“The Magicians” breathes new life into childhood classics

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me four times?

Watching the Syfy channel’s new fantasy, “The Magicians,” one would expect a certain level of deceit. But not like this. After four episodes, almost halfway through the 13-part series, the Harry Potter-after-dark premise still has enough tricks up its sleeve to bewitch.

In the pilot episode, we are introduced to Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph of “Aquarius”), a recent Columbia University grad whose life balances precariously between the real world and the fantasy universe of his idolized book series “Fillory and Further.” The books revolve around a group of children who discover their grandfather clock is an antique portal to an enchanted land.

On the other side of the wardrobe, the children meet a friendly faun by the name of Mr. Tumnus, and they begin a journey to … oh wait, wrong story. If anyone watching was hoping this is where the borrowed themes ended, they’d be sorely disappointed.

As Quentin battles with his escapism tendencies and a personal psychological struggle that has him in and out of the hospital, he stumbles through a portal of his own. When he steps through, he finds himself at Brakebills College, a university for the magically gifted.  

Students at Brakebills are separated into houses depending on their talents. At this point the sense of deja vu was overwhelming. Anyone watching would not be able to stop images of screeching owls, whomping willows and disheveled Hufflepuffs from flashing through their head.

This is where the airing of grievances end. Despite the recycled plots and predictable dialogue, this television adaptation of the similarly named and critically acclaimed Lev Grossman novel has the legs to keep a crowd entertained.

These first four episodes may not be perfect, but they don’t need to be.

Perhaps it was the fact that the world of Brakebills brings adults everywhere back to a simpler time, when they dreamed of top-hatted wand-flicking routines and casting magical spells. It could also be the captivating and contrasting dynamic between Quentin and his female co-lead Julia Wicker, played by Stella Maeve.

But maybe, just maybe, the feature most responsible for the allure of “The Magicians” is its shooting location. Brakebills’ was shot on the campus of Tulane University. Seeing levitation and telepathy tricks on the same academic quad fellow students pass every day will never get old.

Before watching “The Magicians,” the most magical thing on this campus was how hundreds of students on McAlister Place can make anyone passing out pamphlets invisible. After watching, viewers will inevitably develop a reality crisis of their own. The world of Quentin’s Brakebills and Tulane are beginning to grow intertwined, the best kind of problem.

No fantasy series is complete without some chaos though. Luckily, the conflicts that arise early in the season are well-crafted and, if the script quality holds, promise exciting drama in the episodes to come.

Tune into the Syfy channel Mondays at 8 p.m. to see the magic for yourself.

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