When a show adds a quirk to a popular genre, you’re going to get a flurry of followers trying to capitalize on the theory. Ever since Castle surprised the ratings world by throwing a civilian bystander/helper into the mix of the, more or less, standard cop drama, you knew there was more to come. It wasn’t absolutely unique then, but it certainly made a splash.
The latest effort, Deception, seems a lot closer to a Castle-esque theory in the trailers than it does once you get into the show, but the overall idea of a “spectator” helping the police in a procedural that is a little lighter than your average attempt to nab the baddies is still exactly where we are. The double bonus of Deception is that each episode gets to run us through a Now You See Me reveal of how the trick is done.
Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott) is one of the world’s most famous magicians and he has a spectacular show in Vegas, but when supremely bizarre events throw his career into a spiral of scandal, he finds himself with a lot of skill, a superb team (which includes Vinnie Jones), and a hankering to clear his name. When a high profile cartel member seems to pull a switcheroo any magician would be proud of, Black offers his services to the FBI. If he helps them enough it might just lead to possibilities that will get him his life back… sort of.
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For anyone who isn’t already hopelessly jaded to gimmicky TV series, it’s hard not to look forward to a cop show that uses magic tricks and/or high dollar chicanery to bamboozle bad guys. There’s a bit of Mission Impossible, or Leverage built into the creation of a magician’s mode of criminal capture that is undeniably fun and, pun intended, escapist.
Throw in the fact that Jack Cutmore-Scott is a little closer to Nathan Fillion’s charismatic playboy than he is to Justin Kirk’s obnoxious brainiac (of the short-lived APB), and Vinnie Jones just being his Vinnie Jonesiest, and Deception has a lot going for it out of the gate.
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When a show finds the right balance of not taking itself too seriously, since it has a goofy gimmick as premise, showing audiences how to do magic tricks, and spinning out fun, crime-related yarns, audiences are likely to respond. However, that leaves you with a show that is attempting a hell of a dance, because there is serious stuff happening and it gets pretty easy to step over the wrong line on your way to the next big trick. Plus, you need a lot of quality people involved in the writing room, or you’re going to run out of things to dazzle us with.
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Deception also has a couple of serious flaws in the early going, and they might be more than are worth weathering for many viewers. First off, those who are most likely to be drawn to the show were fans of Leverage, and in the first few episodes we’re already running cons we saw in that show, and they were old school staples even then. More importantly, there’s a bit too much focus on working the magic and not enough on some of the characters, especially co-star Ilfenesh Hadera’s Kay Daniels (Black’s “partner” in the FBI) and FBI boss Deakins (Laila Robins).
Daniels, through the first few episodes, is both too interesting and not interesting enough. You know things about her character, but only because she yells facts about herself at someone, but what you know isn’t anything that really adds any flesh to her. She’s a little too sideline, but maybe the show will get there. Deakins, on the other hand, is something of an unnecessary stereotype. It’s a character that feels like the result of a test screen poll asking if it would feel more realistic if Daniels had a bitchy boss, and at the end of the day the character could be replaced by a series of emails Daniels reads off her phone.
Then again, the quick-paced ride that almost constantly pulls you back in by revealing something and/or giving Cutmore-Scott the chance to show off is better than most options and has a binge-worthy long arc that will keep you invested through the growing pains of establishing a complex premise.