Review: ‘Deception’ masters the art of combining magic and the FBI. Or does it?
In approaching “Deception,” the new magician-meets-criminal-investigation action drama debuting Sunday on ABC, it’s probably best if you keep your mind somewhere akin to where it goes as you approach a Vegas magic show.
Don’t look for the hidden wires. Don’t try to parse the logic behind why someone would devote their lives to fiddling with a deck of cards or, say, put a disgraced magician on the federal payroll. Just try not to think too much about what you’re seeing and you might enjoy yourself.
Although they occupy a space in the specialized-entertainer caste system just above mime and birthday clown as far as whose company you’d want to keep in a stuck elevator, magicians have maintained a grip on pop culture. It wasn’t that long ago that David Copperfield and his ’70s spiritual sibling Doug Henning plied their trade on network airtime, not to mention more au courant varietals such as David Blaine and Criss Angel.
And enough people evidently cared enough about “Now You See Me” — a preposterous heist movie featuring a team of illusionists — that both it and its 2016 sequel took in over $300 million at the box office.
“Deception” knows all of this, of course, and smartly places its hero, Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott) along the same axis as a few of the names above. However, Cameron falls on hard times after one of his TV specials as his twin brother is jailed for a crime that forces them to reveal just how he can appear to be two places at once, which leads to public shame and condemnation from no less than Penn & Teller.
However, Cameron is convinced his brother was framed by another magician — sorry, “criminal illusionist” — who later is enlisted to help facilitate the escape of a drug cartel figure before he can be taken into federal custody. And thus a sort of partnership between Cameron and an initially skeptical FBI agent (Ilfenesh Hadera) is born.
Now is probably the time to mention that if you’re not someone equipped with the suspension of disbelief required for a show whose spine includes a cat-and-mouse game between a magician and his mysterious nemesis, then you should probably disappear.
But if that’s the case, you’re going to miss some good, silly fun. “Deception” is executive produced by the very busy Greg Berlanti (“The Flash,” “Arrow” and “Supergirl,” to name a few), and the first episode hums along with the brisk pacing of a summer superhero movie. No, it isn’t likely a famous magician would be as adept at fighting with a drug dealer or being shot at as Cameron seems during the climax, but neither is the planet Krypton.
That said, any enjoyment of the series is contingent on enjoying the company of Cameron. He’s cocky and aggressively charming in a first-act-of-a-Tom-Cruise-movie sort of way, but he also spends a lot of time magician-splaining both to his FBI collaborators and the viewer how illusions work and why people fall for them.
How often can magic be used to get out of a tight spot or explain the stagecraft of a murder? More than you might expect, and soon Cameron and a crew that includes Lenora Crichlow (“Being Human”) and a growling Vinnie Jones (“Escape Plan”) — what, you didn’t know magicians had crews? — are teaming with the FBI to solve particularly tricky crimes in exchange for the agency’s help in finding who framed his brother.
It’s all pretty absurd, but the show is too light on its feet to begrudge for long. Cameron has an amusing knack for abruptly appearing behind people and introducing himself by his full name as if entering a stage, and there’s a breezy self-awareness that creeps in around the show’s fringes. “Cameron did help us,” one starstruck FBI agent tells his boss after Cameron lobbies to help a new investigation, “Plus, magic is phenomenal.”
Well, maybe let’s not go that far. But not unlike a live magic show, “Deception” doesn’t aim for long-lasting impressions but still offers an escapist pleasure in that you know you’re watching a trick. You don’t mind as long as you’re being treated well as it’s pulled off. That’s not an easy trick either.
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When: 10:01 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-PG-V (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for violence)
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