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
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
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.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders