WARNING: The Magicians Spoilers
On Syfy’s The Magicians, viewers are introduced to Quentin Coldwater, a guy who’s unhappy with his existence. He’s lost and a bit of a mess psychologically. He’s soon guided into a world where he’s able to tap into his inner magician and, as a result, he finds himself. Or, at the very least, he’s on the way to finding himself.
On the flip side of that is Julia, Quentin’s best friend. She’s succeeded at everything. Until now. The trajectory for these best buds goes completely in different directions as Quentin passes what he needs to pass in order to attend Brakebills College, an institution that develops the finest magical minds. Julia fails to get in and that messes her up big time. In the first two episodes that have aired, she ends up with a radical group on the outskirts. At first glance, they seem like troublemakers.
Many of the characters populating this fantasy universe are works in progress. They are in various stages of development — with their magic and with their identities. They make mistakes and, in this world, some of those mistakes come with deadly consequences. Ultimately, that’s what makes this series so fascinating.
We recently sat down with Sera Gamble, one of the executive producers of The Magicians. She talks about discovering the book series that spawned this show and turning a smiley face into the creepiest thing ever. She also pays homage to her former Supernatural gig.
TV Goodness: For people who don’t know the books, how would you describe the show?
Sera Gamble: I would describe it as a character-driven show about magic. It’s a story about a group of twentysomethings who’ve recently discovered that they are magicians. And now they are at a school learning how to do magic. The series will take them through their education and far, far beyond into worlds on Earth and off it.
TV Goodness:Â For those who do know the books, what are they going to be excited to see come to life?
Sera: I am curious to know that, too. This is a book series that a lot of fans feel a personal relationship to and when you have a book that resonates for people, I think different things resonate for different people. It kind of is a reflection of your own psychology. Like if you felt like an outsider you relate to the outsider status of the main character. If you always wanted to do certain things then maybe you relate supposedly to the abilities. But we do make an effort to hit a lot of the really iconic beats in the book. If it spoke to us, if it gave us a little rush when we read it, want to bring it to life on the show.
TV Goodness:Â Where did you discover the Lev Grossman trilogy?
Sera: I found it on Amazon in my recommendations — it was like the number one rec. It was about five or six years ago now, maybe? Not long after the first book came out. The first book was the only one available at the time. I was about a third of the way in and I called my agent and I said there’s no way this is available, right? Not available. It’s already in development. I said, well, keep track of it. I mean, if it goes maybe I can be on staff. At a certain point he said, yeah, I think it just died. Cut to a couple of years later, I’m working with John on a couple of things and then he’s working with Michael London on Trumbo and Michael London turns out to have been the producer who was shepherding the project for all those years and mentioned it. And I had a complete freakout. John was like, have you heard of this book, The Magicians. Have I heard of it??!!! Have I heard of it??!! Ah, just go home and read it. He was like, oh maybe you’ll write it. And I can come produce. And then he had read a couple of pages, he called me and he’s like never mind, I’m reading it with you. We’ll write it together. I’m not letting you have all the fun, which was very welcome.Â It was such a pleasure to write with him.
We ended up optioning it with our own money. All three of us had a really strong sense of what we loved about the books. The last thing we wanted to do was put it into development again especially given that it had a past and let it be picked apart too much by committee too early. I mean, those voices from the studio and network can be very, very helpful but we were so protective of the baby. We were fine to just take a bigger risk. Spend our own cash to option the books and then write it on spec hoping that someone would like our version. So we just shopped it around and it found its home at Syfy.
TV Goodness:Â Is this one of those shows where you’d kill off a main character?
Sera: I think part of the thing about fantasy stories is that — the kind I like — is that everything needs to have a consequence. No one is ever really safe in this kind of world. These are not characters who will stay the same. They’re not characters that we’ll be protecting in a conventional way — in that conventional TV way. We’re going to put them through all kinds of hell. They’re 22 and they don’t know that much yet. And we want them to go through a serious crucible and come out the other side. Maybe come out the other side.
TV Goodness:Â How much fun is it to make a smiley face creepy?
Sera: Oh my God, the most fun. I have to say when we had the spec script we wanted to make sure everyone understood exactly what we meant. When you turned the page, we had a photograph of a fogged up mirror with a smiley face on it. And one of the best things that came out of that smiley face was we just had the beast plucking the eyeballs out. And then he ate one because that’s what you do. Those eyeballs are edible because they were prepared to be eaten. But Mike Cahill in directing that scene he said to us you know what I want to do is I want to have him pluck them out, carefully put them on the table and then draw a smiley face in blood. And I was like that’s the best idea I’ve heard all week.
TV Goodness: There’s a quote Rick Worthy’s character says in the pilot — magic doesn’t always come from talent, it comes from pain. Can you talk about that as a theme? Because every character seems to be damaged in their own certain way.
Sera: This is something we inherited from Lev in the books. The idea that magic — the ability to do magic seems to come from an incompleteness or a little bit of damage or even a breadth of life experience that you can only have as a child because tragedy has stricken. I think that the reason that works so well for us is because it applies as a metaphor for so many things. Why do people come artists? Why would you be compelled to express something like that? Probably not because your life is perfect and you fit in and everyone loved you when you were a kid, right?
TV Goodness:Â How did you decide to cast Rick Worthy?
Sera: The first show I ever did was Eyes. John McNamara (EP of The Magicians)Â was my first boss. And Rick Worthy was a series regular on that. It was ten years ago now. Yes, and then I cast him on Supernatural. Then cast him on Aquarius and then Magicians. I just love him. I just love him.
TV Goodness: I was worried after the first episode.
Sera: I know, right?
TV Goodness: I thought he was dead.
Sera: To be frank, if it wasn’t Rick Worthy and he hadn’t done such a tremendous f–king job, that might have been the end of that character. But he was so good in the pilot that we were not done with him.
TV Goodness:Â Is there anything from your time show running Supernatural that’s helping you out with The Magicians?
Sera: Everyday. I’m grateful that I worked on Supernatural all those years everyday producing The Magicians. Working with Eric Kripke and Bob Singer was my graduate school for producing this kind of material. The thing that is really significant about Supernatural from an inside-baseball perspective is that show pulls off what it does on a very modest budget and a very modest schedule and the only way to do that is plan really carefully and produce in a very savvy way and to hire the right people. And that’s the kind of stuff I learned working with Bob and Eric. I also learned certain stuff looks really cool, certain stuff looks kind of cheesy. Right? We all held hands and made those mistakes together in the early seasons of the show. Never do “X” always do “Y.” So I’ll be in production meetings for Magicians and I’ll be like, I don’t know…I don’t know. Maybe no fur on the face. Or no, no, no, no. Yeah, talk about the eyes. Talk about what color the eyes…No, the eyes can’t turn black, I’m sorry. I did that a lot.
The Magicians airs on Syfy Monday nights at 9/8c.
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