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The Watchman: ‘Carbonaro’ Tries New Tricks on truTV, ‘Motherland’ Showcases Horgan’s Hot Hand

Season Four of The Carbonaro Effect starts on truTV May 17, with master prankster Michael Carbonaro offering a fresh batch of tricks and stunts. “The show runs the gamut from completely silly,” Carbonaro said, “to making someone believe we transport through time.”

Indeed, one stunt, shot at the Chicago History Museum, employs a large machine that Carbonaro described as a “revamped Tesla coil” for time travel. An electrician plugs it in, then “vaporizes into thin air,” Carbonaro said. The electrician then turns up in an old newspaper story about the coil, posted next to it.

Carbonaro described the trick as “a full-on cinematic story we crammed into two and a half minutes.”

Another one: A man helps Carbonaro pack up stuff in a barn that Carbonaro’s family once owned. As the man packs, a random guy turns up to chat, then disappears, leaving a scarecrow in his wake. Carbonaro then shows the man a photograph of his grandfather — the same fellow that showed up in the barn for a chat a moment before.

“The show teeters the line between comedy and The Twilight Zone,” Carbonaro said.

He counts among his influences Steven Spielberg and David Copperfield. Carbonaro mentions presenting Copperfield with a Magician of the Decade award recently. “It was a chance for me to tell David how he shaped my creative magic forces,” Carbonaro said.

Dark comedy Motherland, from Sharon Horgan, has started on streaming service Sundance Now. Horgan is the star and creator of Amazon’s lethally funny Catastrophe, and executive produces HBO’s Divorce as well.

"Motherland," on  streaming service Sundance Now

"Motherland," on  streaming service Sundance Now

Motherland is about what stay-at-home moms do when the rest of the planet’s inhabitants go off to work or school. Graham and Helen Linehan wanted to write about “that particular time of day when the only people around are generally moms,” Horgan said. “It’s how you survive that kind of situation, the tribe you form to get you through it in one piece.”

Anna Maxwell Martin stars. What stands out about Motherland, besides Maxwell Martin’s frantic performance and its mix of anxiety and humor? “I don’t feel like there’s much on TV that shows friendship of women that particular age,” Horgan said. “And we’re quite prepared to show mothers f---ing up.”

The show has performed way better than expected on the BBC, said Horgan, prompting moms to ask each other what kind of mother they are — a Liz (chaotic, but gets the job done) or a Julia (total spaz)?

Horgan is the mother of a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old. Is she a Liz or a Julia? “I want to be a Liz,” she said. “But I’m probably more of a Julia.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.