I have no idea why I feel compelled to write about magic on TV, or think I am in any position really to do so, but hey, it’s what interests me. I’d like to know what you think about it too.
I watched CBBC’s “Help! My Supply Teacher Is Magic” for the first time recently. What a great idea for a show, I thought! But – and I really, really didn’t want to have to say this – I think I was wrong. (Am I just really fussy about magic on TV? Answers on a postcard or blog-comment)
The wonder of magic entertainment is to see something made possible which you know to be impossible. There’s an appreciation of the creativity and skill that can develop something like that; Latimer’s “shaping water” from a few weeks ago on the Magicians (which I won’t bore you about again other than to say that several format changes have improved it) is an excellent example of an illusion where the audience KNOWS that what they’re seeing isn’t what’s happening, but dammit, it sure as hell looks like it.
HMSTIM comes from completely the wrong angle. Kids in the classroom are amazed and enraptured to see that science is capable of teleporting an egg, of switching off gravity and floating the teaching assistant, right before their eyes, right there in the classroom. Technology is advancing quickly these days, and these children are thrilled to see what they believe to be the accomplishments of progress. They stare, open-mouthed, at the possibilities these developments appear to present.
And then the “teacher” comes clean. “It’s not science… I’m a magician!” That’s right… not so amazing after all, you guys… it’s not real… it’s JUST MAGIC. At every reveal in the episode I was watching, there was such a huge sense of disappointment that only got clawed away by hastily pointing out that there are hidden cameras everywhere and, hey, they’re going to be on the telly! That’s when the excitement comes back. Oh! Telly! Yes. We know about telly.
Rather than showing these children what they know to be impossible, the premise of HMSTIM is to convince them that it IS possible, and then destroy that belief. Which is probably funny for the kids watching, but not so much for the class.
Here comes the oft-referenced Seinfeld quote: “All magic is “Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone. You’re a jerk. Now it’s back. You’re an idiot. Show’s over.” Magic, recently, has done so much to fight back against this, with witty, wry shows from knowing, but never smug, performers. Yet seemingly, someone ignored this and decided to pitch – and someone else decided to commission – a show which combines two popular trends in current TV (magic and hidden cameras) to create some kind of Trigger Happy Fool Us. Which just sounds like Derren Brown’s Russian Roulette stunt, but rubbish.
Nevertheless, the “Wannabe Wizards” segment is the highlight, a real delight to watch; seeing young kids all around the country who are already pretty damn proficient in magic is wonderful and gives a lot to look forward to. The children growing up with The Magicians, Fool Us and HMSTIM at the moment are the ones who will be working their butts off every night through August one year at the Fringe, and I will be in the audience, and I have got to say, based on what they’re like now, I’m really looking forward to it.
And now, like Marc Warren, I’m going to point at the bottom of the screen and say “but what do YOU think?” – but in a less creepy way.