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Friday, 6 December 2013

The Happenings: Spooky new series for Watch

With the success of Dynamo and Derren Brown, it seems the British public can’t get enough of fancy pants magic and illusions. But in this day of age of CGI and Photoshop, can a pair of new magicians really convince a whole town that an unlikely event has taken place.

First up, the sleepy town of Stamford gets invaded by UFOs. Or rather, two Scottish magicians, very much the Ant and Dec of magic, make them believe it does.

I’ll be upfront. The illusions are impressive but this series wasn’t my cup of tea. The audience knows that everything is a trick but we never get told how it is done. I’m an analytical person so that’s what I wanted to know. A lot of the illusions made me think I was watching actors or there had been some digital trickery.

It was also increasingly difficult for the magicians to pull the illusions off. Several of the stunts made the internet and they found viral publicity both helpful in convincing people but also that it increased the risk of them being discovered.

I was lucky enough to speak to Stuart, one of the magicians, after the screening and asked him about the likely survival period for the show. He admitted that without the heavy aid of prosthetics it will be impossible for The Happenings to continue beyond the first couple of series. It will be a victim of its own success, as the illusions are reliant on Stuart and Barry not being recognised.

The locations of the other three episodes are top secret but we know the illusions will be based around a psychic army, a vampire curse and unleashing a poltergeist. After filming, Stuart and Barry travelled to America and filmed a series there. The illusions are even bigger and bolder in this series, as the magicians had a better idea of what to do.

But why do it? Some of the stunts pulled are frankly terrifying and the people involved are really traumatised. I was assured that health professionals were hiding behind the scenes ready to stop the trick if anyone got too distressed. Duty of care was paramount at all time and counselling was available after the illusion and the magic explained. Everyone in the town was told at the end what had really happened but even so, some of the scenes make for uncomfortable viewing.

For this reason I hope The Happenings does not get endlessly re-commissioned. If it does the onus will be on Barry and Stuart to create ever more elaborate and extreme stunts, and I think the risk of something unpleasant happening will grow.

I’m not one of these people who think if you watch a gory crime show you will become commit gory crimes, but I do think a certain amount of responsibility is needed when commissioning shows. Barry and Stuart are pleasant gentlemen and undoubtedly very talented, but I think they might end up tipping over the boundaries of good taste.

As I say, not my thing, but if you like being spooked and not being able to believe your eyes, tune in.

The Happenings Starts Monday 9th December at 9.00pm on Watch.
Contributed by Victoria Prior


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