Last night, SyFy aired the pilot to its other show based on a recent novel, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. While the rest of the show will be airing in January, the pilot gives us an idea of how the network has adapted the show for cable television.
The most common description for The Magicians is that it’s an ‘adult’ Harry Potter. There’s certainly comparisons to be made: a young man goes off to a magical academy, where he learns all about a hidden world of magic. That’s pretty much where the comparisons stop, and the television show has taken on the same sort of attitude: Harry Potter this isn’t.
There are some changes right off the bat. When we meet Quentin Coldwater in the beginning of the episode, he’s desperately trying to move on from his adolescence and on to grad school: he tells his friend Julia that he’s reading a treasured book, Fillory and Friends, one last time before he sells them on eBay in an effort to move on from his childhood.
This is all upended when he and Julia abruptly find themselves transported to Brakebills Academy in Upstate New York, where they’re to take an entrance exam. Quinten makes it in with a spectacular display of magic when he’s screamed at.
Julia, on the other hand, is told that she failed the exam, and that she’ll be sent home. Before her memory is wiped to protect the secrecy of the school and the magical world, she cuts herself to give her something to remember and look into.
There are some big changes between the show and the book: Brakebills has shifted from a college to a sort of graduate school of magic, while Julia’s story, which appears in The Magician King, has been given more prominence–it seems elements from both books will be adapted for this first season.
What the show absolutely nails is the aloof distance that Quentin carries with him in the books–Jason Ralph is perfectly casted here. These aren’t optimistic, enthusiastic heroes looking to save the day or to make the world a better place: they’re deeply flawed individuals who are trying to find a place in the world. Brakebills accepts dysfunctional Quentin, while it rejects Julia, who seems to have her shit together: it’s a promising story root for the rest of the season.
What I’m really digging with this pilot episode is how it’s a nice counterpoint to the trend of epic fantasy: Game of Thrones and the upcoming Shannara Chronicles. Grossman’s novel was deeply aware of its genre roots, and setting magic amidst every day life will be a nice change of pace for the rest of the season.
The Magicians begins on January 25th, 2016 at 9/8c.