Friday, 6 May 2016

The Magicians - 'Unauthorized Magic'

This is the absolute peak of Jason Ralph's awe face.
Quentin Coldwater is drifting through life, trying to live down the name Quentin Coldwater and find some trace of wonder in a life seemingly devoid. Even his best friend Julia is drifting away from their shared love of close-up magic and the Narniaesque Fillory sequence of crossworlds fantasy novels as they begin to interview for grad school admission.

Then an academic turns up dead for an interview, having left for Quentin a manuscript of the unpublished sixth Fillory novel, 'The Magicians'. He and Julia both find their way into a weird, extradimensional school called Brakebills, where he aces a test in which the questions keep changing, but she flunks. He is pushed to do real magic and then accepted onto the programme, while she gets a memory wipe that doesn't take.

"And then I was shouted at by a fictional schoolgirl..."
Almost at once, Quentin starts experiencing hallucinations of Fillory, in which one of the characters - Jane Chatwin - tells him not to stay on the Garden Path or the Beast will get him, later bawling him out for not listening to her. In the slightly realer world he meets Eliot and Margot, a pair of sassy older students who 'adopt' him and warn him to stay on the garden path lest he meet a fatal accident like 80% of the fourth year cohort, Alice, a glasses-wearing blonde overachiever with dark secrets(TM), his roommate Penny, an angry young man, and Kady, a slacker who has levitaty sex with Penny. Some or all of these characters may be important later, but for now we're whizzing through this. There's also the Dean, but he gets eaten, so let's not worry too much about him.

Basically, never accept membership of any group whose recruitment method
includes the threat of rape.
At a party, Julia shows Quentin she has learned to do a spell on her own and asks him to get her another chance, but he basically cold shoulders her. This leaves her to be found by a dude in a suit who spurs her to a big show of magic by threatening to rape her, and she's all 'I am intrigued and wish to subscribe to your newsletter,' rather than the more reasonable 'let us discuss this after I barbecue your nuts with my flamethrower hands you fucking creeper.' He takes her to meet his secret magic friends in a warehouse in downtown... wherever they are.

Quentin and Alice try to summon the ghost of Alice's brother Charlie, but nothing happens except a creepy smiley face appearing unseen on a mirror. Then in class, time stops and a man in a suit with a cloud of hawk moths orbiting his bare skull appears, murders the professor and the Dean, and looms menacingly over Quentin.

Fair play: The Beast is creepy as all hell.
'Unauthorized Magic' is, I have to admit, a bit of a let down. An adaptation of Len Grossman's The Magicians, it suffers from the slightly confused pacing common to book-to-TV transfers, and comes out quite slow for television, but way too rushed for the amount of story they're trying to tell. I was actually really unclear how much time had passed between the start of the story and the end. When Jane chews Quentin out for wasting time, I was confused since he seemed to have been there for all of a day and a half. The lack of interaction also means that the death of the Dean, although grisly, has relatively little impact. There's no relationship to the main characters beyond the professional, and no indication that he is any great shakes as a magician beyond resisting the time freeze.

The other problem is Jason Ralph, who as Quentin is... not very expressive. During his talk with Julia about how the school didn't see potential in her, I honestly couldn't tell if he was supposed to be awkwardly toeing the party line or being a colossal dickbag.

Also, while not great, it's not the superfun hot mess that The Shannara Chronicles was. It's got just enough going for it that I can't even get my full snark on. In a lot of ways not related to the plot, it reminds me of Wayward Pines, which also screwed the pooch on its adaptational pacing somewhat.

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