Syfy is your go to guy when it comes to high concepts, wide green screens and deep space. Their shows, without exception, need a much bigger budget than the network can afford, but that doesn’t keep them from making them. I can only assume the Syfy executives are unable to offer less resources than other outlets, but they can easily make up for it by giving the writers a lot of creative freedom. At least, that’s what I would do.
Their newest fantasy drama is called The Magicians. Back in 2011, FOX passed, but three years later Syfy picked it up and produced a pilot episode, which aired last week (the first season will start next month). The show is based on the book ‘The Magicians’ by Lev Grossman, the first one in a trilogy. You’d think that’ll be enough material to map out a few seasons, but you just never know. Wayward Pines was based on three novels, the first season was a modest success, but as months have been passing by with a deafening silence, a continuation seems very unlikely.
‘Unauthorized Magic’ starts off like The Wire – with people outside playing chess – but only for about 2 seconds. A door opens, and we don’t see the inside of a (ware)house, but a field of grass and butterflies. If that isn’t a quick establishing of ‘fantasy TV show’, I don’t know what is. Dean (Rick Worthy, Eyes, The Man in the High Castle, Heroes) steps through the door, into the city, sits down on a bench to read a newspaper. A woman comes to him, anxious, because there is a ‘he’ coming. ‘He’ is Syfy code for ‘bad guy we don’t speak of yet, for dramatic effect’.
But Worthy isn’t the star of the show. That job goes to a couple of teenagers, who are handpicked by Dean, to pretend to study at Hogwarts. It’s a school for the gifted (hello, X-Men), for young wizards – or ‘magicians’, as they’re called here (hello, Harry Potter), and the only way to get there is by opening a random door (hello, Narnia). During the selection process, some hopefuls don’t make the cut, but that’s okay; their memory will be wiped. Julia (Stella Maeve, Chicago P.D.) isn’t going to let that happen, though. She cuts herself, so when she wakes up in her bed and sees the scar, she knows Hogwarts exits, and that she was rejected.
Her friend Quentin (Jason Ralph, Aquarius, Manhattan, Madam Secretary) does make it in. And not only that. All signs point to him being ‘the One’. His magic trick (or skill) involves making playing cards fly all around the room. Julia, feeling wrongfully rejected and stuck in the real world, has been practicing her gift: shooting flames of electricity out of her fingers. That’s much cooler. I totally understand that a guy named Pete (David Call, Smash, Gossip Girl) recruits her. ‘They’ have had their eyes on her for some time. ‘They’ is Syfy code for ‘we don’t know yet who they are either, but just give us the benefit of the doubt’.
Frozen in Time
The show addresses a lot of stuff adolescents struggle with. Rejection, feeling lost, hopeless, the talent you apparently have because ‘everybody has a talent’, being misunderstood, questioning whether you’re crazy or not. However, just when you think ‘The Magicians’ is a series about self-discovery, disguised as a fantasy tale, ‘he’ shows up. The man who’s also referred to as ‘the Beast’, and brutal he is. He makes time stand still, steps out of a mirror into Quentin’s classroom, surrounded by pretty wild mosquitos. Everybody’s frozen. They can’t move, except for their eyes. The Beast kills the teacher – Darth Vader style -, then rips out Dean’s eyes. Suddenly fantasy’s turned into horror. Harry Potter would’ve never let this happen.
Then, the coin in Quentin’s hand, falls out. The Beast turns his headful of flies. Everything should’ve been on pause. This means something. This boy means something. Is there going to appear a lightning bolt on Quentin’s forehead? Is he going to turn the Beast into a spider on roller-skates? On January 25, 2016, we’ll find out. Expecto patronum!