You’d be forgiven if, from a distance, you mistook The Magicians, Syfy’s adaptation of Lev Grossman’s New York Times best seller, as purely derivative. Its elevator pitch—young man discovers that magic is real when he is accepted to a prestigious school of wizardry—sounds uncomfortably similar to J.K. Rowling’s iconic series, while the magical books-within-the-book, the Fillory and Further novels, are obviously colored with shades of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.
But all this is purely a surface-level critique.
The world of The Magicians is darker and more dangerous, even more so than the most sinister of machinations of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It is a world where magic is power and power comes at a price—and a place where those who wield it are, almost to a man, governed by their baser urges.
While it obviously takes ample liberties with the source material, the team behind The Magicians has done a phenomenal job of translating Grossman’s warts and all view of the supernatural to the small screen. So much so that it’s positively soaked with sex and drugs, with violence and harsh language.
This is the part where I warn you that The Magicians is not for kids… or the faint of heart.
There are shocks and scares, f-bombs aplenty, and a major plot point that hinges on the monstrous predilections of a beloved children’s book author. There are buckets of blood, instances of animal cruelty, graphic assaults, unexpected betrayals, and more crushing existential angst than you can shake a stick (wand?) at.
Still, the true genius of the series is that its young cast seems to go above and beyond to make their characters—central protagonist Quentin “Q” Coldwater, his childhood friend Julia Wicker, new love interest and part-time basket case Alice Quinn, the sultry Margo Hanson (the equivalent of Janet from the novels), and scenery-chewing standouts Hale Appleman as Eliot Waugh and Arjun Gupta as Penny Adiyodi—as damaged, unsavory, and, oftentimes, downright unlikable as is humanly possible.
Season one clocks in at 13 episodes strong, combining elements of both the original novel, The Magicians, and its sequel, The Magician King, along with some notable changes in both plot and pacing that better reflect its new, visual nature. While it does drag in places—first seasons are, unfortunately, all about setups—the special effects and its stellar cast more than make up for it.
Its presentation on Blu-ray is spectacular, with its expansive 1.78:1 aspect ratio and resonant DTS-HD 5.1 audio bringing all the sights and sounds to life. Speaking of the sounds, these episodes are presented uncensored—hence the ample swears I mentioned earlier. Sadly, the Blu-ray bonuses are a little anemic.
Discs one and two only offer a handful of brief bonus scenes deleted from their original broadcast run, and most don’t add much to the narrative as a whole. The third disc, however, does provide a gag reel and a special “The World of The Magicians” featurette that helps make the offering that much more substantial.
The Blu-ray set also comes bundled with the Digital HD Ultraviolet version of each of the episodes, though, sadly, those won’t be available until the product’s proper release so I didn’t get a chance to specifically check them out.
If you enjoyed Grossman’s novels but missed season one during its initial 2015-2016 airing, then do yourself a favor and pick up this release. And if you’re just looking for another solid series to plumb during the summertime doldrums? Well, you should do the same. Just keep in mind that this magical trip won’t include chaste schoolboy crushes, solitary tankards of butterbeer, or festive Christmas sweaters from Mama Weasley. This is a darker, adult adventure, complete with all the grown-up trappings that implies.
In The Magicians, magic is often a matter of life and death, and its players live each day like it may be their last.