Seriously, there’s a show called Magicians. I rarely do straight up reviews or recommendations, but this is a show that I feel not enough people are talking about. So I’m going to talk about it. I’ll tell you why it’s awesome and once we’ve all watched it, come back to this space and I’ll have some deep analyses and we’ll talk together about how awesome it is.
Ok, quick synopsis in case you haven’t heard of this show. It’s basically Harry Potter with college students who drink a lot, swear a lot and behave like awful people. It’s great. Synopsis over, and another transition handled most smoothly. I think I’m getting the hang of this writing thing.
Look, I get that “awful people doing awful” might sound kind of terrible. But it’s, like, super not. Yes, they’re all pretty much some combination of insecure, clueless, obnoxious, self-centered, callous, arrogant and self-destructive, but the writers are mostly aware of this and in general terrible behavior has terrible consequences.
But it’s OK because the characters are terrible in interesting ways and there are these really great moments when these guys who think they know everything realize they are completely in over their heads. And despite all their shortcomings – or maybe because of them – the characters and their reactions feel, for the most part, like real people having real reactions and real hardships. Yes, the writes don’t always pull this off flawlessly – I could name a bunch of decisions that seem to come out of nowhere or don’t really work – but for most part, the relationships and emotions of the characters feel true and real.
In fact, one of the main draws of the show is that while it is very much a fantasy story, with magic and elves and wizards, the characters are from the real world, and many of them, especially Quentin, have read and obsessed over fantasy novels. This mean they react like you would expect real fantasy nerds to react to finding a real fantasy world. They make knowing references to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but more importantly, it means that they have certain expectations of what happens in a fantasy story, similar to what our expectations, as viewers are. The writers skillfully set up these expectations – both for the characters and the viewers – ad they turn around and savagely and bloodily subvert them. If you haven’t guessed by now, I like when things are subverted. You should too.
Then there are the magic elements themselves. It’s not fantasy storybook stuff, it’s dangerous and messy and dirty and the consequences of messing up, or even just not doing well are tangible. I really respect when shows don’t hesitate to explore the logical conclusions of their premises, even when those conclusions are grim and dark. And I will admit that sometimes events don’t make a whole lot of sense, like when they all suddnely become geese and fly to the south pole for no apparent reason. You might think that I of all people would get upset about that kind of random shenanigans. I didn’t, because first of all, that was a glorious moment, which will defend most strenuously, and secondly those kind of shenanigans just don’t happen too often.
Still, even when stuff doesn’t make sense plot wise, the show consistently uses the magical elements in service of character building and this is what saves it. In one scene, the characters can only cast a spell by telling their partner a deep secret. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but this then allows the show to springboard to a place where the characters are able to explore and deepen their relationships in a meaningful way. Which is good! That a makes it good to watch. Also, yes, it’s a TV show with a TV budget. For all that though, the special effects aren’t all that bad. There’s even a funny in-joke about how a magical castle had to be made invisible because the magic builders spent so much on the interior they couldn’t afford to make the outside look nice. I chuckled at that joke. So meta!
Did I mention, the show is funny? Because it is. I know I mentioned the character interactions at least. These are funny! Sometimes, the humor is light and nothing more than an incongruous f-bomb. But more than that, the show is really smart about how it uses its humor. It will disarm the viewer with seeming throwaway jokes and you’re like “huh, that’s funny” and you expect the show to move on. But it doesn’t. It keeps exploring the topic, and what starts as just a joke evolves into a deep exploration of the characters or the way society talks about women.
It actually does this again and again, and it’s incredibly effective, especially when it goes to these really dark and bloody places. One second you’ll be laughing at a clever joke, and next you’ll find the laughter catching in your throat, as a character has their hands cut off. This could easily have been jarring in a bad way, but instead it’s jarring in a good way, amplifying the emotions both in the moments of levity and making the shocking moments of blood and darkness all the darker.
So, you know, the Magicians. Go watch it! And then we’ll talk about all the ways the fart jokes are really funny and all the ways it works as a subtle indictment of rape culture.