Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Reviewer, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

Netflix Original: The Magicians (Season 1)

Short review: Never mind, my feelings are too complicated for a short review.

Long review:

I didn’t like this show at first. In fact, I’m not entirely sure why I watched past the first few episodes. My husband suggested that the show had a good premise and, much like with Charmed or Heroes, I kept watching in hopes of seeing that premise fulfilled. Maybe. But in the meantime I found myself hating most of the main characters and feeling a definite drag to the first half or more of the 13 episodes, waiting for something truly impressive to happen.

I didn’t really start to like the show until about episode 9 (give or take … they’re all blurring together). But something strange happened: I didn’t just start to like the show at that point, I started to REALLY like the show. By the second to last episode I was in love and the finale had me desperate for season 2. Actually, it ended in a really mean place and I want to strangle someone but … never mind. Let’s talk premise.

So, magic school for grad students. It takes the classic magic school concept and grows it up a bit. It was nice to see that magic school is okay to do again now … Harry Potter put a stranglehold on the idea for a long time, convincing writers and fans alike that anything involving magic school had to be derivative of Harry Potter. But Rowling did not invent the concept and there is much, much more to do with it. Like do it with 22-year-olds instead of 12-year-olds.

My first impression was that the show’s creators did this grown up version of magic school so the characters could have lots of sex and I was frankly annoyed by it. And I’m still not convinced that the gratuitous sex was necessary, but I did begin to understand it better as the season wore on. It’s … complicated. I’d really love for someone else to watch this show so I can discuss it, honestly!

But in the end, I realized that the grown up version of magic school was more adult than just the sex. Magic was really dangerous. People really died. A series of children’s books really happened … sort of. They were rather watered down for the kids. The books became symbolic of leaving behind childish magical ideas.

The characters, too, became more sympathetic as the season wore on and we began to understand the better. Every character has a story, and a reason for their behavior. Unfortunately, this does come across initially as very middle school behavior, which enhanced my impression of the shows’ creators as only wanting an excuse to have the characters be very sexual. I sometimes forget that middle school is, after all, a sort of super condensed version of real life and that adults are capable of cattiness and nastiness too. Once the characters developed, I still didn’t love many of them, but I understood.

A few things that I really respected the show for:

1. Not taking the easy way out.
2. Surprising me … more than once.
3. Using our expectations and preconceived notions against us. You could also say that it took some tropes and flipped them around, so that at first you get the impression that you’ve seen this show before and it’s not going to do anything new. Then you realize you’re wrong.
4. An episode containing depictions of suicide ended with a screen showing the phone number for the national suicide prevention phone number.Similarly, an episode containing sexual assault ended with a support line for victims.

Complaints:

1. The world building is weak, even at the end of the season.
2. The passage of time was difficult to follow.
3. It took too long to develop the depth that ultimately made it good.

In conclusion: If you watch this show, know you need to stick with it. Have patience. If you love fantasy, you’ll enjoy this.

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