As a child, I heard stories of wizards and witches possessing magical powers from long ago. As a teen, I would wield such powers through Dungeons and Dragon role-playing games. Then came Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal, a weird, yet intriguing world of magic and monsters. There was a time when magic ruled the lands but now, magic is the stuff of legends and socially awkward teens in tuxedos uttering the phrase, “Is this your card?”

What if the magic of the past was merely lying dormant only to be awakened in the modern day? That is the premise of Ben Dobyns and L. Gabriel Gonda’s episodic, community-driven series, Strowlers. Magic is back, and a growing number of gifted individuals have revealed themselves to possess the ability to access and control it. As governments do, the need to research and control these magical individuals is of vital importance, and they are being hunted and studied by the U.S. Department of Arcanology.

The pilot episode of Strowlers opens with a young woman named Whit (Tanesha Ross). As far as we know, she is an average person working at the local library and reading an old story from an old book to a group of children for story time. The story is “The Gold Finch and the Magic Mirror” and it’s about a girl, who releases a peculiar goldfinch in hopes of leading her to a bigger adventure. The girl chases the finch deep into a mysterious forest and the girl’s only escape is a pocket mirror she possesses. As the story reaches its climax to the young audience, a strange disruption of light and power takes place at story time scaring the children, and a young boy in the group is found surrounded by a magic aura.

What if the magic of the past was merely lying dormant only to be awakened in the modern day?

Meanwhile, in a nearby laboratory deep in the heart of the Department of Arcanology, an experiment is being run on a man with powers. The research is led by Amanda (Trin Miller), who herself has powers, but wears a strange collar that suppresses her ability to use said powers. She has been researching the moment when powers manifest itself in children. Along with her colleagues, she has also helped create a device that senses where to find people with abilities (for X-Men fans, think Cerebro).

Word of trouble at the library gets to the lab, and a few agents are sent to the library to apprehend the magical child. The protective Whit stands up against the agents and is immediately arrested. It’s here we discover the Whit and Amanda are not only roommates, but secret lovers as well. To make matters worse, the two discover they are on far opposite sides of the debate.

Like a good fantasy, a few conflicting ideas are presented. We have a clear line of prejudice drawn between those with and without powers. There’s also a government conducting experiments/torture to suppress these confusing powers. The cure so far is thought to be removing emotions from the victims through a form of shock therapy rendering them almost in a vegetative or as they call it, a more focused state. Let’s also not forget a small group of potential magic rebels hiding in the outskirts, not wanting to get involved…yet.

The best part of Strowlers is episode’s leads Tanesha Ross and Trin Miller as Whit and Amanda, respectively. You get a good sense of their romance and relationship right off the bat, which helps when the two find themselves at odds over the “magic” problem. Whit is the ordinary person, who sees the injustice perpetrated on magical individuals. Amanda has magic, but considers the danger associated with it and chooses to allow technology to keep herself and those around her safe.

“…Amanda has magic, but considers the danger associated with it and chooses to allow technology to keep herself and those around her safe.”

This review is of the pilot episode of what is called the “Strowlerverse,” an altruistic idea of bringing together a community of like-minded storytellers, given a basic set of rules about this “universe,” and creating tales involving magic in the modern urban world. At best, the pilot serves as the first foray into the “Strowlerverse” and a promising start for the next Game of Thrones, Narnia, or Lord of the Rings.

Now, about the pilot itself. It is a single story set in Seattle (the next two episodes take place in West Cork, Ireland, and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia). The pilot episode is decent, engaging, and intriguing and sure to attract any fan of the fantasy genre and finds the thematic ideas interesting. In other words, it will delight a niche audience.

I’m not convinced that the Strowlerverse will appeal much to the non-fantasy fan. The pilot leaves a lot of questions open (which I’m sure was intentional) and probably won’t be answered anytime soon. Honestly, I was hoping for more explanation about the return of magic and why it’s so cool and dangerous at the same time. Much of the acting is stiff and the dialogue a little stilted, which I’m sure will improve over time.

Ultimately, it all comes down to a matter of taste. Personally, I’m interested in seeing the next two episodes just to see how it plays out and if the quality of production can be maintained and improved from episode to episode.

Strowlers“Pilot” (2018) Directed by Ben Dobyns, L. Gabriel Gonda. Starring Tanesha Ross, Trin Miller.

7 out of 10 stars

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