Hogwarts has nothing to worry about in Criss Angel, the eponymous “Mindfreak” of A&E’s new series. Angel is more akin to Marilyn Manson than anything Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling could dream up. With Angel looking more like a rock star than a magician, the show offers a half-hour of his best spectacles, wrapped in a goth rock package. Fitting Las Vegas-size stunts into a half-hour show is a bit like stuffing a tiger into a birdcage — although from the looks of things, if anyone could pull off that trick, it would be Angel.
A&E promotes this new series as the first weekly magic show in 40 years. Anyone who remembers its predecessors might be surprised at how much the world of magicians, or illusionists as they are now called, has changed. There are no rabbits pulled out of hats, no sleight of hand. These days, you have to set yourself on fire or seemingly suspend yourself in midair to wow a crowd. TV audiences have changed, too, and although entertaining, “Mindfreak” may be a hard sell to the skeptical “Punk’d” generation.
Angel, the show’s creator, star and director, has made a name for himself with previous TV specials, David Blainelike public stunts (sans the heckling) and as a popular Vegas attraction. Here, he accompanies his act with behind-the-scenes footage and a good deal of on-the-street illusions. His time spent in Vegas is apparent in his approach to TV, mostly in the form of some rather over-the-top antics, including an unnecessarily recurring segment featuring carnival-like freaks circling his Christlike figure as he levitates through the desert.
The stunts alone are impressive. But what makes the show fascinating are the down-home touches in which we see the kid from New York, who first honed his magic skills at the age of 6. Keenly aware of the camera at all times, Angel manages to offer some personality, especially where family is involved. Viewers follow the illusionist as he contemplates new and more dangerous stunts, while his crew, including his often-fretful brothers, offer insight as to what, other than ego, drives someone in this profession. This is most evident in episode two, when Angel gives his visiting mother what can only be described as the worst birthday present ever. He decides to set himself on fire to be a human candle for her 70th birthday. One can only imagine what he does for weddings and anniversaries.
Angel may know how to entertain, but his skills as a TV director are a bit lacking. He’s particularly enthralled with his cat Minx (black, of course), slow-motion replays and far too many “holy crap” reaction shots. The show’s theme song, written and performed by Angel, is one element of the show that the magician should definitely make disappear.