Lev Grossman’s fan-favorite Magicians trilogy has debuted on the Syfy channel as a new TV series. While the critical reception has been mixed, viewers chatting online seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. One drawback, though, is that Syfy made the premiere episode available in advance of its small-screening, so I’m not entirely sure how many people made the effort to tune in live. If anyone has insight into that release strategy, hit the comments below—I’d love to hear your thoughts!
To bring you up to speed: Quentin Coldwater is a college-aged sleight-of-hand practitioner and Fillory fanatic (a fictional book series that greatly resembles the Chronicles of Narnia) who is identified as a potential magic scholar by Brakebills University, a Hogwarts-ian grad school that’s equal parts party house and world-saving enterprise. The latter part becomes obvious when Quentin learns that most of the third-year class is MIA and then the new dean is attacked by a hideous mothman creature that steps out of a mirror. But his BFF Julia, who also showed some magical promise, flunked the Brakebills entrance exam and has fallen in with a group that is practicing and learning magic in, let’s say, an alternative manner with a group of “hedge witches.” She’s not used to being left behind, and seems determined to prove her resourcefulness in any way possible.
Let’s check in and see how author Lev Grossman planned to spend the premiere night: Korean food and drunk texting!
Perhaps he concocted a lovely Brakebills Gimlet, a recipe from YA Wednesdays. We can only hope.
Critics’ reviews were mixed:
AV Club gave the premiere a grade of “C” and asked for “more Alice, please.”
Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix had quibbles with pacing, although he acknowledges that it was probably smart to get right to the action and “tell[…] the story of Quentin’s best friend Julia (Stella Maeve)—who gets rejected from Brakebills and travels down a dark path to learn magic on her own—in parallel with his, rather than saving it for later.” (Julia’s story features more prominently in The Magician King.)
The Atlantic had similar criticism of the exposition, saying “the result ends up feeling like a knock-off of the genre works that inspired Grossman, lacking in the wry commentary that made the original books feel so fresh.”
Slate wished for fewer “floating fornicators” and “to show us a […] bit more of this: magical powers as a metaphor for dealing with real, complicated life.”
i09 discovered at ComicCon last fall that Syfy is going all in on including as much “content” as they can from the source materials. Entertainment Weekly has more on this, commenting on the darkness, violence, and changes (or not!) from the books.
The LA Times was quite upbeat, remarking that “fantasy may or may not be best left to the imagination. As Quentin soon finds, one’s troubles are quite portable, even on magical journeys.”
As for me? I thoroughly enjoyed it. My main criterion for film adaptation is how well the screen version captures the feel of the book, and I thought this came quite close. Sure, I could quibble about minor changes and artistic license, but ultimately the Syfy episodes contained all of the surprising thrills and wry humor of the books. Also, listening to the conversation on Twitter was hilarious as well, and I’ll be doing a weekly roundup for you Fillory Fans as we journey deeper into the magic together. Don’t forget: while magicians are able to eat Oreos, diabetic magicians should indeed think twice.