereaved with their departed loved ones. A hidden-camera segment involving a planted subject isn’t much better.

Next week’s episode on alternative medicine is a dandy, however. The show goes after chiropractors, magnetic therapy and a traveling reflexologist who promises health benefits from manipulating his patients’ feet in his RV (“Close your eyes and see if you feel your ovaries twitching,” he says). The show also takes to a shopping mall for some inspired foolishness in which people are persuaded to allow snails to roam their faces in order to apply a wrinkle-reducing “mucous mask.”

The series is rated TV-14, chiefly for language, which Penn says is part of a legal strategy to avoid lawsuits. He can be sued if he calls a doctor a quack, he reasons, but not if he calls him an expletive.

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