Last night Syfy aired their newest (of many, lately) book to television adaptations in a two-episode official premiere of The Magicians. The trilogy by Lev Grossman was a fair hit, but also found mixed reviews right from the get go. The original story may have been influenced by books like The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter but the tone is completely different. I’ve only read the first book and I wasn’t a fan, so we’re going to put those behind us for the sake of these reviews and try to jump into Syfy’s interpretation and simply enjoy. For the sake of the premiere episodes, we’re going to avoid any major spoilers in case you’re not sure yet whether to give this one a try.
Quentin is not a happy guy. Right from the outset of episode one he’s disillusioned with life and still obsessed with his favorite childhood books which follow three siblings and their adventures in the magical world of Fillroy (yes, not exactly a subtle Narnia nod). When he and his best friend Julia go for a grad-school interview and stumble on a dead man, he’s also given a copy of the manuscript of a never published book in the same series, and all at once his life starts to take on a whole new level of interesting. Chasing that same manuscript, he ends up wandering into Brakebills University, as does Julia. Quentin is accepted to the school while Julia is not, and the adventure begins.
So far the characters are interesting enough, even if no one is especially likable. The tone of this show and its cast is nothing like you’d expect for a series that is frequently billed as ‘Harry Potter for grown ups.’ Quentin seems a little drab at times, but by design as he does start to come alive a little more once he reaches Brakebills. The rest of the cast also does a great job of showing us the type of students who are used to being great at everything but can’t always live up to a challenge or too easily fall to boredom. There are a few familiar faces among the cast but mostly of the “hey, don’t I know that guy from somewhere variety.”
There are a few moments in the first episode that are a little silly, and a few more that seem to have been thrown in just to show off how “edgy and dark” the show seems to be trying for, but overall the first episode, “Unauthorized Magic,” does what it’s supposed to, keep you coming back for more. It’s hard to deny that the end of episode one was both great and all kinds of creepy, likely making this one of the most memorable pilots of recent memory. As this is a spoiler free review, we won’t get into the details but you should have a fairly solid idea if this is a show worth watching for you by the end of episode one based off of that ending alone. That ending is also exactly the reason why it was better too have waited until the two-episode premiere night rather than watching the episode one preview earlier this month, because now we get to jump right into episode two, “The Source of Magic.”
Episode two jumps in right where the first left off, but promptly slows down in order to give its characters a little time to breathe. We get to know some of the main players a little more, while also setting up Julia’s parallel story line. The show is already going off in all sorts of directions from the first book, which from my perspective is very much a good thing. So it’s safe to say, book readers or otherwise, it’s going to be hard to guess where the show is going. It looks like it might be a fun ride though, and I’ll absolutely be tuning in again next week.