The Magicians Review: Syfy's Magical New Drama Has Potential

There’s magic in the air at Syfy, and plenty of drama to go with it. I am referring to the arrival of The Magicians, Syfy’s series adaptation of Lev Grossman’s best-selling fantasy novels. The Magicians gets off to a decent start, using its first episode to introduce the ensemble of magically inclined young adults, and delving further into the adventure, drama and danger that’s very evidently in store for these characters. The first two episodes are solid, giving us the glimpse of the potential for the series to develop into something thrilling, dark and entertaining.

Created by Sera Gamble and John McNamara, The Magicians introduces us to Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), a Yale-bound grad student whose appreciation and yet-to-be-discovered aptitude for magic steers him away from a traditional life and toward Brakebills University, a school for aspiring magicians.

The Magicians doesn’t waste its time in opening Quentin’s eyes to the existence of magic, as he’s among numerous other magician-hopefuls invited to take Brakebills’ entrance exam. His best friend Julia (Stella Maeve) also takes the exam, but while Quentin performs well enough to enroll, Julia is sent on her way, seemingly made to forget all about the experience.

Quentin, moves forward with his magical education and becomes acquainted with his fellow Brakebills students, including the brainy legacy, Alice Quinn (Olivia Taylor Dudley), the edgy and attitudey William “Penny” Adiyodi, and opinionated Brakebills vets, Margo (Summer Bishil) and Eliot (Hale Appleman), neither of whom are around enough, in my opinion. Particularly Eliot, who’s intriguing from the start, and only gets more interesting by the second episode. Here's hoping he becomes more involved in the plot as the season resumes.


The premiere episode of The Magicians divides its attention to the introduction of Eliot to Brakebills, Eliot’s appreciation of the Fillory and Further series -- which may be a bit more than fantasy -- and the introduction of a mysterious threat to the students and faculty at Brakebills. By the second episode, it’s even clearer that a major arc is brewing as this fantasy-drama heats up. And then there’s Julia, whose life is far from normal in the wake of her rejection from Brakebills. Without giving too much away on her story, it’s evident by the end of the second episode that her arc is significant.

If there’s anything negative to report about The Magicians from its first two episodes, it’s that the series really feels like a new and not-quite-broken-in TV show. I might have spent more time than I wanted noticing that Alice’s hair, neatly pulled back with a clip to the side, was just a bit too tidy, or that Penny and his equally edgy girlfriend Kady’s levitation sex tried a tad too hard to hit that sexy-magic note. We get it, this isn’t Hogwarts. Dark and twisted -- and as you'll see at one point during the premiere, sometimes pretty gross -- stuff is going to happen.

Finally, the first two episodes don’t really give us much into Quentin’s personality. His interests are apparent, and his abilities are teased, but by the end of the second episode, he still feels more like the entry-point to this magical world than he does a central character. Or maybe it's that the personalities of Penny, Alice, Eliot and Margo stand out much more brightly. We even get a solid read on Julia's personality, despite the fact that much of her story takes place separately from what's going on with Quentin.

quentin and julia

Noticeable as these issues might be, they’re the kind of wrinkles that can iron out naturally with a bit of time and the right story progression.

With shows like Being Human, Bitten and Lost Girl among Syfy’s recent offerings, it’s evident that Syfy is still looking to capture an audience for supernatural dramas. In that respect, The Magicians is a good fit for the network’s lineup. With time to settle in and develop its characters, this new series has the potential to be a fun, dark and twisted drama, likely appealing most to young adults and adult viewers looking for a bit of magic in their TV viewing experience.

The Magicians premieres Monday, January 25 at 9/8c on Syfy. Check out the first episode online here.

Kelly West
Assistant Managing Editor

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site.