As far as buddy cop procedurals go, “Deception,” which pairs an FBI agent with a magician, wins the award for most original unconventional pairing. It’s “Castle” with tricks. And yet, the silly premise has some charm.
Famous magician Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott) loses his job and his reputation after a mysterious illusionist orchestrates his downfall with a scandalous revelation. He joins forces with FBI Agent Kay Daniels (Ilfenesh Hadera) and using his skills at deception and illusion, works with her to nab hard-to-catch criminal masterminds and to find the magician who destroyed his career.
It’s ridiculous sounding, right? But there is some appeal, although a magician may have to hypnotize you to believe it matters enough to watch this show regularly. The set-up, where Cameron and his team (Lenora Crichlow, Justin Chon, Vinnie Jones) create illusions to catch criminals rather than to trick an audience, has a peak behind-the-curtain element. The audience is in on the deception and gets to see the secret behind the seemingly impossible event.
Rather than a murder-of-the-week with guns procedural, “Deception” is an action show where bad guys are brought to justice when they are literally tricked into confessing or incriminating themselves. Clever deceptions used to commit crimes are common in heist movies. What’s fairly interesting about “Deception” is that it flips the idea and applies it to solving crimes.
Cutmore-Scott puts a lot of energy into playing Cameron and his exuberant performance of the confident showman shaped by life on the stage fits the character. When Cameron’s life falls apart, he has to figure out who he is without the stage but any inner contemplation that revelation might lead to is quickly forgotten when he finds his new performance venue in the form of the FBI.
It’s not really a weakness. This is, after all, a show about a magician who solves crime so complex characterization is not the point. Hadera (“Billions”) is likeable as Kay and her and Cutmore-Scott have chemistry. It’s not hard to imagine that a future will-they-or-won’t-they element might be planned for the characters, which in another show would be cliché but in this one seems about right. Vinnie Jones, as Gunter, brings his usual amiable tough guy exasperation to the part.
The show has a stylish look to it with slick production values and fast-paced editing. In future episodes, hostages are rescued using the art of escapology because, of course!
It’s probably better to focus less on how the writers are going to plausibly apply magic tricks to criminal enterprises every week and more on the idea that they actually take on the challenge. It’s like how MacGyver uses paperclips and rubber bands to set traps and catch bad guys. Why think too hard about it? Sometimes fun is believing that office supplies have a nobler purpose and that the FBI needs the help of a magician to solve crime.
“Deception” is on Sundays at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.