A Fan's Guide to the Top Fantasy Series

There are so many awesome fantasy TV series out there, how do you pick?
Odin Odin (54)
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Fantasy, as a genre, is a bit of a “fuzzy set”. There are so many different things that go into making something “fantastic” that it can be hard to pin down exactly what someone even means by fantasy! For my part, I say “we know it when we see it”. If science fiction is the fiction of the possible or the potential, fantasy is the fiction of the impossible, and there is something in the imagined impossible realities that delights audiences around the world.

I’ve loved fantasy television series ever since I watched Xena: Warrior Princess as a kid, and since then I’ve only grown to love the genre more. Modern series, like The Game of Thrones have helped to popularize the genre as something reasonable for everyone to watch (it actually always was, social stigmas against adults loving fantasy are stupid). But The Game of Thrones is only one type of fantasy fiction and it paints upon a very limited canvas. There is a whole colorful menagerie of great fantasy television out in the storytelling wilderness, and explorers who are willing to be pleasantly surprised just need to step off the beaten path, away from their preconceptions, to find it.

As always, this is not an exhaustive list! Is your favorite series missing? Want to chat about why one of these shows was your favorite? Hit me up in the comments or on social media!

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The Addams Family (1964 - 1966)
The Addams Family (1964 - 1966)

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They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re altogether ooky… the Addams Family!

If you sang along to that then, like me, you’re a huge fan of the strange mansion-dwelling family who have been delighting people worldwide since the late 30s when cartoonist Charles Addams created them. This original television version is utterly perfect, equaled only by the 90’s films. Whatever you do, avoid the modern versions - yuck!

Hot take

This series was remarkably progressive and transgressive, taking pot-shots at norms of the 50’s and 60’s cold war era and offering a vision of something different. Morticia and Gomez are a loving, respectful couple, a far-cry from how most relationships were portrayed in that era for gag laughs (and still are). I love this show so much and constantly aspire to be a bit more like the Addams Family in whatever ways I can.

Bewitched (1964 - 1972)
Bewitched (1964 - 1972)

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A delightful bit of family magic, Bewitched introduced a nose-twitchingly spellbinding television experience to audiences of the 60s and 70s. Samantha’s a centuries-old witch and Darrin’s just an ordinary mortal — a match to “witch” Samantha’s magical relatives don’t approve! Seasons of hilarious hijinks and sweet reconciliation to follow.

Hot take

This is a great campy classic. In many ways it’s quite generic for the era, but provides enough humor and sweet endearing moments to be fun to binge even nearly sixty years after its original air date.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 -1975)
Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 -1975)

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Reporter Carl Kolchak is on the case! Investigating the mysterious depths of the strange and the fantastic, Kolchak encounters supernatural beings, aliens, and creatures from myth. It’s the basis for so many series that would follow, including X-Files and Buffy and even though it ran only one season it still has a dedicated following to this day.

Hot take

The 70s were an odd decade for film, as technology advanced, social revolutions gyrated into strange new dimensions, and the future constantly seemed to be outdated by lunchtime. Shows like Kolchak embraced this weirdness. Kolchak pulled in classic noir elements and mixed them with classic staple themes from the great supernatural suspense radio dramas of the 1930s-1950s. It’s a cult classic icon that helped pace the way for later greats like The X-Files

Faerie Tale Theatre (1982- 1987)
Faerie Tale Theatre (1982- 1987)

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An anthology series with a distinctly lower-budget TV feel, this series nonetheless offered modern audiences a direct and immersive experience in the classic folk and fairytales. Created by Shelley Duval, the series also brought in a huge range of famous Hollywood stars, and a number of episodes were directed by leading names like Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola.

Hot take

This is just a pure classic. At times cheesy, but always delightful.

Manimal (1983)
Manimal (1983)

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What’s a shape-shifting wealthy intelligent businessman to do other than use his magical powers to take on crime? That’s it, that’s the whole premise.

Hot take

In case you were wondering… yes, this is the most ridiculous title for a show ever. The episode intro is also one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen. It’s a weird little classic that feels utterly 80s and shouldn’t be missed. Just be prepared for so much cheese factor that you might be a bit sick.

Dungeons & Dragons (1983 - 1985)
Dungeons & Dragons (1983 - 1985)

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When six friends are transported into the magical world of Dungeons & Dragons their adventure to return home (with the help of their Dungeon Master) is wacky, fun, and delightful for any fan of D&D.

Hot take

It’s so incredibly classic. This little series is quintessentially 80s in every way and a fun introduction to the geekdom of the era. It may have been canceled early, but the series has never gone out of style.

The Storyteller (1987 - 1989)
The Storyteller (1987 - 1989)

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The canon of Western folk tale is one of the dark, the twisted, and the bizarre. How better, then, to showcase these ancient tales than through the use of Jim Henson’s incredible puppets? John Hurt, as the storyteller, led audiences of a mythic and mystic journey into the very heart of storytelling itself, accompanied by a cast of strange and incredible puppets.

Hot take

I love this strange and profound little series. It captures the myths in a way that nothing else could, really, and is one of the very few shows I might consider letting a younger kid watch. It’s also just so cool seeing Jim Henson puppets at work (especially if you’re a fan of Farscape which also used Jim Henson puppets extensively).

Twin Peaks (1990 - Present)
Twin Peaks (1990 - Present)

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The body of a beloved young woman is discovered in the small Pacific Northwest town of Twin Peaks. Special Agent Dale Cooper and his trusty voice recorder are called in to investigate. Mystery upon mystery meld and intertwine, with reality and the supernatural blurring around the edges. Who killed Laura Palmer?

Hot take

There are few television characters more memorable and perfect than FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper. The entire show is one of utter profundity. Tapping into all the things that Dvaid Lynch writes about in his book Catching the Big Fish, Twin Peaks is the sort of show that’s meant to make you think differently about your own life.

Highlander: The Series (1992 - 1998)
Highlander: The Series (1992 - 1998)

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Duncan MacLeod, is one of the ancient immortals who can only die via beheading. Every so often, a Gathering takes place where the Immortals fight and try to kill one another. Now, as one of these Gatherings takes place in the modern 1990s, the whole world is destined to shudder beneath the feet of the mighty warriors who transcend the pull of time!

Hot take

Pure action cheese. Not actually that good, but plenty of fun for those days when you’re just in desperate need of a binge.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995 - 1999)
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995 - 1999)

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Hercules, featuring Kevin Sorbo, quickly became a 90s phenomenon and one of the highest-rated syndicated series of its era. Hercules and his friend Iolaus travel through a fantasy version of ancient Greece. Beset by monsters, struggling against the might of gods, it is up to these two and a few stalwart friends to halt the machinations of the evil and save the helpless.

Hot take

It’s so cheesy it might as well be whipped, but it also happens to be a whole lotta fun, which is really why everyone showed up for it. Inferior to Xena but still a mighty good time.

Xena: Warrior Princess (1995 - 2001)
Xena: Warrior Princess (1995 - 2001)

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Xena, warrior princess, tackles mythic evils throughout the land! It’s just as crazy epic as you might expect, with massive sword battles, war-whoops, short leather skirts, and strange time-bending magic that presents ancient goddesses as valley girls. Just… just watch it, it’s grand.

Hot take

I can’t think of another example of a spin-off that so completely overshadowed its originator. In every way, though Xena was better, so, so much better, than its original. Often cited as a powerful inspiration for lesbian folks for the depiction of the relationship between the two main characters of the series. All of this, though, was just a happy accident — Xena was originally planned as nothing more than a guest character in the main Hercules series, destined to be killed off after three episodes. Luckily, the producers caught on to how much love Xena drew from her fans and they pulled the strings to bring her back for her own gig.

Neverwhere (1996)
Neverwhere (1996)

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There is a London below London, a whole world buried beneath the confines of the average passersby perceptions. And, in this world, a dark coup is underway. This show, by famed writer Neil Gaiman, is the precursor to one of his best books.

Hot take

That’s right, precursor! how many of you knew that tasty tidbit? The series was developed before the book, and the modern version is actually a compilation of a couple of different print releases. Gaiman has suggested that a new series might be in development though reports of that have stalled.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996 - 2003)
Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996 - 2003)

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What’s a teenage girl to do when she realizes she has magical powers? Create the best wardrobe, cheat at her boring class assignments, and try to win over the boy of her dreams of course. This is actually a really catchy little dram-rom-com series that feels quintessentially 90s.

Hot take

The greatest strength of the series was Salem, the talking cat.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)

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When Buffy Summers learns that she’s the next in an ancient line of demon-slaying female badasses, she’s mostly concerned with the fact that this is going to upset her chance for a normal life. But, with the threat of global annihilation at her door, it’s up to Buffy and her friends to make the differences nobody else can.

Hot take

Few series have moved me as deeply as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I could frankly gush about it for pages, then write reams of critical and passionate essays about it afterward. Suffice it to say: this is one of the greatest series of all time, as profound on a mythic level as it was crafty on the social. It’s funny, warm, heart-wrenching, and just plain brilliant. Did you know that there’s an early-90s film the precedes it? Check that out, it’s a lot of fun.

Charmed (1998 - 2006)
Charmed (1998 - 2006)

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When Phoebe Halliwell returns home and decides to do some attic organizing, she encounters a Book of Shadows that describes how she and her sisters are powerful witches destined to protect the world from evil.

Hot take

Charmed is infinitely addictive. Part soap, part drama, and badass women.

Angel (1999 - 2004)
Angel (1999 - 2004)

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The vampire with a soul known as Angel has left Sunnydale, and his one true love, behind. Unable to be with Buffy Summers due to the curse that keeps him from experiencing true happiness, Angel heads to L.A. to fight the growing demon presence and, just possibly, fulfill his role in an ancient prophecy about the end of the world.

Hot take

Angel struck some nice chords. Not as good as Buffy, it nevertheless held its own, and frequent tie-ins to the main series were a treat.

The 10th Kingdom (2000)
The 10th Kingdom (2000)

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What happens after the “Happily ever after?” An evil queen plots to rule the nine fantasy kingdoms, but her plan goes awry when a young woman from the 10th Kingdom (New York) is brought into the world of fairytale and myth.

Hot take

A superb exploration of fairytales with an incredible cast. This has long been one of my favorite shows. In my opinion, it did what Once Upon a Time tried to do… just better.

Earthsea (2004)
Earthsea (2004)

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A young wizard, an ancient evil, and a lot of magic. Based (very, very loosely) on Ursula K. Le Guin’s epic fantasy tale The Legend of Earthsea, Earthsea is a light and relatively fun fantasy miniseries.

Hot take

It’s not as bad as all that, but it’s about as far a cry from Le Guin’s work as could be imagined. I enjoyed watching it as a kid, and it’s an accessible piece of basic fantasy for some. Just don’t expect it to be anything close to the magic of the real Earthsea story, for that you’ll need to turn off the TV and pick up the original book (do it).

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005 - 2008)
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005 - 2008)

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Once, the four lands lived in harmony… until the Fire Nation attacked. One hundred years later, a young Avatar and his friends set forth on an epic journey to save the world before the Fire Nation conquest can become complete.

Hot take

One of the greatest animated series in existence, but, frankly, a superb show regardless of medium. Avatar connects to so many important points about what it means to be human; this is a show that, watched carefully, can help you learn how to be a better version of yourself. It’s also deliriously fun.

Supernatural (2005 - 2020)
Supernatural (2005 - 2020)

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The Winchester brothers were raised by their dad after their mom’s death at the hands of a demonic force. With years of paramilitary training and special knowledge of the world of the supernatural, the brothers search for their father after his mysterious disappearance.

Hot take

Male emotions! Actually an extremely healthy show for guys to watch because it subtly undoes a bunch of the social norms against guys expressing and dealing with big emotions. Also lots of fun. Not all of the seasons are top-notch, but the series as a whole is great.

Tin Man (2007)
Tin Man (2007)

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A small town waitress named DG finds herself in the crosshairs of the soerceress Azkadellia who is in control of the Outer Zone (known as O.Z.). She is transported to O.Z. and sets out on a journey to discover the secrets of her past and avoid the Longcoat soldiers who have been sent to hunt her down.

Hot take

This is a great re-imagined take on the legendary characters and landscape of The Wizard of OZ. Good acting all around.

The Dresden Files (2007 - 2008)
The Dresden Files (2007 - 2008)

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Harry Dresden is a wizard in modern-day Chicago who makes his living by hunting down dangerous magical creatures and solving supernatural mysteries. Based on Jim Butcher’s book series of the same name.

Hot take

The series is actually really fun and it’s too bad that the show didn’t make it past the first season. The show definitely does not follow the same story as the books, which may have made some of the fans unhappy (despite Butcher’s involvement and insistence that the show was intended to be different).

Sanctuary (2008–2011)
Sanctuary (2008–2011)

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Dr. Helen Magnus is a teratologist, a researcher of abnormal developments in nature. She’s also 157 years old. Searching for “Abnormals”, she and her team try to bring those with abnormal abilities and backgrounds to the “Sanctuary” a place where they can live in safety. But there are forces in the world that wish to use the Abnormals for dark ends, and Magnus and her team will need to fight to keep the Sanctuary safe.

Hot take

A surprisingly underrated series. It did well while on TV (though it was canceled before it’s planned 5th season). I really liked it and it was great to see Amanda Tapping playing the lead.

Merlin (2008 - 2012)
Merlin (2008 - 2012)

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One of BBCs biggest hits, Merlin follows the titular character from his teenage years as he encounters other characters from the Arthurian legends and tries to come to terms with both his magical powers and the complicated mix of politics and prophecy that infuses the land.

Hot take

I quite liked elements of the series, but the writing fell prey to some pretty poor tropes as the writers tried to create tension between characters. The later seasons, especially, suffered from this. Still, fun fantasy series in many ways.

Once Upon a Time (2011 - 2018)
Once Upon a Time (2011 - 2018)

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Set between the world of fairytale myth and a Maine town called Storybrooke, the story explores relationship between the various fairytale characters who are living in Storybrooke due to a curse cast by the Evil Queen.

Hot take

A bit melodramatic at times but, ultimately, a lot of fun. It’s basically a worse rip-off of the excellent graphic novel series Fables and I constantly found myself wishing that the series had been a more direct remake since those were so good. Still, the cast, especially Robert Carlyle, did a great job.

Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019)
Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019)

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Set primarily on the fictional continent of Westeros, the story revolves around various plots and intrigues by a number of nobles houses to claim the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, twin superpowers from myth slowly converge on these lands… from the North, an army of “Whitewalkers” threatens to sweep across the world, and from across the seas a disinherited would-be Empress discovers her command of an ancient and deadly source of power.

Hot take

The series pushed fantasy shows into the mainstream in a way that hadn’t been managed before. It’s based on the book series by George R. R. Martin, too, but deviated from that series in a number of ways, especially with regards to the ending of the story. Ultimately… I deeply dislike the series for its trope-laden writing and utterly inaccurate claims to “thematic historical accuracy.” Still, it’s important for its cultural impact.

The Legend of Korra (2012 - 2014)
The Legend of Korra (2012 - 2014)

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Set in the same world as the original Avatar, Korra takes place a generation after the original series. A new Avatar has been found and new struggles between the world of the spirits and the world of the fast-growing industry are coming to a head.

Hot take

I really loved The Legend of Korra. Great characters, great story — this is one of those rare examples of a sequel series that lived up to (and in some ways surpassed) its originator. The show is noted for advancing depictions of LGBT characters in children’s television, too, which is super important.

Penny Dreadful (2014 - 2016)
Penny Dreadful (2014 - 2016)

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When gunman and roadshow artist Ethan Chandler is hired to find the daughter of famed adventurer Malcolm Murray, he find himself embroiled in supernatural conflicts involving Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and a cult of witches dedicated to Satan. Since Chandler himself is a werewolf, he’ll probably fit right in.

Hot take

It’s an okay series with some great acting, especially on behalf of Eva Green. I found the writing to be generally sub-par and trope-laden, but then again that lived up well to the namesake of the series, old old one-penny cheap novellas marketed for their shock value.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2015)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2015)

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During the Napoleonic Wars a growing interest in the historical practice of magic is rising in Britain as a possible means of defeating the French. But magical power always comes at a price, and there are doors strange fey realms far beyond the ken of human minds that might be opened by incautious hands.

Hot take

Based on a superb book of the same name by Susanna Clarke, the series actually hits the mark really, really well. I though this series did a great job of staying true to the boom while enhancing some elements of the story at the same time. Definitely in my top-ten fantasy series.

The Magicians (2015 - 2020)
The Magicians (2015 - 2020)

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A depressed young man named Quentin Coldwater finds out that he’s a magician who has been accepted to Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy. There, he discovers a world of magic, and learns that the world and creatures of his favorite childhood fairytale are just as real as his own newfound magical abilities.

Hot take

A superb example of a series that far outstripped its source material. I really disliked the original books and found Lev Grossman’s perspective on fantasy to be both depressing and rather unkind. The series, for the most part, did a good job of creating an adult fantasy show without making things depressing.

The Shannara Chronicles (2016 - 2017)
The Shannara Chronicles (2016 - 2017)

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A superb adaptation of Terry Brooks trilogy The Elfstones of Shannara, the series takes place in a magical post-apocalyptic future milennia after an atomic war destroyed advanced human society. The great and magical Ellcrys tree, which is the only thing keeping a host of demons at bay, is dying, and unless it can be healed a new apocalypse will come.

Hot take

I really loved this series because it blended great world-building with the sort of heroic mythic storytelling that too much modern fantasy has pooh-poohed.

Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia (2016 - 2018)
Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia (2016 - 2018)

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A teenage boy named Jim discovers a mysterious amulet that charges him with a mythic destiny to protect the hidden realm of the trolls, and the world of humanity, from creatures that lurk in the dark. Soon, he and his friends might be the only thing standing between the world and the forces of the Darklands.

Hot take

I’ve been a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro’s work for decades, so when I learned that he was producing his own animated television series I knew instantly that it would be something special. It is. People of all ages will love this one.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 - 2020)
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 - 2020)

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Based on the original Archie comics, the series is centered on Sabrina Spellman, a young witch just coming into her power, and a number of her friends who are likewise discovering both their self-identities and unique abilities beyond the realm of mortal norms.

Hot take

The series had some really good moments and some less-good ones, too. I mainly found myself wishing that the showrunners had allowed for a bit more of the fun and play that we saw in the 90s version of the series, and perhaps gone a bit lighter on the overall plot for each season.

The Dragon Prince (2018 - Present)
The Dragon Prince (2018 - Present)

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From the creators of Avatar comes a new series of myth, might, and magic. Half-brothers Callum and Ezran must undertake a quest to care fore a young dragon prince, aided by the elf Rayla, in order to end a thousand years of war between the humans and the magical creatures of the land of Xadia.

Hot take

I really liked this show a lot. In some ways, not as much as Korra, and Avatar holds its own special niche in my heart… but Dragon Prince is its own thing, and it’s really good at being its own thing. It’s also still airing which is just delightful!

The Witcher (2019 - Present)
The Witcher (2019 - Present)

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Geralt of Rivia is a “Witcher” a genetically altered being capable of killing monsters on their own terms. Destiny has him linked to the young princess Ciri, a deposed monarch with powers she has only just begun to understand. Together with the witch Yennefer, the heroes must face down dark powers and enemy empires, while simultaneously coming to terms with the demons of their pasts.

Hot take

What a superb series! Season one knocked viewers and critics around a little because, frankly, complex writing isn’t something most people are used to. But the weaving of the timelines was masterful, and a few episodes in I was hooked. They proved they weren’t going to fall to the same tired tropes that beset Game of Thrones so I was in it for the long haul!

Good Omens (2019 - Present)
Good Omens (2019 - Present)

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The demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale are longtime friends who don’t really want to see the world burn in the fires of Armageddon, thank-you-very-much! Seeking to prevent the Antichrist from rising, they end up putting into motion a series of events that nobody, not man, nor angel, nor devil, could possibly expect.

Hot take

Just as brilliant as the original book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and that’s largely because Pratchett took command as showrunner. Fingers crossed that the next season, based on Terry and Neil’s notes, is as good as the first!

His Dark Materials (2019 - Present)
His Dark Materials (2019 - Present)

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Through the multiverse, a war is brewing. Lyra, a young girl living an alternate version of Oxford, discovers a dark secret and is thrust into a world of plots and machinations. Will, a teen from our world, is likewise pursued by forces who seek information gathered by Will’s father. Together, the actions of these children will change the multiverse.

Hot take

A solid show that ultimately fails to do the original books justice, yet still manages to pull itself together beneath a strong aesthetic and some good acting chops. The internal world of Lyra is missing, which is a major blow since it drove her character in the books, but the action of the show keeps things moving swiftly.

The Nevers (2021 - Present)
The Nevers (2021 - Present)

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In Victorian London a group of mostly women manifest strange powers and must use these newfound abilities to deal with petty criminals and dark forces from beyond the human realm.

Hot take

Whedon’s imagination has done wonders for the world of television in the past, and the series he envisioned here carries a likewise strong sense of setting that could be built upon even after his departure. It will be interesting to see how it develops, but my fingers are crossed that it finds its groove.

One birth year, one song: what was a hit during your first year?
Odin Odin (54)
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Why do some songs soar toward the firmament while others crash into the chasm of obscurity?