Magic moments: Syfy's 'The Magicians' is an underrated fantasy gem

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Shona Dustan / TV Media
Summer Bishil and Hale Appleman as seen in "The Magicians"

Summer Bishil and Hale Appleman as seen in "The Magicians"

Think of your favorite book series and why you love it. Is it a fantasy that takes you far away, allowing you to escape from the mundanity of everyday life? Is it a mystery that teases your brain, twisting and turning every time you think you have the answer figured out? Or is it a romance, heartwrenching and steamy, that makes you flush and swoon?

Now imagine discovering that that world, the world to which you have escaped time and again, is real. That's the premise of Syfy's criminally underrated "The Magicians," which is based on the book series of the same name by Lev Grossman. The series is now in its second season, and a new episode airs Wednesday, April 12.

The series stars Jason Ralph ("Aquarius") as Quentin Coldwater, an intelligent 20-something who has always felt like he doesn't belong in what we consider "the real world." In the first season, he and his best friend, Julia (Stella Maeve, "Chicago P.D."), are suddenly whisked away to take an entrance exam for Brakebills University, a post-secondary institution where magic is taught in many different forms.

Quentin and Julia spent much of their adolescence engrossed in a series of novels set in a fictional world called Fillory -- it's kind of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" meets "Harry Potter" and, like fans of those series, fans of the Fillory books are intense. Love for the books and their magic world form the basis of their friendship, so when they discover that magic is, in fact, real, both are desperate to learn how to wield it. Unfortunately, for reasons that are explained toward the end of season 1 (you won't get any spoilers from me!), Julia is not accepted to the school, but Quentin is, causing a rift in their relationship that may never fully heal.

Before I get back to the Fillory plotline, I should mention that the cast of characters introduced at Brakebills is rich and wickedly entertaining. Quentin gains two mentors of sorts in Eliot (Hale Appleman, "Smash") and Margo (Summer Bishil, "Lucky 7"), older students with physical magic abilities similar to Quentin's. Olivia Taylor Dudley ("Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension," 2015) stars as Alice Quinn, a magical prodigy and Quentin's love interest. Arjun Gupta ("Nurse Jackie") and Jade Tailor ("Murder in the First") round out the main cast as the badasses Penny and Kady, respectively; Penny is a traveler (he can jump through time and space), and Kady is a skilled battle magician with secrets.

The group is initially brought together under terrifying circumstances: a creepy moth-faced man seems to be hunting them, and they must work together to figure out how to stop the evil he represents. While unraveling the truth about the mysterious moth man, Quentin becomes increasingly convinced that Fillory is not just an imaginary world described in children's books, but that it's a real place full of real magic. He's right, of course, and after figuring out how to get to the magical land of his dreams, the group embarks on an adventure that culminates in a devastating battle. And so ends season 1.

Olivia Taylor Dudley and Jason Ralph star in "The Magicians"

Olivia Taylor Dudley and Jason Ralph star in "The Magicians"

But just as they say you should never meet your heroes, you should likewise never go to the land of your dreams, for dreams can easily become nightmares. The once-beautiful Fillory is in trouble -- magic is fading slowly from the land, and therefore disappearing from our world as well, and the Brakebills students (who are constantly fighting their own figurative demons as well as actual demons) become the high kings and queens of the land and do everything they can to save it.

This season features the rise of a monstrous trickster god, the befouling of the Fillory wellspring of magic, the devastating changes of certain pivotal relationships, and revelations that could change everything in this world and others (like I said, no spoilers -- this is one show you'll want to start from the beginning when you have the chance). It also includes an "Ocean's Eleven"-style bank heist, a "Les Miserables"-themed musical battle and some risqué diplomatic relations.

"The Magicians" keeps you on the edge of your seat, but never takes itself too seriously. Many references to other fandoms make light of the magical situations the characters find themselves in, and the overall snarky tone provides many laughs along the way. It's sci-fi at its core, but elements of action, adventure, romance and more creep into every episode, and the production value of the series is impressive -- no awkward green screen moments here.

In Wednesday's episode, Penny, Kady and Julia must all make major sacrifices in order to bring down the god wreaking havoc in the real world. Meanwhile, some of Fillory's deepest, darkest secrets come to light as Quentin and Eliot get closer to the truth about the magical shortcircuiting happening there. 

Let the sass and wit of "The Magicians" whisk you away when a new episode airs Wednesday, April 12, on Syfy.