Ever wonder what it would be like if magic was truly real and you were one of the few lucky ones who found out? Well, you’d probably say oh s***. Syfy’s The Magicians brings the realm of spell casting and enchantments into the adult world and it’s ridiculously addictive.
Adapted from Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series, the show tells the story of Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), a young man bored with his ordinary life until he is mysteriously invited to an entrance exam for Brakebills University (Brakebills College For Magical Pedagogy in the novels), an educational institution for the magically inclined. While he was originally 17-years-old in the first book, the character is aged up a little so that he’s in his early twenties as a post-graduate student and it works.
***MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
What makes Quentin so appealing is that he’s like many of us who read to escape reality for a little while. He’s the fanboy that never grew up! When the episode starts, Q is at the hospital talking to his therapist where we learn that he has voluntarily checked himself in for depression. In their conversation however, the young man decides that he’s ready to let go of childish notions and return to the outside world to become a productive member of society. Later on at a party held in his apartment, Quentin is shown as socially awkward individual and spends most of the time alone. He retreats to his room where he reads a first edition copy of The World Within The Walls, the first book in the Fillory series. Here we are first introduced to Julia Wicker (Stella Maeve), one of his best friends and unrequited love interest. Jules is trying to get him to come out of his room and he tells her that he’s just enjoying the book one more time before he sells it on eBay. This is a significant step for Q who had been obsessed with this fictional world since he was a kid. Fillory shares many similarities to the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and Grossman has mentioned in interviews that this is intentional.
While both Julia and Quentin are invited to take the entrance exam at Brakebills, only the latter passes. Q matriculates into the school and begins to learn real magic, leaving behind his old life. Julia on the other hand fails and is supposed to have her memory wiped except that doesn’t quite work out and it begins to take a toll on her psyche. The show illustrates an interesting dynamic between the childhood friends as Julia had been the object of Q’s affections for a long time. She was the one who had her life together while he was struggling to find his place. In the course of the first episode, the tables are turned as both their lives are changed forever. One for the better and the other for the worse.
As we watch the magical journey of these two friends diverge into different paths, audiences are shown that this newfound ability is not the answer to every problem. It can be both a gift and a curse with dire consequences. After all with great power comes great responsibility, except as humans we tend to screw this up all the time.
At Brakebills, we meet the other main characters: shy and gifted Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley), confrontational Penny (Arjun Gupta), and the troublemaking duo Eliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil), who was originally Janet in the books. These magicians curse, drink, smoke, have sex and behave just like any twenty-something in the real world. They have insecurities, family issues, relationship problems, and mental health concerns but that’s what makes them immensely fascinating. It’s this rawness that grounds the show even with all fantastical aspects. One can’t help but relate to these characters because of their many flaws.
This adaptation moves pretty quickly as some significant events happen in this first episode that doesn’t occur until much later in the books, yet the story and tone remains true to Grossman’s world. The Magicians does a great job in merging the drama and fantasy genres while giving audiences a compelling narrative full of the mundane and the wondrous, making it addictive television.
Syfy has been upping their scripted game and The Magicians is another great addition to their lineup. Showrunner Sera Gamble (Supernatural) has done a fantastic job in creating this new magical universe that will draw both fans of the books and newcomers alike. At last all us Harry Potter kids have something new to watch.
The Magicians comes out on January 25, 2016 on Syfy.
Watch our interview with the cast at New York Comic-Con 2015: