The Magicians - Pilot

The Magicians Review: Syfy's Answer to Harry Potter Has Its Own Nifty Tricks

grade_BIf Syfy’s The Magicians goes “poof!” and disappears after its first season, it won’t be for lack of ambition.

Based on Lev Grossman’s best-selling fantasy trilogy, the series’ two-hour premiere (airing Monday at 9/8c) packs so many tricks up its sleeve that the whole enterprise occasionally threatens to split at the seams.

Still, while EPs Sera Gamble (Supernatural) and John McNamara (Aquarius) create a sometimes hectic pace as they introduce and advance at least a half-dozen major arcs in a mere 120 minutes, they never leave you bored.

The Magicians centers on Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), a smart but troubled grad student with floppy hair and a slightly mopey personality who — along with his childhood best friend Julia (Stella Maeve) — gets an unexpected invitation to take the entrance exam for Brakebills University — a secret school of magic in upstate New York. Quentin makes the cut, Julia does not, but both of them are forever changed by the newfound knowledge of the mystical world that’s all around them — and the fact that they’re among the subset of humanity imbued with these special abilities.

While Quentin and Julia’s fractured bond seems central to The Magicians‘ overall arc, the premiere introduces us to almost a dozen additional characters whose competing and often surreptitious agendas mean you won’t be able to fold your laundry or check your Twitter feed while watching.

The Magicians - Season 1There’s fellow Breakbills student Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) — a brilliant but sullen freshman determined to learn the truth about her brother’s disappearance. There’s Dean Fogg (The Vampire Diaries‘ Rick Worthy) and Eliza (Esmé Bianco) who seem to know more about Quentin, his destiny and the threat imposed by a creature known as The Beast — even if they’re not exactly sure what to do about all of it. There’s Penny (How to Get Away With Murder‘s Arjun Gupta), Quentin’s frenemy roommate — who showcases some very interesting skills in the bedroom. And there’s Marina (Hannibal‘s Kacey Rohl), who brings a jolt of bitchy, menacing energy to Episode 2 as the leader of an enigmatic organization that may (or may not) stand in opposition to Breakbills’ agenda.

If that’s not enough to hook you, we also travel inside Quentin’s mind to meet Jane Chatwin, one of the protagonists from the children’s fantasy book Fillory and Further who’s got dire warnings for our protagonist about staying off “the garden path” — and who may not be as fictitious as Quentin originally believes.

The premiere doesn’t skimp on cool/scary effects — The Beast certainly has a signature look about him! — and does a particularly good job at balancing intel and question marks to hint at a deeply intriguing overarching mystery.

Its biggest weakness is a not-entirely-balanced cast. While Rohl is a hoot, and Maeve makes palpable Julia’s pain and disappointment over her Breakbills failure — and allows us glimpses of a potentially dark ambition — Ralph’s portrayal of Quentin needs to evolve past gloomy befuddlement and Panetene-ad tresses if The Magicians is going to succeed in the long term. (The same can be said of Dudley, whose weird loner is alarmingly one-note for a potentially major character). Hopefully, as more is revealed about Quentin and Alice, that pair of actors will be able to step up and match the magic (so to speak) of their more charismatic counterparts.

The TVLine Bottom Line: The Magicians may not have perfected every incantation in its spellbook, but it’s worth a look for viewers intrigued by the idea of a Harry Potter-esque weekly fantasy series.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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53 Comments
  1. George H. says:

    Seen the early showing on SyFy of the first episode. It was amazing. Has great effects for a basic cable tv show. The ending was awesome. I have high hopes for this show.

    • johnhelvete says:

      The first episode is very good and the ending is “jaw dropping” indeed.

    • Temperance says:

      You know how t’s unusual for the movie to be better than the book? In this case it’s the even rarer case of the TV show being better than the book. And if Quentin and Alice lack a bit of sparkle, it’s more that they are adhering to the rather gray, distantly-written book. I’m in for the season of The Magicians.

  2. Daya says:

    I wasn’t going to watch after giving up on the book, but then the novelization of Sex and the City was pretty crappy, though a much better show, so…

    (I feel like I’ve posted this comment on an earlier article. I’ll just go now…)

  3. ninamags says:

    Sounds interesting. Definitely will DVR this and watch.

  4. ? says:

    My only problem with the show was, are these supposed to be grad students or high school students? Because it said they were grad students, but then all the characters acted like high schoolers. Fix that and I’m in.

    • Maryann says:

      Grad students have been known to act like high schoolers. The biggest difference is age. Although the cast seems age appropriate (22ish) for beginning grad students, we may not perceive it as such because many shows cast actors this age in high school roles.

    • Temperance says:

      Actually, it’s how the book paints them – distant, reserved, and broken.

    • whiskey says:

      They changed them to grad students in the tv series – because the series spans such a wide age range (22ish to 37ish years), they figured it was safer to do so than trying to find actors who could play both 18 in the first season and nearly 40 in later seasons.

      • ? says:

        That makes a lot of sense, and I can see the challenges in adapting a story that’s supposed to feature high schoolers to featuring adults without either significantly changing their motivations (and therefore unavoidably the plot) or painting them all as seriously immature individuals that it’s hard to root for. But, now that I know this, I think I can be forgiving of the awkward characterizations and necessary contrivances it causes and enjoy the show anyway. Thanks for letting me know!

  5. D says:

    i am so happy Syfy is finally upping it’s game

  6. Annie says:

    It looks irritating. Like a bunch of spoiled kids having sex all the time but with magic. I’m just over Special Snowflake White Boy leads and their quest of specialness.

    • D says:

      what a crappy and racist comment, i really like the show if it’s not your cup of tea go watch some reality crap like the other brainless bunch.

      • Temperance says:

        Agreed.

      • Annie says:

        You can’t be racist against white people – it’s not a thing. And I’m white so I can say what I want about my own race.
        And I *will* go watch something that’s offering something new and not a regurgitation of the same.

        • D says:

          you are a moron if you think you can’t be racist against white people, no, i’m sorry you’re just ignorant and uneducated it’s even sadder if you are some kind of self loathing self hating racist. Racism in any form is wrong.

          • Phoenix5634 says:

            @D
            Agreed.

          • Annie says:

            I’m actually *incredibly* educated, but thanks. And no, racism is dependent on there being social systemic consequences to your race. Say, if I go for a job interview and I’m not hired because the employer wanted to hire a black person. That sucks for me. But that experience won’t happen very often. The next interview I go on my race likely won’t be an issue. That can’t be said for that black woman – her race will come up at *every* interview whether it’s a conscious decision on the employers side or not. That’s racism. In this example, I had a negative experience because of my race but it doesn’t impact me every day that way. I experienced discrimination in this example, but not racism.
            .
            It’s what having privilege means – that you can go about your life without that part of who you are impacting your opportunities. It’s not something we can change about ourselves, it’s not something that we should feel guilty about. It’s something we need to be aware of though.
            .
            And if you truly believe racism is bad (which I believe you do), a key element is recognizing how it works and our place within it.

    • Ian says:

      Well, I agree with you Annie.
      Because that’s really what the show boils down to, magic aside. Magic isnt enough to be outside the box. All these shows subscribe to the same formulas, and thats why I truly care for so few programs these days.

      • Annie says:

        Thanks for the support! And you’re totally right – the only unique thing about it is the magic…and that’s not much. I want different stories.

        • Fran says:

          I agree completely with your comments above (regarding racism). I wish more people had your kind of insight. I may try a few more episodes of this series, but I really wasn’t very impressed with the characters.

        • A.S. says:

          I really agree with you as well!! I feel like every tv show on every network is about a white male and his crew. Not even a white female, just white male every time. It is getting annoying watching shows about magic and being stuck with the same ideology every time.

    • newy says:

      There’s only one sex scene, so, I don’t know what you’re watching, but I think you’re the one who is irritating.

      • Annie says:

        I’ve only seen the trailers and the vibe they’re going for (with the inclusion of the sex scene) would indicate a lot of sexual content. Which I don’t have a problem with, it just needs to serve the plot.
        .
        And thanks, I do strive to be irritating. :D

        • D says:

          WOW so your making negative prejudiced remarks based on ignorance? you haven’t even watched the show, i didn’t realize you were a Troll when i first read your comments, poor hate monger.

  7. dan says:

    I want to like it, but a couple things are bothersome. It really seems to ape Harry Potter. I get it’s a grown up version, but … really? The Alice character seems like a Hermoine clone. Also, the characters are not terribly likable, right down to the lead. The one I did like, Julia, seems like she will be a kind of villain.

    That being said, it is my cup of tea, so I am going to watch every episode I’m sure. My complaints are more worries, and I hope they prove to be minimal.

    • James says:

      It does seem like Harry Potter at first. The book actually has several scenes where it pokes fun at those novels, but it evolves into something really special by the end. I suggest that if you liked the first episode more than you hate it, give the series a little chance to find its footing. If it’s anything like the books, it’ll be great. I did read some comments before this one where people said the books were boring, but personally I found them really interesting. They’re not like Harry Potter at all, by the way. They are quite dark.

    • Brenden M. says:

      Agreed. The only thing missing here were owls and a wardrobe.

  8. Phoenix5634 says:

    Syfy always cancels series too early, and with rushed endings, or sometimes no endings. I’m hesitant to even watch becuz the network has disappointed me so many times in recent years. They make good shows, but always ruin the end, or don’t even give an end.

    • smartysenior says:

      It’s not only Syfy, there have been many times over the years where we are asked to commit to a serial only to have it abruptly pulled. It’s so rude and a poke in the eye to the viewers that I hardly ever commit to serials anymore.

  9. N says:

    it was great hope it last

  10. Meena says:

    I really wanted to get into this, but the main character reminds me too much of Dawson from Dawson’s Creek. As much as I was a huge fan back in the day, I can’t handle that late 90’s/early 2000 whiny male lead character anymore.
    It’s a shame because the premise seems really fun and I like the best friend a lot. I just wish they’d gone with a different lead actor.

  11. A. says:

    I love Jason Ralph. He`s the reason i`m watching!

  12. rowan77 says:

    I’ve seen the pilot. Did anyone else find it stiff, exposition-y and rushed? And derivative. I know it’s based on books, but it really felt like Harry Potter meets The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe meets 90210. I liked the visuals, but the writing just felt so rushed and obvious. I was only surprised by one element near the end, but the rest felt a little paint-by-numbers to me. I’ll hold off watching any more unless I hear it improves.

    • Shawn Stolle says:

      I agree, Very much like the C.S. Lewis series. So much so that it irritated me when the implied that the author of the books was a child molester. In essence insinuating that C.S. Lewis was a child molester. Look at all the parallels, An English writer in the country side with nieces and nephews visiting for the summer, Stepping in to a wardrobe and in to another land, a Land where the animals are human like characters, a world that is actually a set of doors to other worlds. Way too many similarities.

  13. Jinq says:

    I seem to be in the minority, but I loved the books. I didn’t feel like they were trying to rip off either Harry Potter or Narnia… they were dark and gritty and most of the characters didn’t start off very likable… but the important ones grew on me. These are broken people to begin with, Quentin having suffered from depression major enough to have started out in a mental hospital – and that’s one of the things I loved most about him – he is far from your typical “snowflake white boy” hero. To be that character, that hero, is all he’s ever wanted and continues to watch – and his hero’s journey, though painful, is all the more compelling for that. I am more excited about this show than I have been for any show except “Game of Thrones.”

  14. Rory P. says:

    I absolutely loved the first two books and I have yet to read the final one, but I look forward to it. The characters are interesting and though it may seem boring to some, I liked that Lev too the time to develop the characters and their relationships during their time at Brakebills. It also has a dark, mystical tone to it. Plus, it admits that life tends to be dull and gloomy alot of the time, and offers an escape to a secret world behind the scenes… Anyway I just watched the two episode premiere earlier and I’m excited to see more, it differs from the books in a few ways, but it also is providing a more in depth background for Julia and I’m enjoying it. I’m excited to see how this season goes.

  15. CL says:

    I don’t know what it is and whether it is just because its the first episode but I found the acting to be really off. I also disliked the actress cast for Alice who doesn’t fit with the character at all.

    • Dan M says:

      I like the actress, but really not like Alice at all. They just picked the hot, stacked blonde and stuck her in unflattering closes and some glasses. FFS. Then again, they rewrote everything else for this dog of a weekly drama, so why not the main characters too.

  16. Brenden M. says:

    I found it a stale, tired SyFy attempt to cash in on the Young Adult trend popularized by other work in the past 10yrs. The lead characters are ridiculous; supposed graduate candidates at the Yale level, yet so self absorbed with debilitating angst that they’d be challenged to complete the first semester of a real Masters’ program without psychiatric intervention.

    The “magic” is ill- or undefined. The show utilizes Venice Beach-ish physical gesticulations and some good FX to bring it to screen; however, the collegiate approach at this university of magic is absent. Magic is viewed more as “S$#t Happens” than “we do this well and teach it here”.

    Overall, there is literally nothing we have not seen multiple times in the past decade of Young Adult action/drama/scifi. The show does nothing to toe the line set by winners at the box office, and breaks no new ground. I’d rather watch the kids play a board game than watch this bored show.

  17. dfd@olj.com says:

    i hate the actor who plays Quinton. He makes this childish serious face that makes me just want to punch it every time. I understand that he is just an actor but even if he was off-set, it would not change anything. His face is still very punchable.

  18. dfdd@olj.com says:

    i hate the actor who plays Quinton. He makes this childish serious face that makes me just want to punch it every time. I understand that he is just an actor but even if he was off-set, it would not change anything. His face is still very punchable.

  19. Dave W. says:

    Was starting to follow the series, until the latest episode on March 2. It seemed like the show lost it’s writing staff and went with the so called tried and true four-letter words and gratuitous sex in constant regular doses.

    What happened to creativity? Why is this on Syfy?

  20. Joe Bidden says:

    Show started out great, exciting, but now it is starting to get super boring, dull, too much romance, the use of magic, finger movement, looks lame, etc.. lol

  21. Dan M says:

    Seriously, how do they take an excellent book like this and turn it into a mediocre SyFy channel adaptation, yet again?!? (other SyFy dogs on my mind.) They slaughtered the original plot for just a friggin’ weekly school soap opera with a little magic thrown in… just to draw in the teens and tweens, I’d assume. Lev G deserves the attention for his original story, but it’s sad it’s been so mangled for SyFy.

  22. A.S. says:

    I never even knew this was an adaptation so giving it a try after the first time I was so disappointed.

    I mean I have no clue how older generations act in America but even that seemed too childish too me. Naive and worse they added sex, alcohol and murder as if that was going to magically *punintended* turn the show into something that could have an R rating. The characters were too textbook definitions of whoever they were meant to portray.

    The only one who had great potential was Julia. She was smart and relatable yet of course I am sensing she will be on the wrong side of things. Well, wrong according to the agenda this old style storytelling writing is trying to push.

    P.S. Don’t read this as could be a potential tv-show/book spoiler if you haven’t read the books. I have a question to those who have read the books. The woman that was the paramedic that gave Quentin the manuscript and who was also the specialist, is she Hillary from Quentin books? The one that haunts him in his dreams? She seems to fit age wise and has the accent and the attitude of Hillary.