Just last week I sneeringly dismissed the increasingly ubiquitous shows featuring magicians. Given the arsenal of tools telly has to bamboozle the viewer in addition to traditional sleight of hand, surely the deck is stacked too much in the illusionists' favour for the spectacle to be much fun?
So now, of course, I find myself in the slightly embarrassing position of admitting that, actually, this week there's a one-off magic special I found pretty entertaining.
David Blaine: Real or Magic is touted as the American performer's return to up-close street magic after a decade-and-a-half of staging such elaborate endurance stunts as having himself encased in a block of ice. As it turns out, though, the description "street magic" is a little misleading. Yes, there are a few instances of Blaine standing on sidewalks performing illusions for passersby but, for the most part, the show consists of Blaine doing his shtick in the homes of the fabulously famous.
In what is surely the special's greatest feat, Blaine has conjured up the co-operation of celebrities including Katy Perry, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Will Smith and family, Woody Allen and Robert De Niro.
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There are even bits with Stephen Hawking and George W. Bush (the latter having presumably enlisted Blaine's expertise to finally work out exactly where all Iraq's weapons of mass destruction disappeared to).
All these stars glittering in front of the camera certainly provide Blaine with all the misdirection he needs to pull the wool over our eyes (mine were also covered with my hands during the bit involving an ice pick). Apart from the revelation that Kanye West apparently has Woody Harrelson on speed dial for those occasions when a magician turns up on his doorstep with a camera crew, the most enjoyable aspect of the programme is the disbelieving reactions of the various luminaries. The best of these: Harrison Ford's freakout and the normally supremely sceptical Ricky Gervais being reduced to quivering credulity.
For a truly magical presentation of stars, though, tonight's opening episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is the one to beat this week. It's a follow-up/update of Carl Sagan's 1980 classic Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, with which the leading astronomer created the benchmark for science-based TV, covering such subjects as the origin of life and our place in the universe in an exciting and accessible way over 13 episodes.
I still recall the feeling of my mind being stretched as I watched Sagan's series three decades ago. Clearly Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has the same memory, because it was his enthusiasm for the original that got this new version made.
Fortunately, however, there's no evidence of MacFarlane's involvement in the form of
talking animated dogs or scatological humour.
Immensely aided by cutting-edge visual effects, the material is presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in a way that seeks to engender a sense of wonder and give the incomprehensible vastness of the subject a human scale. Personally I could do without the cheesiness of some of the narration but the "cosmic address" and "cosmic calendar" sequences managed to communicate where humanity sits within boundless time and space in a way I could kind of grasp, which is a real achievement.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Sunday, 7.30pm on National Geographic Channel, and David Blaine: Real or Magic screens Thursday, 9.30pm, on Prime.