Syfy’s latest original series, The Magicians, is the latest version of the popular “pretty young people with special powers” trope that has inundated the cultural zeitgeist. Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), the latest Chosen One, is a moody philosophy student who always feels like the smartest guy in the room. He’s that guy at the party who wants everyone to know that he is having a bad time with such frivolities and who assures you that the original Danish version of a television show is better because “the Danish just have darker souls or something.” He apparently only loves two things: his best friend and clearly unrequited love (can we please kill and bury the idea of the friend zone already?), Julia (Stella Maeve), and a fantasy book series called Fillory and Further, which is essentially The Chronicles of Narnia without the Christian metaphors. When Quentin thinks that he is going to a graduate interview for Yale, he is instead thrust into the hidden world of Brakebills University, a college for the magically inclined. Think of it as Hogwarts except that the students are more sexually active and know what math is.
There is a reason that Chosen One narratives are popular. People are obviously drawn to the idea that they might be special and that the emptiness they feel can be cured by a simple magic trick. However, in order to succeed, these stories have to bring something new to the table. It’s all the more unfortunate that The Magicians doesn’t, given that its source material, a trilogy of novels by Lev Grossman, earned acclaim in part by referencing and subverting familiar elements of fantasy fiction. While it’s hard to judge a show by its pilot, The Magicians simply isn’t bringing us anything new. Quentin is Harry Potter by way of the socially inept, but brilliant Sherlock Holmes without the appeal of either, and all of the side characters fall into familiar roles, as well. Quentin’s roommate Penny (Arjun Gupta) is artistic yet tortured by his abilities, Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is studious and uptight, and Eliot (Hale Appleman) and Margo (Summer Bishil) are the worldly older students who show Quentin the ropes. There is also a typically stern Dean (Rick Worthy) and a shadowy and mysterious villain to round out the cast.