What’s Worth Watching: American Masters’ Magic Act

Ricky Jay
Courtesy of Theo Westenberger/Autry Museum/PBS
Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay: Deceptive Practice (Friday, Jan. 23, 9/8c, PBS)

In nearly 30 seasons of captivating biographies, American Masters has never turned its focus on the art of illusion. But how could anyone resist Ricky Jay, the fiendishly clever sleight-of-hand show-stopper? Not only is he a true “master” of his craft, wielding and flinging cards to an audience’s delight, but he’s also an undyingly enthusiastic student and scholar of the magic trade.

Jay’s reminiscences of past masters who helped chart his own path illuminate Deceptive Practice. Terrific clips show Jay performing as a precocious child on local TV in the mid-1950s and hitting his stride in the ’70s as a long-haired guest on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and the daytime Dinah! (where he’s seen foiling Steve Martin’s mischievous attempt to foil his card trick.) Jay is a wonderful raconteur with a great story about the enduring appeal of magic. How does he do it? He’ll never tell.