Are you a self-prescribed nerd? Have you not seen the amazing show that is The Magicians? Well, those two statements don’t make very much sense. They’re an oxymoron, if you must. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. You’ve been out of the loop on quality television programming. Here’s why The Magicians should be your guiltless pleasure.
1. Two words: Finger… Tutting.
You’ve seen wands. You’ve seen vocal spell-casting. Now, I present to you finger tutting. “Finger tutting” comes from the act of “tutting,” an angular dance style meant to replicate the poses seen in Ancient Egyptian art and artifacts. The dance style became popular in the late twentieth century, but has since been reduced to appearances in reruns of Michael Jackson music videos. Finger tutting is a more recent version that applies the dance style to hand movements to create complex finger gestures.
While it has been on a constant climb to notoriety over the past decade, it had yet been used as meaningfully as it is on The Magicians. The series even takes their use of finger tutting and its application to spell casting so seriously that the finger choreography was outsourced from experienced choreographers Kevin Li and Paul Becker. The finger tutting language is essentially a language itself, with gestures that each carry their own distinct meaning.
2. A guest appearance by Marlee Matlin.
Marlee Matlin has landed roles in several, wildly different projects from My Name is Earl to Switched at Birth and now to The Magicians (she even spent some time on Family Guy). While it is unfortunate that she is one of the only faces of hearing-impaired individuals in Hollywood, the continued presence of such characters makes a real argument for the progress that is being made. Although, there’s still much more progress to be made on all fronts. Matlin has had a smaller role in The Magicians so far, but the second season finale hinted at a bigger part for her in the future.
3. Shows magic as a tool that never makes things better permanently and always has undesirable results.
Magic sucks. Shocker, huh, considering how this show thrives on it and would be unconceivable otherwise. My point still stands. Spell after spell, the protagonists find themselves deeper in trouble. Every time a character performs magic, especially for a cause so important to them, it backfires or neglects to ease the woes it was made to alleviate.
Great stories are built on this cycle of dealing the protagonist one shoddy hand after another. Most renowned stories of magic such as Harry Potter avoid the bilateral nature of magic and its inability to truly “fix” things, but the creators of The Magicians insist on addressing it with every occasion.
4. Magic looks as realistic as possible.
This should be a given, right? Wrong. Spare the attempts to defend your favorite shows that “did almost everything right, but looked a little bad.” I get it. You have to make a compelling story with rich characters and an offbeat tone, especially for a tale like this. So naturally, the visuals tend to suffer and the production budget has a big hand in that.
But what if I told you that an incomparable story with characters you loved or loved to hate and magic as realistic as it could get does exist? You’d look at me as if I insisted I was Santa Claus and ship me off to Arkham Asylum, but alas it does. The magic in The Magicians appears as realistic as it could. The fact that it is a Syfy series rather than a theater block-buster just makes it even more impressive.
5. Pays homage to several classic fantasy series.
To the untrained eye, it may seem that The Magicians rips off classic fantasy series’ without a care and hinges its story upon the familiar plot elements. To anyone else, it’s clear that the series is a declaration of love for these forerunners and honors them by acknowledging their brilliant ideas.
Just in case you might not have noticed, the book series that is so popular among magicians in the series, Fillory and Further, is undeniably analogous to The Chronicles of Narnia. The Magicians itself could be said to resemble the Harry Potter series, with its focus on modern day magic and on the school that the protagonists attend. The use of these works is never subtle in the show and the blatant transparency shows there’s no way the series could do such unspeakable wrongs.
6. Has a source material, isn’t just out of thin air.
This could work for or against any work that makes it to the screen, but I’d say it manages to offer some great support in this case. You could basically say that the foundation for the series was already built and everyone associated with the project has just been adding layers. Lev Grossman’s The Magicians novel trilogy, on which the tv series was based, is amazing. It’s a great read and of course, much of it escaped the final cut when transitioning to the primetime slot. But who are we kidding? That’s just how these matters go. All things considered, the show made some great decisions that the novel missed out on. Such as…
7. A relatively diverse cast, thanks to and despite the source material.
You may be unaware, but while The Magicians could use more diversity, almost everything could always use more diversity, it has a more diverse cast already than most fantasy installments. Fantasy isn’t exactly known for its balanced portrayal of race (other than creatures that don’t exist), sexual orientation, or gender.
In this series; both men and women are shown to be equally powerful; one of the protagonists is very fluid in his sexuality; and one of the characters is of an ethnic persuasion. I’m sure there are other cases of diversity I’m missing here, but these are the show’s central characters and they’re each given generous screen time. While Eliot was also sexuality-fluid in the novels, Penny’s nationality was never stated. The show creators made a decision to cast Penny as a man of color and the decision worked better than they could have ever dreamed.
8. Endless Pop culture references dating at least as far back as the 80s.
There’s nothing greater than seeing magicians in modern day trying to tackle bleaker issues than most of us have ever come across, oh wait. How about some pop culture references to stir the pot? Every episode brings with it a ton of pop culture references and the tone they produce is just one of the elements that makes this show’s style so unique. One of the most memorable references was when Eliot recited the big speech at the end of Dirty Dancing to convince the Knight of Crowns of his earthly heritage.
9. One episode featured a musical number inspired by Les Misérables.
To the fan base, Magicians is known not just for its spectacular magic sequences, but also for its spontaneous moments of folly. You really never know what to expect and the series takes advantage of the tv format. One such moment found a few of the protagonists raising their hopes through song as they marched to a king’s duel to the death.
The song in question was “One More Day” from the play Les Misérables. The situation would have been funny on its own, but it’s made even funnier by the fact that they’re really singing because of a spell one of the protagonists placed on them and herself. Suffice it to say, their opponents were puzzled to no end when a singing congregation met them on the battle field.
10. Taylor Swift and Imagine Dragons are excellent mental defense against psychic intrusions.
More pop culture allusions. Penny is a psychic and the thoughts he’s heard from his peers’ minds have plagued him for as far back as his memory will take him. Quentin is a neurotic, self-conscious bundle of nerves whose mind is either playing Taylor Swift every time Penny hears it or shielding his thoughts with Imagine Dragons. Sounds a lot like my mind. It’s a bonus that Penny especially dislikes Taylor Swift because to him she’s just an example of unreasonably popular, meaningless pop jingles.
11. Much of the show revolves around or takes place in a magical school in upstate N.Y.
I know this may not matter to most people, especially those not native to N.Y., but it’s definitely worth mentioning for many. Even if N.Y. isn’t a home to you, The Magicians should still score some points from you for choosing to take place there. Grounding the story in such a well-known place adds to it’s authenticity. Also, why do magical worlds always have to be separate from ours? It’s much more convincing when it’s hidden right under our noses.
12. Co-written by Sera Gamble, creator of Supernatural.
Supernatural wasn’t always the atrocious waste of time it is today. Fans, if it still has any, will remember the earlier days of yore when the series gave us great dialogue, great monsters, and a passable storyline. Gamble brings a lot to the table on The Magicians and has helped it to do everything that her previous series could not. It gives us exceptional dialogue with fresh characters and interesting connections between one another.
Gamble mainly produced Supernatural, only taking on a writing role a few times during the early years of the show (when it still had some quality). On the adaptation of Lev Grossman’s work, she has lent her writing capabilities to every episode and so far, so good. So very, very good.
13. Syfy hosted a Magicians writing contest.
Ever heard of Wattpad? Can’t say I had either before Syfy began a competition for a written short story detailing any one of the 39 obscure battles the magicians waged against the Beast. Understandably so, the writing competition was called the Battle the Beast contest and would choose one grand prize winning story to turn into a digital short. The contest began shortly before the start of the second season and ended in early February. A winner was chosen, but any details otherwise have yet to surface.
14. Every episode has a corresponding behind the scenes on Facebook.
Social media is the wave of the future. If you’re a major tv network or popular fictional work of any kind, a social media page is crucial to your brand. Of course it’s not enough just to have a social media profile. Social media is all about the opportunity to communicate with loyal fans, a newer opportunity that not everyone has learned to take advantage of. So it’s your duty to give the viewers a perspective or information they lack access to.
The Facebook page for The Magicians regularly posts videos of behind the scenes, one for each episode of the second season, and I’m sure we’ll see more as soon as the third season returns. While some of the videos mention filming techniques, others are simply fun moments from on-set. Never have we felt so close.
15. The Magicians has a name for their fandom and the creators let their fans choose it.
A sprawling mass of fans is the mark of any trendy tv series, but a name for those fans is the mark of a beloved one. Beiber has his Beliebers, Nicki her Barbiez, and Taylor her Swifties. After a request for fan names circulated from the series’ Facebook page, the fandom answered and so it was written. Henceforth, we shall be Fillorians and we shall be glorious.
16. A wide variety of fantastical creatures, some of them we’ve never seen before.
You’ve gotta expect to see a medley of mythical creatures in a story revolving around magic. What makes the series great are all of the creatures we never see on the screen, like a hodgepodge or “the white lady.” It must be a challenge to find new ways to show the same creatures or create new creatures that spark the child-like wonder in us all, but it doesn’t appear to be in this series.
17. The antagonist of the first season is really just a hurt child lashing out for the horrors he experienced. The antagonist of the second season is just another hurt child, this time lashing out over abandonment issues.
It’s nothing new to see a 3-dimensional villain. You can’t have a strong story without one, especially of late. So, it’s nothing of note to have a villain with depth. The Magicians takes a few steps further. Each antagonist commits monstrous acts that make it easy to pine for their death or their comeuppance at the least. That is, until you learn of the pain they hide behind.
The Beast, the first season’s scoundrel, was sexually abused as a child by the man who wrote the novels that inspire most of the protagonists. In an attempt to amass enough power to forever hide away in the world of Fillory, he lost humanity. So can we really blame him for acting like he doesn’t have a soul since, you know, he lost it trying to save himself when no one else could?
18. Magical books have a mind of their own, from dirty ones to violent, prejudiced ones.
This tidbit isn’t as plot driven as the others, but it’s a testament to how expansive the world of The Magicians is and how intricate the smallest details tend to be in the series. Flying books are just a fact of life for many Brakebills students and an episode of the first season finds Quentin tracking one down to a hedge witch den, accompanied by Eliot.
As soon as they reach the den, the book they’ve been using as a hound dog of sorts flies out of their possession and into another room with a different flying book. The passionate sounds of love making, and by that I mean loud thumps, show Quentin a side to literature he never could have imagined.
In the second season, books cause more mischief when a librarian at the Brakebills library informs Penny that the book he seeks was destroyed… by other books. The books were from another time, the victim was written by a Jewish author and the other books were of a certain sinister political party that shall not be named.
19. Even Quentin has racist subconscious conceptions and we see them.
Subconscious conceptions of the world or individuals around us are just part of human nature. If you’re a creature of higher thought, that’s just comes with the package. Throughout the series we get several glimpses into the minds of the characters, but in the first season we see Quentin stuck in a dream world within his mind.
When Penny invades it to rescue him, he encounters Quentin’s version of him, an offensive caricature of Indian people. Penny takes it well but, it’s Penny, so he voices his disapproval. Look past the surface of this moment and you’ll see that the series loves to play with its characters’ flaws. A flawed character is a deeper character.
20. A great soundtrack that comes into play at the most opportune moments, like Eliot’s disco ball distraction.
I don’t know about you, but I worship the inclusion of a good soundtrack for a series. A good soundtrack doesn’t make a series, but it sure gives it that finishing touch. The Magicians features a range of music to fit the scene, but the award for best use of the soundtrack goes to Eliot’s use of a magical disco ball that played “I Am the Best,” a hit song by 2NE1, a Korean pop group. The music incites an uncontrollable dance from the security guards they need to distract during a bank robbery.
21. The show is dark, as it should be.
This list has been a gathering of literary achievements, much appreciated hints of foolish humor and dismal events. The way in which these parts complement each other is executed concisely. Still, the show’s dark humor and grim affairs give the series a gritty core that other magic shows just can’t manage.
In just two seasons, we’ve seen the writers introduce rape, sexual child abuse, unwarranted death, alcoholism, abortion, and a wealth of other issues you wouldn’t expect to see paired with the whimsical world of magic. It’s always been done with taste and for purpose, but it’s been a rough ride. Who knows what’s in store for season 3. Whatever may come, I’m sure we won’t be disappointed.