The Magicians – Should You Be Watching?

The Magicians

THE MAGICIANS, ‘UNAUTHORIZED MAGIC’ PLOT SUMMARY:

Based on the book of the same name. Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) and his friend Julia (Stella Maeve) are magically teleported to Brakebills Academy, where they take an exam to test their magical capabilities. Quentin passes but Julia does not, leaving her devastated. To further complicate matters, Quentin begins receiving visions of a mysterious fairy tale land called Fillory.

I came into the series preview (aired in December) knowing virtually nothing. I didn’t watch any promotions or read about the source material. The show is based on a popular book series that I had never heard of beforehand. As I have mentioned before, Syfy shows and movies are either purposely bad or are actually supposed to be good. Notice that I said, “supposed.” Some don’t really hit the mark. But since I didn’t watch anything before this preview, I had no concrete expectation. My only question was how good a show could be if it’s based off some unknown book.

THE MAGICIANS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Stella Maeve as Julia, Summer Bishil as Margo, Hale Appleman as Eliot, Jason Ralph as Quentin, Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice, Arjun Gupta as Penny -- (Photo by: Lorenzo Agius/Syfy)
THE MAGICIANS — Season:1 — Pictured: (l-r) Stella Maeve as Julia, Summer Bishil as Margo, Hale Appleman as Eliot, Jason Ralph as Quentin, Olivia Taylor Dudley as Alice, Arjun Gupta as Penny — (Photo by: Lorenzo Agius/Syfy)

Well, I can admit that I was pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say that it didn’t take me some time to get into it. In fact, the first few minutes of the preview are pretty confusing. It’s unclear at first what’s happening in the present and what’s a flashback, though I guess the present is really a flashforward. It’s not that important, honestly. Once you get past the convoluted structure of the opening, things start to get interesting.

It’s in these moments that The Magicians starts to feel familiar. In fact, it first seems like light plagiarism, considering we see a group of siblings go through a magical wardrobe that leads to a fantastical world. As I was watching this, I was questioning whether things would actually go down like they do in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They don’t, for the record, for now at least.

The sense that this was a story I knew was only compounded by the introduction of Brakebills Academy. Can you say Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? It’s not a stretch in the slightest. The only real differences are the level of education and the entrance exam. Brakebills looks for people with potential, but weeds out the duds from the real magicians with a few tests. The bigger discrepancy between the two institutions is the atmosphere outside of class, which involves parties and classmates hooking up in their dorms. If Hogwarts was a real place, that would probably happen there too, but kids read those books, so that stuff isn’t mentioned (as far as I remember). Besides, college activities tend to happen on a larger scale.

With all these comparisons, it might sound like I didn’t enjoy the preview. But that’s not true. I just mention all the similarities because if you are going to watch any of this show, you’re definitely going to notice them. What sets this show apart is the actual plot. A lot of the intrigue can be attributed to Quentin’s visions of Fillory, which is a place that’s only supposed to exist in books that’s he’s read. Apparently there’s something much more significant than just the school going on, according to Quentin’s visions. I guess he’s important, for some reason.

Photo by: Rodolfo Martinez/Syfy
Photo by: Rodolfo Martinez/Syfy

As a protagonist Quentin is likable enough. He’s a fish out of water so he’s not some master magician. Stories like this usually work well with person like that. His friend Julia is not as interesting, but her storyline might lead to some cool places. Though if I had choose between her and Quentin’s classmate Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), when it comes to who will go on adventures with Quentin, I’d definitely pick Alice. Her knowledge of magic makes her a more useful character.

It should also be noted that the villains, whoever they are, have frightening powers. It’s unclear what they want, but considering how they use their magic, it can’t be anything good. I’m a little surprised the moment that I’m talking about got through censors, though this is cable (and even some broadcast series push the envelope nowadays), and show also has quite a bit of language. I always forget there are words you can say on TV now.

So, should you be watching?

Well, personally, I might watch the next episode, just to see what happens. But I will say though that the show severely needs to drop the school sometime this season, because I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies and I don’t need a repeat. Fillory looks like a more exciting place. Hopefully Quentin, Julia, Alice, and the villains will all meet there.

RATING: 7.0 OUT OF 10 (GOOD)

THE MAGICIANS 2-HOUR PREMIERE AIRS JANUARY 25TH ON SYFY

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Aaron Sarnecky is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, among other things. He is a graduate of Rowan University with a degree in Television and Film. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronSarnecky