Like the man it’s named after, Mindfreak is a bit difficult to classify: part stunt show, part magic act, and part reality show, Mindfreak tries to be several things at once and ends up stretching itself too thin. Each episode is centered around what Angel calls a “demonstration,” such as making a 4,200 mile jump across the Grand Canyon on a T-Rex hybrid motorcycle or mass vanishing more than 100 people in an attempt to win a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. The show deliberately refrains from calling these demonstrations stunts and that’s probably a good thing because I couldn’t help but think of Evel Knievel while watching this season.
The demonstrations take place as the climax of the episode, so the majority of the hour is taken up with watching Angel and his crew set up for it while cutting away at times to either brief comments by the magician’s brother, manager, or crew member, or to small exhibitions of up-close magic he calls “Mind Freaks.” Those moments of up-close magic were my favorite part of the show and they—more than the demonstrations—really show off his talent. Angel takes pains to make sure that the audience knows that there isn’t any camera trickery involved. When performing his Mind Freaks a label appears in the corner of the screen, saying, “continuous shot,” and Angel often talks directly to the camera, assuring us that the only trickery involved is the good, old fashioned kind.
This points to one of the weaknesses of the show, namely that it is hyper conscious that it is a television program and that the audience will always suspect a bit of camera chicanery. Unfortunately, by constantly reassuring us that what we’re seeing is good, old-fashioned magic, he keeps that specter of doubt in our minds. Often when people actively insist that they aren’t doing something that’s when they really are. I’m not saying that that’s what’s going on with this show, but it never allows for us to forget that everything we’re seeing might not be on the level.
Another problem is Angel’s lack of stage presence. He’s fashioned himself as a type of grunge magician, forgoing the tuxedos and other standard magician garb for loose t-shirts, ball caps, and leather pants. He dresses more like Mick Jagger than Houdini. That in and of itself isn’t a problem, but he lacks the verbal gymnastics that for me are the hallmarks of the best magicians. His voice is typically un-inflected, and in general his speech lacks a certain razzle-dazzle that fascinates the audience and lulls them into a trance. His strengths seem to like more in the technical aspects of magic than in the presentation. I hate criticizing him for this because he seems like a nice guy. He genuinely appears to love magic (his idol is Doug Henning, a name that’s largely been forgotten by popular culture and a magician whose style is a complete 180 from Angel’s), and part of the show is just him hanging around with his family and friends, which often makes for some sweet moments.
It could be that magic doesn’t do well on television, or perhaps not in a weekly series format. Whatever the reason, Criss Angel Mindfreak often left me cold. Its hyper-conscious referral to its format, Angel’s lackluster presence, and the presentation of the setup for the large demonstration take away some of the mystery of magic—and a great deal of the fun.
Each episode is presented full screen with the audio in Dolby Digital Stereo. In terms of quality the show looks and sounds fine.
“The Secrets Behind Criss Angel’s Tricks” is pretty fun, reminiscent of those “Rainy Day Fun” segments that used to run on kid’s programs back when I was one. In each episode Angel demonstrates a mindfreak that you can learn. He shows the trick and then tells the audience to go to his or A&E’s website to find out how to do it. This extra takes both the segments from the episodes and the videos posted on the web and present them together. Now I have the dexterity of a drunken yak, so I didn’t try any of them, but they did look like fun party tricks.
Criss Angel seems like a nice guy, but his show really didn’t appeal to me. His up-close magic is great, but his stage presence is lacking. The demonstrations are amazing, but we see too much of the behind-the-scenes work. Essentially, the show tries to do too many things at once, taking away from the overall effect. Not recommended.
A&E Television Networks presents Criss Angel Mindfreak: Season 6. Directed by: Criss Angel. Starring: Criss Angel. Running time: 4 hours 24 minutes. Rating: NA. Released on DVD: January 11, 2011.