Phenomenon

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8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24
NBC

As if we didn't have quite enough self-flagellating cheese in primetime, now we get this spiritually inert NBC exercise in extrasensory mumbo-jumbo that plays like "American Idol" on hallucinogens.

Mentalists, mystifiers and "paranormalists" (there's a new one) take to the stage in this live series to convince three particularly lame celebrity assistants, a pair of supernatural professionals and a skeptical America that they are the real mental deal. Whoever is most successful at winning over voters at home -- permitted to cast 10 ballots apiece if they wish -- will take away a grand prize of $250,000 and the title of "next great mentalist." I think an imaginary trophy is also part of the package.

Of the four competitors on Night 1 of "Phenomenon," one was impressive in a "Wow, he's really insane!" kinda way, and the other three were more annoying than anything else.

With the Welsh-born host, Tim Vincent, tapping the proper momentous vibe in tandem with a darkened stage bathed in surrealistic hues, the show's rotating cast of C-list celebrity guest helpers included Carmen Electra, Rachel Hunter and the insipidly flamboyant Ross "Ross the Intern" Mathews, with spoon-bender Uri Geller and cool dude Criss Angel (host of A&E's "Mindfreak") assessing the relative abilities of the participants. Those competitors in¬cluded a guy who planted the idea of being touched into a blindfolded Electra's mind, another who snared his fingers in a deer trap while proclaiming to feel no pain, a third who performed a phone book number trick and a fourth who successfully played Russian roulette with six nail guns pointed one by one at his temple. Only the latter was truly convincing. The others spoke really loudly and moved about the stage frantically, unwittingly impersonating children with ADD.

If there is one thing we can take away from "Phenomenon," however, it's the drilled-home understanding that under no circumstances should we ever try any of this at home. In fact, we shouldn't even watch it. Consider me utterly convinced. But we'd best get used to it. Once the WGA goes on strike, this is likely to be about as good as it gets.
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