The Magicians showrunners discuss Vancouver climate, the reset button, and musicals

THE MAGICIANS -- Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY -- Acquired via NBC Media Village
THE MAGICIANS -- Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY -- Acquired via NBC Media Village /

John McNamara and Sera Gamble teased a little about The Magicians Season 4 and what to expect in the upcoming musical in this exclusive interview with Hidden Remote.

The Magicians showrunners, John McNamara and Sera Gamble, are skilled at keeping spoilers to a bare minimum. But they are willing to tease and share the (lack of?) pressure when it comes to sort of hitting that reset button on the characters.

This is a series that is willing to take risks and fully evolve in a way that excites us as fans. Here’s what they tease for The Magicians Season 4 exclusively with Hidden Remote.

Hidden Remote: Last year we had the quest for the keys. It’s quite a small part in the book that was expanded across the season. Is there a part from the books that you’ve expanded more that you can tease?

John McNamara: Mmm-hmm.

Sera Gamble: Yes. It’s a part of the book that is hot and dry. That’s our tease.

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HR: What was it like trying to film this hot and dry setting in the middle of Vancouver?

SG: There were not enough food trucks in the world to send to our crew to thank them for what they did in that episode. We do have some really experienced producers up there who have managed to achieve a lot of different looks and a lot of different worlds. Part of the reason we shoot in Vancouver is because of the diversity of looks there.

That was definitely a challenge. It was something we’d talked about early on in the season before we’d even started prepping.

JM: Yeah, we should have probably shot it earlier.

SG: Actually, we shot it out of order to get the better weather and then it rained.

JM: It’s a very unusual desert.

SG: You’d never be able to tell. They acted like the sun was shining and a lot of people put in a lot of extra effort to make it look like a desert.

JM: There was a lot of looping because the rain was so intense, you couldn’t hear the dialogue. Thank God the actors are really good at looping. I doubt you’ll know because the sound technicians in Post and the actors have gotten used to this. Watching dailies was hilarious.

THE MAGICIANS — Pictured: (l-r) Trevo Einhorn as Josh Hoberman, Arjun Gupta as Penny Adiyodi, Jade Tailor as Kady Orloff-Diaz — (Photo THE MAGICIANS — Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY — Acquired via NBC Media Village
THE MAGICIANS — Pictured: (l-r) Trevo Einhorn as Josh Hoberman, Arjun Gupta as Penny Adiyodi, Jade Tailor as Kady Orloff-Diaz — (Photo THE MAGICIANS — Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY — Acquired via NBC Media Village /

HR: This season is almost like pushing a reset button. What was it like trying to set up these new characters but keep them familiar for the viewers?

JM: Fun, actually! I don’t want to make it seem like it was hard. You want to push yourself with storytelling. That kind of curveball you throw yourself kind of wakes you up. You can’t take yourself for granted.

You can’t pull back on your own memory. It’s a totally new character, and that made it fun and fresh and interesting.

Kady who is a free spirit is now this very button-down police officer. She’s almost like a soldier compared to Kady, who is a hippy revolutionary. It was interesting to look at the differences and utilize them.

HR: It’s so cool that you’ve taken this risk, as well. Most TV shows would probably do it for an episode and then pull it all the way back. This isn’t just an episode and I love that.

SG: It’s been the name of the game for us from the beginning. I think partly it’s because the books are so expansive and Lev Grossman wasn’t afraid to pull things in from, I suspect, the things he loved in fantasy stories.

And there’s definitely something from writing the pilot with John and then pulling in the writing team we’re fortunate to have. It’s a group of people egging each other on and really honoring that when someone pitches something, there’s no line between genius and crazy.

Everything gets its day in court. If it makes us a little scared, we’re excited to do it. That’s what’s on our wall.

THE MAGICIANS — Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY — Acquired via NBC Media Village
THE MAGICIANS — Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY — Acquired via NBC Media Village /

HR: As a viewer, it’s exciting to get something new and fresh. It feels completely different and keeps us on our toes. I have no idea how you’re going to get out of this one, how the characters are going to get out of this one.

SG: That’s because we frequently don’t know, either. This is something that I learned from John, when he was my boss on my first ever TV show. We had put an episode on the board and I pitched it to John and he said your Act Four is great, let’s put it in Act One. But I had no idea what Act Four was. He said “if you don’t, your audience probably doesn’t, either.”

I try to keep that in mind now when working on anything. It’s really all of John’s fault.

JM: I’ve definitely come to regret that over the last 15 years.

HR: So, we know we’re getting a musical episode again. Do you ever feel the pressure with these musical episodes? Each season has grown bigger.

JM: I never feel any pressure. I like to say, and I wish it was more true than it is, I don’t get ulcers, I give ulcers. I don’t look at it like “the pressure is on me or Sera.” The pressure is on all of us collectively to push ourselves.

If I have a crazy idea and people say it’s going to be too hard or expensive, chances are it’s going to be a pretty good idea. If it’s a little scary then there’s probably something there worth, at least, exploring.

But it’s not about pressure. I don’t have any expectations the audience will like this episode more or less than the last musical episode. I don’t expect it to be bigger or smaller. It will use the music to explore one character’s psyche more than we’ve ever done like this for a character. The music is the one tool to get into and explore that psyche and it affects a view of that character’s view of him or herself and that character’s view of the world.

We start by looking at the story we want to tell and how we’ll do it. If the music doesn’t work, I’m the first to say so and don’t feel like we should deliver something we never really promised in the first place. We’ve never said we’ll deliver a musical episode per season.

We do them because they’ve evolved into being fun and being challenging. They’ve now evolved to being psychologically deeper. I don’t know what the next one will be, but if it doesn’t evolve, it’s not going to get done. We don’t want it to be the annual pageant.

So, yes, there will be a musical and it will be Episode 10.

SG: It’s bonkers.

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HR: Will you say if it’s original music or you’re using covers.

JM: It is not original music. This time it’s a very specific genre, more or less the one genre. When you see the individual songs, you’ll see they fit one genre.

Last season we had a Broadway song, a disco song, and a popular pop song. This season, the songs have a psychological reason. Each song is there to sing to or by a specific character. Whether people like it or not, I don’t know.

When we did “Under Pressure,” we didn’t know if people would like it. We did it because it was cool and exciting.

HR: I can’t think of “Under Pressure” without thinking of The Magicians now. Same with “One Day More.”

JM: Les Miserables is interesting because it was never planned at all. For me, the scene wasn’t really working with what was otherwise a very good script. I just thought it needed something and I couldn’t explain why. I can’t even justify the cost.

The only thing I will tell you is I consciously design the entire number so that if it didn’t work, it could be cut and you’d never know it was there. Because it was so experimental, it was the one number we did that was not part of the plot or character. Fortunately, it worked but we didn’t know.

SG: We don’t have that sort of thinking now. We couldn’t cut a single note out of the upcoming one.

JM: And that’s why it’s become such a great evolution. It’s no longer me hiding in a corner. It’s a collaborative effort, especially with Sera, who isn’t a musical fan. She looks at things with harder eyes and questions why a particular song is used and where.

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HR: The cast is growing now, with two going from recurring guest to series regulars. How do you make sure everyone gets the screen time and development they need?

SG: Before we start writing, we know what the character arcs in the season for each character will be. These character arcs speak to each other and are interrelated. Some of the most exciting conversations we’ve had are being able to evolve characters from their original intention.

I think Kady, in a rough draft of the pilot, was killed by the beast.

JM: So did Dean Fogg.

THE MAGICIANS — Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY — Acquired via NBC Media Village
THE MAGICIANS — Photo by: Eric Milner/SYFY — Acquired via NBC Media Village /

HR: I was worried about Dean Fogg in the beginning because I love Rick Worthy.

SG: Same here and we just couldn’t let him go. But in the case of Kady, the big reason we thought we had to keep her in was because of Penny. He couldn’t stand to be in a room with anyone else, so we needed Kady.

If we’re looking at the classic storytelling tropes, she’s the girlfriend. She certainly throws the best punches, but she really was brought in to be a companion character to Penny and then as she evolved for Julia. As time went on and Jade [Tailor] is now a series regular and such an interesting actress, she had so much more to offer.

Fen [Brittany Curran has been promoted to series regular for The Magicians Season 4] was supposed to be the wife of a king who didn’t want a wife. But she’s so much more than that now. If you put characters in the hands of this writing team, everyone starts thinking about the individual lives.

It’s become a huge theme of this show that there are classic tropes around fantasy storytelling and who is the hero of the story. When we started this story, you could see the connections to stories like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. You can see the window into the story is Quentin Coldwater. As time has gone on, the DNA of The Magicians has become to challenge the classic tropes.

I think we take that to the next level in Season 4. There are episodes that question whose story we’re telling.

Next. Summer Bishil discusses Margo/Janet in The Magicians Season 4. dark

What are you excited to see in The Magicians Season 4? What makes it your favorite series? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Magicians Season 4 premieres on Wednesday at 9/8c on SYFY.