There are a lot of fantasy shows on TV these days, led by Game of Thrones, and while HBO’s epic of drama and dragons hogs the spotlight, Syfy’s The Magicians has quietly become one of the most consistently entertaining shows on TV. The Magicians returns for its third season on Wednesday, January 10th. Here’s why you should be watching the show.
In one sentence, what’s the show about?
Harry Potter meets The Chronicles of Narnia meets the cold, harsh realities of real life, in a fantasy series based on the best-selling adult trilogy by Lev Grossman.
Tell me more.
The Magicians is set in a world where magic is real, and it’s taught at the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Lucky, talented, smart people are invited to take a secret magical exam to study there. It sounds like the Harry Potter books because J.K. Rowling was one of Grossman’s primary inspirations. But the setting is where the story resemblances end. The show focuses on an intrepid batch of magicians as they study magic and deal with the many problems that being able to manipulate reality can cause. Their narrative is thrown for even more of a loop when the setting shifts to Fillory, a magical, Narnia-esque land described in a series of supposedly fictional children’s books.
Who are the magicians?
One of the best parts of The Magicians is its large cast of misfits. While Quentin Coldwater is the main character of Grossman’s initial book in the series, the show takes a more ensemble-based approach.
Quentin (Jason Ralph) is still pretty important. He’s a huge Fillory fanboy who discovers magic is real and begins to attend Brakebills to learn it. Julia (Stella Maeve) is his best friend, who gets rejected by Brakebills and embarks on a different path to learn magic on her own. Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is another new student to Brakebills, and she’s far better at magic than the rest. Penny (Arjun Gupta) is a Traveller, a rare type of magic user who can teleport around his world, and journey between other worlds. Eliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil) are older students at Brakebills. A wide cast of teachers and other students get caught up on the action, too.
This is all well and good, but why should I watch?
I’ve made this all sound pretty lighthearted, and that’s usually the tone of the show, which is willing to embrace the absurdity of a college for magical adults — up to and including multiple musical numbers in previous seasons. But The Magicians isn’t parody. As I wrote last year, the heart of the show lies in taking a realistic approach to fantasy, grounding its characters firmly in the real world even as they battle gods and sling spells.
Unlike the whitewashed worlds created by Rowling and C.S. Lewis, the characters in The Magicians are a diverse cast of actors portraying characters with a wide range of sexual preferences. They feel like real people with real problems, from relationship drama to more serious issues like trauma and sexual assault.
The show is also visually impressive, particularly around the spellcasting. It’s based around a style of finger movements called “tutting” that adds a fresh visual style to the on-screen magic.
I missed the first two seasons. Can you catch me up quickly?
The first season deals with most of the setup: introducing characters, the world, and Brakebills, showing us Quentin and Julia’s mirrored journeys through their different parts of the magical world, and ending with everyone in Fillory. It also introduces the Beast, a malevolent magical being that serves as one of the series’s major antagonists.
Season 2 sees Quentin, Alice, Eliot, and Margo crowned kings and queens of Fillory, and dealing with the consequences and side effects of ruling a largely medieval magical realm as outsiders from our modern world, which goes about as well as you’d think.
What should I expect in the third season?
For complicated reasons, season 2 ends with the loss of the main characters’ magic. (Although intrinsically magical creatures still retain their power.) This year, the heroes are dealing with the ramifications while embarking on a self-described “epic quest” to get it back.
I’d like to heroically marathon this entire show. Where can I watch?
The first two seasons of The Magicians are available over on Netflix. Good luck!
The Magicians season 3 begins on Syfy on January 10th at 9PM ET.