“Magic is real,” is the mantra of Universal Cable Productions show The Magicians, which was part of Syfy’s panel at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys event Sunday. Coming to the end of its second season on Syfy after its January bow, the drama based on Lev Grossman’s bestselling book trilogy centers on Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), who enrolls at Brakebills University to train as a magician — only to discover that the fantasy stories he read as a child are all too real. As he and his colleagues explore the world of magic using their new powers, they unwittingly invite a malevolent entity into their lives. In Season 2, this danger has increased, pitting Coldwater and childhood friend Julia (Stella Maeve) against an enemy that poses a threat strong enough to destroy them and the entire magical world.
Sometimes called “Harry Potter for adults,” The Magicians has caught the public’s imagination. The January premiere saw the highest 18-49 and 18-34 demo numbers for any Syfy original scripted series telecast since 2014 and broke records on social media, earning 327 million estimated Twitter impressions — more than double the 148 million of Season 1. But series creators John McNamara and Sera Gamble played down any similarities between Grossman’s world and that of J.K. Rowling. “It feels like life,” said McNamara. “It’s a fantasy about reality.” Explained Gamble: “Fantasy offers unique tools to talk about this stuff, but really we’re kind of keeping the conversation alive that we’re having in our lives. We’re just bringing it into the writers’ room and into the TV show.”
Gamble went on to recall how Grossman’s novels were introduced to the pair via executive producer Michael London. “I told John he had to go and read them immediately,” she said, “and he rolled his eyes, because he’s not the biggest fantasy fan. Which is nice, actually, because we balance each other out.” McNamara confirmed that fantasy is not his strong suit. “I just didn’t understand the subtleties of the books until I read them,” he said. “But once I did, I thought, ‘This goes way beyond pastiche — he’s created his whole own amazing universe.’”
Dealing with real-world issues in a fantasy context has been challenging for the cast. Maeve even recalled researching “sociopaths and serial killers” to prepare for the role. “Oh man, I don’t know what hasn’t been challenging,” she laughed, “I think everything we tackle has been tough for Julia’s storyline this season. From being impregnated by a demon spawn to then trying to figure out how to fix that, it’s kind of been hit after hit. I don’t think I can pick one out.”
With just two episodes to go, the team promised to go out with a bang (“They’re insane,” said Maeve. “Quite insane”). Added McNamara: “There’s been something for the entire season, and there’s a perpetrator behind these things that are going on, and you don’t know who it is… It’s kind of a giant whodunit.” Ralph confirmed that the April 19 finale will pull the rug out from under its characters, saying, “Just as these people think that they have real control over their lives and have made real decisions and have forward momentum and feel like they’re taking responsibility for things for the first time, we draw back the curtain and reveal that they’ve had no control – they’ve been pawns.” Gamble smiled. “Don’t you love a cliffhanger?”