Give Derren Brown this: he knows how to get attention. The British mentalist (like a magician but cleverer) is the master of modern event television — the kind of one-off specials you feel compelled to watch just in case something truly sensational happens.
His most notorious one, The Push, came out on Netflix this year. To demonstrate how easily manipulated people are, he staged an elaborate Truman Show-style farce involving a charity fundraiser and an extremely convincing fake corpse. His unwitting targets were led in incremental steps to the point where they could be convinced to "murder" an actor by pushing him off the roof of a tall building.
This was his international Netflix debut, his big splash, but he's been at it for years in the UK. His first one involved playing Russian roulette live on telly; he's convinced people to gamble away their life savings and do an armed robbery, and tricked one poor bloke into thinking the world had ended in a meteor strike. All probably had a similarly loose justification to The Push — it's a psychology experiment. Can't go to prison for doing a psychology experiment, can you?
This isn't to say Derren Brown is evil or even necessarily bad. His intentions seem broadly good — preaching the power of the mind and other self-help platitudes — despite his methods being a little bit out there. He's basically just an unhinged version of Nigel Latta.
His new Netflix special, Derren Brown: Miracle, dials it back a notch from The Push, and is all the better for it. Where that was a carefully constructed made-for-TV production, this is a live recording of his stage show, the bread and butter of the modern-day Vaudevillian confidence trickster.
Miracle is all about faith healers, a line Brown has been interested in for ages. His basic thesis is that faith healing has nothing to do with God and co, and everything to do with the power of positive thinking. He proves it by doing some loud whooshing noises into the microphone which make half the audience's aches and pains disappear just like that.
The exact hows and whys are all a bit vague — magicians never reveals their secrets, even when they call themselves mentalists. But, like a magic show, it's fun to watch regardless.
There's more than just faith healing, too — the highlight of the hour-long show is probably where he gets a lady up on stage and convinces her to eat quite a big piece of glass.