Why You Absolutely Should Be Watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Saturday (June 13th) was the premiere of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on BBC America, and if you didn’t watch it, you definitely should have. Why? Because it’s awesome, and because I said so. . .what are you still doing here? Why aren’t you checking to see if it’s On-Demand or something? Oh fine, if you won’t just take my word for it I guess I’ll try and explain why it’s awesome, and why you should be watching it. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is based on the Hugo Award-winning novel of the same name, written by Susanna Clarke. Never having read the book, I can’t speak to the television series’ quality as an adaptation, but as someone who does watch a butt-load of television, I can speak to its quality as an excellent TV show. The series is extremely original and innovative, exploring territory that is very rarely explored in either movies or television, alternate history. Hold on, before you go all nerd-rage in the comments and start typing at me in all caps about Cast a Deadly Spell or something, I’m not saying that alternate history has never been done, just that it is rare. (And I’m not talking about when they go to Nazi planet on Star Trek or anything like that. I’m talking about an actual alternative history setting.) The show is set in 19th century England, during the Napoleonic Wars, but as I said it’s not our England. This is an England where magic was, at one time, very real and widely acknowledged. But has been almost completely non-existent for the last 300 years. Ever since the disappearance of the Raven King, a powerful and mysterious magician, who’s departure from England seems to have all but ended the practice of “English magic”. The show immediately establishes this fact, showing that this is an England where societies of gentleman magicians devote themselves to the study of magical theory as a hobby, but scoff at anyone being able to actually use magic, calling them charlatans and con artists. However, the show also wastes no time in showing us that Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange are about to change all of that. The setting of this show is amazing, but one of the major things that makes Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so enjoyable is the fact that while they are doing something fairly groundbreaking, they don’t use the alternate history angle as a crutch. The series is very character driven, and the titular characters are two very different people. Mr. Norrell has studied for years to become a magician and has a strong desire to prove the value of “proper, modern English magic”, where as Jonathan Strange seems to be a bit of savant and has a fascination with the old magic of faeries and the legendary Raven King. It also appears as if these differences will lead to a very complex and possibly adversarial relationship. There are also a bunch of really interesting supporting characters as well, but if you want to know about any of them you will have to watch it. And you totally should, because not only are the characters great, but they are also shaping up to have a great story and are building a very interesting mythology. In fact , while watching it I was often reminded heavily of the works of Neil Gaiman. And if saying it reminds me of Gaiman doesn’t sell you on it, then I don’t know what will. So, to sum things up, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell combines elements of historical fiction, fantasy, war, drama, intrigue, and supernatural horror, and weaves it all into a kick-ass tapestry of excellent television. It airs Saturdays on BBC America at 10/9C, and you absolutely¬†should be watching it.

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