This review of The Magicians contains spoilers. Do not read unless you’ve seen the episode. Or, do whatever you want, it’s your life.
Syfy must really love us because we got a special sneak peak at their new show The Magicians after Childhood’s End on Wednesday night. Not due to hit the small screen until January 8th (technically), this early release of the pilot caused quite a stir when Lev Grossman, the writer of the trilogy on which the show is based, tweeted about it only a few weeks ago.
The show is, to this fan of the books, everything I wanted and more. The easiest way to describe Grossman’s novels is to say they are The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter all rolled up into one, but for grown-ups. If this first episode is any indication, the show is going to continue to deliver on this promise over the first season. Not only does it stick pretty faithfully to the spirit of the books, it beautifully brings to life things I’d only previously imagined in my head.
That is Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), protagonist of our story, doing his very first act of magic. The show will follow Quentin and his friends and classmates on their journey through a magical education and their subsequent adventures in a very real world where magic is also very real. This first episode is a great introduction to Quentin and the characters who make up the core magical inner circle —as well as a few side characters that readers will immediately recognize. But before all that, let me point out a few things that will be different. (Though in no way a detriment to the series itself.)
The producers of the show recognized that adapting a book that covered four years of time into a single season of television would be next to impossible, so the show does not start out with the characters in high school. Instead, Syfy has aged the characters up: now, Quentin and Co. are all post-collegiates entering graduate school. Likewise, for reasons I still don’t understand, they renamed one of the female characters (but I’ll let you figure out which one). Perhaps the deviation from the books I find most interesting and noticeable is that of Quentin’s pre-magical school best friend Julia (Stella Maeve), whose role has been increased significantly in this story from the very beginning. In the books, she’s a side note until the second installment, but here Julia is, for lack of a better term, a hedge witch without the luxury of the same kind of elite, formal education Quentin and his friends at Brakebills University receive over the course of the story. While Quentin’s magic will always be polished, hers will always be slightly chaotic. While my one true criticism of the pilot episode is for her story line (see below), I think she’s going to become one of my favorite characters in the end.
The Magicians first episode did a pretty solid job of introducing or alluding to all our major players for the first storylines. Quentin is troubled and a bit troubling. Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is clearly damaged and unbelievably talented. Elliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil) remain the life of the party while providing Quentin with a Janice/Damian dynamic a la Mean Girls. Penny (Arjun Gupta) is cocky, talented, and borderline obnoxious. And Julia is on the outside, where she is meant to be at this point. Her storyline did provide me with the only “oh hell no” moment of my viewing because, of course, the girl has to have rape waved over her head as a threat in order to scare her magic out of her hands. (Can’t we be done with that?)
The episode certainly left me wanting more with a cliffhanger that would spoil things if I reveal more than the word “beast” so I’m eager for January to get here already so I can see more. Until then, maybe make The Magicians some of your required reading over your holiday break. And if you need to talk about it — because I had a hard time shutting up about it when I read it — hit me up on Twitter!
What did you think of the premiere episode? Hungry for more of The Magicians? Let us know in the comments and stay glued to Nerdist.com to read all about Managing Editor Alicia Lutes’ trip to the set.
Images/GIFs via Syfy