4:00 pm EDT, April 6, 2017

Keep television weird: ‘The Magicians’ and ‘Legion’ benefit from being a little awkward

As we continue to live through a golden age of television, hit series benefit from standing out from the crowd by embracing their weirdness.

It’s only spring of 2017 and already there are several amazingly vibrant television shows hitting our screens each week. One of my absolute favorites is The Magicians, but Legion is slowly creeping up there as a must-see as well.

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I’ve been trying to pin down the reason why I love these shows so much, and I don’t think there’s just one. They’re clever, well-written, funny, action-packed, heart-wrenching, and different. But it’s that last point that really got me thinking. I love these shows because they’re unapologetically weird.

I watch a lot of television, which means nothing much surprises me anymore. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching shows like The CW’s Arrow-verse, which often relies on spectacle, or series like Elementary or Lucifer, which fall more under the procedural category than anything else. But it also means that when television gets a little weird, it piques my interest.

The Magicians is probably the best example of this. I decided to watch it based on a couple friends’ recommendations, and the pilot episode was nearly enough to make me walk away. It was like Harry Potter meets The Chronicles of Narnia, and I’ve seen both of those already, thank you very much. Plus they were doing magic with their hands and it looked so silly.

But I kept watching, and now it’s one of my favorite shows currently on television. The fact that it’s silly and weird and awkward is, by far, my favorite element of the show. It’s unafraid to be taboo or to walk the lines of what’s normal and acceptable. That bravery keeps me on my toes, and it keeps me engaged. I don’t know what will happen next because The Magicians has already proven that it’s willing to cross the line of what’s normal.

But it’s not just what the show looks like — it’s what it sounds like, too. The dialogue on The Magicians isn’t flawless by any stretch of the imagination. Quentin, in particular, stammers and misspeaks and takes strange pauses in the middle of his sentences. It’s incredibly natural, which we’re not used to seeing in a finished product, but it makes the show feel real.

Legion is another weird show. The reason why this series experienced so much buzz when it first premiered (and, honestly, after every single episode aired) was because it didn’t care whether or not it made sense, whether or not the narrative was clear from the get-go. It dropped you into the world; it confused you with flashbacks and an unreliable narrator. It had a story to tell, and it was going to tell it the way it wanted to, not the way the audience expected it to.

This didn’t sit well with everyone, but for the most part it’s garnered a fanbase that excitedly picks apart every second of the series in the hopes of being able to analyze all the tiny moments that might fly under the radar. Not only is Legion unafraid of being weird — that Bollywood scene made no logical sense, but who cares? — it’s unafraid of being smart. It’s not the show’s job to dumb itself down for its audience; it’s the audience’s job to elevate itself in order to understand the show.

This can probably be best seen in the character of Lenny, brilliantly played by Aubrey Plaza. Her role was initially meant for an older man, but Plaza not only convinced the series creator to cast her in the role, she also convinced him to keep the script as is. As a result, Lenny stands out as a strange and awkward, albeit intriguing part of the show. Plaza built that character from the ground up, allowed to take it in whichever direction she deemed fit, and found herself in one of the weirdest and most satisfying arcs on television right now.

This is part of the reason why Doctor Who hit such a peak in the Tennant years. It did some of its most outside-the-box episodes and it didn’t worry about whether or not fans could follow the storyline — it trusted that they would and didn’t hold back out of fear or tradition.

Even somewhat standard shows can have elements that are strange and different, and these aspects tend to be what fans gravitate toward. Just look at Penguin and Riddler’s relationship on Gotham. There aren’t many relationships like theirs on television, and fans have certainly latched on for all its worth.

So to all the studio execs out there, please don’t be afraid to keep TV weird. We’re inundated with media these days — there’s plenty to choose from — so you have to take a risk if you want to get noticed.

What other shows are you watching that are brilliantly weird?

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