Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” is often referred to as Harry Potter for adults. Brakebills University is like a Hogwarts grad-school hidden in a pocket dimension in New York City. Quentin Coldwater is a super-nerd who escaped clinical depression by reading Narnia-esque children’s books. Then magic turns out to be real but not very kid-friendly. “Magic doesn’t come from talent,” his friend explains. “It comes from pain.”
All the main characters have different kinds of pain. Penny is a psychic who does “a little or a lot of self-medicating” to silence the screaming voices. Alice is a nerd who is smarter and therefore more powerful than everyone else, and almost everyone hates her for it. Julia is certain she has magical potential but is forced to find magic on the streets like a drug addict. These are the good kind of mature things the show does. All the foul language, sex, and violence are less cool for Christians.
The show has a mysterious web of subplots running throughout, many of them hinted at early on, which messes with the pacing. The plot is still easy enough to follow, however, and the explanations for these mysteries are very satisfying. When I watched the season again, I understood all the cryptic references, and some of the subplots became even more significant. The first few episodes may seem rushed, but there turns out to be a very clever reason for that.
One problem I do have with this show is how grim its mature atmosphere sometimes gets. People dying of sickness and gruesome attacks would be expected, but the romantic relationships bring a lot of angst as well. Everyone spends so much time looking sad, it’s easy to forget that we’re watching a show about magical people and not “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
Season 2 promises to further explore the pure magic of this universe. It’s sure to be grim, subverting fantasy tropes all over the place, but I can hope there will be less angst. Even if “The Magicians” is for adults, it’s also supposed to appeal to the kid in all of us. As an added bonus, the show is intelligently done, further rewarding viewers who pay attention.
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