Back when I wrote my article on untapped potential series for HBO, there were many strong intellectual properties that I left out. One such I.P. was The Magicians trilogy, written by Lev Grossman. For those out there who are unfamiliar with this series, picture a far more adult/realistic interpretation of Harry Potter. A world where being wizards does not stop children from engaging in drug use, alcohol, sex, and all the other stupid crap kids tend to do as they grow older. Add to this an incredibly smart parody of the Chronicles of Narnia series and you have the essence of what The Magicians trilogy is about. This past summer saw the end of the trilogy with the final book, The Magician’s Land, being released in August. Like many fans of the series, I went through typical post-book depression once reaching the end before looking out to see what future, if any, the series might have. Grossman is, at the moment, insisting that this is the end for the series (I’m not so sure) so book-wise prospects were limited. There is a planned television show, however! Huzzah! Who is making it? Netflix? HBO? Hulu? Syfy? Really – Syfy… okay, not sure how to feel there.
Actually I do know how to feel: not confident. The network formally known as Sci-Fi has not been the recent name in terms of quality programming. To look back at it, the last Syfy show that anyone even talked about was Battlestar Galatica and that ended (rather poorly) in 2009. Since then Syfy has produced shows such as Haven, Defiance, and Z Nation. None of these shows have enjoyed terrific critical reception. It seems that since Battlestar Galatica, Syfy is still scrambling to find a show that garners a stronger reaction than: “Z Nation, that sounds a lot like the Walking Dead!”
In fact, there is only one recent series that Syfy is famous for: Sharknado. Yes, for those out there looking to gauge just how intelligent the usual Syfy programming is, look no further than Sharknado. For those poor souls out there who are unaware what Sharknado is… it is exactly what it sounds like. A movie about a tornado – made of sharks. Two movies actually, with a planned third on the way. Not to criticize Sharknado, on a personal level I love it for the wonderfully, intentionally stupid movie series that it is. That said, “From the network that brought you Sharknado comes the Magicians” just sounds wrong on so many levels.
The point I am trying to make is that the Magicians is smart, and it is that intelligence that made the series work. On the face of it, there have been numerous fantasy books that have tried to bring that ‘adult edge’ to the Harry Potter scenario – and most of them have failed miserably. These books did not rely on their sex or occasional brutal violence to tell a story, they relied on the charm and wit that Lev Grossman installed into their characters.
In particular there is a special challenge with the series protagonist, Quentin Coldwater (I love that name). Quention is nothing like Harry Potter. He is much more your typical hormone-filled adolescent. He makes mistakes, a lot of them, and he is not likeable through the first part of the trilogy. This character is realistic but hard to write. Grossman was able to give Quentin humanity and sympathy – which was very tough when his character was best described as a person who has everything: magic, a woman who loves him, a school to grow his talents, a portal to a magical world… and he manages to thoroughly f*ck everything up through his immaturity and inability to take responsibility. That may not be a tough protagonist to make relatable, but he is not the easiest guy to root for – not in the beginning anyway.
Writers John McNamara and Sera Gamble have their hands full in handling the pilot of this adaptation. McNamara’s career is long but not filled with any real highlights (Lois & Clark is not something to be proud of). Gamble at least has Supernatural under her belt. It is not a guaranteed failure, but the odds appear stacked against the Magicians being a show on the same level as the book series it is based off of. I am only hoping to be proved wrong.
On a quick side note, how funny is it how much the dialogue has changed on shows?
“Is there a new show coming out?”
“Think it will be any good?”
“Well… they’re airing it on cable TV.”
“F*ck! I was hoping for Netflix!”