In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, ABC
Crime, by and large, is a grim, unexciting, depressing business, which is why so many crime shows try to find a way to liven things up. It might be by doing science experiments in CSI, or making your investigator immortal in Forever or an author in Castle.
But for a touch of show business, you can’t knock magicians. Not only do you get the glam, you can get the excitement of magic – ooh! That’s why the idea of the magician-detective isn’t that new. Think Alan Davies in Jonathan Creek, Simon Baker in The Mentalist or more obviously, Bill Bixby in The Magician. Even Mission: Impossible was largely about con artists and magic tricks, rather than proper spying, right down to having Leonard Nimoy’s agent, Paris, being an actual magician.
Add to that list the decidedly inferior Deception, which sees yet another magician think he can help the cops by doing card tricks. It stars Jack Cutmore-Scott (Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life) playing Cameron Black, the world’s best magician. All looks rosey for him and his largely British team of assistants until one day he’s framed for a murder by fellow illusionist Stephanie Corneliussen (Mr Robot) and it’s revealed that for the past 30 years, he’s been secretly doing a Prestige and swapping out for his twin brother, Jonathan (also Cutmore-Scott). Jonathan ends up in the nick, while Cameron is left at large, his career in tatters.
When he sees on TV that a drugs kingpin has literally disappeared in a trick identical to one he himself performed, he volunteers to help the FBI agents involved – Ilfenesh Hadera (Baywatch), Laila Robins and Amaury Nolasco (Telenovela, Work It, Chase, Prison Break) – because he suspects that Corneliussen is behind it all. Before you know it, he’s brought his team – Lenora Crichlow (Being Human, A-Z, Back in the Game), Justin Chon and Vinnie Jones (yes, that one) – on board to help the FBI catch the bad guys, clear his name and free his brother using all the illusions he can muster.
Given the whole world of magic available to writer-creator Chris Fedak (Chuck, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Forever), you’d think that Deception would be more… well, magical. Instead, it feels like he sat down and watched Now You See Me, somehow came to the conclusion it was a good movie and decided to model a TV series on that. Which is odd.
So for the most part, we have a realm of stupid masquerading as magic. There are disguises that are obvious disguises. Bad guys are caught in elaborate ruses involving secret compartments, switches, false perspectives and more that wouldn’t work for a second and even if they did, you end up wondering exactly why they were necessary – couldn’t the police, you know, have just turned up, rather than having to hide behind a secret door in a painting while Cutmore-Scott pretends to catch a bullet? Can you really make a Lear jet disappear in front of a team of an FBI SWAT team using a series of moving platforms and a false wall, even if you have a little bit of red smoke? Wouldn’t there be, you know, vibrations? Eddies in the air caused by a massive jet being moved at speed through a cloud of smoke? Even Corneliussen’s supposedly different eye colours look fake and that’s just contact lenses.
This renders the show’s whole raison d’être a nonsense, leaving Cutmore-Scott’s slightly basic close-up magic as the show’s only real foray into prestidigitation.
After that, it’s basically a generic procedural with a central HQ and an ensemble team investigating crimes generically. Vinnie Jones and Amaury Nolasco are the only members of the supporting cast granted personalities for their characters, Nolasco’s magic-fanboy actually moderately amusing at times. Jones still can’t act, but he does at least have presence. Crichlow gets to ham things up a lot and even gets to take part in a trick or two, but that’s about it, while Chon fares even more poorly, only getting to be Asian. Lines? Not too many.
There’s no real chemistry between the central pairing of Cutmore-Scott and the charmless Hadera, but then Cutmore-Scott’s saddled with a hugely dickish character to deal with, so you can see why she’s so charmless with him.
Talking of Cutmore-Scott, he does well… when he’s not playing Cameron Black. When he’s in disguise or even playing his own twin brother – which might be a regular thing, not just a gimmick for the pilot – he does manage to show some range, so you get the feeling he’s sticking to the script pretty well. It’s just the script that’s the problem. Again, it seemed to think Jesse Eisenberg’s Now You See Me character was appealing in some way, so threw it at Cutmore-Scott in an attempt to recreate that movie’s ‘magic’. Which, again, is odd, because he was a dick and so is Cameron Black. But hey, magicians probably are, too. Maybe that’s the only realistic part of the show.
Despite all the showbiz pizzazz and cameos by the likes of Penn and Teller, Deception doesn’t have much going for it, beyond a certain energy and a belief that if you throw enough magic tricks at the screen, it’ll at least be entertaining, even if it doesn’t make any sense. There’s certainly a joie de vivre to it all, for sure, but it is absolute nonsense that doesn’t really work as either a magic show or a procedural.
Don’t be fooled.