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The Magicians is ending after season 5, but it’s raised the bar for fantasy shows

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A eulogy for one of TV’s most underrated shows

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

SyFy won’t be renewing weird, wild fantasy show The Magicians for a sixth season. Yesterday, the network announced that the current season will be its last. The Magicians’ story will wrap up in the finale, slated for April 1st, and with it goes one of TV’s most underrated shows airing today.

At its outset, “what if Harry Potter, but with college orgies” was a fair shorthand explanation for exactly what the show was. Best friends Quentin Coldwater and Julia Wicker learn they have magical potential and are tested to enter a highly selective college. Quentin gets in; Julia gets booted. As their paths diverge in major ways, both begin to learn that magic has a cost, even when it’s dressed up with party tricks and cute co-eds.

It would have been easy for The Magicians to continue on as the wildly cliched story of one loner white guy, forever believing he’s special, learning that actually he is. And for a little bit, the show does. Much like the books the show is based on, Quentin is depressed, insufferable, and could probably use a shower. Lev Grossman’s trilogy is almost entirely preoccupied with Quentin’s experiences, Quentin’s point of view, Quentin’s fantastical journey. In contrast, the show’s writers have deftly adapted the best source material, while also crafting a diverse ensemble cast that takes focus off Quentin, ironically its weakest link. They’ve expanded its world in far more interesting, boundary-pushing ways.

They allowed characters like Eliot and Margo, played by Hale Appleman and Summer Bishil, respectively, to evolve into the true beating heart of the show. That’s in large part due to the stellar acting of Appleman and Bishil, natural scene-stealers who make for an electric pair. But few characters like Eliot and Margo even exist on TV. Eliot is an exceptionally charming disaster, haunted by his own vices, saved by his dedication to his friends and good heart. Margo, who could have easily been written off as the tired trope of a mean girl with anger issues, was given space and nuance to exist as a powerful woman fighting to endure in worlds that did not want her. Her path has been one of the show’s best as we’ve come to understand the layers of pain and anger that exist alongside her confidence, tenderness, and moments of royal fuck-ups. Together, the two are a perfect foil for each other, a pair whose platonic love for one another acts as a throughline for everything they do. That’s also to say nothing of their on-screen representation as a queer man and a woman of color.

Over the course of its run, The Magicians tackled topics like depression, sexual assault, death, drug addiction, burgeoning queer sexuality, and gender politics. Magic is not the focus of the show, but rather a complement to the lives of characters who still inhabit a very modern world. In season 5, a big emphasis has been placed on characters dealing with loss, PTSD, and learning how to find purpose again as they move into new stages of their lives. It’s delivered many of these poignant, rich storylines while also setting itself against backdrops that involve drug trips, time loops, and breaking the moon.

Image: Syfy

That was the beauty of The Magicians: its world could still feel surprising and fun, even in the face of utter devastation. Its writers are clearly genre nerds who loved to pay homage to and play with storylines involving time travel, epic fetch quests, and bank heists, and the show is better for it. I never thought I’d earnestly try to convince any of my friends that its best moments include an impromptu musical number in which the cast has to sing Queen’s “Under Pressure,” a disco ball bomb that forces people to dance, or even that my favorite joke is a 10-second gag involving a talking rabbit that only says “eat my ass.”

That a show could do all of that and still have something to say about the human condition is what made it special. Not even magic can solve the pain of being alive. But for five years, The Magicians helped just a little. What more can any of us ask for?