It’s the dawn of the next era in America. We’ve put 2020 behind us. Joe Biden is our president. Suddenly, it’s all about unity, model-poets, great coats. And, because there always is, there’s also a new show everybody can’t stop watching for this new era. That show is—and I don’t think anyone saw this coming—Fate: The Winx Saga, a teen fantasy about fairies.
Yes, Fate: The Winx Saga. Fate, colon, The Winx Saga. Fate, but specifically, the particular saga of it that concerns the Winx. (Will there be other sagas?) I’m going to keep trying to say those words as if they make any sense at all, but I don’t know if it’s going to work. Because I am not one of the millions—tens of millions?—of people who originally helped propel Fate: The Winx Saga to the top of Netflix’s most-viewed list, where it’s been sitting for days now. But I am curious what it is and how it got there, and perhaps you are too.
As far as I can tell, the answer is mainly: the teens. They love their Netflix! Even so, I am used to teens watching shows that have names consisting of words that I can extrapolate meaning from—what am I missing here? Where did this show come from, and why is it proving to be this month’s streaming-service pied piper? I present to you Fate: The Winx Saga: The Explainer.
What is Fate: The Winx Saga?
Inasmuch as Fate: The Winx Saga is real—because the thing all these Netflix apparitions have in common is that even after watching them you still have this niggling feeling that they might only exist in your head—I can say for sure that it is a TV show (well, streaming show) that consists of one six-episode season so far. The premise is basically Harry Potter, but fairies. In the first episode, we meet Bloom (played by Abigail Cowen), an American girl who was living a normal life in the “Firstworld” until she found out she was a fairy and got whisked off to Alfea, a magical boarding school in a magical dimension, the “Otherworld.” The school is located in a “realm” called Solaria that, given that all the students there are British, seems to just be this show’s version of magic England (à la Westeros).
So fairies? As in Tinker Bell?
No, and how dare you. If this show were a person, it would have “Not Your Mama’s Fairy Show” tramp-stamped on the small of its back, right under a conspicuous lack of wings—wings being the province of, presumably, your mama’s lame fairy show. These are cool, edgy teen fairies, so there are no wings and no pixie dust here, thank you very much—at least at the beginning of the show, while we’re still getting used to the shocking idea that there are modern teen fairies who talk about memes and vapes and Instagram.
Surely this must be based on some blockbuster series of young adult novels?
It would seem like it, wouldn’t it? Though the show was undeniably influenced by Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter, rather than the book-to-live-action path, Fate: The Winx Saga is the product of a more recent teen intellectual property pipeline: It’s an adaptation of a cartoon. When Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina came along, the “gritty reboot” treatment inspired eye rolls, but their source material was pretty well known by the general population. If you’re older than your 20s and don’t have kids, though, you’d probably never heard of Winx Club, a 2004 cartoon that was originally created and produced in Italy but gained popularity stateside via Nickelodeon. The network aired the original, which reportedly had “major Sailor Moon and Bratz vibes,” as well as a 2011 revival. Oh, and the original cartoon was a musical. The live-action adaptation is decidedly not a musical, and other big changes include making fewer of the characters princesses (seems aboveboard) but more of them white (seems less so).
OK, so a girl who didn’t know she was a fairy shows up at boarding school. … Is it as derivative as it sounds?
Yes. Now, plenty of properties have ripped off Harry Potter, and J.K. Rowling didn’t exactly invent fantasy or the boarding school novel, but boy does this show’s version of Hogwarts seem particularly slapdash and charmless. Protagonist Bloom (ugh, that name) is plainly a Mary Sue of a main character, and her roommates conveniently and annoyingly exemplify both every hair color and every type of fairy. Yes, there are types of fairies: fire fairy, air fairy, and so on, you know the drill. As a side note, one of the roommates, Stella, played by Hannah van der Westhuysen, looks like Margot Robbie: How many Margot Robbies are we up to now? The show’s mean girl, Beatrix, strangely, seems to break the rules of TV hair color in that she also has red hair, like Bloom, so I’m curious if that will turn out to be meaningful to the plot eventually.
Fate: The Winx Saga doesn’t just want to be a show about magic for kids, though, so it attempts to sex up the narrative—Alfea is referred to as a “college,” and first-year Bloom is 16, so the characters are slightly older than Harry and his gang, meaning we’ve got less hijinks and more hard-bodied hotties (with apologies to Cedric Diggory). But I don’t see why we couldn’t have both. In addition to the other entertainment properties I’ve mentioned, you may also detect notes of The Vampire Diaries (where Fate: The Winx Saga creator Brian Young cut his teeth as a writer), The Magicians, Buffy, Divergent, X-Men, and even Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars wafting through. But purely in terms of production value, be warned, the show’s monster scenes sometimes had me thinking Power Rangers.
Is there … anything notable about the show’s magical world?
The one mythological aspect of the show I did like was its use of the concept of a changeling, which is when a fairy baby gets switched with a human at birth. This provides the explanation for why Bloom grew up among humans and didn’t know about her powers. I just wish it were enough that Bloom might be the first changeling at her school in ages—why does she also have to be the savior figure?
In addition to fairies, Otherworld has “specialists,” because men can’t be fairies. They’re sort of like warriors or knights; they spend a lot of time with swords. Technically in this world specialists don’t have to be men, but certainly most of the female characters in the show are fairies and most of the male ones specialists. Witches also exist in this world, which I mention mostly so I can link to this witch who reviewed the show for Teen Vogue and bemoaned its inaccuracies. Witches do become a plot point, though, as do something called “Burned Ones,” which are maybe the show’s version of White Walkers.
You said something about hard-bodied hotties. Are there at least cute boys and relationships to root for in the show?
Nothing super-swoon-worthy, in my opinion. There’s a generic golden-boy character, Sky (Danny Griffin), who immediately has a thing for Bloom, but he used to date one of her roommates, Not Margot Robbie. Riven (Freddie Thorp) struck me as kind of a Chuck Bass type, and Chuck Bass is so retroactively problematic that one doesn’t really know what to do with that, but he’s cute. He’s involved with the show’s mean girl, Beatrix, though he flirts with another one of Bloom’s roommates at one point. I think your main takeaway should be that Robert James-Collier, aka Barrow from Downton Abbey, is in this show, playing a teacher at the school who goes by Silva but who, I am just now seeing, hilariously has the first name Saul. OK, a male fairy named Saul, love it. Barrow deserved better, but it’s nice to see him.
Do we ever figure out what “winx” is? Or what “a Winx” is? What part of speech is winx?
I still cannot for the life of me tell you. Wikipedia, citing a source in Italian, says that when the cartoon was named, the word “was derived from the English word ‘wings,’ and the ‘x’ was intended to evoke the shape and sound of wings.” So I guess it’s not that crazy for a made-up word to be part of the show’s title, since it kind of sounds like wings … but you know what, no, I can’t back down, it is crazy. You can’t just name a show Fate, colon, The Winx Saga and expect us to take it. I confess that I didn’t make it through all the episodes, but apparently Bloom and her roommates officially establish the “Winx club” at the end of the season, which seems rather late to first reference a bizarre made-up word in a show’s title, if you ask me. Via scouring the internet, I also discovered that the girls live in the “Winx suite” of their dorm, but if this was mentioned in the episodes I watched, I certainly missed it. So that kind of covers “winx,” but fate may have it that where the “fate” part of the name comes from shall continue to elude me—which is very rude of fate.