HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Magicians: Season 1
HTS Overall Score:74
Fantasy series that deviate from the standard Dungeons and Dragons style sword and sorcery template are few and far between in the TV landscape, with even fewer hits. To say that the SyFy channel is dominated mostly by hardcore sci-fi style shows compared to fantasy is an understatement, and the fact that “The Magicians” is more of an urban fantasy makes it even more unique. The series (adapted by the series of books from Lev Grossman) seems to take a decidedly “Harry Potter” flair and blend it with liberal amounts of “The Chronicles of Narnia” (I dare you not to see the influence of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew” in regards to Fillory, and even moreso the use of the fountains and a magical token to GET there) as well as elements from several other fantasy genres and blends it together into a wildly entertaining, if not slightly flawed, 13 episode series.
Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) is heading off to graduate school, but not without some serious baggage hanging over his head. He is a clinically depressed young man who has checked himself in and out of therapy sessions over the last few months and just feels isolated from the rest of the world. His best friend, Julia (Stella Maeve) is the exact opposite, a brilliant young woman whose mind matches Quentin’s, but is a relatively happy and well-adjusted young woman looking to get into a prestigious school. Things turn their life upside down when they are suddenly diverted to a mysterious school named Brakebill Academy, where they learn that magic is not something out of their favorite “Fillory” fantasy novels (a series that Quentin is obsessed with). However, their lives take drastically different courses when Quentin is accepted into the magical school while Julia is rejected and left to her own devices in the “real” world. As such, we have two unique storylines that slowly intertwine as the series goes on.
To make it easier we’ll call them story A and story B. Story A tends to be the main one, with Quentin adapting to his new life at Brakebill. He was never the social butterfly in the real world, and just as much of an outcast in this new world of magic and wonder. However, fate brings him together with several other students, a fate that has the ability to tear the entire world asunder as a magic spell gone awry brings in a monstrous beast who nearly tears the school apart and then mysteriously vanishes. While Quentin is desperately searching for meaning, he is plagued by dreams of his precious “Fillory” novels, only to slowly realize that Fillory was not just a series of books, but in fact just as real as Brakebill academy is. Along with shy, but powerful, Alice (Olivia Taylor Duley), the snarky psychic traveler Penny (Arjun Gupta), A continually high socialite with a penchant for physical magic (Hale Appleman) and a few others, Quentin has to find a way to stop this beast from taking away not only his life, but everyone he ever loved.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=75329[/img]Simultaneously we also are privy to story B, which revolves around Julia and her adaptation to the knowledge that there is something more powerful out there. Ironically she is not used as a support for the main story, but rather her story seems to flow alongside the main one, but remain separate and just as important (although seemingly inconsequential for this particular season). After being rejected at Brakebill, Julia is lost and alone. Just KNOWING she has magical ability she is recruited by what is known as Hedge Witches (a group of magical beings who are not formally trained and use magic as one would a drug, selling and trading and turning tricks for spells in order to get as powerful as they can), and does her best to live up to her own internal expectations. As one would guess that doesn’t turn out so well and Julia is forced to look inside of herself and see just what drives her and her search for more magic.
“The Magicians” was advertised and spoken about by friends of mine as a more adult version of “Harry Potter”, and while I can see the comparisons, there are also quite a few elements of other fantasy copycat moments and enough individuality to stand on its own. In fact I can see the “Harry Potter” comparisons with Brakebill Academy being a clone of Hogwarts, the classic group of different powered friends coming together, and the Beast being the new Voldemort (however I can’t fault them too much as “Harry Potter” wasn’t exactly the bastion of fantasy originality either). HOWEVER, I have to say that there is a heavy HEAVY dose of “The Chronicles of Narnia” thrown in there as well. In fact there are some jaw dropping similarities between “The Magician’s Nephew” and “The Magicians” in the implementation of Fillory. In fact when Penny gets transported to the in between realm with all of the fountains I had my jaw on the floor as the correlations are plain as day. Still, there is plenty of fun in the series and the copycat nature of the film is actually rather endearing, as it combines some extremely well liked and popular tropes to appeal to the audience.
Underneath the standard fantasy tropes is a decidedly more grim and gritty take on the fantasy world, with heavy doses of depression (not saying the SERIES is depressing, just that the characters can suffer from it), and the show tends to view magic as a sort of anti-depressant of sorts, which creates an almost overly clichéd environment for Beverly Hills 90210 pretty teens can complain about their lives and do magic. While it seems that I’m finding heavy flaws in the series, I have to say that the series is completely intoxicating. Even when I’m complaining about some bit of overly “edgy” cheese, I was thoroughly enthralled by the fantasy series. When the series is bad, it can get wince worthy, but every time I thought there was TOO much angst and 90210 drama, there are parts of brilliance that pull you right back into the story. Sure the first few episodes are “Harry Potter” lite and the middle drags a teensy bit, but by the 6th episode the show really takes off and only gets better from there. In fact after looking into the novels it seems that the second book has even more potential for greatness, and has me VERY impatiently waiting for 2017 so I can get more of my “fix”.
My last comments on the series is to leave your expectations of fantasy at the door. The season seems to start out as a traditional fantasy, much like "Harry Potter" or "Narnia", and some elements remain, but there is a lot that points to the fact that the show is actually a deconstruction and commentary on the tropes of the fantasy genre. Stripping them away and replacing them with something complexly differing. the crude humor is usually done in point of fact to sever and lampoon what normally would be considered a standard trope, and even the battles and misconceptions about the villain and hero complex is completely under the surgeon's knife. The series starts out very light and then slowly progresses into a much darker and more somber feeling that doesn't let up with the disturbing season finale that completely changes everything around for season 2.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=75337[/img]“The Magicians: Season 1” comes to Blu-ray with a nice looking, but never spectacular TV style encode that is sure to please fans. Despite being a TV show, the series has a fairly impressive budget and the fantasy worlds tend to come to life with the bleak and sterile looking world that is Brakebill academy. Detail is solid with a penchant for heavy teal and gold color grading depending on the situation, and I mean HEAVY teal grading. Blue and grey tends to be the dominant color in the series and the fine detail sometimes is a bit smudged as a result of that. Overall clarity seems to be nice, but never amazing, and the black levels maintain a strong semblance of shadow detail with only minimal crush. “The Magicians” is a highly stylized encode and one that look quite decent for a SyFy show, especially considering the amount of CGI required to get the show off the ground.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=75345[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA experience mirrors the video’s quality, giving the show a firm and healthy audio track that is neither flashy, nor minimalistic. The dialog is always strong and clean, with impressive vocals and good front sound stage separation for all of the crazy spells and battles that the students get themselves into. While it can be a bit front heavy at times, the track knows when to pull out all the stops and get incredibly immersive when it wants to be. The sounds of city traffic can come from all angles, as can the rustling of moth wings when the beast makes his creepy appearances, or the chirping of birds in the woods when the young magicians are undergoing a trial. LFE is tight and powerful during the more bombastic moments, but light and constrained when not called up. It’s never wildly aggressive or thunderous, but the track is certainly quite effective and pleasing at all times.
• Deleted Scenes
• Gag Reel
• The World of The Magicians
There are very few shows that really make me contemplate on the series AFTER I’m finished watching it, but “The Magicians: Season 1” happens to be one of the few that has done just that. While being portrayed as “Harry Potter for Adults” (and actually starting out that way during the first few episodes), the series takes on a life of its own after a while and thoroughly intrigued to the point of binge watching the entire series in 2 sittings. I will not say that the first season did not have its hiccups and that there are flaws, but the overall entertainment value of the series combined with the fact that there is a LOT of potential for bigger and better things has me eagerly anticipating the next season (which sadly will not even START airing until the beginning of 2017). Audio and video are impressive, but the extras do remain a tad thin. Still, the series is well worth watching for those who want a completely different take on the fantasy world that doesn’t have swords and dragons and white walkers in it. I ALMOST had to rate the series a 4/5 instead of a 3.5/5, but there was JUUUUUUUUUUUUST enough angst and story flaws to have me drop the rating a tad, but it is REALLY close at times, so don't let the "lowly" 3.5/5 fool you away from watching.
Starring: Jason Ralph, Stella Maeve, Olivia Taylor Dudley
Created by: Lev Grossman (Book), Jeffrey Klarik
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 572 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: July 19th, 2016
Buy The Magicians: Season 1 Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Good Watch
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