Third-episode verdict: The Magicians (US: Syfy)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Not yet acquired

No matter how many different dust jackets you put round them to confuse fellow commuters, the Harry Potter books were undoubtedly for kids. Although everyone quailed at the thought of He Who Must Not Be Named (Lord Voldemort), you never got a feeling of any real risk, any real power or anything genuinely nasty going on. Death spells? Sure, but you just fall over and die, and that’s it. It’s not even 24 in the scheme of things, let alone the almighty forces of the universe at work.

The Magicians, which is basically Harry Potter for adults, does much to improve this situation. Set in an exclusive school (university) for wizards, it gives us a magic that can at times be genuinely terrifying. We’ve seen a man made from moths stepping through mirrors from other worlds to freeze time and paralyse people while he rips out their eyes. We’ve seen fiction and reality blurring, with characters from books becoming real and the real becoming fictional. We’ve had ghosts that can actually frighten, people disfigured horribly by magic and raw power consume magic users alive.

And if the rest of The Magicians had been as great as that depiction of magic, I would be its biggest fan. The trouble is that such moments are few and far between. The rest of the time, it’s still Harry Potter but in what is effectively an American High School, rather than a university – one filled with mean girls and bullies, and acted by people who seem to have wandered in off the street rather than acting schools. It’s also filled with hammy attempts at comedy that are as obvious as they are unfunny, something that isn’t helped by everyone smirking whenever they have to deliver a funny line.

There is a vague attempt to give us a rich vs poor subtext, with our stupidly named hero Quentin Coldwater going to the elite, Yale-esque ‘Brakebills’, while his best friend Julia fails the entrance exam and ends up at the equivalent of the local poly, which is half portakabin, half Fight Club. But that’s about it as far as depth and characterisation are concerned, because while you cared about ordinary Harry, bright spark Hermione and loyal old Ron, frankly, pretty much everyone in The Magicians could die a fiery and painful death and you’d be more worried about the marks they’d left on the hardwood flooring than their horrific demise.

It’s a shame because when it starts to properly deal with magic, The Magicians has some truly memorable scenes and some real imagination going on. It just understands that fictional world far better than it does people.

Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? Marginally
TMINE’s prediction: Likely to get cancelled after a season, but Syfy might just persevere with it


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.