There are two ways to watch TV shows about street magic. You either switch your brain off and enjoy or sit there in a paranoid state trying to work out every single trick. I’m the latter because before I watched David Blaine and Dynamo, I watched Val Valentino revealing magician secrets on RTÉ 2.
So that’s why I watched the new Netflix magician reality show, Magic for Humans, with healthy scepticism.
What is Magic for Humans?
Magic for Humans is a light-hearted magician reality show hosted by Justin Willman, an American magician who was previously better known as the host of Cupcake Wars. Magic for Humans has the tagline ‘real people, real magic, no camera tricks’ and I think that might very well be true. Well, it’s as true as magic can be considered real I guess. What I mean is, I do believe the show has real people and technically uses no camera tricks per se.
How Real is Magic for Humans?
Spoiler alert: Magic isn’t real, so I immediately have a problem with the tagline. The show is built around some pretty impressive illusions and trickery. That means you shouldn’t trust anything.
The Trickery Behind Magic for Humans
I’ll give Justin the benefit of the doubt in that there are no camera tricks after he said “all the illusions in the show were accomplished without any camera tricks and all of the reactions are 100 per cent real”.
all the illusions in the show were accomplished without any camera tricks and all of the reactions are 100 per cent real
That last bit triggered all my suspicions – “all of the reactions are 100 per cent real”. I remember seeing a few years ago that magicians show people a trick which is pretty cool, record the reaction but then use that reaction for a completely different trick filmed separately. I feel like that happens a lot in Magic for Humans and, of course, this means Justin can say the reactions are real without lying.
And All Without Camera Tricks
So, what about there being no camera tricks? Well, like I showed there, the greatest trick of all in Magic for Humans is using the English language in a very clever way to tell the truth without giving the game away. At the end of episode one, Justin and the show editors push their luck just a little bit too much when he makes his wife “appear” from inside a gear bag.
Unfortunately, it’s quite clear, to me anyway, that her appearance has been achieved through CGI editing. There’s something about her face when she appears that just looks fake for a moment and it gives the trick away. Again, it’s not technically a camera trick, it’s an editing trick. See what I mean and language being the biggest trick in the show?
Magic for Humans Goes Too Far
No, he doesn’t kill a pigeon or accidentally slice a woman in half. What I mean by the show going too far is the tricks being too unrealistic. This might be harsh, but knowing where to stop with a trick is what gets people buying in. Just before making his wife appear in a poorly edited trick, I was genuinely impressed by him pulling a blender and coffee machine from a ‘magic bag’. But then he went a step further and that’s what triggered me going off and pulling some of his tricks apart. And he goes too far a few times.
In a tattoo parlour, he meets some body modifiers who have stretched their ear piercings to be 3-inch holes. He gets two of them to stand beside each other before looping their ears together. A neat looking trick, but a trick so insanely impossible that the only conclusion is that they’re stooges (actors). Well actors are real people too aren’t they?
Later in the series, he shows people a VR levitation experience but actually makes them float a couple of feet in the air. Again, it looks like a cool trick and I’ve no idea how it’s done unless the people in the shots are stooges. They also say convenient lines like “it would be better if I actually levitated” which makes me feel the show is going for entertainment above intelligent trickery.
Magic for Humans: The Verdict
It’s a real pity that Magic for Humans goes too far on so many occasions because Justin Willman does land some incredible illusions and tricks. In one episode he convinces two guys they are invisible in a genuinely impressive feat of trickery. Unfortunately, because I’ve seen to show crossover from trickery into deceit too often, it kind of ruins the bit as I’m left wondering if the guys are either actors or genuinely fooled members of the pity. And that’s why not going too far in these shows is really important.
If you’re able to switch off and just enjoy what you see at face value, Magic for Humans is pretty entertaining. If you’re the other kind of viewer, you’ll find the show infuriating.