There is a clear difference between great shows and popular ones.
Great TV shows are ones that not only provide an excellent form of entertainment but also cause critics, viewers and others to pay attention to what they are consistently doing whether they are a fan of the show or not. These shows are the ones that shape the landscape of TV storytelling for the future and allow for other shows to follow in their footsteps of storytelling by being able to push boundaries to an even farther limit. They cause the viewers to wrestle with difficult questions that they have not yet had to answer on their own. They challenge you in a productive way.
The good shows are simply that. Good. Nothing more. They are weekly entertainment that does not go any deeper than occupying your time once a week (or more) and helping you forget about something. Sure, they serve different purposes; guilty pleasures, competition, comedy, drama, etc, but there is nothing that forces people to answer certain questions about society, themselves or the world they live in. They just are fun to watch.
We are in an age of too much television. As an example, there were over 400 scripted TV shows that premiered in 2015. Now, I love watching TV. I have my shows that I stick by no matter what, I have others that serve as guilty pleasures even though I know they aren’t good and of course there are those that are new and waiting to be discovered by the likes of me who is constantly searching for something to push my TV viewing experience into a different place.
I think I might have found the next show.
The SyFy Channel is not known for great program. Not even near great programming and to be honest, calling some of their shows “good” can even be a stretch, however, much like the USA Network did in taking a chance with Mr. Robot by challenging their choices of programming for their network and choosing to shake it up and try something different SyFy chose a similar path with The Magicians. It is a book trilogy by Lev Grossman that has been adapted into a TV show and while yes, the title suggests that it would be right up SyFy Network’s alley it is much more adult themed than anything that has ever graced their network.
The story follows Quentin Coldwater, a nerd of sorts and out-of-place dweller in society that clearly knows he doesn’t belong in the world where he’s currently living and chooses instead to dive deeply into a series of fantasy novels that seem more real to him than anything in the world he occupies. He eventually is shown this entire world that exists in the realm of magic and embarks on a journey in a magic university, Breakbills, to help hone his skills in order to one day become something great. The elevator pitch I have seen on various blogs has been: It’s an adult themed version of Harry Potter in Grad School. I’m here to attest while that’s not a horrible description, it also leaves a lot to be desired which is the motivation for this article. Obviously, I am glossing over a lot of materialthat is explained in the pilot episode; his friends, the forms of magic, his destiny, etc. which is exactly why I’m not trying to go further into detail and would rather you discover the story for yourself. What I can stress is the show’s themes, which aside from being extremely dark also explore the notions of rejection or feeling out of place and the idea of realizing that not everyone is meant to achieve greatness.
I think what has intrigued me the most from the pilot (now there are 3 episodes with the 4th airing tonight) was the hint at a much larger and darker world that is beyond Quentin’s comprehension at this time. While there are major hints being dropped about the eventual collision between Quentin and the world of magic at large the show does an excellent job of capturing the pressures of a college student just simply not wanting to flunk out of school because doing so would result in his memory being completely wiped of the existence of magic, a skill which he desperately clings to because it provides his only sense of belonging. This shadow always looming over Quentin and the people he encounters along his journey is manifested in various ways as are the coping mechanisms of those students looking to escape such pressures.
The Magicians is an extremely well layered TV show that has the makings of a great show not only because it is striving for something truly original but also because while being set in a world where magic exists and there are truly great things that can be accomplished through that as a medium it also chooses to show the mundane pressures of everyday life and one’s constant journey to simply feel like they belong to something greater than themselves and once that feeling is found, the effort that is spent on holding onto it along with the cost that might be paid in doing so. These are themes you normally would receive in a drama from another network and in knowing this, I applaud SyFy’s effort in branching out to these types of shows.
Here’s where even I am surprising myself with this article….I am saying all of this after having only watched three episodes! To be even more honest, after watching the pilot and having to wait another week for the next episode it almost killed me. I have not waited in such anticipation for a TV show that is week to week since Game of Thrones because the interest in this created world is so intriguing and the characters are so well written that I cannot get enough of it. I understand that you could watch the pilot and think that it is not as exciting as what I am trying to convey, however, I can only ask you to implement the FOUR EPISODE RULE and push onwards because in the second and third episodes it only gets more interesting. That is not to say that there isn’t enough in the pilot episode to get you excited about watching this show. If I was forced to pick a negative towards it I would say that the first 15 minutes are a little slower than what I had expected because not only are they trying to introduce two of the main characters they are also trying to show you how different their lives are from one another before completely ripping that away once Breakbills University comes into play. Once you get past this, you are off and running in a completely different world, one where I found myself pausing and rewinding as certain characters delivered exposition about the different types of magic/people/creatures/places/etc. This is something a book has the luxury of delivering on its own time, but TV demands differently. However, this is also something that kept me coming back for more because they actually do not go into a lot of detail about the magical world which forces you to better understand Quentin’s situation as he is essentially learning on the fly or as things occur around him.
Needless to say, if you are a fan of television and wanting to find something new to experience I cannot stress enough The Magicians. It is a truly exciting show that is providing a great story by slowly unfolding a rather large plot to the viewer piece by piece and while a simple wikipedia search will answer all of your questions there is something magical (pun intended) in allowing the show to reveal these things to you on its own terms. I have not been this excited about watching a new show in a very long time and am looking forward to where The Magicians will take me next.
The Magicians airs on SyFy network on Mondays at 9:00pm(East)