The Magicians: Season 1 (SyFy) — a review

I’m breaking some sort of Reviewer’s Commandment here by telling you that The Magicians just isn’t really a show for me.

It’s the magic, you see.

Other people have made the assumption about me—as Netflix has—that because I’m drawn to science fiction and fantasy stories, that all it takes to keep my interest is the inclusion of some wizards and witches and a few fanciful creatures. When it comes to swords & sorcery, I tend to lean more heavily on the swords portion of the equation. I don’t mind magical artifacts, cursed or enchanted objects, or the presence of mystical beings or monsters, but magic itself needs to be something difficult to perform and more akin to a technology or science I don’t fully understand (paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke here). I’m thinking about Doctor Strange, with its complicated hand-fu and sense of theater.

I loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, first as an immersive adventure story, and then later as Peter Jackson’s respected movie trilogy. There was a lot of magical things going on in that story. But, Gandalf was impressive because his huge wizard-y moments were kept to a minimum. The Moria sequence with the Balrog and its aftermath were one. The other was his first reappearance as Gandalf the White. Otherwise, he was most famous for pretty fireworks.

I read the first Harry Potter novel when I lived in Memphis, Tennessee, but only because some local churches were burning it. Any book worth burning is worth reading in my opinion. I remember that I liked the novel, and thought it was a harmless book for children. Anything that gets kids to read is okay by me, whether it’s J.K. Rowling, R.L. Stine, or Dr. Seuss. I have it on good authority that the later volumes begin to skew a little more mature, but I’ll probably never know from first-hand experience. Even though I enjoyed the first novel in the series, I never felt compelled to read the sequels.

It’s the magic. Not really my thing.

To me, The Magicians is Harry Potter with a mature rating. Throw in a bit of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, which sound a lot like the Fillory books that Quentin Coldwater has loved since he was a child, and—weirdly—a dash of the X-Men franchise, and give it that whiny, melodramatic spin that seems intrinsic to every show aimed at a certain demographic, and the result is this series.

If that sounds like a harsh judgment to you, I will honestly apologize. Because, even though this was the series I least looked forward watching every week (and I limited myself to one episode per week), I honestly enjoyed each episode that I watched. There’s not much depth to any of the characters in this first season, and all of the actors are too pretty for my tastes, but some genuinely exciting, scary and thought-provoking things happen in the show. The special effects are very good. I thought the Mothman effects of The Beast, with his head formed of a swarm of moths, was genuinely scary. It’s an image that I fully expect to worm its way into my nightmares.

The story itself seems to sprawl a bit too much. While not exactly predictable (which is refreshing in and of itself), it doesn’t seem to have much of a focus through the bulk of the season. There’s a bit of that magic-equals-drugs theme that used to run through Buffy the Vampire Slayer after Willow became a witch. But, there are also actual drugs and lots of casual sex, violence and bad language, because this series isn’t overtly directed at younger children.

A person who began reading the Harry Potter series at age seven when it was first published would now be approaching thirty-years-old. That’s a sobering realization. I’m not even sure if they’re still in the intended demographic for this series, but they’re closer than I am.

I may one day watch the remaining seasons of the television show. I’m not going to embarrass myself by claiming that I won’t. But, I’m not going to dive into it right away.

As I said, this show isn’t really for me. There is something about too-much-magic that makes it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy the story. Plus, all the young-adult angst grates on my nerves.

Firewater’s Do-You-Believe-in-Magic? Report Card: C+

No judgment from this corner if you love the series. It’s a good-looking show with high production values.

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