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ABC's 'Deception' Isn't Very Magical
March 11, 2018  | By David Hinckley

The best magic tricks seem to be effortless. ABC’s new drama Deception, which revolves around an illusionist, too often feels like it’s working too hard...

Deception, which appears from behind the curtain at 8 p.m. ET Sunday, has a winning lead character and, alas, plot problems.

Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott) is a celebrity magician, a flamboyant star of stage and television who performs extremely dangerous tricks before gasping live audiences. Like any good magician, he never tells what’s behind the curtain, which for Cameron is essential because behind this curtain stands his unrevealed identical twin Jonathan (also played by Cutmore-Scott).

Seems their father, also a famous magician, came up with the idea that the boys could become world-class illusionists by never letting anyone know there were two of them.

Imagine the possibilities.

So Cameron became the star while Jonathan invisibly supported him, helping work out the routines and build their career. They’ve pulled off this illusion for 30 years without anyone the wiser, until Jonathan gets arrested for a crime he and Cameron both try to convince everyone he did not commit.

He’s convicted anyway, which torpedoes Cameron’s career as well, because he stops creating illusion routines and obsesses over finding who might have set up Jonathan – and by extension, Cameron.

It’s a marvelous stroke of good fortune, then, when a drug lord pulls off a spectacular escape by copying one of Cameron’s most famous tricks. Cameron introduces himself to the FBI agent on the case, Kay Daniels (Ilfenesh Hadera), who convinces her skeptical boss that this celebrity rookie just might be able to help them track this escape artist down. Takes one to know one and all that.  

It also helps that Daniels’s assistant, Mike Alvarez (Amaury Nolasco), is a major Cameron fan.

We then plunge into a deep exploration of magic’s back room. For starters, Cameron explains several times, in several different ways, the operating principles of illusion. Some of it is fooling the audience. Some of it is fooling the audience into fooling itself. He explains misdirection. He explains a lot of things.

We also see Cameron’s team, which includes the often-frantic producer Deena Clark (Lenora Crichlow), create the kinds of perfect illusions that would trick a criminal into thinking his plan was working. Or that he had just shot someone.

Deception is a procedural with a clever setup twist, not completely unlike the concept behind ABC’s long-running hit Castle. As with Castle, we also have two smart, attractive people who enjoy matching wits at a high level. So they have fun while they hunt down very bad guys, and while we viewers hear a lot about how magic and illusion can be valuable criminal justice techniques and resources.

Trouble is, we sometimes seem to be hearing a lot about it because the connection requires explanation. It doesn’t feel like a natural fit, which is why Deception sometimes feels like it’s working too hard.

Cutmore-Smith and Hadera are likeable enough. But in its effort to find yet another unique twist on cop teams, the show has to blow a little too much smoke.

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