The Discovery Channel has aired the first episode of Deception with Keith Barry. Below is a full review of the premiere episode with spoilers.
Keith Barry is an Irish magician and mentalist. He has been trying to find American fame since 2004, when he first appeared on MTV in a show called Brainwashed, greeted with limited success. He then made another attempt on CBS with his show Keith Barry: Extraordinary. Keith Barry is now debuting Deception, his first television series.
The premise: It’s made to seem like science. That Keith Barry can hack your mind using psychological techniques. Seems like a perfect fit for the Discovery Channel right? Well, more on that later…
The show starts with Keith Barry stopping random strangers in front of an ATM and guessing their pin numbers. The first unwitting participant got very angry, and understandably so. The others seemed to experience more discomfort than intrigue as well. This is where you see the first difference between magic and what Mr. Barry does: Magic is about amazing your audience and participants, this show is about making Keith Barry look amazing. Slight difference.
He then does a quick bit where he claims to implant a subconscious thought by showing a man a piece of paper quickly. A short bit, but I liked this. I’ve been doing a very similar trick for a long time now. Please note my use of the word ‘trick.’ After that he does a newspaper prediction, where he claims to implant a word in a spectators mind without them knowing. The person picks a word out of the newspaper and it’s the word he predicted.
He then does a subliminal-word bit in front of a graduate psych class. This is a brilliant piece performed by Mr. Barry, however it’s almost identical to work done by British psychological illusionist Derren Brown. So similar, that even the patter seemed borrowed. No accusations, just observations.
He then performs a watch trick, where he borrows a spectators watch, secretly sets a time on it, has them think of a time without seeing his prediction, and their thought-of number matches the pre-set time on the watch. After that is an truly excellent bit with billiard balls, where he places six balls into his pockets (including jacket). The spectator does not see it, and is asked to do the same. We later learn that every single ball matches.
The next segment, he mingled in the park, predicting random interests and characteristics about people by simply looking at them. That was followed with him guessing the name of a girl’s first kiss on the street. After that, a lie-detector bit where he can guess when a man is lying to him just by observing his body language. After that, he erases a man’s memory for a few minutes, to a point where he forgets his own name and can’t recognize his friends.
For the finale, Keith Barry takes an 11 year old wunderkind to a corn field. He draws a shape on his palm as a prediction, and the boy does the same. When the boy reveals his drawing it matches Mr. Barry’s (both drew a peace sign). A helicopter then flies over them, and we find out the two are standing in the middle of a giant piece sign, cut out in the crops.
During each segment, they have doctors, psychologists and other experts discussing how these methods can be influencing the human behavior. The sad thing is that so many of Keith Barry’s methods are conventional magic and mentalism; trickery. Then these experts come out, and try to give deep psychological explanations for what is happening. You can’t help but ask yourself: are these experts not very expert-like at all, are they simply gullible, or what? These are men putting their professional reputations on the line to help sell the spiel of a trickster. I find that a little troubling.
While Mr. Barry may have some success with this program, the emphasis is too much on him, and too little on entertainment. It is easy to see the show and the tricks getting way too repetitive, turning viewers off after just a few episodes. Of all the performers, especially mentalists, across the pond, Keith Barry would not be my first choice to do a show like this. Derren Brown, who had a failed show on Sci Fi, should absolutely be given another chance to shine in the states. His work is exponentially more impressive than Keith Barry’s, and his character is significantly more humble.
UPDATE: I will be doing a behind-the-scenes look at the series along with reviews of future episodes. Follow me on Twitter so you don’t miss it!