Magic and television are often a bad mix. ‘Wizard Wars,’ Syfy’s newest magic themed reality competition show, has potential, but it just isn’t that captivating when all is said and done. The show’s format is a mix of familiar aspects from various other entertainment reality TV shows, and it does very little to distinguish itself or create a niche.
The show begins with a competition round between two pairs of aspiring magicians with the catch that they must create an act with a number of preselected items that are sprung on them right before. It is basically Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ with magic props instead of food. They do show a bit of footage of the magician pairs working with the props and their creative process, but to keep the upcoming magic show full of surprises they purposely only give a taste. This is the problem with magic based reality television shows. They must balance between the mystifying and the behind the scenes realism. In most cases, and ‘Wizard Wars’ is no exception, the balance favors the magic over the real. This would not be a problem, if it was not for the emphasis the show gives to challenging the magicians and then judging their ability to cope. It would nice to actually see them coming up with the tricks and dealing with the curveballs rather than just seeing the fruits of that labor.
The second, and final, competition round takes the winner of the first “war,” as decided in non dramatic fashion by the panel of expert judges, and puts them into a faceoff against a pair of expert “wizards.” This round feels like a move from ‘Chopped’ to ‘Iron Chef.’ The format of the round is largely the same as the previous, with the pairs being given a number of random objects they must use to create a magic routine. The addition of having to compete against professionals is interesting, but the challengers are themselves fairly accomplished magicians so it is hard for the uninitiated to notice any blaring differences between the groups.
There are four judges (well, three if you count Penn and Teller as one, and it is unclear if they vote as bloc or separately, though Teller maintains his trademark silence). All of the judges are either expert magicians or magic critics. It is unclear what the difference between the expert magician judges and the expert “wizards” really is, if any, other than maybe the fact that the judges have a bit more fame. Needless to say the judges know a lot about magic. Again, this isn’t a problem except that their insider knowledge coupled with the show’s limited glimpses into the backstage planning of the competitors leaves the viewer feeling like another random audience member at a magic show. There’s a lot more under the surface that is never explained or commented on that in similar reality shows would be front and center.
The judge’s and their comments, in general, seem fairly useless. Most seemed more apt to compliment a trick straight away rather than offer any sort of criticism or questioning. None of the winner announcements had any suspense and there was no real criteria given as to why the judges decide the way they do.
Like similar shows, the commercial breaks are ushered in with a coming soon clip roll. Most of these made the upcoming segments seem drama filled and risqué with something happened that had the judges up in arms. Most of these were insanely fabricated and beyond misleading. There was no hint of such drama anywhere in the show, which in itself explains why they probably felt the need to sensationalize.
‘Wizard Wars’ does have the potential to be a good show if it makes its borrowed formats work for it. Magic can be entertaining (the examples demonstrated in the show are gripping and mesmerizing), but the mysterious nature of magic offers a lot of hurdles for a reality competition TV show. People who are entertained watching expertly performed magic will like the show immensely. Anyone looking for more depth and a backstage look at what goes into the competition will find it wanting.