“Just” magic

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.

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3 thoughts on ““Just” magic

  1. I just feel “The Magicians” was a bit dissapointing. It had its moments but Magic should not be a game show with celebrities which is what it got diluted down to really. Or maybe Im just hankering after a new “Dirty Tricks” style magic show ? which on a later evening slot on another channel from the BBC would allow the freedom for Magicians to be proper edgy and macabre. B&S seemed hacked off having to explain in their blogs that 2 of their effects were dropped due to not being suitable for the family teatime slot The Magicians fills. Maybe these magic shows should be retained to interest and enthuse the younger viewers ?. But its also time to give us back some TV magic shows for older teenagers and adults to unlock the more horrific and thrilling side of magic entertainment 🙂

    • Thanks for that! I agree, and my thoughts on The Magicians are pretty much as they were three posts ago, although I think that re-casting the talent made a huge difference to the show, as did the live vote (much as I hate to admit that bit). As a show though it’s really important that it aired because live magic hasn’t been on telly for decades. And yes, it’s very important to have stuff that can be accessible to younger viewers as well as the Dirty Tricks/Simon Drake/Penn & Teller mature stuff. Which is why I so wanted to like HMSTIM. Have you seen it? What did you think?

  2. HMSTIM is like you say a new approach to magic and youngsters and to be honest does show up that magic has missed a generation either on TV or live as a lot of standard tricks and props are in the mix and not being twigged upon so must be the first time the kids have seen magic tricks. That is a good thing though and will ensure like you say that the next generation of magic fans and potential performers keep the entertainment alive.
    As for the Magicians I was surprised especially for a BBC show where they like equality that it was very male dominated from the performers angle as well as their guests. I would like to see at least one female magician in any future line up and there are many out there either from the UK or internationally that would justify signing up for a show like this. Also for the second series running the Male celeb guests outnumbered the Female guests almost 3 to 1 which does seem very odd when all the other celebrity shows make sure there is a 50/50 ratio of men/women. Perhaps they couldnt interest enough women ? which seems unlikely to me as I think there are many more women that jump at an opportunity to take part in magic unless they feared the prospect of magic illusions most famous iconic trick being wheeled out and performed upon them ? Im talking of the sawing a woman in half illusion of course LOL and we didnt get one of those on this series which I also think is a shame. It is old and it is iconic so magicians and producers seem to shy away and fear that classic illusions will be seen as too crass and boring to include but in the process they completely forget why they became so famous in the first place. Audiences simply enjoy seeing the traditional performances whether it be an old prop or a newer even more thrilling piece of apparatus to carry out the illusion with and Im sorry call me sexist if you like but having a woman invited to be sawn in half by the magician is something that just so compelling to watch, even if you have seen it a hundred times or kind of guessed how its done, a good dramatic performance is pure theatrical magic !

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