On truTV, 'The Carbonaro Effect' Stands Out As An Early Summer Treat

Summer doesn’t officially begin until a week from Saturday, but in television -- a medium in which seasons still count for something -- it began the day after the May sweeps came to an end.

Many new series have debuted and many veteran shows have returned on broadcast and basic cable networks and streaming services since late May -- and there are many more to come in the weeks ahead. A lot has been written about most of those that are already with us, and many of them are enjoying appreciable buzz. But my early summer favorite doesn’t seem to be getting very much coverage at all, so maybe I can help to get things rolling.

I’m referring to truTV’s “The Carbonaro Effect,” a funny observational reality series starring actor and mind-bendingly talented magician Michael Carbonaro that recalls all sorts of hidden camera shows, especially the timeless classic “Candid Camera,” which debuted way back in 1948 and has been revived numerous times since then. In fact, new episodes of “Candid Camera” are slated to join TV Land’s lineup later this summer.

“The Carbonaro Effect” likely wouldn’t be a thing had it not been for Carbonaro’s recurring appearances during the final years of Jay Leno’s run as host of “The Tonight Show.” He was frequently featured as the Magic Clerk in pre-taped bits filmed at a convenience store in which he charmed shoppers with his bright smile and winning personality and then slowly freaked them out with increasingly strange sight gags and stunts -- like taking a box of eggs that a customer had chosen to purchase and revealing that at least one of them contained a live baby chick, to mention one of his less crazy tricks.

Similarly, his truTV series is mostly (but not exclusively) comprised of carefully prepared scenarios in which Carbonaro passes as a customer service person of some kind who gently fools ordinary (and, I believe, very gullible) people into believing the wildest things. In one instance he had a woman convinced that a box in which a basketball had been shipped also contained a bowling ball, even though the box was only big enough to barely fit one of the two. In another, he convinced a woman that with the help of a special oil ground coffee could be returned to whole bean form.

I’ve always been a very willing fan of magic and visual tricks -- the bigger the better, with no questions asked -- which probably explains why I have appreciated the work of Criss Angel for so long. On “The Carbonaro Effect” the tricks are relatively small (at least when compared to Angel’s crazy Las Vegas stunts) and perhaps even modest, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating to watch. And unlike stunts by Criss Angel, David Copperfield, David Blaine and other big-name magicians, Carbonaro’s tricks are always funny (like they are on “Candid Camera”). That has as much to do with the way Carbonaro plays them as with the tricks themselves.

The charming Carbonaro has put together a light, happy, funny show that qualifies as perfect summer entertainment. The more I watch, the more I wonder why NBC didn’t identify this guy as a keeper when he was a semi-regular on “Tonight” and perhaps keep him connected to that franchise when Jimmy Fallon replaced Jay Leno and the show moved from Los Angeles to New York. Fallon is very easygoing and entertaining and all, but now and then it would be nice to see him fully turn over a few minutes of the show to other funny folks, like Carbonaro, and add something different to the “Tonight” experience. Leno knew how to share the spotlight. Fallon will get there. Recalling Carbonaro would be a nice place to start.

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