NBC’s Phenomenon is the latest reality import to hit American television, lifted from the Israeli smash hit “The Successor,” a competition that brought together mentalists in a typical viewer elimination showdown to find the next Uri Geller. Geller dominated the world of paranormal demonstration and mentalism for many years, thrusting the art of spoon bending into the imaginations of stunned fans worldwide. In the American adaptation, Geller is joined by co-host Criss Angel, whose Mindfreak has brought more acts of magic to primetime television than any other practicing magician in history. The defining line between the two is Geller’s open-minded beliefs that psychic abilities do exist, and Angel’s determination to prove a fraud anyone who claims to possess such abilities. Hands off his co-host, of course/
Ehud Segev is the first competitor to take to the stage. He calls up celeb guests Carmen Electra and Ross Matthews. Ehud was the runner-up in the Israeli version of the show. Ehud seems to be offering himself up as possessing genuine psychic abilities, however that is often the key to a successful mentalist demonstration anyways. Angel is one of the few mentalists who will, outside of the performance, admit that what he does is illusion and not true magic. Regardless of his candid honesty, even Angel is not going to tell his audience that he what he is doing is illusion in the middle of a trick. Success depends on convincing the audience that what you have done is supernatural.
Ehud is a flawed showman in this regard. His trick is well executed. It is a variation of “PK Touch,” which Sci Fi Channel viewers have already seen Derren Brown perform. Brown has also admitted that the trick is just that, a trick. The setup is that there are two people. One is being told that they are being touched, and the mentalist is actually touching themselves or the other person. The mark is able to feel the sensation regardless. Geller is convinced this is genuine. Angel is familiar with the technique, claims he worked with the guy who invented it, and is a little put out by Ehud’s reliance on the effect to sell the act.
Next up is Jim Karol. He has a nice everyman act from the get-go, but that gives way to shades of polished showman as he gets into his act. It’s pretty banal, really. He shows a small animal trap, demonstrates that it can snap a pencil, then switches the trap with a larger one while having Rachel Hunter write down the name of a celebrity. We don’t get a demonstration of the strength of the second trap, as far as misdirection goes it’s total bunk. He teases the audience and Ross Mathews over the trap for a while and finally sticks his hand in it and subsequently shouting the name written on the board. I think I saw a clown do this trick at a first grade birthday party. The judges are gracious, but you can tell Angel really wants to tell him he sucks.
Eran Raven is a mentalist who claims some precognitive abilities. His act is a bit Criss Angel, actually. He does a Russian roulette routing with a bunch of nail guns. It’s terrifying. Curiously, Angel salutes NBC for having the guts to allow it. He also slips in the fact that he did a similar trick with a real gun, quite innocuously of course. But I think Angel felt a bit threatened and was giving Raven a bit of the condescending brush off.
The final guy up is Gerry McCambridge. His mentalist exhibition is simply enthralling. He throws so many factors in there isn’t much need for misdirection. Seven random people holding envelopes, four phone books, and three disks thrown into the audience. Each audience member who gets a disk selects a factor. One a book, one a page number, etc. The result is a random phone number that, you guessed it, is stored in the envelopes. Geller says McCambridge lacked salesmanship. Angel says the same thing, but carefully worded because he is in awe of Gerry’s technical skills. Host Banachek misunderstands and attributes a thumbs up to Angel.
I enjoyed Phenomenon. I was a little thrown off by the pacing: there are 10 competitors and two will be eliminated next week, but six have not performed. How can that not lead to a time advantage for one of the competitors? Some of the tricks were not so new, but the performances I thought were even. Surely there was no Criss Angel amongst the group, except for Angel himself. Now, the only mystery is will Phenomenon conjure ratings magic? Tune in tomorrow to find out.
– Jon Lachonis, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image Courtesy of NBC)