Reviews: The Magicians - Episode 1 and 2 - Unauthorized Magic/The Source of Magic

Mike begins his review of the new series, The Magicians on SyFy. 

My favorite band is The Verve Pipe.
Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy of novels provided a very different view of magic and the young people who practice it than had ever previously been portrayed.  They focus on the journey of troubled Quentin Coldwater from college age to young adulthood, as he discovers and then grows into his newfound magical talents.  Though it is often referred to as a Harry Potter or Narnia for adults, The Magicians is actually more complex than that, with its flawed characters forced to not only learn from their mistakes but be forced to truly suffer their occasionally tragic consequences.  The gorgeously written, cinematic stories always seemed destined to be adapted to other media, and though the detailed descriptions of the lands explored in the books seemed to call out for a big screen presentation, they have instead been turned into a series on the Syfy channel.  Only two episodes into The Magicians TV series, very little if anything appears to have been lost in the translation.

The premiere episode "Unauthorized Magic" introduces us to Quentin (Jason Ralph), an enthusiast of simple street magic (and a series of Narnia-like childrens' novels set in the magical land of Fillory) who goes from a potential grad school interview for Yale to discovering a whole new world.  Quentin is accepted into the magical Brakebills University, where he's about to learn just how real and dangerous magic can be.  Meanwhile, Quentin's good friend Julia (Stella Maeve) doesn’t pass Brakebills' rigorous entrance exam, but finds a much different gateway into the world of magic.  The follow-up episode "The Source of Magic" has Quentin dealing with the harsh circumstances of using his gift irresponsibly, while Julia begins to learn more about her own mysterious new group.

That there is some fine sculpting.
At first glance The Magicians seems like an odd fit for a network that specializes mostly in dense hard sci-fi and the occasional schlocky horror flick.  But The Magicians, like most of Syfy's other original shows, is more about complex, relatable characters living within a fantastical situation and applying real world know-how to their fantastical situations.  The result is a show that defies and transcends its sci-fi/fantasy tag and tells an engaging story that fascinates and intrigues its viewer. In the case of The Magicians, it helps not only to have a great selection of pre-existing characters, but to find the right young cast to play them.  The Magicians excels here.  Quentin Coldwater is a complex, interesting character, one that would demand a lot from the actor chosen to play him.  Jason Ralph rises to the occasion and delivers a pitch-perfect performance as a Quentin any die-hard fan would've pictured in their own heads.  Quentin is emotional but not "emo", troubled but not depressed, humored but not necessarily acerbic, and Ralph plays this flawlessly.  The rest of the cast is equally well-suited to their parts, and while there are a few notable changes and omissions, these ARE the characters, straight from the pages.

One of the more interesting things about the Magicians universe is its treatment of magic; while in the Potter universe and most others magic excellence is reserved only for those born into it, The Magicians presents magic as a talent that some simply have a better aptitude for than others, opening up the possibility for some to truly excel.  The Magicians builds on this to create a fascinating world for its characters to live in, one full of as much danger as wonder, and just the right amount of human element to allow its inhabitants to understand that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.  The Magicians TV series already appears to have captured this fascinating world and translated it brilliantly from Grossman's imagination (and the readers') into a colorful, exciting reality.  If the first two episodes are any indication, watching the world of The Magicians unfold onscreen should be quite a spellbinding sight to behold.

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Unauthorized Magic: 8/10
The Source of Magic: 8/10

-Mike Stec