The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a fantasy novel which is one of the few forms of unauthorized spin-off which I approve of. Not quite parody but written with a clear intent to examine themes of the original in a way different from the original. Watchmen took the characters of the Charlton universe to tell a story about superheroism in general. Here, The Magicians takes the premise of the Harry Potter books (a magical boarding school), Narnia (a far-off-magical land visited only by children), then puts a bunch of adults in both to see how they react to the setting assumptions.
When the SyFy channel announced they were adapting the books to television, I was skeptical because the books were short and mostly about dealing with the privileged white male main dealing with how boring he finds the world. The appeal of was the supporting cast more than the lead. So, with the knowledge they would be expanding and altering the main text, I was curious to see what would happen. So, after the first season, what do I think? This is a really entertaining show.
Entertaining but dark.
|These SATs determine whether you learn magic. I'd have studied more if I'd known this was the case.|
The premise is Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) and his friend Julia (Stella Maeve) are a pair of gifted students graduating college with the former dealing with Depression. Quentin's method of dealing with his condition is to retreat into the children's book series Fillory and Further, which is a stand-in for the Chronicles of Narnia. This is already a transformation as the characters are no longer high-school students but fits better for the adult themes they want to address.
|Penny and Kady are two of the most interesting characters in the show. Really, Penny they should be the stars.|
Quentin is stunned by the amazing wealth, power, and privilege on display in Brakebills as well as the opportunities real magic presents. Julia, however, cannot turn herself from the revelation magic is real and destroys all of her relationships as well as torpedoes her promising career opportunities in pursuit of even the smallest grams of magic. This leads to a ruthless group of "hedge wizards" who act more like drug dealers than magicians. The conflict between the haves and have-nots of the wizarding world which is a big part of the season's first half.
|Alice is there for all of our inappropriate Hermione-esque dreams.|
There's a bit of meta-commentary to the fact they took a story which was already "Hogwarts + Narnia for adults" then made it even more adult for broadcasting. There's a lot more sex, violence, betrayal, and adult themes than in the original novel which had a lot more than their source material. I'm not complaining, though. It's just kind of humorous as while the original novel had some dark themes, the series does its absolute best to make being a wizard in college Hogwarts as close to a living hell as possible.
|Julia is a wonderful character and it's great she's been moved to a major role in the series' beginning.|
Quentin remains the weak link of the series with his basic personality being unlikable and withdrawn but having it linked to a medical condition makes me less likely to condemn him for it. Quentin comes off less like an entitled rich kid and more like someone who is desperately trying to hold onto one of the few good things in his life. The rest of the cast is more interesting with Penny being the most likable character. Not only is it nice to see a man of Indian descent portrayed as an intimidating "cool" character with a healthy sex life, he's also just plain likable.
|The Beast is the most terrifying use of moths since Silence of the Lambs.|
World-building fans will note the magic of the series makes no attempt to be consistent or follow a path but is simply "weird and whimsical in a dark world of amoral ruthless people." It's an interesting juxtaposition but will cause a lot of people to turn their heads sideways when things like time-travel, genies, wishes, and other stuff just gets causally brought up without any attention to how it might affect things. This is a series about emotions and characterization versus the way magic works, which is summarized best as, "It just does."
|Alice wandered in from a more idealistic series. Also, no one told her Brakebills doesn't have uniforms.|
The season finale ends on a cliffhanger which doesn't finish the events of the first novel but actually swerves and creates an entirely new plotline. Given I felt the sequel novels were weaker than the original ones, I've got to say I think this was the right call. I think it will frustrate some fans, though, who expected to see more resolution to the storyline's main plot.
|I swear, I think I got my Masters here.|