A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there's good reason for the multiple warnings that accompany this reality competition series, as the mentalists often do dangerous (even life-threatening) things as part of their act -- like sticking their extremities in animal traps or playing Russian roulette with nail guns. Some contestants talk almost excitedly about getting a rush from conquering pain and cheating death. Other acts touch on the ideas that people can defy the laws of gravity, read minds, and talk to the dead. Some of the acts -- which are designed to amaze adults -- may confuse, frustrate, and even frighten kids when they can't be adequately explained. Be prepared to remind young aspiring magicians and illusionists not to try the stunts at home.
What's the story?
PHENOMENON is to mentalists what American Idol is to aspiring singers: a chance to showcase their talents, gain widespread exposure, get feedback from the pros, and compete for a sizable cash prize. The NBC reality series pits 10 of the world's top mentalists against one another; two are eliminated each week by viewers' online and phone votes. In each episode, the contestants perform their acts, then get professional critiques from illusionist Criss Angel (Criss Angel Mindfreak) and master mentalist Uri Geller. The series is filmed live in front of an audience, and stars like Carmen Electra, Rachel Hunter, and Raven-Symone are among the guest assistants who lend a hand during the performances.
Is it any good?
The mentalists' personalities are as varied as their supernatural specialties, which focus on paranormal abilities like ESP, levitation, mind control, and talking to the dead. Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, chances are your heart will race when one of the performers reveals a series of random numbers he predicted or another puts a nail gun to his temple in a dangerous game of Russian roulette, staking his life on his ability to read inflections in an assistant's voice. For at-home doubters, host Tim Vincent pre-empts the inclination to cry "phony" with assurances that there are no retakes and absolutely no camera tricks involved. (Try to keep that in mind as you attempt to absorb what you're seeing!)
Phenomenon is mind-testing entertainment that thrill-seekers are sure to enjoy, but be careful about sharing it with young kids, as this isn't a family-friendly magic show with rabbits popping out of hats. Many of these acts are dangerous enough to be accompanied by multiple warnings against imitation (a man tests his pain tolerance by putting his hand in a bear trap, for example), and concepts like ESP and communicating with the dead may be frightening to kids and some tweens. If kids do watch, be prepared to answer their questions (to the best of your ability, that is!) about how illusions are created and tricks of this caliber are done. And it's worth repeating the warnings against trying the stunts, since the danger factor is often lost amid the audience's -- and viewers' -- excitement.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the supernatural. Do you believe in ESP, mysticism, and paranormal activity? Do you think some people are gifted in this area and others aren't? How else could the mentalists' stunts be explained? Why do you think they put themselves in danger so often? Families can also discuss whether a show like this is "responsible" television. Do you think the show's many warnings adequately describe the dangerous acts acts? Will these warnings dissuade kids from trying similar stunts? Does celebrating this type of entertainment diminish the dangers involved?