Rebecca Barry Hill: Lame pranks this year's stocking fillers

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Ben Hanlin may be charismatic and cheeky but his tricks are a bit naff.
Ben Hanlin may be charismatic and cheeky but his tricks are a bit naff.

Turn on, tune out, have another eggnog. That about sums up Christmas television. Perfect for short-attention spans.

Perhaps this also explains why there are so many street magicians having a go at TV. If you don't wow them with your sleight of hand/editing, just do what makes your mates laugh. Plus, it can't be all that expensive to make.

That seems to be the manifesto for Ben Hanlin, the star of Tricked (Tuesdays, 7.30pm, TV One), a show I'd be more inclined to like if I felt I hadn't already seen it. Hanlin pranks members of the public and D-grade celebrities with laddish things such as organs falling out of balloons, "magic" vending machines dispensing chips through the glass and penis pumps mysteriously appearing in pockets. Unfortunately the tricks are underwhelming, pulled off with more of a Punk'd vibe than the wow factor of Dynamo, even if Hanlin is more charismatic and cheeky than many of his predecessors. That spontaneously ringing cellphone trick? Seen it. Done it myself actually. Simply hover finger over ringtone button and press. Voila. Spontaneously ringing cellphone.

You get the feeling Hanlin wasn't even a magician until recently but wanted a TV show, so winged - or tricked - his way into the studio, promised he'd pay for anything that went over budget then made up for it by filming most of it in and around the ITV building.

I still have no clue how he faked a tattoo then fixed it with his bare finger, or where he was hiding before he popped out of a trolley in a lift. And he does have the spunk to front a show, using his tricks to impress chicks or get famous females' phone numbers.

"I love watching people freak out," said Hanlin, who promised there were no actors in his show. That's unless you count his victims, reality stars and past-it pop acts.

"The fact I saw your ass crack is freaking me out," said Liberty X's Michelle Heaton, after he returned her beloved phone from its hiding place up his T-shirt. But if you really want to freak someone out, why not pretend you've died? The piece de resistance saw Hanlin colluding with one of the members of the boy band Blue who wanted to trick his bandmates into believing he'd rolled off a cliff in a caravan.

"That's not funny," said one of them when the supposedly smashed-up singer popped up in a nearby haybale.

Hanlin was better off pranking the public. The tricks might not be spellbinding but the reactions can be gold. Some people go ape, others are gob-smacked into submission.

"Hooo-ohhh!" cried a bemused man when Hanlin vacuumed up a popcorn spill with his bare hand.

"I'm not 5!" said a young woman after he offered her sweets in replacement for cutting up her perfectly good card.

All one poor guy could manage, once he realised Hanlin had "tattooed" his ex-girlfriend's name on his leg in front of his wife, was the grin of a man who's just filled his pants.

For something just as hard to believe, but more compelling, try The Unexplained Files (Discovery Channel, Wednesdays, 8.30pm), a new series featuring UFOs, spontaneous combustion and red rain. Perhaps it's the nostalgia of staying up late watching terrifying alien encounter stories as a kid but this seems like perfect pre-Christmas viewing. It's pretty obvious that the UFO spotted before a plane went down in Australia in 1978 was Santa. Those weird dog-like creatures speeding across Texas? Genetically modified reindeer. The show was surprisingly thorough, with Nasa scientists, aviation and wildlife experts, multiple eye-witness accounts and journalists all weighing in, as spooky music set the scene and unbelievable footage played. I just wish we could all agree that if you say you've seen an unidentified flying object, it doesn't mean you've seen ET. It could just be a kite.

"I have to believe now," said one of the interviewees, "if you're a non-believer or a believer, I believe that yeah, it's a UFO."

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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