The first season of Syfy’s The Magicians finished up last week. It wasn’t perfection like The Expanse but there’s more positive to dwell on than negative. Let’s review, shall we?
The Magicians series was something I tore through. Part of it was Grossman’s superb pacing but also I found the idea of a more adult and far more self-aware Harry Potter/Narnia fascinating. The protagonists start out as whiny, self-involved, gifted college kids and grow into adults, maturing as they find the world of magic is far darker and complicated than they believed. Also, there was a lot of sex.
There’s a lot of deviation from the books. Julia’s saga gets moved from book two to season one which did seem to work. It gives the viewer a gritty contrast to the magical academia in Brakebills. Janet’s name was changed to Margo, I suppose to make it easier for viewers to not confuse her with Julia. The episodes were more episodic, ever mindful of the greater arc but resolving themselves every episode. And then there’s a host of other discrepancies, some no doubt due to the show’s budget and time constraints, some due to changing from one medium to another, and some due to just writers/showrunners having a different version. One thing that really worked was moving the characters from just having finished high school to grad school students. Having actors age that much would have been an unreasonable burden.
The casting is sometimes great. Jason Ralph nails Quentin’s “precious snowflake” persona and Hale Appleman IS Eliot, utterly convinced in his own creation of himself while finally acknowledging that something in him is fundamentally broken. Stella Maeve had a difficult role as Julia. She starts her journey as whiny and entitled but by the end got fueled by something deeper and darker. All in all, I saw no missteps in the cast and some bit characters got inhabited by actors that went all in (Mackenzie Astin for one, Anne Dudek for another).
There was some evidence again of Syfy trying to push the edge. Plenty of characters drop f-bombs which the network barely mutes (I assume that when these episodes play in Europe the mute gets lifted). Like the book, there’s a whole lotta drinking and drugging but hey there was plenty in the books as well. These ARE college students. And sex. It’s mostly under the covers or partially clothed, there’s not much for nudity. But at least the network doesn’t just imply that Eliot sleeps with men but they actually show it. And the three-way that shatters relationships hinted at in the book is given an actual airing. My wife kept rewinding that because it warmed her slashing shipper heart.
All in all, I’m looking forward to the next season. I hope that the show gets more money to play with because man, those Fillory scenes could have used something far grander and the books only escalate the fantastical from here on out. But as a fan of the books I’m elated. Despite the deviations and limitations, they nailed the spirit of the books. In genre adaptations that’s often what’s missing and this isn’t the case here. So on to next season. If this is indeed the golden age of television and by extension, the golden age of genre television, we have another solid addition to the pantheon.