The Bureau of Magical Things Seems Too Obscure
Even after watching the first three episodes, The Bureau of Magical Things feels like a show that doesn’t exist. A hypothetical series a nerdy character might watch in the background of a scene. I’ve heard no one discuss The Bureau of Magical Things, reference it, or allude to it anywhere online in critic circles, yet it has all the trappings of a show that people make video essays about. It’s got the energy of series like Wizards of Waverly Place or hundreds of Disney Channel projects and the same approach to magical hijinks, limited special effects, and romantic subplots.
But if I wasn’t watching this for a review, I might not have even gotten far enough to know that. The first episode nearly lost me, mainly on the back of the pacing. Now, I’ve repeatedly said elsewhere that I don’t mind modern shows not bothering so much with setup. We’re all media savvy here, and like The Super Mario Bros. Movie, we know what kind of story we’re getting with a name like The Bureau of Magical Things. But the first scene is abrupt. A character we don’t yet know is jogging at night, runs into a floating book that zaps her unconscious, and then meets a fairy. It almost felt like the show didn’t feel confident about its opening scenes that happened right afterward.
The Opening Moments Did Not Inspire Confidence
And, you know what? Fair enough. That might have been the right call because I’m not sure I would’ve even reviewed it without that weird opener throwing off my nigh-instant condemnation from cliché… everything. The Bureau of Magical Things is a show with an older-style premise. It’s the one special person who is given all the powers and must use them to help a magical otherworld. It’s “I’m a vampire but also a sorcerer” style plotting. You’ve read this book. You’ve seen this movie. You’ve seen parodies of those books and movies.
It’s also one of those shows with an extremely loose approach to magic. What can magic do? Anything we want! How do we solve magical problems? Find a book on it! Even the rules of invisibility seem to shift from episode to episode, as needed. Are magical creatures automatically invisible to humans, or is it a common spell everyone knows? The broader historical lore, implied bigotry between elves and fairies, and hints of a magical threat via a scorch mark are all interesting enough, but I can’t imagine there’s even The Magicians’ level of rule consistency. This isn’t The Owl House. This isn’t Mistborn. This doesn’t even seem to have as much put into it as the live-action Winx Club.
This Is Really Not For Fans Of Hard Magic Systems
But a few things kept subverting expectations. My cynicism disappeared via several standout moments. The first was when that in medias res plot point looped back around, it turned out to be an excellent scene. We get the same moment from two perspectives, and what had been odd camera work was suddenly an interesting reframing of context. And then, more and more, from almost everybody involved, were moments of shockingly good acting. Kimie Tsukakoshi gives Kyra all these little in-character expressions that keep up the suspension of disbelief. Julian Cullen as Darra is instantly charming and funny. And they shouldn’t have underutilized Rainbow Wedell in the first three episodes. She makes Ruksy quite likable in such a short amount of time and I wanted more backstory. Three other performances stood out to me especially, but everybody here is putting way more effort into a campy fantasy show than I was expecting. As Professor Maxwell, Christopher Sommers acts like he’s been playing a magical mentor role for a lifetime. The world-weariness, the sarcasm, and the calm-yet-serious nature: simply inspired. Mia Milnes as Lily took a character that initially felt like a bad blond stereotype and made her emotionally complex but a little detached—completely befitting a fae character. And then, in episode three, Jamie Carter as Peter delivers a full-on, literally Shakespearian performance in what should’ve been nothing but cringy in any other show but was the highlight of The Bureau of Magical Things so far. It’s funny, it’s well written, it’s so well-performed, and it’s a little tragic and disturbing the longer you think about the implications. The character jokes and situational humor, often tepid and awkward until then, were elevated, with the subplot about Mathilda’s (played by Arnijka Larcombe-Weate) stage play falling apart as her entire cast disappears being genuinely funny. It was the first time the show felt like it took place in a real world, with other people besides the main cast. Though cursory research shows the series continues a semi-serialized narrative, I hope The Bureau of Magical Things has more moments where its cast can deliver more eccentric and bombastic performances.
Once again, I wonder why I’ve never heard of this show. While it is an Australian production, and I’m in America, the internet usually finds little gems like this and sends them worldwide. And it’s a fun show that deserves that attention. The special effects, the camera work, and the ADR are all not great—you can tell they’re working with a limited budget—but the acting, the characters, the escapism, some of the comedy (there are some unfortunate or not-well-thought-out jokes), and the thankful lack of a laugh-track leads to an urban fantasy project that a young audience could easily get excited about. And for older audiences, if you grew up reading things like Percy Jackson or Artemis Fowl and love that vibe or want more Wizards of Waverly Place, it’s made for you. The Bureau of Magical Things is the best kind of throwback. It doesn’t require nostalgia to enjoy.
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