The premise of Deception, ABC’s new mid-season police procedural, is really fun: professional stage magician Cameron Black uses his expertise to help the FBI catch bad guys as he hunts for the illusionist with a grudge against him. So it’s basically Castle, but with a magician instead of a mystery writer. Great idea! But that’s where the greatness stops. Deception is the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter of both crime shows and magic. You can see the resemblance to the real thing, but it’s only a satisfying substitute if you’re desperate.
We’ll get to how it fails the magic community in a minute, because magical authenticity isn’t the show’s remit, presenting an engaging cast solving crimes is. And therein lies the first problem with Deception: you won’t particularly like anybody on the show. The character of Cameron Black is supposed to be a magician on par with David Copperfield, someone flashy enough to have had several TV specials and Las Vegas runs. Jack Cutmore-Scott is a perfectly decent actor, but as Black he exudes none of the charisma that a magician of that level requires. You can’t imagine him holding the attention of the people in an ATM kiosk, let alone an entire theater. He’s a 30-something white guy and…that’s the most distinct thing you can say about him. He starts off going for a House-esque obnoxious arrogance, but that falls by the wayside once he needs the FBI’s help.
He’s not the only one lacking any kind of definition to his character. Ilfenesh Hadera is Kay Daniels, the FBI Agent straight from the “Normal Person to contrast with Quirky Main Character” playbook. I’m assuming we’ll find out at some point that the death of one of her parents is why she’s in the FBI. She does the little she’s asked to do, which is mostly tell Black he’s not as charming as he thinks he is, and give him a pretty smile when it’s time to let the audience know it’s ok to like him.
She is, at least, treated like a competent agent, which is better than the way Deception handles the rest of the FBI. Not only do they let a civilian walk onto an active crime scene and later let him take over their entire investigation, they also gawp like besotted fans. Apparently in order for Black to look smart, everyone around him has to look dumb. It’s a tired trope that can work when the ensemble is fun to watch, but nobody in Deception has any chemistry with each other. They’re all doing their part and saying their lines, but they could all be by themselves for as much as they relate to each other.
The cast isn’t doing the show any favors, but the core idea for Black’s involvement with them is clever. An illusionist sets up Black’s twin brother – a secret used to pull off some of Black’s flashiest tricks – for murder. She has a grudge against the brothers, though what that is, and how she knows twin Jonathan even exists, is a good enough hook to sustain the series, as is Black using his knowledge of trickery to help solve crimes. Here’s where our critique of the show is going to get a little nitpicky, because if you have even a passing knowledge of magic, Deception is going to drive you bananas.
First, Black awkwardly crams magic terminology into every situation possible. REVEAL! MISDIRECTION! DECK FLIP! CROWD WORK! STOOGES! PEPPER’S GHOST! It’s certainly true that magicians use lingo when talking about their craft, but Cutmore-Scott doesn’t deliver them with the smoothness of someone who’s absorbed magic into their bones. He says them like a guy playing a magician. In much the same way actors stumble over technobabble when they’re on Star Trek, Cutmore-Scott never once comes across as someone who genuinely understands what he’s talking about when he’s explaining magic to the laypeople around him.
Second, and far more aggravating, is our introduction to Black and his team. The setup is the performance of a grand escape as the finale of Black’s Las Vegas show: he’s in a straightjacket, hanging upside down over swords. Blowtorches are cutting through the three chains that keep him aloft; if he doesn’t get free in time, he’s a shishkabob. One of the blowtorches apparently malfunctions during the escape and begins cutting through the chain too quickly, which sends his engineer (a one-note Vinnie Jones) into a panic. He wants to pull the plug on the stunt to ensure Black’s safety, but decides to let it play out instead. No, no, no. When it comes to a trick or escape that could potentially hurt someone, every eventuality is tested and planned for, to ensure safety at all times. The idea that anybody would see a potential issue and just shrug it off is insulting. Now, had Black’s team ever been shown to be in on the “malfunction” – the prematurely cut chain is what leads to the big reveal that Black is not only alive, but across the country in New York – then fine. But they weren’t.
Then there’s the jargon Cameron uses with his magician brother. What the hell is an “auto Slydini” meant to be? Pepper’s Ghost is indeed an effect (and a cool-sounding one, at that) but not one to be seen in the plan Cameron says uses it. And don’t even get me started on Black saying “Ta da!” all the time. Even “abracadabra” would’ve been better.
Black performs several tricks over the course of the pilot that indeed are possible – with enough set up – yet he does them off the cuff with no warning or planning. His final grand illusion, which is used to catch the bad guy, is the kind of thing that only works from a single perspective and only if every single condition is planned for. Fine for the stage, but not likely to be successful out in the real world. Ok, ok, it’s a drama not a documentary, fine. It all looks enough like something a magician would be able to pull off to serve the premise of the show, but it’s not magic. With so many other options available for both crime and magic fans, there’s just no reason to put up with everything Deception gets wrong. No matter how much you want to like the imitation butter on your toast, you’re still going to be disappointed.
As you may have seen yesterday, March is the month of Magic on the Go here at GeniiOnline, but you may be wondering what the heck it is. Ok, it’s a service that gives you access to a bunch of videos and suchlike, but surely that’s only useful if your aim is to perform magic professionally, right? Well, no.
According to the Social Anxiety Institute, about 14% of the population will suffer from social anxiety at some point in their life. “Social anxiety” broadly refers to feeling emotional distress when confronted with ordinary social situations like being introduced to other people, being watched while doing something like giving a presentation, social encounters like parties, or dealing with someone in authority – in a job interview, for example.
It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to do card tricks while you’re trying to get a job, but learning magic can be a way to help ease into social situations that might otherwise prove immensely stressful. Success in those scenarios can build confidence for other social environments.
Speaking as someone who never quite mastered the art of “networking,” I wish someone had tipped me off years ago that learning a few tricks was a great way of sliding into conversations without feeling like an enormous doofus. Once I master the color change, I will be set.
The one and only Steve Valentine is helping GeniiOnline celebrate its sixth month anniversary by making March the month of Magic on the Go! In case you’re unfamiliar, Magic on the Go is an online service offering unlimited access to magic tutorials and more for a monthly fee – think of it like Netflix for magic. Steve is making a number of his MOTG videos available for GeniiOnline readers all month, so check back often to see what new goodies he’s serving up. We’ll be hosting a number of videos from Magic on the Go all month, some will be available to the public, but some will be for magicians and true enthusiasts only. (That’s the really, really good stuff.)
The above video gives you an idea what you can expect when you subscribe to the service – tutorials, commentary, and even lessons on the history of magic. Enjoy!
Aaron Reynolds has a unique way of expressing his opinion of various online activities. He takes an illustration of a bird – sometimes from the iconic Adubon Collection – and then attaches a brief bon mot laced with some degree of profanity. Juvenile? Well, yes. It’s also hilarious. His work has borne the Effin’ Birds store, where you can purchase mugs, shirts, pins, posters, and very soon, a gloriously NSFW deck of cards.
Specific aspects of the deck, like the seal, are still being designed, but here’s what we know: The deck is being printed by USPCC and will cost $15 USD including shipping anywhere in the world. If want to fully embrace the Effin’ Birds ethos, you can back the Effin’ Birds book at unbound.com/books/effin-birds. (The book is fully funded but backer rewards, including the deck, are still available.) If you just want the cards, they’ll be available on effinbirds.com as a stand-alone item in a couple of months.
Though we kept the entries in this post about as clean as Effin’ Birds gets, please rest assured that the deck on the whole has a pretty…fowl…mouth. (Look, I’m sorry, but it had to be done.) Not appropriate for everyone, of course, but your volunteer is far less likely to forget the card they picked if it features an unforgettable feathered friend.
In order to sweeten the deal, Aaron Reynolds has added a few new backer rewards to the crowdfunding campaign, including a poster-sized uncut sheet of the Effin’ Birds playing card set. $120 gets you the sheet, along with the book in hardback and ebook format.
To celebrate blowing the doors off of our pre-order target for the Effin’ Birds book, we’ve added some extra backer rewards. https://t.co/v6vj64kPtT
Get defaced postcards from me, uncut sheets of cards, and more! pic.twitter.com/gH5eFjoEyN
— Effin' Birds (@EffinBirds) February 24, 2018
Let us review the harbingers of spring: Robins. Crocus. The March issue of Genii. At least one of these is currently out there.
The cover story this month is attorney, Marine colonel (awarded a purple heart), and outgoing president of the Academy of Magical Arts Randy Sinnott. Randy has done an enormous amount for both Genii and the Academy of Magical Arts during his term. The Magic Castle had a fire several years ago and was in pretty bad shape afterward, and it was Randy who led the charge to get the club rebuilt and back on its feet. Jim Steinmeyer profiles this remarkable man.
You can pick up the March issue of Genii at your local magic establishment, or if it’s still too cold where you are (we’re getting snow AGAIN?), you can always subscribe and have it brought right to you. $35 gets you a full year of Genii, plus access to 80 years of archives, plus all of Magic Magazine’s archives. That’s…kind of a ridiculous amount of magic info for your browsing pleasure.
The premise behind “psychological illusionist” Derren Brown‘s upcoming Netflix special, “The Push” is very simple: is it possible to manipulate an ordinary person into committing murder? Here’s the Netflix description:
In The Push, Brown exposes the psychological secrets of obedience and social compliance. He expertly lifts the lid on the terrifying truth that, when confronted with authority, our natural instinct is to unflinchingly obey without question – to such an extent that even the most moral people can be made to commit the most horrendous acts, simply because they are told to do so.
From a strictly sociological/psychological viewpoint, that’s fascinating stuff, and certainly valuable in our current political clime. But what about the poor guy who’s not in on the scheme? If he does, indeed, go through with the faux murder, how will he be viewed by his friends, family, future employers? How will he view himself?
Of course, Derren Brown isn’t just some shmuck out to go viral, so one has to assume all of that has been taken into consideration. Hopefully the special will answer those questions when it comes to Netflix on February 27.
Potter & Potter‘s first magic auction of the year will feature the collection of John Daniel, who amassed an impressive array of posters, costumes, ephemera, and apparatus over the course of his life. The items up for auction include rarities from Floyd Thayer (like the Whispering Buddha pictured), ample materials from the Virgil & Julie show (including the Disembodied Princess), and a host of items big and small from Dante.
You can download a PDF of the catalog here, or purchase a physical copy here. Potter & Potter is pleased to announce the ability to bid online via an easy-to-navigate site that breaks down the many, many items up for sale into a handful of genres. You can also bid by phone, or of course go in person to Potter & Potter’s Chicago gallery. The auction begins at 10am on March 3rd.
Peter Marvey is inviting some of his pals to his place for the holidays and you can come too, if you like. A show called “Peter Marvey & Friends” will run from December 4 through the 23rd in the MAG Halle Zurich. Marvey is “drawing on his worldwide network of star illusionists and friends with magical abilities, which he has built up during his travels around the globe.” No word yet on who those chums might actually be, though.
If heading to Zurich at year’s end sounds appealing – and you know it’s going to be lovely there in winter – you can scoop up tickets at a 20% early bird discount. Just head here to purchase tickets, and use code MF20MARVEY to get the discount.
If you’re not familiar with the magical stylings of Jon Dorenbos, that may be because until recently, his day job was as a long snapper for the Philadelphia Eagles, but in the off-season he performs comedy and magic. He recently signed a deal with producer Mike Tollin to make a film about his life; the Eagles’ recent Super Bowl win has moved up the timetable for the project considerably.
Holding the record as the athlete who’s played the most consecutive games as a Philadelphia Eagle, Dorenbos recently had to retire from football due to a serious heart condition. Magic was always his exit strategy for his post-football career; as he cheekily puts it, “NFL stands for ‘not for long'”. He’s got the skills to back it up, too, having made it to the finals of America’s Got Talent and appearing on Ellen several times. It’s not immediately obvious how football and magic overlap, but when Dorenbos explains how he finds comfort in repetition, it all begins to make sense:
“I learned to love doing the same thing over and over in search of the perfect repetition, whether it’s a card trick that seemed almost impossible when I started, or football,” he told Deadline. “My ball spins three and a half times and if I hit the same spot at the same speed, the holder need only catch it, and put it down because the laces are out and it’s ready to go. You can add weather, wind, and that 300-pound plus guy opposite you who’s trying to freaking kill you, but they don’t matter. It’s all about the perfect rep.”
Perfect snaps and great card tricks are an odd combination, sure, but the rest of his life story is also prime cinematic material. As you’ll hear in the above compilation of Dorenbos’ appearances on America’s Got Talent, he was raised by his aunt, but what he doesn’t mention is that it was because his father murdered his mother. He turned to cards to help him cope with that tragic time in his life, a sad commonality shared by so many outstanding magicians.
If you want to hit up the International Brotherhood of Magicians Convention, happening in Grand Rapids, Michigan July 4-7, you should register in the next two weeks: ticket prices will go up on March 1.
Performers for the convention include: Pop Haydn, Nick Lewin, Jeff Hobson, Larry Wilson, Michael Finney, Jeff McBride, Rick Merrill, Nick Diffatte, David Malek, Luna Shimada, Niels Duinker, Mistie & Kyle Knight, Patrick Martin, Steve Valentine, Kayla Drescher, Chris & Neal, Michael Trixx and Stuart MacDonald.
The Amazing Johnathan will also be performing a special late-night show. It’ll cost you an extra five bucks, but you know he’s worth it, and besides, all the proceeds are going to charity.
Registration for the Stage and Close-up contests has also just opened, so check out www.magician.org/convention/contest-2018 if you’ve got the skills to bring home the gold.