Clearly struggling to conjure new versions of its “celebreality” brand, VH1 has disgorged from its bag of tricks “Celebracadabra!” — or what should more accurately be called “(Sort of) Celebrity Magician Survivor.” Featuring seven performers in an amateur magic-act playoff, the concept lacks the sizzle of the Viacom net’s most popular fare, and after the rapid flameout of “Secret Talents of the Stars” on CBS, the show has the look of a potential one-trick pony. Then again, who knows? Besides, an also-ran may take the loss hard and wind up on “Celebrity Rehab.”
Proving that casting such concepts isn’t getting any easier, the would-be prestidigitators are actors C. Thomas Howell and Hal Sparks; musicians Chris “Kid” Reid, Carnie Wilson and Kimberly Wyatt; comic Lisa Ann Walter; and somebody called Ant (host of VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club”), who takes it upon himself to become “the villain” of the piece. More on that in a moment.
Each participant (celebrity really does feel like a stretch) is paired with a magician, who coaches his new partner in street magic during the first hour and guides him or her through performing magic for kids in the second. The primary highlight comes when Howell masters a trick and yells “Wolverines!,” a kitschy reference to his 1984 movie “Red Dawn” — which, come to think of it, probably explains why he’s doing this.
On a 10-point humiliation scale, “Celebracadabra!” rates only about a 4, which doesn’t stop the producers and contestants from trying. Indeed, the oily Ant immediately begins floating a scheme to form alliances (how that would work, given that judges determine who’s eliminated, remains anybody’s guess) and consciously antagonizes his fellow celebutants — apparently agog over the lure of a $100,000 prize coughed up by Ellusionist.com. He also claims to suffer from coulrophobia (a pronounced fear of clowns), which under the circumstances provides good reason to remove every mirror from his house.
Players will be bounced week by week in a ceremony soberly presided over by magician host-judge Jonathan Levit at the grand old Magic Castle in Hollywood. VH1 doesn’t set its ratings expectations unattainably high, but given the flimsy premise, it will be interesting to see if the series can avoid pulling its own disappearing act.
At the very least, “Celebracadabra!” is definitely not recommended for anybody with a strong aversion to watching minor celebrities agree to behave like clowns, henceforth to be known as VH1-ophobia.