The Magicians is a new show on the Syfy channel based on Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy. I read the trilogy recently (you can read my reviews here, here, and here, including a bit about meeting the author!) so I was interested to hear it was being adapted into a TV show. But I was skeptical because it was being done by Syfy, and, well…Syfy. (Aside: my low opinion of Syfy is completely unfounded…I’ve never actually watched it in my entire life).
Sadly, I’m too cheap to have anything other than the bare basic cable service, so I do not get the Syfy channel. Happily, the first 4 episodes of the show are available to stream for free on Syfy’s website (and the remaining 2 episodes are On Demand for those who have the service – I do not, so I’ll only be discussing episodes 1-4).
I am not opposed to creative liberties when adapting a book to the screen. They’ve definitely taken creative liberties within the Magician’s world that I imagine are meant to attract the typical science fiction-loving audience. For example, the 4th episode is totally a Steven Moffat-esque psychological twister that does little to further the plot (much like a certain Christmas special of a certain favorite show with a certain favorite actor whose name rhymes with Shmenedict Slumbermatch), but it was thoroughly entertaining.
Here are some of the major differences between the books and the show:
- The characters are older; they are seniors in college applying to grad school at the beginning of the show rather than seniors in high school applying for their undergrad. I like this change because it allows for the kind of intense shit that happens in the show without the discomfort of feeling the characters are way too young to be handling it.
- THERE IS NO JANET. I REPEAT: NO JANET. I know people really love her. However, there are 2 new female characters who attempt to fill the Janet void, Margot and Kady. Margot is the gossip of the Physical Kids who will probably end up being Queen in Fillory like Janet was, but she definitely doesn’t have the badassery factor Janet had. Kady is the tough/rebellious love interest of Penny who makes up for any lack of badassery on Margot’s part.
- There is also no Josh, which isn’t as disappointing as losing Janet (but there is a Julia and a James)…the writers of the show must have decided that there were too many “J” names.
- The characterization of Quentin, Penny, and Alice is different (more on this later).
- The order of certain plot events is different and some new ones are added.
Here are the changes I don’t like:
- Firstly, Quentin. Because he is older, the TV Quentin is a man-child whose obsession with the Fillory books is more socially awkward than it would be if he was a senior in high school. His character in the show suffers from anxiety and depression as well. He is not the pretentious asshole we know from the books. And I do not like it.
- Next, Alice. Her costumes are horrible – they dress her up like a little school girl when clearly she’s like 23 years old. Maybe this might appeal to Quentin’s juvenile obsessions (like Fillory) and make her attractive to him, but seriously, her costumes are awful. They are painting her as a goody-two-shoes, but she’s more complex than that. She’s supposed to be a brooding, mysterious, brilliant young woman, not a child who carries around a stuffed animal (fyi, she doesn’t actually carry around a stuffed animal).
- Penny’s character – they made him into a total meathead, and I do not like it. I enjoyed disliking Penny for his holier-than-thou attitude and bizarre quirks…but we dislike Penny in the TV show for an entirely different reason: he’s the bully. I’m disappointed in the oversimplification of his character.
- [Elliot, however, is perfect. He’s my favorite character from the books and now my favorite character in the show…just…absolutely perfect.]
- The pacing: they crammed in too many major plot developments within the first 3 episodes. Like, it’s a TV show, slow down. You have time. How about develop those characters a bit more so there’s actually emotional resonance when bad things happen to them? Ok? Ok.
As I said before, I’m ok with changing things when adapting books to the screen – I know many people get upset over the smallest changes, but I don’t. So the things listed above relating to characterization are matters of creative interpretation; they just don’t happen to be the way I would have interpreted them. That doesn’t make it a bad show or a bad adaptation; my Quentin is not everyone’s Quentin. (We had to live with Movie Ron for all 8 Harry Potter films – I think I can live with TV Quentin.)
What I will also say is that you should watch at least through episode 3 before deciding if you like the show (also look out for Lev Grossman’s cameo – it’s classic). At first, the changes weren’t sitting right with me and I wasn’t convinced I liked it, probably because of the aforementioned pacing issues. But after episode 3 the plot slows down, and I was enjoying myself more. I like the dichotomy they are setting up between the hedge witches and the Brakebills students – that plot line is clearly going to be a much more important part of the show than the books, and that’s cool by me. I found the hedge witch parts interesting in the books (especially Free Trader Beowulf, which I’m hoping comes into the show). And of course, I’m excited to see Fillory.
So all-in-all, I give it 3/5 stars at this point. Have you seen the show? Read the books? What do you think?