The Weekend's TV: Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Fri, ITV1
Arctic with Bruce Parry, Sun, BBC2
Dispatches: The Battle for Haiti, Sun, Channel 4

Some new names to conjure with

As the BBC's new show The Magicians is ponderously demonstrating early on Saturday evening, there are only essentially a handful of magic tricks, most of which have been around for hundreds of years.

The business of coming up with something fresh usually lies in concealing the old clockwork under a new casing. The competitors in The Magicians – notionally competing against each other with the help of celebrity assistants – aren't always terribly successful at this, which makes the programme sag distinctly, unless you're 10 years old and can bring an unsmirched innocence to the thing. As ITV revealed the previous night, though, you can successfully liven up a magic show by bringing a bit of jaded, seen-it-all-before scepticism to the affair. In Penn & Teller: Fool Us, one of Las Vegas's most successful magic acts (and dedicated debunkers) challenged a group of British magicians to restore to them the "beautiful, wonderful feeling" of not having a clue how it was done. If they couldn't explain the trick, the act that had successfully bamboozled them would get the opportunity to do a cameo spot in their Las Vegas show. Since they've been in the business for over 30 years – and since they know themselves that most tricks are variations on a handful of basics – they appeared ruefully confident that they weren't going to be bested.

Penn and Teller had nothing to lose frankly – either they confirmed their reputation for conjuring eminence or they got the thrill of something they hadn't seen before. But the acts that appeared before them were taking a genuine risk, exposing their best illusion in a forum that could effectively leave it unrepeatable. The man who appeared to pull the heads off a live chicken and duck and successfully transplant them round got away with it. Penn and Teller knew immediately how it was done, but admired his style anyway. Richard Bellars, who did a brainwashing trick, was less fortunate, since Penn effectively revealed exactly how he'd done it. The next guy, a card-handler, was no more successful. And then – just when you were suspecting that there really was nothing new under the sun – the most unlikely candidate, a comedy magician called John Archer, stumped them with an almost bumbling bit of sleight of hand. "It's what you came for!" Jonathan Ross reminded them when Penn showed his exasperation. "Yes... but not by him!" replied Penn, who'd clearly expected defeat to come in a more dignified form. They also confessed to having been stumped by the details of a card-shuffling trick, though I suspect they'd have worked it out 10 minutes later. The programme definitely pulled off its trick, anyway, and it was a much better one than The Magicians has up its sleeve.

Bruce Parry – who has foisted his cheery presence on remote tribes all over the world – is currently making his way round the Arctic, making gauche small talk with the native people who eke out a living in this ungenerous landscape. Last night, he was in Greenland, where he began by visiting the hunters of Qaanaaq. "Look at your sled!" he said to the man he was going to be billeted on. "Amazing!" Which I assume is a bit like an Inuit broadcaster going up to an Essex builder and saying "Wow! A Ford Transit... I've only ever read about them." The hunter got his revenge by making Bruce eat a bit of raw narwhale fin, not realising that he's something of a hero when it comes to exotic gourmandising. After the hunting party he was with had killed a seal, they descended on the freshly eviscerated carcass as if it was the buffet at a wedding and Parry didn't hold back: "Can't miss an opportunity like this... steamy seal stomach skin... Wow! That is a real taste sensation." He wouldn't go back for seconds of seal's eyeball, he said, but the fact that he'd had even one was mildly impressive. As was his willingness to visit a terrifying zinc mine, the entrance to which was situated halfway up a sheer fjord cliff-face, where off-season climbers were busy clearing the site for the cable car that would allow its riches to be exploited. The thought stirred in you that it was something of a pity that this pristine landscape was about to be industrialised, however tactfully it was going to be done. But then you remembered the words of a seal hunter, protesting at restrictions on his traditional way of life by Western conservationists. "We are friendlier to the environment than polluting countries," he pointed out, with considerable justice. I doubt that Greenlanders like him are getting much say in the development of billion-dollar mining enterprises, but if some of the riches stay in the country it won't be all bad.

Dispatches: The Battle for Haiti offered an unnerving glimpse of what life is like when government – so casually despised in this country – disappears altogether. It told the story of the country's descent into lawlessness, exacerbated by the fact that many of the most violent prisoners in Port au Prince's jails had escaped during the earthquake and are now running the vast tented villages in which the homeless live. There's no justice in the camps – terrorised by thugs who rape and steal – and no justice out of them either. Corruption is rife, so real criminals can usually afford to bribe their way out of jail, while the falsely accused can languish for up to five years waiting for a trial. They need another earthquake, but a social one this time.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas