The Magicians has quickly become one of my favorite TV shows. The fact that it got picked up for a second season only halfway through the first season is a testament that many others feel the same. It’s Fantasy. It’s Sci-Fi. It’s Drama. It’s Thriller. It’s Comedy. It’s Awesomeness.
Based on Lev Grossman’s books, the show has done something that many series and films struggle to do – it has successfully adapted a novel and made the story its own. Does it follow the books exactly? No. Are some of the characters portrayed differently? Yes. But these changes have only made the television show stronger than if it matched the novels step by step.
I’ve created a list of why I think The Magicians works so well and why I love the show so much.
I love this cast. Casting is credited to Helen Geier, Laura Schiff, and Carrie Audino. I don’t know who is responsible for the leads, but I don’t think there has been one character misrepresented.
Jason Ralph – There is an Everyman quality that Jason Ralph embodies as Quentin. He’s relatable, sweet, innocent, and the guy you want as your bff. When talking about Fillory, he genuinely lights up with excitement. He committed fully to singing a horribly off tune Shake It Off. When he realizes in the same episode that Julia is lying to him and can see his magic, the subtle confusion that changes to realization on his face is perfect.
Stella Maeve – There is something about Stella that is simply captivating. Stella makes me root for Julia even when I hate her and her choices. That’s a rare gift.
Olivia Taylor Dudley – Apparently, Olivia wasn’t the first person cast in the role of Alice, but after the pilot they switched actresses. I’m so glad they did. Olivia’s presences on screen is more than just brainiac. She can be cold and distant while simultaneously making you feel for her. She is a perfect balance of Alice’s vulnerability and strength.
Arjun Gupta – I can’t say enough great things about Arjun’s interpretation of Penny. This is one case where I think the TV show has outdone the book. Penny is rather boring in the first novel, as well as pretty much absent. He’s at Brakebills originally but then disappears to show up near the end with the button. I love that the show has kept his character involved and given more dimension to Penny. Arjun does a brilliant job at making Penny angry, bitter, lovable, and funny.
Hale Appleman – I loved Eliot in the book. I love Eliot in the show. Originally, Hale auditioned for the role of Penny, and Arjun for Eliot. I’m sure both actors would’ve been great in either role, but I’m thankful they are where they are. Hale has broken my heart this season as Eliot as he’s slipped into drugs and alcohol and jeopardized his friendship with Margo for Mike. I want to reach through the screen and shake him, and slap him, and hug him. But I have faith that Hale will continue to twist my emotions with his wonderful portrayal of Eliot.
Summer Bishil – Janet in the book turned into Margo in the television series, due to too many “J” names. Honestly, I didn’t care for Janet much in the book. (Keep in mind I’ve only read the first in the series, so this may change.) Summer brings life and comedy to Margo. At first, her character may seem one dimensional, but her deep friendship with Eliot and her underlining desire to help others despite her pretense changes that. She also delivers some of the show’s subtly hilarious moments:
“That is not tonally consistent with the book.” – Margo
“My full wish was that Mike could go back to where he came from and suck on some other knob. So literal.” – Margo
While were discussing actors, I have to point out the diversity within the cast. Both Penny and Dean Fogg were white in the book. At no point is an issue made or a reason given for Penny to be of Southeast Asian decent or the dean, played wonderfully by Rick Worthy, be African American. I’m not sure how Janet, aka Margo, is described in the novel. I can’t recall, but Summer is of Mexican and Indian decent, according to Wikipedia, who never lies. I love that about The Magicians. The show adds diversity not to make a point, but in doing so it makes a wonderful statement about representing how our world really is. The book is fairly white-washed, so why not cast the best actors in the roles regardless of race?
Out of the Box Episodes:
Some of my favorite episodes were sequences not in the book. Episode 4 – The World in the Walls – has Quentin institutionalized, which we learn is actually a spell playing mind games with him. Not in the novel, but remains true to the characters and the story. Plus, it gave the cast to play doppelgangers of their characters in hilarious new ways. Alice as space alien needing to mate. Need I say more? In a recent Facebook live chat, Arjun mentioned that he enjoyed drawing attention to the ridiculousness of the stereotype of Southeast Asian males and is proud that as Penny he can play a character opposite that stereotype and open doors for more actors like him.
Another great episode was The Writing Room where Quentin, Alice, Penny, and Eliot travel to England and stumble upon Polver’s haunted house. It was dark and disturbing. It was paranormal meets time travel. Messing around with time or alternate realities is tricky for writers. Sera Gamble did a great job with it.
Which leads me to my next love – style choices. The Magicians is both comedic and disturbing. Silly and dramatic. It is a perfect balancing act between touching on societal issues like drugs, alcohol abuse, and addiction and making you laugh with Taylor Swift references, college nostalgia, and well delivered, well written lines: “Is someone being creepy on purpose?”
Style is also represented in color. Brakebills is bright and colorful – life, fun, college at it’s highest – and I mean high in all meanings. Julia’s hedge witch life in the city is masked in blue undertones – her world cold and gritty. The fact that my husband who is a telecine colorist hasn’t mentioned the color all season means the show’s got it right.
Bringing Elements of the Book Alive:
The Cottage. It is so eclectic and lovely, who wouldn’t want to be a physical kid?
Brakebills South. I was worried the show would dismiss the geese and foxes, feeling like those elements wouldn’t translate on screen. But the show proved that the creators are willing to take a risk.
The Missing Class. We learn where they went, why they went, and who this dude is.
Hilarious Pop Culture References:
I’ve already mentioned Taylor Swift. But there was also this.
I’m going to miss The Magicians now that the season has come to an end. I hope that Season 2 continues with the perfect blend of edgy writing and comedy. And I bet you can’t get that damn song out of your head now.
Read more about The Magicians here.
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Photos courtesy of SyFy.