Scam City: TV review - undercover crime-buster in New Orleans needs to jazz up his act
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Thursday 16 January 2014
It's not just that the National Geographic documentary series Scam City is a pointless programme, it's that it's also a uniquely irritating one. Whereas most consumer watchdogs investigate scams at the instigation of aggrieved parties, in Scam City presenter Conor Woodman, travels the world looking for trouble and – what's more pitiful – often fails to find it.
This week, Woodman and his badly hidden cameras went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, the time when this beguiling but beleaguered city lets its hair down in an attempt to attract some much needed tourist dollars to the public coffers. Woodman had a tarot reading for $250, was wowed by a street magician, and got sold a plainly dodgy ticket to a masque ball. They all saw him coming a mile off.
It was never enough, however, for Woodman had one specific goal in mind. He wanted to uncover "the razzle dazzle" aka "Cajun bingo", an illegal rigged board game in which tourists are lured into making ever bigger bets with no hope of ever recovering their money. Several people warned Woodman off, but he paid no mind and, on a few occasions, actually chased wary cardsharps down the street, begging them to take his money.
Eventually, he fell in with Holly, a performance artist and "fixer" who walked Bourbon Street topless (unless silver body paint counts as clothing) and was just as naked in her intention to take Woodman for all he was worth.
Not only did Scam City: New Orleans reveal very little about how scams work, it also inadvertently evoked sympathy for the scammers. With his complete lack of subtlety, Woodman was such a tempting mark, Mother Teresa herself couldn't have resisted fleecing him and his own attempts at entrapment were so cack-handed, they made the con artists look like honest, hard-working citizens by comparison. What's the world coming to when you can't run a little three-card monte on the corner without some documentary-maker turning up to ruin everyone's fun?
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