The Un-Wizarding of the Magicians

The Magicians is commonly described as the ‘adult Harry Potter’ but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Hear me moan,

Syfy’s new TV show The Magicians has all the right ingredients. Based on Lev Grossman’s book of the same name the TV show follows Quentin Coldwater, a depressed loner who is good at magic tricks and obsessed with the Filbury and Further fantasy books. It turns out magic is real and Quentin enrols at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy to become a legitimate magician. Quentin also discovers the fictional land of Filbury is real, which is like finding out Hyrule is real. The Beast is the villain. He’s from another dimension and wants to destroy our world.

The Magicians is commonly described as the ‘adult Harry Potter’ but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Only two episodes have aired so far so I’ll be the first to admit my judgements are premature – odds are I’ll end up falling in love with The Magicians – but right now my heart isn’t in it and if the show can’t change my mind by episode four I’ll consider it a write-off.

Here are a handful of reasons why I haven’t enjoyed what I’ve seen so far.

No Sense of Wonder

Quentin discovers magic is real the same time the audience does and yet it’s treated like Quentin is just grabbing another decaf latte at his local Starbucks. Quentin isn’t amazed or taken aback – he openly accepts it without question or hesitation. The show doesn’t even try to convince the audience that there are over-worldly overtones. This is a show about magic and it doesn’t try to convince anyone of it.

Imagine for a moment you have been plucked out of your normal life to spend a single day at a college full of magical practitioners. Imagine how alienating that would be. Imagine how fascinating that would be. Now throw all of that in the bin and you have Quentin’s reaction.

Not Enough Exposition

Too many shows are guilty of piling on too much exposition in the first couple of episodes but I feel like The Magicians doesn’t explain enough. Quentin, who is a nobody in the real world, is thrust into a magical one. He should have loads of questions that would lead to natural exposition that, if written smartly, wouldn’t be noticeable. Instead, there’s no hand-holding at all. Quentin accepts everything at face value but ‘because it’s magic’ isn’t a good enough excuse. I want to know how, and more importantly why, certain ingredients and hand gestures do what they do.

During episode two I realised the scene that I was watching felt like I had jumped into a TV show mid-season. It didn’t feel fresh and it didn’t feel like the characters were amateurs. The story doesn’t take time to build the world or to establish rules so everything, from the plot to the character reactions, feels scripted. Nothing feels like a genuine result.

Nobody Is Taught Magic

Seriously, this is a show about young adults learning to use magic in a school and so far nothing has been taught. Sure, scenes happen in classrooms where teachers are present, but so far all of the spells and rituals have been based on one-liners or passing references. Quentin has already summoned a demon, had symbols burned into his skin, tried to throw a fireball, been knocked on his ass by a defensive spell and all of these have had no explanation or tutoring from a professional.

Think back to when you were in school. Granted, not much happened in lessons but think about what you have learned and how much of it you have applied to life afterwards. Writing, counting, pointless trivia, your skill as a goal keeper or your ability to play guitar – you weren’t born with this knowledge. Quentin, for some reason, is throwing magic around like he owns it and moves through the magical world like he’s lived there his whole life.

The World Feels Too Small

This is a problem I have with every fictional universe. I always feel like it’s too small. I understand that The Magicians has to focus on a select group of students at one specific location but it doesn’t matter – I can already imagine what ‘coincidences’ are going to happen that’ll put Quentin’s life in peril every 15 minutes. Brakebills College is the only magical school in North America. That’s statistically impossible. In a world where magic exists there would be schools in every state. And all adult magicians wouldn’t be teachers either – there would be journalists, police officers, shop owners – all specialists working in their magical communities. Everyone and everything feels like a convenient narrative tool plucked out of thin air specifically for Quentin and it pisses me off.

Trust me, I like focused storytelling. However, The Magicians is about a bunch of amateur magicians taking down The Beast, an unfathomable creature intent on destroying the world – this kind of shit would not be left in the hands of a bunch of kids and their arrogant ‘where-the-fuck-are-you’ teachers.

Want to retaliate? Post a comment. I lament once a week but you can follow me on Twitter @LeeLaments where I moan every day.


Ross worked here once? what ever happened to him?
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