TV Review: ‘The Magicians’ Gets A Lot Of Things Right

Review by Lauryn Angel

If you didn’t get your letter to Hogwarts when you were eleven, don’t fret; you might have a chance at Brakebills University. But only if you’re good enough.

Brakebills is a school of magic for young adults with potential aptitude for magic. For Columbia graduate Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), it’s what he’s been looking for his entire life. For Quentin’s best friend Julia (Stella Maeve), it haunts her.

If, like me, you’re a fan of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, you probably greeted the news of Syfy’s optioning the books for a series with trepidation. How can the scope of these novels be crammed into one-hour weekly episodes? And will Syfy do the worlds of Brakebills and Fillory justice? And what about the mature content? (Because Brakebills may be a school of magic like Hogwarts, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s late night shenanigans pale in comparison to what Quentin, Eliot, and Margo get up to.)

I have seen the first episode, and while I still have some doubts (Ralph doesn’t quite click for me as Quentin just yet), the show gets a lot of things right. Julia and Eliot (Hale Appleman) are perfectly cast, while the rest of the cast has potential. We don’t see a lot of Fillory in this first episode, but we see enough that I can’t wait to see more. And Brakebills is the perfect combination of college campus and school of magic. The plot does stray from the books a bit, but in many ways it has to, in order to hook the audience quickly. One thing I really liked is that writers Sera Gamble and John McNamara seem to be dipping into the second book, developing Julia’s story parallel to Quentin’s instead of letting it unfold later in the story. But I may be biased here, since Julia is one of my favorite characters from the books.

And the magic? For the most part, the spells in this episode are small, as Quentin and his friends are beginners for the most part. But they are fun – like the scene in which Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) manipulates glass. And the “magic” sex scene might have made more of an impression if it didn’t so closely mirror something I’d already scene in Syfy’s The Expanse. But there are some really stunning scenes visuals here – I won’t spoil it, but the end of the episode has my favorite effect.

The Magicians officially launches on January 25, but you can (and should!) catch an early showing of the first episode on Wednesday, December 16, right after the conclusion of Childhood’s End.

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