Criss Angel loves TV, but the feeling isn’t entirely mutual. After having done the A&E series “Criss Angel Mindfreak,” the magician is back with a Spike showcase, “Criss Angel BeLIEve,” which injects a bit of reality-TV razzle-dazzle into the act, including behind-the-scenes hand-wringing over Angel’s apparent death wish. Mostly, though, the hour presents its star as an egomaniacal eccentric, someone seemingly determined to make David Blaine look like the ordinary Joe next door. Come for the magic, if you enjoy that sort of thing, but spending time with its purveyor is something of an endurance test.
Clearly, Angel brings a showman’s flair to his tricks, which, in the premiere, consist of several smaller ones played at a personal level, and a larger stunt — walking blindfolded across a pair of elevated beams — that’s built up to throughout the episode.
Angel prides himself, he says, on being able to perform “anywhere, anytime, with everyday objects,” which he demonstrates to the rapper Ludacris (in the show’s most “wow” moment) as well as to various bystanders.
He also introduces his team, who, not surprisingly, are not keen on their meal ticket engaging in a risky elevated walk, apparently having not paid attention to the ratings for Discovery’s Nik Wallenda special. “High-wire acts die. You know that, right?” one of them asks Angel during a planning meeting, while the star sits, with unintended comedic effect, in a chair that vaguely resembles the Iron Throne.
The notion Angel braves stunts that “can result in death” if you try them at home, as the advance script warns, prompts him to indulge in a chair-throwing fit when it’s suggested he must wear a safety wire on his walk, which, unlike Wallenda, is performed without delivering a recurring testimonial to Jesus.
Ultimately, a project like “BeLIEve” (named after Angel’s Vegas stage show) is both an effective commercial for the performer and a front-row seat for his routine. And it has found a logical home on Spike, whose testosterone-fueled lineup has used shows built around death or bodily harm (think “1000 Ways to Die,” “Deadliest Warrior”) as a come-on to guys weaned on extreme sports and mixed martial arts.
In a niche environment, there will always be room for magic, and thus for talent like Angel or “Dangerman’s” Jonathan Goodwin on BBC America. The rest of the window dressing that makes up “BeLIEve,” as they say, is pretty much just smoke and mirrors.