Tax Reform Is Falling Apart

It is not surprising me at all that the spineless wheenies in Congress, who already unveiled a (mostly) spineless tax “reform” that is really just a giant tax cut for people who don’t need one paid for by huge deficits and higher taxes on the middle class, are already backing off on the few areas where they wanted to raise revenue by eliminating a tax break. As Kevin Drum at Mother Jones points out, if you aren’t going to eliminate any deductions and tax credits, you aren’t doing any meaningful reform to the tax code.

Tax reform usually has two goals that are not mutually exclusive. Eliminate complexity, inefficiency, waste, and opportunities for fraud and abuse; this is known as the “tax simplification” goal of reform. The “economic growth” goal is usually tied up in an aim to not bust up the deficit – by eliminating tiny tax breaks or areas that are complex, you usually are raising revenue which most reform plans then use to reduce the marginal tax rates everyone pays, thereby giving the economy a general boost. Of course, you can simplify and not lower rates (helps the deficit) or you can skip the first goal and just lower rates (a good old fashioned tax cut).

The GOP is staggering toward a tax cut. The Trump/Republican tax form plan can be summed as several big pieces. One is eliminating a tax on inheritances by the wealthiest of wealthy taxpayers (the top 0.1% of estates, all valued in excess of $5.5 million even after all the loopholes and other “tax-planning” plans used by their lawyers). Another is creating a new exclusive flat rate for usually wealthy “pass-through” companies such as hedge funds and law firms. Another is cutting the corporate tax rate nearly in half. It also collapses the top rates of tax into 1 lower rate, while raising the bottom 10% rate up to 12%. It also doubles the standard deduction we all use by eliminating the personal exemptions used by families. I literally could not design a tax “reform” that does more for unmarried, rich. old men if I tried, while putting the screws to middle-class families with a boss instead of a partner for an employer.

But I am highlighting all of this, and the two articles I linked, primarily because I find it hilarious that the GOP is even considering a “partial repeal” of the state tax deduction. Assuming they go through with it, the idea is even worse than full repeal or complete capitulation. Why? One of the reasons certain parts of the tax code are frustratingly complex (deductions for contributions to traditional IRAs and tax rates on dividend income, for example) is because of the partial, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too mentality described by the partial repeal. In their trial balloon, the GOP is thinking out loud about maybe choosing between deductions. They could also go for an income-based phase-out (like the deductions for IRAs). Or, as they openly discussed, make it available only in certain areas based on property tax rates. All of these ideas would turn a single line on a itemized deduction worksheet into a whole new worksheet unto itself. So, in the name of tax simplification and reform for some, the GOP is considering adding pages of worksheets and instructions to the tax code for others.

This is why policy on matters as complex as taxes and healthcare should not be done hastily, or on a partisan basis, or as part of some photo-op by non-experts who say crap they think sounds good. Tax reform is badly needed, but this is not the way to do it.

TV Premiere Monday: Fall 2017

I am not going to be overly ambitious with my commentary on TV shows this fall season, just because I have other things I need to be doing. But here is my take on the new shows that premiered on September 25, 2017:

Young Sheldon: I am torn on this one. On the one hand, its prequel premise gives me pause, since there is a limit to the character growth and backstory possible, and the drama/comedy balance is way different than the mothership series. So would I still like it absent it being a prequel? I don’t know. Some of the extra little touches the writers did in the pilot were nice nods to the mothership (including a glimpse at the chicken Sheldon feared as a kid), but might not have landed with the same impact as a new character. That said, I already like this show in some ways more than Big Bang, so it’s on my DVR list. Provisionally.

Me, Myself, and I: While Young Sheldon takes place entirely in the 1980s, only the teenage scenes of this complicated show are set in the past. I think the 3 different versions of the main character is a degree of difficulty too much; heck, I tried writing something similar back in my aborted attempt at screenwriting and was told just having flashbacks was going to be difficult. That said, I like some of the actors and acting, and it’d be interesting to see what the writers come up for each of the story beats in future episodes. It’s too early to tell if it joins my DVR, but I will watch the second episode.

The Brave: It’s methodical, almost technical, pacing was boring. I checked out at a commercial break around the 20 minute mark. Up to that point, the action was slow enough that it was knawing at me that we had very little in the way of character building and certainly no reason to care about the doctor that needed rescuing. Sure, some of the actors I’ve like in other things, and it came across as trying to be faithful to the line of work they were portraying, but it just wasn’t worth it.

The Good Doctor: Oh my forking God. This medical drama, a genre I don’t normally like, was soooo good. Dr. Shaun Murphy (by the way, a coworker has the same name) is a young autistic savant who is training to be a surgeon. His story is told partly in flashbacks to his childhood with a violent father and a protective younger brother. His mentor spends most of the hour begging his hospital to hire the kid, while the rest of the time is spent showing how Murphy and the other surgeons work to save an 8 year old’s life. I can’t say I relate to any of this, but by the half-way mark I was already near tears in anticipating the tragic stories that were bound to follow, and then was greatly relieved when the hour ended in the way we all would expect. I don’t know how this show got me to connect so quickly with it, but I am hooked. Legitimately.

—-

The following shows premiered before Monday, so I will just write my review here:

The Orville: If you wanted Star Trek’s Original Series social commentary with TNG’s aesthetic and optimism, with pop cultural references that were more relevant to today’s sensibilities, you’ve got it in spades with this show. Others have reviewed this show better than I can, for all its good and bad qualities. I don’t think it is as good a satire as it could be or as strong an homage as some die-hards want, but it is a definite welcome addition to the sci-fi genre that has become too consumed with dark and gritty and/or superheroes for my taste. After seeing 3 episodes, I actually think this show might be getting better – even if its ability to land a punchline is still more miss than hit. So I will keep watching.

Star Trek Discovery: If you want something that is official Trek but doesn’t quite feel like yesterday’s Trek – in other words, pretty much the opposite of The Orville – then this show is for you. There is enough Trek here to see what they are going for, with enough abuses to canon to make my inner fanboy scream incessantly. The first two episodes are engaging and present a new take on the Klingons that is not nearly as a big departure from the old canon as die-hards are whining about. But the idea that a human raised by Vulcans could spend a few years on a starship and let her emotions get the best of her to the point of mutiny is a bit of a stretch even for me. All that said, those first 2 episodes were just the prologue for the remaining 13 episodes of the season, though, so I’m going to give this show a shot, even though I’m not happy with CBS making us pay at least $6 a month for it on a crappy streaming service app.

UK 2017: Scotland & the North Sea

This is the finale in my series on my trip to the UK in July 2017.

Edinburgh – first impressions: Old, hilly and mountainous, and double-decker. Tons of buildings were built literally on top of each other, such that whole pieces of the cities were going on directly above or below you. Seeing the Scottish flag hanging next to a British one was nice (see photo above). A very interesting vibe.

Apex Grassmarket: The hotel was a little confusing as the chain had two hotels near each other, but we found it easily enough. It had a very modern look and feel, which was an interesting contrast with the old buildings surrounding it. In fact, from the restaurant on the ground floor, you can see Edinburgh castle.

I don’t deserve a nice sundae: The food in the hotel was provided by an Indian restaurant. Two pieces worth noting including the “authentic” haggis we had (which wasn’t bad, actually, but I still won’t go out of my way to have a second go of it, knowing what is in it). The other was this amazing raspberry (or was it strawberry?) sundae that I got for dessert. Unfortunately, the weight balance in the glass and on the serving tray was not great, so about half the sundae ended up on my lap… more than once. Oh well.

Giving away the rental car: If your car rental place is in the basement of a public car park, you should probably tell people that rather than use a public address that makes you sound like you are on the other end of the block from the car park’s entrance. Ann got as crabby as I can get and at several points had to be convinced to not just abandon the car wherever we were. Fortunately, we were giving it up a day early, so we didn’t have the added stress of getting to a train on time.

Edinburgh Castle: Unfortunately, the rental car nightmare took a while to end, so we only had so much time to play tourist. We spent it at Edinburgh Castle. Outside. In the rain. Fortunately, about half way up the hill and through the castle, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared up somewhat. The Castle itself had a Disney vibe to it – long lines to enter, long lines to get tickets, people everywhere, but little worth seeing. I think we got just as much, if not more, out of the castle in Caerphilly as we did here. It’s a nice one, don’t get me wrong, and the view from outside is tremendous; I’m just not sure I would do it again. After all that, Ann spent what must have been an hour or more looking at souvenirs, particularly authentic Scottish tartans, while I people-watched the harp player and tourists outside. We later found some Scottish Whiskey from Clan Grant (see below) and had a late lunch or earlier dinner at a nice restaurant apparently frequented by celebrities for its old-timey atmosphere and away-from-the-public hiding spot.

Clan Grant: So, before I did the Ancestry DNA test that confirmed I had Irish/Celtic blood, I did research on Scottish last names and their associated clans. The Kerns family in Scotland was connected to Clan Grant. So I went a little overboard in finding things related to that Clan while I was in Scotland. Maybe I can’t trace my ancestry to Scotland, maybe it’s Ireland instead, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance for a particular kind of souvenir.

Train ride: We had very little trouble at the train station in Edinburgh, from the drop-off by the cab to finding the ticket counter to finding our train, it was all straight forward. And by this time in the trip, I had better endurance and the stability of walking my 4-wheeler luggage around with me, so the whole thing was a breeze. Of course, the cashier from home I bought the tickets was helpful in a second way, as he allowed me to exchange a Fiver from the Bank of England for one from the Bank of Scotland, giving me some Scottish currency during literally my last chance to get any. The train ride itself was nice, with free snacks (we paid for it in our tickets), and wonderful views from our windows – both Ann and I got some high-quality photos despite traveling at high speed through the Yorkshire coast.

The horrible cab driver: From Kings’ Cross station, we got a cab to take us to our airport hotel at Heathrow. Unfortunately, the cabbie didn’t tell us he had no idea how to get there or how to use GPS, so he ended up wasting our time and my money making several costly wrong turns. It was the absolute worst ride I’d ever experienced.

Business class: With British Airways being super-cheap with their narrow seats, I decided I needed to splurge on an upgrade for the return trip home. If I hadn’t, I was facing a miserable plane ride and several days of terrible bruises on my legs and hips. Hundreds of dollars later, we found ourselves at a business-class check-in, a business-class security area (where Ann had to give up some alcohol she didn’t put in her checked luggage), and access to a business-class lounge with free food and drinks while we waited almost 2 hours for our flight. After a brief security scare (I was randomly selected with about 2 dozen others for extra screening by the annoying TSA), I got to see the business class for the first time. Oh, what a treat it is. Sure, even premium economy usually has nice complimentary meals and leg room, but I hadn’t experienced a reclining seat before, or an easy-to-use stowaway locker for my bag, or a privacy screen between me and the person sitting diagonally next to and in front of me (hi and bye Ann!). I can totally see the appeal of Business Class now on international flights. I still don’t get First Class on most flights, especially in cost comparisons with other classes, but I don’t know if I could fly back to the UK any other way now. Something to think about in 2019 or 2020 or whenever.

UK 2017: Grasmere, Hadrian’s Wall, and Langley

The next leg of our trip took us through the Welsh and English countryside, by some lakes, and into the North country.

The M6: After I finally dragged Ann away from Tinturn Abbey, we got back on the road, headed for the Lake District. That night was one of just 2 we had not yet booked hotels, to give us maximum flexibility on our road trip. Unfortunately, it also meant I was more stressed about when and where we’d stop for the evening. That stress went into over drive around Liverpool as our GPS failed us for the first and only time. A new exit ramp and motorway had been built, we missed our turn, and ended up on a long one-way road without any exits. We got back on the right road, only to see our fuel meter get lower and lower. We finally found a petrol stop literally just as the red light was coming on. Ann was pushing her self too hard on this drive, so we had to take several stops for power naps.

The Inn At Grasmere: Unfortunately, our drive wasn’t yet over. We made it into the Lake District just as it was turning dusk. I had booked us a swanky suite (the only room I could find available online and at last minute) at literally The Inn at Grasmere. But no one told me the road to get there involved tons of little twists and turns down one-lane (and sometimes half-lane) roads with no lighting or that the parking at the hotel doubled as parking for their pub and was insufficient for either. We made do, were able to get a second room comped when they had no extra towels or bedding or anything of that sort. Still, it was a lovely hotel and I would have enjoyed staying there longer if we could, but it ended up being little more than a place to crash for the night.

Dove Cottage: The short stay at The Inn was partly because Ann wanted to find William Wordsworth’s Lake District home, Dove Cottage. The Romantic poet, whom I barely remembered from 10th grade English, wrote much of his poetry on the natural beauty he found right there in Grasmere. The cottage was a neat little exhibit, with a cute garden in the back, but I didn’t enjoy the latter much because it had begun to rain, and hard.

The Lake District: After Ann finished up at the cottage, we got on the road again. It was at this part of the trip where I tried and failed miserably to take adequate pictures of the breathtaking roadside views of the lakes. If I were to find myself retired to a place like this, I would probably be very happy. But we didn’t stop to take many pictures because Ann was on a mission to find…

Hadrian’s Wall: The Roman-era barbarian barricade seems to have inspired Trump’s signature policy against Mexico. Unfortunately, centuries of looting by area residents who wanted their own stone fences or stone homes had reduced the wall in many places to an uninspired lump of rocks. The first piece of the Wall we found was also notable in one other respect – I tried getting on top of it to take a picture of the length of it, and mildly twisted my ankle stepping down from the ledge. Who can say they injured themselves on a piece of history?

Cliffside Sheep: Fortunately, our next stop, which was the result of a minor GPS glitch, had a bench I could sit on while Ann explored. And, I still got my favorite pictures of the entire trip from this place. It had sheep (of course), a cliff (very British), a body of water, and part of the Wall. I could not be happier for the GPS mistake or for Ann insisting we get out of the car and explore, simply because I got some memorable pictures of it. The picture for this post is from this stop.

Arrival at Langley Castle: After a few more stops along the Wall, we made it to our stop for the night, Langley Castle. Unbenowst to us, a wedding was scheduled last-minute for the next day, so tons of workers were on-site getting ready for the event. And unfortunately, their driveway to the castle was packed, so we had a bit of a stressful start. The Castle itself dates back to the 14th century, where semi-ordinary people would fortify their homes and property against all the violence and war that took place in the north of England. In the lobby, they even have framed a recent document showing who owns the title of nobility attached to the castle.

The rooms: We stayed in one of the more luxurious suites, actually in the Castle (rather than a more modern building elsewhere on the property). It was renovated with modern bathroom and expensive looking toiletries, but it still had a little nook where we could open the windows and look out of the castle and onto the grounds below. They had a Great Room which had insane high ceilings, and row after row of comfy sofas and high-back chairs for reading and relaxing. Along the walls were tapestries, a suit of knight’s armor, and other effects to make you feel the history of the place.

Afternoon tea: In the Great Room, we had a very British bit of Afternoon Tea, complete with sweets and finger sandwiches; I really could get used to drinking tea like that! Outside the castle, there is a water fountain that looked under-used; while we had tea, a peacock came out of nowhere and enjoyed the fountain.

Dinner: Maybe my lower-to-middle class upbringing shines through in this thought, but I thought the expensive dinner was a let down. It took a long wait in the Great Room to even get seated. The room was ultra-quiet and probably meant to be romantic, so the staff took their time waiting on us. The portions were probably average, and the food was a little weird. I could see why some would say “this is the high life,” but my idea of dinner is not 2 and a half hours of waiting and then eating pasta out of a cup of tea. I think the only redeeming quality that I can recall now was the Old Mout Cider, a brand of hard cider where you almost wouldn’t notice the alcohol amidst all the apple flavor.

The rooftop: But the next morning, after breakfast, we took a tour up to the rooftop where we got to see the view from the battlements, see their little church, and where they typically host wedding receptions. It was a damp morning, but a nice way to cap off our quick visit to a legitimate 14th-century castle.

UK 2017: Cheddar Gorge & Caerphilly

This is the third part in a series about my second trip to the UK. After six days in London, we rented a car and hit the motorways with the goal of seeing as much of the countryside as we could manage in just six days.

The rental car: We checked out of our hotel and got the rental car. As expected, it was smaller than we Americans are used to, and our luggage barely all fit in the back. I was worried about my own seat, given the problems with the airplane, but it was big enough and with a seatbelt extender, the only issues I had was having to be the bearer of snacks while juggling my camera and my phone to take pictures as we go. And we only once had a petrol scare, and only got lost on a roundabout once or twice (but found it stressful for the first day or two). Roundabouts were pretty much everywhere we went outside the major cities, and they worked wonderfully if you knew where you were going. GPS only failed us once, when we encountered a brand new road that was not on the map yet.

Avebury: We went to Stonehenge last time, but had heard about this town closer to London that was lesser-known but nonetheless had a more complete Druidic structure of stone circles. So this was our first stop on our journey. In typical fashion, Ann went the full-length of the circle and ended up on the wrong side of the town, leaving me to sit in the cool wind wondering where she had gone. That said, it was just as interesting a site as the more famous one several towns over.

Cheddar Gorge Knowing my parent’s love of nature and Ann’s own love of decorative sheep, we decided to check out Cheddar Gorge, a site south of Bristol. The cliffs in this area are quite a site to behold, and definitely worth a trip if you are visiting the UK. Ann got to see some mountain goats and we both watched as two pedestrians nearly slid down one of the hills after hiking their way up. It was a nice diversion after an afternoon on the back roads of Wiltshire and Somerset.

River Severn: We finally got into Wales after crossing a long, long, long bridge over the River Severn and the Bristol Channel, just north and west of Bristol.

Crosskeys: Just in time for a late dinner, we arrived in the village of Crosskeys in south Wales. The tiny hotel where we were staying the night connected to a pub and lacked air conditioning but after a while we managed to open a window or two. We talked to one of the pub’s owners for a fair bit; she was a lovely lady with a beautiful accent that I think was appropriately Welsh.

Caerphilly: In the morning, we packed our bags and made our way to Caerphilly Castle, a medieval ruin that I think turned out to be the most picturesque of the castles we visited on this trip. Caerphilly itself is a small town and suburb of Cardiff. I got some souvenirs that showed the Welsh dragon on their flag on it, some Welsh liquor. I also got a Lovespoon, which is a traditional Welsh wedding present, for a certain engaged couple I know. After a morning of being chased by ducks and laughing at a leaning tower in Caerphilly Castle (it leans more than the Tower of Pisa, and a statue was added of a man holding it up with his bare hands, and yet it still stands), we headed on out.

Tinturn Abbey: As usual, our itinerary was more ambitious than we can manage, but that didn’t stop Ann from making unscheduled stops at Abbeys and other ruins along the way. One of the most notable was Tinturn Abbey, in Monmouthshire, on the Welsh bank of the River Wye (a river that serves as the border between England and Wales). It was a hauntingly beautiful sight that even I fell in love with at first sight. Unfortunately, we had a long drive ahead of us, and I spent much of the time at the Abbey fretting about the rain and about our chances at getting to our destination in time.

UK 2017: Castles, Cambridge, and Chesham

This is a summary of the second half of our stay in London in July 2017. In each of the three days, we actually did not spend much time in the city proper.

Sunday: Hampton Court, near the Kingston suburbs of London. This was the site where King Henry VIII made a home, but future nobility had to ruin – I mean modernize – the back half of it. The two architectural styles were interesting to compare side by side, and the grounds behind it all were just as magnificent. We took a horse-drawn tourist ride around the grounds, before trying to get a glimpse at a Renaissance-Faire-like reenactment of knightly jousting. The crowds were too numerous and the seats too few for us to stick around, though. After another leisurely stroll through some rose gardens, we finally headed. On the ride home, I did get some good pictures of the bridge near Hampton Court, Big Ben, and the London Eye.

Monday: Kings Cross. Before we headed to Cambridge, we first had to make our way through the train station at Kings Cross. Our train was at Platform 11. Platform 10 was nearby but Platform 9 was not and we had little time for me to explore in the morning. At Kings Cross once more at the end of the day, I used the opportunity to find the infamous Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame. Of course, it was now a tourist shop, but that didn’t stop me from braving the crowds to drop too much coinage on items. I was happy with my restraint by not getting too many Ravenclaw House items or my own wand, for now.

Cambridge: We arrived in time to get on a very nice commuter train just before it left for Cambridge, which was an hour’s ride away. Once there, we hopped on one of those on-and-off tour buses and took it the whole length around the city before choosing our stops. I took tons of pictures of old buildings, including one of an infamous bridge whose myth of not needing nails was proven disastrously false. After buying some souvenirs, Ann went on a punting ride (one of those gondola-like boats that you practically lie down in as a college kid pushes the boat along with a large stick). I would have done the ride, too, but I wasn’t sure I could comfortably get in and out of one of those things. We visited a round church and an old sweet shop before heading back.

Tuesday: Chesham. For our last day in the city, we went back to Kings Cross to catch the subway out to Chesham, near where Phil Nixon lives. Phil is Ann’s pen pal whom we met last time we were in the UK. This time, our hotel was not on the same train line as his stop, so we used Kings Cross to change lines – but that was a huge, huge mistake as the Underground is interminable compared to the train station. I felt like I was going to die. I didn’t, and after another hour of travel, we finally met up with Phil again. He brought us back to his local pub, this time for lunch (where I had a version of an English trifle that had sherry in it). He drove us around again, before we settled in for afternoon tea.

I think it was Tuesday night where we finally stopped at the italian restaurant just outside our hotel in Islington (as opposed to the place inside the hotel, or buying food at the local Tesco). They had excellent lemonade and decent food, but we eventually had to get back to the hotel so we can pack and be ready to check out in the morning.

UK 2017: Seats & Letters

This is the first of a series about my second visit to the UK, in July 2017.

Pre-flight drama: I got home after a long day at work, expecting to find a new Kindle Paperwhite waiting for me as Amazon/USPS claimed. It wasn’t. I checked my mailbox, and it was bent open and could not be closed. My best guess is mail theft. So I made the necessary calls and got Amazon to send me a replacement to my work address. That limited what I could do to get ready for the flight, but fortunately I was mostly packed.

British Airways: A double-decker bus of an airplane, my first ever. All the lines were quick and painless, and I even got more sleep than I did on my previous red-eye flight (about 2 hours vs 30 minutes). However, this airline is far less generous with its seats than Virgin Atlantic. I overestimated the value of Premium Economy on this airline versus Virgin and ended up with big bruises on my thighs and hips for my trouble. If you have wide hips and/or are a bigger person, do NOT fly British Airways if you can help it.

Customs: In 2015, we gathered our bags and then went to get our passports stamped. The passport lines were packed to the gills with rugby fans and dragging everything behind us was a pain in the ass that I was decidedly not looking forward to. So it was my pleasant surprise that there were just 4 people in front of us when we got to customs and only needed to get our bags afterwards. The only bad luck at the airport was a problem with getting my debit card to work even though it worked just fine in 2015 (apparently the UK has upgraded their card chip readers just as soon as USA finally got with the program).

Hilton Islington: A small room wouldn’t do. The restaurant’s dinner meals are oddly British and small, but their breakfast buffet (that is not included in the cost of the room) is quite good and filling. One thing that I still don’t get about the UK is their smaller sizes of soda bottles and attitude against ice. But the real annoyance is that the wi-fi is slow and frequently kicks you off until you sign-in again, neither of which should be necessary with modern tech.

Thursday afternoon at The Shard: Last time, we went up the London Eye to get an aerial view of the city. This time, we went up The Shard, a modern skyscraper and the UK’s tallest. With champagne and cameras in tow, we enjoyed the view, including on one floor that was open (meaning parts of it had no ceiling). We returned to the ground floor and had tea at Lang, an artisan shop at The Shard’s hotel.

Friday and social reforms: Most of our Friday was spent in the Saint Pancras neighborhood. First, we went to the Foundling Museum (memorializing the Foundling Hospital for poor, sick, and unwanted children that was founded in the 18th century). We then spent much of the afternoon at the Charles Dickens Museum, honoring the Engish author and his commitment to social reforms for underprivileged children. The Dickens townhouse has a wonderfully quiet garden in its backyard where you can have tea.

Saturday and books: We started at Hatchard’s, the oldest independent bookstore still standing in England, from the 1700s. We ended up spending way too much money on books and postage there. We went a few doors down to Waterstones, the largest bookstore in Europe, but restrained ourselves and only had tea in its cafe instead. We next ended up in Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, taking pictures.

Ann spent Friday and Saturday evenings at Letters Live, a dramatic reading of historical letters that featured a number of British celebrities. These readings were the excuse that prompted our travel plans.

The Magicians

I binge-watched season 1 of The Magicians over the last few days on Netflix. If you ever wanted something of a cross between an adult Harry Potter and the post-modern, self-referential film genre (like Scream) – well, this is definitely for you.

The story centers around Quentin Coldwater, a depressed loner type who is about to graduate college but still has an unhealthy attachment to a series of fantasy novels about children named Jane and Martin Chatwin and their visits to a land called Fillory. That all changes for Quentin when he and his childhood friend Julia discover that magic is real and so is Fillory.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something feels missing – the show stops just short of being amazing.

For one thing, it feels like they left out things from the books (which I haven’t read) to keep the run time to 13 episodes. As an example, Quentin is invited to attend a graduate school for magic, but his roommate, friends, and love interest don’t spend a lot of time in classes. We also rarely see any other students or professors running around (but that could have been to keep the casting budget under control). They mostly seem to learn and practice magic on their own, and we rarely get to see how it works except for some literal hand-waving. In fact, even though Julia is kicked out of this school, she still learns how to use magic on her own, so the fact that it is set at a school feels incidental, almost beside the point.

As an aside, I think my favorite bit of magic was the spell that allows you to truly bottle up your emotions – you are less like a Vulcan in that state and more like a Buddhist – calm/zen, honest (almost to the point of no filter), but fully in control and capable of performing battle magic. That is, until the 3 hours are up and you uncork your emotions in a hyper-intense frenzy.

Also, there some plot points left danging. One that stuck out for me is how the main character has an undetermined special skill, unlike the rest of his friends. But this early issue is forgotten as quickly as it is brought up, much like his threatened expulsion.

The acting and writing wasn’t as bad as it could have been (the show was airing on SyFy after all). But every once and a while, it would pull off a character development or a plot twist that made me want to see where this was all going, leading up to an incredible cliffhanger moment. I won’t spoil anything (although the show did air Season 2 already, so it has been on for a while). I will just say there is a big emotional payoff on Julia’s long-suffering B-story. And along the way in that final hour or so, we see smaller payoffs on other details including who The Beast is, what was up with Quentin’s dreams, and how or why Jane Chatwin knew who Quentin was. They even managed to sneak in a reference to the fact that they changed a character’s name from the books.

As I said, though, it felt like it was missing something. Maybe referencing a meta-fictional book wasn’t enough (maybe they needed to show more of it, so we felt connected to it). Maybe a couple extra scenes or episodes to set up plot details so we felt like they were earned. Or maybe take a lesson from the Harry Potter critics and not put the fate of the world in the hands of people who only just started to learn magic?

Even with all that said, I did binge-watch the whole season in a matter of days, and even as I write this, I am googling for how to watch Season 2 ahead of its release. If that’s not a sign of an entertaining hour of television per episode, I don’t know what is.

Season 3 of The Magicians will air sometime in 2018 on the SyFy channel.