From the first time I picked up The Magicians by Lev Grossman I was hooked. As someone who was raised on Harry Potter, I loved the concept of an older student going to a school for the magically gifted, while still partaking in the parties and activities of a University. For the uninitiated, The Magicians focuses on Quentin Coldwater, a young man just getting ready to go to Grad school (at least in the SyFy adaptation). After spending time in and out of psychwards for his connections to the fictional land of Fillory, Quentin is preparing to put off childish things for good and attempt to get into Yale’s business school. It is then that he stumbles upon Brakebills University (aka Brakebills College of Magical Pedagogy) and quite literally into entrance exams. SyFy has been gracious enough to upload the first episode onto their The Magicians Fanpage on Facebook.
In episode one, Quentin and his best friend, Julia, are both looking towards Graduate School. Though he dreads it, Quentin is set to interview with an alumni from Yale for admission. Julia goes with him, fearing that if left to his own devices Quentin will not go. Here are the first changes from the book. The episode actually begins with Fillory, showing viewers bits and pieces to expect later on. Think of Fillory as CS Lewis’ Narnia, were there no religious overtones whatsoever. At the home of the former Alumni, Quentin and Julia find the body of a man. Panicked, they call for help. As they are leaving, one of the arriving responders gives Quentin an envelope dressed to him. Quentin is surprised to find it is the 6th Fillory book; this rumored book was never printed and only spoken about in careful messages on Fillory chatboards. Julia tells Quentin he needs to calm down about it. She goes off in one direction, Quentin another. As he reads the pages, one floats down an alley. He rushes after it, only to find himself in front of Brakebills University. Julia finds herself there by a different path. The two rush to the entrance exam, only to discover they are being tested for magic. Quentin passes with flying colors. Julia is asked to leave and informed she no longer has any magical aptitude. She quietly cuts her arm so she won’t forget where she was when a professor forces her to forget. While Quentin finally finds a place he feels like home, Julia becomes a shell of herself. Obsessed with Brakebills, she decides she must do anything to explore the magic she didn’t know existed before. Quentin, meanwhile, struggles to befriend the quiet Alice, a girl known mostly around campus as one from a magical family. Her brother Charlie’s death has deeply affected her and she tends to keep to herself. Fillory steps in to bring Alice and Quentin together for a difficult spell. Off campus, Julia finds her way to a secret order.
Julia’s role in The Magicians is a big change from the books, albeit an interesting choice. Though very visible in later books in the series, Julia does not start off as a main character. In fact, readers don’t meet her until almost the end of the first book. SyFy appears to be changing her story line in an attempt to make her dark past make more sense, and the changes seem to be better for the story. I’m waiting to see episode 2 before I decide whether or not these changes are for the best, as normally I’m more interested in true to book adaptations. Stella Maeve does an incredible job portraying the visible desperation and difficult choices Julia makes.
Alice was a bit of a disappointment. Though the actress does an incredible job, the showrunners decided to portray her super smart mousy qualities behind extra large glasses. She looks more like a mousy hipster than one of the brightest magicians at Brakebills. Still, there’s hope in the fact that Olivia Taylor Dudley appears to have the chops to pull her off, despite the glasses. Quentin, portrayed by Jason Ralph, is dead on how I imagined him and I’m deeply enjoying his role. The real standout is Hale Appleman as Elliot. Elliot has always been brasher, more fabulous, and more catty than any of the other characters in The Magicians trilogy. His casting is two shades from perfect casting and I found myself wanting to be his best friend right away.
A few warnings for those at home with children. This is not Hogwarts and this is no Harry Potter. It’s not family friendly Narnia. It’s violent, including a particularly gruesome sequence involving the removal of someone’s eyes. There is a crazy sex scene involving floating. Basically, don’t watch this on your break at work and certainly don’t let your ten year-old sit up with you while watching The Magicians. The visuals in the show are stunningly well done and some of the CGI work makes magic seem real. I found myself so enraptured that each time the loading buffered on my computer I got angrier and angrier.
The Magicians is visually wonderful and possibly one of the best shows involving magic I’ve seen in years. SyFy has done a brilliant job with the adaptation, even though they have made rather dramatic changes to the source material.
You can watch episode one on The Magicians fan page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheMagiciansSyfy/videos/1024255257616630/?theater
The Magicians premieres on SyFy Channel January 25, 2016. They will show episodes one and two back to back.