In 2001, a diverse and international fanbase known as the “Potterheads” emerged, and over a decade and eight movies produced later, its wide audience is still begging for more. On the tail of the highly anticipated prequel, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2016), comes a Syfy original series to hold over the matured audience — “The Magicians.”
If you’re looking to catch a Quidditch match, then you’re in the wrong place.
Borrowing from the concept of J.K. Rowling’s successful “Harry Potter” series, “The Magicians” features a sexier, darker wizarding world where angsty freshmen at the prestigious Brakebills University learn to hone their magical abilities while also participating in some sketchy extracurricular activities including (but not limited to) mixology, sex and the occasional séance. This is not Hogwarts.
The two-part premiere introduces us to Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph, “A Most Violent Year”), a depressed graduate student who mimicks the introverted comic book geek struggling to grow up but unwilling to relinquish a hold on youth. While long-time friend and magic skeptic Julia (Stella Maeve, “The Runaways”) grounds Quentin in the real world, the two are later faced with the age-old conflict between friends when Julia fails to pass the entrance examination into Brakebills, turning to the darker side of magic in her desperation for power.
“The Magicians” is painstakingly familiar to the struggles of the average millennial balancing on the precipice of maturity and adolescence; it succeeds in highlighting the need for belonging when faced with the adult world. So when a flyaway piece of parchment magically lures Quentin into a world of fantasy, it feels like home.
Even though the pilot episode is overly crammed with introductions into the magical community, it highlights dark topics such as rape, drugs and the lust for power, while the final scene serves as an introduction of our “Lord Voldemort” — a creature known as The Beast whose power to paralyze his victims yields gruesome deaths. It’s a scene in which the cast relies on eye movements to portray the overwhelming fear of being trapped inside one’s own body in the presence of a sadistic murderer, bringing chills through the screen to the viewer.
The second episode, “The Source of Magic,” is more successful in picking up the pace once the formalities have passed, presenting a unique view into the darker side of magic practiced by Julia juxtaposed with the sparkling magic of Quentin’s world. While Quentin and his circle of magically inclined friends face disciplinary action and PTSD as a result of bringing The Beast into the world, Eliot (Hale Appleman, “Teeth”) and Quentin bond over the probable alcoholic butterbeer equivalent in the “Physical Kids” cottage. Afraid of the depression he might sink back into pending his expulsion from Brakebills, Eliot gives (us all) some much needed advice — that we’re not alone in this and we shouldn’t hang onto the past. There’s even a well-placed “Avada Kedavra” joke thrown in. Meanwhile, Julia battles her conscience and performs dark magic in hopes of joining the secret coven of magicians hiding away in the New York area. Choosing power over morals, she earns her first star tattoo and official entrance into the anti-Brakebills gang. The episode concludes with tested friendships and the promise of a fast-approaching battle between good and evil.
Overall, “The Magicians” is geared toward the grown-up millennial audience of the Harry Potter franchise. And although both share similarities that are, at times, blatantly pointed out, they are entirely distinct in their approaches. In the end, “Harry Potter” was about a boy who lived. “The Magicians” is about the man that survived.