Monday, May 16, 2016

The Magicians Season One Review

by The Wanderer

Series: The Magicians
Channel: SyFy
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Season: 1
Episodes: 13

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A Book Readers Review

A tv book adaptation is something that always comes as a bittersweet moment for me. It's exciting to see a visual take on something you've loved reading, it's scary knowing that the vast majority of these adaptations won't even come close to catching the magic of its source material. Oftentimes at best they become guilty pleasures, an experience of fandom, fandom that clouds judgment.

There are so many things working against SyFy's adaptation; I find it's just going to be easier to bullet point them, rather then begin a lengthy set of paragraphs.
  • The show is trying to adapt one of the best and most highly regarded fantasy novels that's ever been published.
  • The success of Game of Thrones has made audience expectations for fantasy shows exceedingly high.
  • The Magicians will be of course working with a much smaller budget than Game of Thrones, and this is a story, especially once Fillory gets into the picture, that will really suffer because of it.
  • This is an "R" rated book being censored into a TV 14 rating.
  • TV 14 is able to stretch the limits of violence, but it really has strict rules regarding language and sex. Unfortunately for The Magicians, the violence is minimal (except for a few extremely violent scenes), while the language and sex are continuously occurring and shaping the plot.
  • Methods for doing magic in the novel (the hand motions in particular) are very complex, and quite frankly don't translate will into a visual medium. Magic is one of the most exciting parts of any fantasy, and Grossman's material really doesn't lend itself well visually in this regard. Also, in regards to magic, see the budget.
I tried to take in account all of the above when I watched the show. That being said there are flaws aplenty, and I'll get to more of those soon, but there are things the show does get right. For the most part it does stay close to the source material, following plots from The Magicians and Julia's arc from The Magician King, which runs concurrently to the events taking place in the before mentioned book.

After a couple of episodes of closely introducing the world and following the source material, the show does take the opportunity to finally explore its own plots and begin flushing out the characters. There is an entire episode dedicated to Quentin getting trapped inside a spell that sees him in a mental hospital. Even better is the episode where Quentin and gang explore the home of Christopher Plover and see the ghosts of the Chatwins - both events that never occurred in the source material, but are welcome additions.

Where The Magicians really takes a leap of faith is with its season finale, opting to make a similarly unpopular choice that The Walking Dead just did. On top of that, it tried to force two significantly important climaxes to occur at the same time, and the result is a very rushed finish. Although I will say the ending, will be a surprise to both new viewers and readers alike. Whether or not this finale will work, will depend on how the second season is able to capitalize on it.

The show catches the spirit of the books really well. Nearly all the major characters are all part of some douche-bag shenanigans. This, combined with a myriad of narcissistic or sociopathic personality traits makes them difficult to empathize with. But that is The Magicians, and people are dicks. There is plenty of language, plenty of sex, plenty of drinking, plenty of snorting, and plenty of magic. Like the books, the show manages to sneak in jokes about pop culture, like Quentin leading a musical rendition of Taylor Swift's Shake it Off. 

 Nicely done.

As far as characterization goes, Alice, Quentin, and Julia stay fairly true to how they're portrayed in the books. Asmodeus gets a significantly expanded role. Josh gets a retracted role, but is potentially set up to be a more important character in the second season. Penny looks nothing like he does in the books, but he's still a dick to everyone. Janet has been renamed Margo, and looks like a super model. And Eliot is Eliot. A new, and fairly pointless, character named Marina is introduced. She would have better served as being combined into the Reynard character that appears later.

Hale Appleman as Eliot is pretty spot on, and acts almost exactly as I imagined the character in the book to act. The rest of the actors are largely able to hold their own, many of them once they're able to get past their introductions seem to fall in nicely. But they aren't perfect, and nearly all of them will have a few bad acting moments before the season is done. The only major character that really seems to struggle is Alice, who is very stiff, even by Alice standards. She almost never interacts with her environment.

Then there's the things that really bother me ...

There are a lot of censored f-bombs, especially as the season progresses. All the censored fucks make the characters sound like they're playing a disturbing rendition of chubby bunny. Even worse are the PG-13 sex scenes. Sometimes the show has the wisdom to fade to black, other times I understand the necessity of having to show the sex scene. But other times it just looks like the show is looking for an excuse to show a lot of leg, a bra-less back, or a girl in some nice lingerie. Fucking lame. These are literally some of the silliest sex scenes ever to be committed to a screen.

Another stupid recurring feature that really drove me nuts was the fact that the girls have to scream every time they see a dead body, or a magical monster. This is fucking dumb. Especially with Julia who early in the season, as part of a magical test, must cut a guy's sternum open, rip out his heart, and set it on fire. After doing that, you're telling me she's going to scream when she's a dead body? ... I guess so?

How to rate this show ...

The Magicians is one of my all time favorite fantasy stories. It's simply brilliant. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the show. I'm willing to commit to a second season, but I feel like I based that decision off of finding the show to be a guilty pleasure, or something I need to watch because I loved the books so much. No matter how much, at times, that I simply don't want to. This is probably one of the most generous six ratings I've ever given.

Score: 6.0

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