People are fascinated by the concept of magic. The draw created by the smoke and mirrors magicians use is both seductive and entertaining, which is why shows featuring magicians pulling tricks on unsuspecting people are always around. Even Netflix has thrown a hat in the ring with its new Magic for Humans. But is it worth the watch? After all, magicians are not created equally and neither are their shows. In this Magic for Humans review, we will dissect the ins and outs of the show, compare it to other popular magician shows, and decide if Magic for Humans is all it's cracked up to be. Consider this Magic for Humans review your magic password to the world of magic shows. Abracadabra!
What Is Magic for Humans?
Magic for Humans is part of a new era of magic shows that are part human observation and part 4th wall-breaking commentary on the susceptibility of the human mind. A six-part unscripted series new to Netflix's line-up in 2018, the show is a well-balanced blend of simple science and comedy fit for all ages. Good-natured tricks and grown-up laughs drive the show, which often takes place on the streets of cities and in neutral locations, such as schools, baffling unsuspecting people.
Magic for Humans shows a vital appreciation for comedic timing that takes the whole thing from a set of mild curiosities to a finely tuned exploration of what kind of magic can still command people's attention. Magic for Humans manages to exist in the perfect middle ground between comedy series and street magic. Each installment centers on a different universal theme. Some episodes center on love and companionship, while others highlight guilt as a fundamental driving force for humanity.
About the Magician
You can't have a Magic for Humans review without mentioning the headliner of the show, the magician himself Justin Willman.
Justin Willman leads this unscripted look at people's relationship to magic that's part Nathan Fielder, part Bill Nye. Willman is the perfect magician/comedian hybrid to pull off this kind of show — a prototypical harmony of social commentary and genuine clean comedy. His self-deprecating style lends a certain credibility to his storytelling, making him an unlikely messenger for some of the show's deeper meanings.
Justin Willman aims to wow people as he performs the tricks and illusions in front of them, with no camera tricks to assist him — what the viewers see is the same as what the marks on the show see. It's a particular kind of friendly, not-flashy or over-the-top magic that makes Justin Willman approachable as a magician. His tricks range from simple to incredibly complex, but he doesn't rely on any extra pizazz to bend your mind.
Where Can We Watch It?
You are only one Netflix subscription away from watching Magic for Humans. Frankly, while some of the harshest critics are skeptical of Netflix's habit of giving the green light for production of just about any kind of show, skeptics can rest easy with Magic for Humans. Magic for Humans marks Netflix's first foray into producing magic shows. It helps that Netflix has a reputation for allowing creative freedom to their production teams because that leeway is what has made Magic for Humans stand out.
"I'm proud to say that all the illusions in the show were accomplished without any camera tricks, and all of the reactions are 100 percent real," Justin Willman said in a statement to Bustle. "I'm aware that by the very nature of editing a show you're manipulating reality, so we went to great lengths to not cut away during any of the crucial magic moments throughout the series. Hopefully, viewers will appreciate this effort and enjoy a little escape from reality."
Netflix seems to have pleased the viewers since Magic for Humans was renewed for a second season, to debut in 2019.
How It Compares
We picked a few similar shows to see how our Magic for Humans review stands up to a review of its competitors.
It is the goal of any show to stand up to the test of time, particularly magic shows. Because magic shows rest on the premise of managing to fool humans by taking advantage of human nature, it has always been important that magic shows treat human nature as something universal. There is no nuance in curiosity or the way science has nailed down how good our peripheral vision is — and that means that magic shows have to approach their tricks in such a way that they are pleasantly baffling rather than uncomfortably surprising.
We already know from our Magic for Humans review that Justin Willman has expertly toed that line. But what about his colleagues?
Magic for Humans Review
This is a six-part (so far) magic show grounded in the nature of humanity, led by affable magician Justin Willman.
In this Magic for Humans review, we've already indicated that we believe both the host and the magic. But let's really drive it home by explicitly saying that the believability of Magic for Humans is proven in the way the no-trick cameras convey genuinely surprising — and funny — results.
Magician Justin Willman's friendly demeanor and self-deprecating humor make for TV host gold. His personality is unobtrusive, which makes the viewer trust him — and that's a good thing since Magic for Humans has underlying themes that rely on the viewer being led to certain thought-provoking conclusions.
Magic for Humans is a unique show in the sense that social commentary on the human condition hasn't ever been blended into a magic show before. But other aspects of the show aren't very original — such as playing tricks on random people on the street. Of course, this limitation is largely due to the scope of magic shows, which generally rely on unsuspecting marks who are almost always found in the streets. Pus, Magic for Humans makes up for this in introducing other locations and scenarios that spice up the settings for the tricks.
For many of us watching television in the early aughts, Criss Angel's BeLIEve was our first introduction into magic shows at all — never mind magic shows that made a point of being as mind-bending and shocking as possible. Comparing BeLIEve to the Magic for Humans review is almost like comparing a pit bull to a French bull terrier. Whereas Magic for Humans is conceptually accessible to everyone, BeLIEve has a gross-out reputation hidden behind an over-the-top punk spirit. It's a high-flying, high-strung approach to magic shows — and at its height of popularity, audiences gobbled it up.
Believability is the entire goal of BeLIEve. For a magician, the whole trick behind performing a successful illusion essentially is to get onlookers to believe a lie — and Criss Angel does that in spades. BeLIEve certainly isn't for the light-hearted viewer, but there is no doubt that viewers are amazed that every stunt and trick is pulled off so flawlessly.
Headlining magician Criss Angel is, admittedly, a polarizing figure. He curses, he's tattooed, and he's partially nude for almost half of his tricks. Viewers really do either love him or hate him. His style of magic is fast-paced and challenging and leaves you wondering how any of his tricks are even real. Which works for his show, honestly. The brash, daredevil nature of Criss Angel means that watching BeLIEve is kind of like a second-hand adrenalin rush.
BeLIEve is undoubtedly unique. What other magic show on the planet features the kind of stomach-churning stunts that put the magician in very real danger at least once an episode? Criss Angel once attached himself to fish hooks and a helicopter to fly through the desert, proving once again that mind really does trump matter. That kind of wildness isn't seen in any other magic show. And another unique aspect is the unusual pattern of the show mostly being filmed during the nighttime. This might be due to the fact that the show is produced in Las Vegas, or because the tone of the show is altogether a little darker than other magic shows. Either way, Criss Angel is a one-of-a-kind magician.
The Carbonaro Effect Review
What do you get when you put together a hidden camera show and a magic show? The Carbonaro Effect. In each half-hour episode, Michael Carbonaro performs baffling tricks on people in everyday situations, all caught on hidden camera. Whether the marks are alone or with friends, everyone is left stunned and delighted, even though they have no idea what they just experienced. Similarly to the comedic tone mentioned in the Magic for Humans review, the Carbonaro Effect has plenty of funny moments.
Hidden camera shows are usually highly believable, if only by the virtue that the unsuspecting marks have no idea they are being filmed and therefore have no reason to alter their reactions. It's part of what makes reality television so entertaining. But while The Carbonaro Effect certainly is believable in general, there is an underlying feeling of the entire show being about pranks rather than magic.
Michael Carbonaro is the exact type of friendly everyman magician that can pull off a hidden camera magic show. He's friendly and has a certain charisma that works for his type of simplistic sleight of hand magic. Just like Justin Willman from Magic for Humans, Michael Carbonaro has comedic timing that makes his tricks benevolent rather than mean-spirited.
While many of Michael Carbonaro's tricks and set-ups are unique by themselves, the repetition of the show being on hidden camera starts to chafe after a while. Maybe Punk'd has ruined our appreciation for the effort that production crews go to in order to make hidden camera television series a reality, or maybe hidden camera doesn't work as well with the medium of magic shows. Either way, the uniqueness of the show is overall a little bland. It's something you might put on for the kids or use a background noise rather than pay 100% attention to.
Death BY Magic Review
Here's the premise of the show: A magician does incredibly dangerous, potentially fatal, death-defying magic tricks. Death BY Magic is being very literal with its titling, as most of the tricks performed by magician Drummond Money-Coutts have killed other magicians in the past. Just as mentioned in the Magic for Humans review, Death BY Magic is produced by Netflix — but is a decidedly darker take on magic shows. The extremism of Death BY Magic is a decided departure from the thoughtfulness of Magic for Humans.
When you have a magician repeatedly putting his life in danger to perfect tricks that have felled other magicians, how can you do anything except believe that the tricks are real? Death BY Magic is eight episodes of tricks that will have you on the edge of your seat. But skeptics of the show have indicated how doubtful they are that the magician is actually in any real danger. We leave that up to you to decide.
Drummond Money-Coutts is the British magician who travels to locations around the world to attempt feats that have proved fatal to other magicians. Risking your life for the entertainment of the masses suggests a sort of reckless bravery that reminds seasoned magic show viewers of the defiance of Criss Angel. Drummond has that same boldness, but his is performed with a British accent.
There is no other magic show like Death BY Magic. Drummond Money-Coutts is really just going around attempting feats that proved fatal to other magicians. He's taking apart what went wrong once before and then executing the trick flawlessly. Among the tricks Drummond Money-Coutts attempts are trying to escape from a car before it floods with water and attempting to get out of a custom-built coffin — successfully, mind you. What other show is doing that?
We can try to blame Houdini for it, but there is a certain glee we feel when our brains are tricked by a combination of misdirected attention and sleight of hand. We enjoy smoke and mirrors. We are enthralled by mind-bending feats of trickery. It's just a simple fact of human nature.
That is why a show like Magic for Humans is so uniquely unifying. Magic for Humans manages to bring the collective human condition to the forefront of a show that is frequently funny as it is thought-provoking. With Justin Willman as the messenger, Magic for Humans has carved a niche of its own amongst the card tricks and devilish stunts of other magic shows.
We give Magic for Humans a full 5 stars! Watch on Netflix now!