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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone