We’re back guys and since the last edition of What Are You Watching…? (the blog where I talk about alllllll the TV I watch in a spitfire-train-of-consciousness kind of way) I’ve been exploring magical kingdoms and the dark underbelly of human existence. Shall we get started?
*May contain traces of nuts and spoilers! This is your official warning, Tracey!
The Magicians - Up first is a show that has, it would be fair to say, taken over my life. In fact this show is basically all I’ve been watching/burning through since the last edition so I’ll probably talk the most about it. Well, we’ll see. The Magicians came into my field of vision a while ago. An adult-ish Harry Potter, where a bunch of twenty somethings discover that magic is real and enter a Grad School to learn about spells and themselves (?) in the process. It looked dark, it looked grown up, it looked silly and it had at least one gay/queer character that I was somewhat attracted to (hey Hale Appleman!). All big wins. Yet, somehow I’d never popped on an episode until recently. Maybe because of the daunting four seasons already in existence, maybe some other new more pressing show took precedence. I don’t know. Sue me! I should also admit that I’d read some articles about a central queer relationship and an episode in the fourth season (which I’m going to get to this evening) that finally addressed the sexual tension between archetypal cishet (although not so much the het part) hero Quentin and gay, fop Eliot. And these articles were enough to grab me, sit me down and finally, FINALLY engage with The Magicians. So, you may have picked up on the fact that in the past, what? Week? I’ve burnt through the first 3 and a half seasons. And let’s say up top I’m hooked. In that crushing way where I’ve binged so hard on this show that when I run out of episodes there’s going to be a massive hole in my watching schedule that I’m going to struggle to fill. Rest assured, I will probably find something else to watch (Now Apocalypse, here I come! Seriously it’s out today, I think and I can’t wait!) instead of becoming a productive member of society. So yeah, it’s going well with the Magicians and me. Only it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The first couple of seasons were fine, passable. I liked the characters, I was into the lead and the gay, I was into the array of strong, awesome women characters, there was magic and there was a dark side, there was mystery and plot. But this felt like a show that wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere, it felt a bit meandering, a bit ‘monster of the week’ without a grand scheme. (This is symptomatic of a lot of ScyFy channel shows, unfortunately, lots of cool concepts, even some decent effects but there’s something lacking in the dialogue, it’s all a bit samey). I’m sad to say I looked forward to popping on an episode so I could check up on Twitter and feel like I was doing my homework. I struggled with too many characters who were moping and blaming themselves constantly, or were very two dimensional, or whose motivations seemed a result of the need for conflict, rather than how a character would actually act based on.... you know… their character. It veered into a lot of territory I’m wary of including time loops, unalterable consequences, side plots we get stuck in for more than three episodes and some dodgy world building. Magician’s suffers a little from the same magical plight as a lot of other fantasy in that it has to limit it’s characters abilities in order for their to be struggle. In a magical world of possibilities how do we make sure everyone isn't power up to the max. Which always bugs like lets power everyone up and have some fun with that! No? Also, a lot and I mean A LOT gets dumped on Julia, which is a pretty common complaint amongst critics and viewers alike. There were times the show felt a little anti-feminist. A couple of times I felt like giving up. However! What the show did achieve in these first two seasons was some serious world building (I kept thinking later on, when I was reeling in the show's complexity that we had to drudge through everything before hand for this and it makes it worth it), as well as bringing the threads of narrative together by the end of each season for a pretty thrilling conclusion. The show which is determined to separate its characters into different plots and worlds, literally, is at its strongest when the season’s climax requires they come together. And then by the end of season two something happened… something clicked… maybe the exposition/world building of the first two seasons was finally in place, maybe the writers ran out of source material and had to start stretching their creative legs… I don’t know. All I know is, from the last episode of the second season and onwards I was hooked. Suddenly, there was real turmoil. Magic had disappeared and the gang had to go on a quest to get it back. The third season managed to have one driving quest related plot, while giving enough urgency to its side plots that they felt integral and indeed all the strings, of which there were many, did affect the results of the others. There was just so much going on, it was really compelling. Maybe the writing just got better but seriously… suddenly, I was laughing at the jokes (we’re talking Buffy level meta-humour), I cared about the characters, I couldn’t look away. Somehow the show turned into a riotous adventure, a parody/comment on fantasy tropes, it was unashamedly feminist, unashamedly queer, and leant into the crazy world of its existence. One particular episode in season three, in which Eliot and Quentin are required to build a mosaic puzzle into a picture symbolising the beauty of life or humanity or something… It takes them a lifetime, again literally, and it’s one of the most touching, heartwarming/breaking episodes of genre TV I can remember. This show has finally figured out who it is, how to use genre as a tool for introspection, and it’s just dang exciting. Actions have consequences, people get lost for good, bad stuff happens, they keep trucking. This show takes risks, throwing its characters into situations it is impossible to get out of. It strips away their magic, takes away their memories, leaves them abandoned, and the ways they find to get out of each perilous situation well, they make sense, or they call back a story point from earlier in a really satisfying way. It’s obviously really well mapped out and because of that, because of the somewhat dragging first couple of seasons worth of world building, they’re able to tell some truly captivating, complicated stories. I’m super excited to get to the episode referenced in the articles that finally got me to sit and enjoy this show. And I just hope The Magician’s continues for years to come, I only just found out I loved you!
*Season five has already been green lit so please don't worry too much about my mental health... at least not more than normally.
Wow, ok so I talked about that for a long time. But to be fair it’s taken a lot of my viewing time recently, so deal with it, Diggory!
Abducted in Plain Sight - Apologies for the sharp left turn. This is a documentary about how a girl is abducted from right underneath her family’s nose and it is a super strange and at points uncomfortable watch. Everyone is present here Mum, Dad, the abductee and her sisters. At least knowing she’s alive and well relieves some of the tension going into this and yet it’s still pretty irksome learning how this man became a part of these people’s lives, essentially seducing them all (yes, all of them) in order to abduct this girl. It’s a super bizarre story but one that is probably quite emblematic of grooming behaviour. A family friend manages to have an affair with both Mom and Dad (one of the more shocking twists), gaining their trust and then whisks away the eldest of three daughters after having invaded her life, showered her with attention and gifts. He manages to convince her that aliens, ALIENS! Have abducted them and they are required to make a baby together. He does horrible horrible things and yet the scariest thing is how, after the girl is returned to the family, she is completely changed, she wants to go back with her aducter, and somehow it happens a second time. She gets abducted a SECOND TIME. One wants to blame the family, because well, it all seems so brainless, yet obviously there is a cunning and deceptive mind at work, playing them for fools. Who knows how you would act from inside the scenario? It’s hard to say for sure but the rifts cause by this insidious guy must still haunt that family, despite how ever many books Mom and daughter have managed to sell. As a film it’s put together very well, the story is captivating and disturbing and truly a warning to watch out for the signs of grooming. I’m watching the Michael Jackson HBO doc this week, so it will be interesting to compare these stories and see what similarities there are in the way these kids are treated. Stay tuned for that recap. This is worth a watch especially if you’re into true crime documentary, which at this stage is just everyone, right?
Ok, something more fun… Although, not for me, per se…
The Dragon Prince - Let’s return, dear reader, into mythical lands and magical stories. I only watched the first couple episodes of The Dragon Prince and well… it’s nice. This isn’t necessarily my whole bag. Don’t get me wrong I looove me some anime, I love me some fantasy adventure, I love me some age-inappropriate TV. This, um, maybe it was a bit slow or the back story a little forced, but I wasn’t wholly revved up. I struggle when a show feels the need to dump an entire historic backstory upfront… like just throw us in the story and we’ll figure out that there’s two kingdoms and a war that ripped them apart and blah, blah… it’s all a bit familiar as well… I’m not saying it’s bad. There were a couple of sassy jokes I legit laughed at, the animation was cool, I reckon this could be a really fun show somewhere around half-way through the second season when all the main characters are established and the adventure in full swing. I might pop in and out of this. Say I’m bored and don’t know what to watch or need something friendly on in the background. It’s not binge-worthy but not terrible. It will probably do wonders for First Airbender/Legend of Korra fans though!
American Idol - Look… Look… I know… I know… This show has no business being on TV anymore, let alone being shown internationally via Netflix and, more importantly I have no business watching it. And yet… there I was one afternoon looking for an hour of something mindless to pass the time and there was a simple, nostalgic cheesy-ness to Idol that was calling me. Not a lot has changed, except maybe the show is playing up the sad story factor a little more than it used to, a little more than it should. Literally, every contestant we saw go through was homeless or tragically orphaned or had some really sad story behind them. I know, I know, this is what they do, but these sad backstories don’t endear me to anyone so much as bore the pants off me. I am well aware I have no right to complain, after all I put it on. I knew what I was getting into. So aside from that there were some fun crazies and some cute kids and the judges are lame and stupid and I thought we cancelled Ryan Seacrest sometime after Idol was originally cancelled itself. What this really did was give some real nostalgic comfort. Remember when Idol was a big deal and the whole family would watch and have opinions and then afterwards you’d all forget who even won the whole thing. Until it became too big, then the copycats turned up and people started tuning out, the repetitive formula became boring and dull, the popstar machine came to grinding halt. Maybe this is the perfect place for Idol to live on, as a casual view mid-afternoon in lieu of some more pressing, actually important activity. Not as a global phenomenon but a silly hour on a work-from-home weekday and you don’t have to watch every episode and you won’t vote or buy any albums but it’s just there like an old friend who you don’t have much in common with anymore but fancy a coffee with every now and then.
That’s all for this week… this evening I’m going to watch the remaining currently available episodes of The Magicians until I run out and have to join the masses who already knew it was a great show and have been patiently waiting for new adventures each week. If only there was a spell that could speed up time or bring forward the release dates. I better start my weird hand tutting exercises.
Next time we might have a more varied edition or maybe I’ll finally watch my most anticipated show of the year (after Russian Doll) ‘Now Apocalypse,’ and just write a few thousand words about that, either way stay tuned…
Oh and a small caveat: I’ve also started watching the so far painfully, amazing second season of Fleabag, but I’m writing a weekly recap, which is full of my half-formed opinions, so if you came here for that you can find those back on the main writing page of this site.
See you later, alligator!
So, I just did a quick Google image search and apparently Jason Ralph from The Magicians is dating/secretly married to (according to one site) Rachel Brosnahan from The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel and it made my feelings do a smile. You guuuuuuuuuys...