This was billed on Magicweek as "the magic tricks that failed to impress" but actually turned out to be a top twenty countdown in Monkey Magic "Greatest tricks in the universe ever" stylee looking at the more grotesque and shocking tricks. As is always the case with this kind of format it really translated into the twenty bits of footage Sky were able to secure, but the other irritating fashion of this format as seen on terrestrial television, the continuous interventions by third rate comedians billed as "magic fans", were mercifully absent.
There were still the interview cuts for each segment (come now, you didn't think you'd get to see uninterrupted routines now, did you?) but they weren't as intrusive as usual and were all with either magicians or first hand live witnesses, where possible the magicians concerned. While some of these were firmly in "talking to the laymen" mode and therefore not particularly informative, others were more forthcoming; Jerry Sadowitz for example credits Roy Walton for the elimination card trick that inspired his Nazi routine, names the book and even takes down a copy from the shelf and shows the relevant page to the camera to illustrate his point. The program as a whole did a good job of putting the focus back on the magicians and away from the irritating interruptions we've had to endure from Jenny Eclair and Trev and Simon on similar programs.
It began with a strange choice in John Lenahan's "vanishing nuclear cooling towers". Fun routine as it is, I wouldn't call it a particularly sick outing (I'd have gone for Lenahan's Russian Roulette/Cheating The Gallows combo instead), and it doesn't really set the stall out as it might. So enter Tom Moliker (sp?) at number 19 with his cigarette eating routine, definitely more apt in setting up the gross out nature of this show.
Number 18 turns out to be David Blaine hacking his ear off during the press conference prior to "Above the below", with reaction from a Mirror journalist who concluded "an ear is a simple thing to pretend to chop off". Honestly, you just can't satisfy some people.
Regurgitator Stevie Starr is at number 17, during the interview for which he shares that he used the same goldfish onstage for three and a half years, which lived for a total of seven and a half years. Though would it have remembered what was going to happen to it each night, I wonder?
Jerry Sadowitz makes the first of two appearances at number 16 with his "prostitutes" card trick, before The Amazing Jonathan and Sandra the Psychic turn up at 15.
"Mine has been a long a strange journey", muses Jonathan. "A lot of people were injured".
Australian fakir The Amazing Orchanté is at number 14 with his twine from the stomach routine. You get to see his scar from doing it all these years too.
Three versions of knife through the arm share the number 13 slot; Barry Jones' bloody concert violinist on a park bandstand treatment, Hans Moretti's down the middle approach and The Amazing Jonathan's "fake/real/fake/real/fake" routine. Wot no Simon Drake?
A trick gone wrong occupies the number 12 slot as Maga Anadela's ill-fated dynamite trunk escape is presented. Sky (never a network too bothered by ethics or morality) at least stopped short of choosing footage of a fatal escape attempt for this slot (of which footage does exist, such as the infamous Buried In Cement attempt by a fatally ill-prepared Brazillian performer).
Back to intended shock at number 11 with Harry Anderson's Saturday Night Live Guinea Pig routine, before Barry Jones and Stuart McCloud perform a little pub surgery at number 10 with their vanished and rediscovered mobile phone routine.
Then at number 9 it's the legendary buzzsaw gory routine by Richiardi. Legendary is right unfortunately, seeing it now it's hard to imagine the impact it had at the time, except that it marked the first use of presenting the routine as an apparent murder with blood (Sorcar's 1956 televised version predated Richiardi in terms of not reviving the the assistant, though that occasion was due to a magnificent fluke of live TV scheduling which turned the appearance into TV history).
Number 8 finds Teller with a woodchipper and a white rabbit, before Hans Moretti's crossbow routine (not with Helga, unfortunately) comes in at 7. Fukuzniki (my best attempt at spelling the name of this Russion trio) perform a bloodless, bladeless bisection effect at 6, followed by Monkey Magic's Monkey Boy's cut and restored worm effect performed at a girls' school at number 5.
Jim Rose Sideshow Circus' Lucy Fire arrives at 4 with her superb human angle grinder routine.
"If people are watching you torture yourself onstage, they want to see you enjoying it", she explains. Amen, sister!
The top three begins with Jerry Sadowitz's nazi-inspired version of card elimination, with Penn and Tellers' "Animatronic Teller" sawing in half at 2 and Simon Drake's version of Impaled in the top spot.
All in all a good show; some of the choices seemed a bit random but I cannot emphasise what a relief it is to have a show like this without irrelevant comedians shoehorned in. Maybe this was a fluke to do with available budget and appearance fees, but happy accident or none, it worked well.