hex
(season 1)

2004

Producer: Johnny Capps/Julian Murphy

Do yourself a favour, if you haven't already seen Hex, avoid any reviewer who blithely declares that this show is the "British Buffy". I've heard that expression in regards to this show so many times now it makes me want to reach through my computer screen, onto the Internet and strangle the lazy-arse reviewers inside.

The truth is, Hex and Buffy have pretty much nothing in common - in plot, look or feel - besides a tendency towards the supernatural. Hex has no vampires, only one semi-monster (and then only briefly, he's in human form most of the time) who is actually a fallen angel, and a cast of reasonably interesting, very English characters. What it does have is a blonde heroine with special powers, mostly telekinesis but there are some hints of psychic powers as well, who is subjected to pain and suffering by a good-looking bad guy. She's a witch from a special lineage, who just happens to come from a family with a terrible, recurring connection with a dark power.

Cassie, the latest in a long line of McBain family witches, gains her powers and immediately becomes the focus of obsession by the dark, brooding Azazeal. He has a plan, and she's at the centre of it. First he needs to manifest himself fully on this plane, for which he needs a willing sacrifice. Enter Thelma, Cassie's lesbian best friend. The two share a tight, albeit platonic relationship as outsiders at their posh, oddly art-centred, private boarding school. In a disturbing scene in the pilot, Thelma becomes the sacrifice that brings Azazeal forward into the world. Thelma dies in Cassie's arms having saved her life, but this is no ordinary death. Almost immediately, Thelma the lesbian ghost appears, and she's twice the hoot that Thelma was when she was alive.

For those of you still with me, you're probably going to like this show. It goes for a higher degree of realism in its look than most American fantasy shows, and it thankfully isn't about two women saving the world. They're too busy trying to save themselves. While Cassie does display a few scattered moments of do-gooder tendencies in episode three, for the most part the show doesn't concentrate on Cassie using her powers to save innocent people. The show is darker and more self-centred than that. It deals with the all-too-human emotions that get tangled in the supernatural events. How does Thelma feel now that the object of her love is forever beyond her grasp? How does Cassie deal with her burgeoning powers and her burgeoning hormones that keep making her lust for the Troy, the guy who looks alarmingly like Jamie Oliver? (Or do foppish-haired, British guys with an overbite all look like that?)

Just when we think Cassie might finally be the one to rise above the family curse, she's betrayed from within, by her mother who is too insane to know what she's doing. Without giving away too much, Azazeal manages to trick Cassie into doing the one thing she would otherwise never do, and then all hell breaks loose.

Considering how slow-moving the first three episodes of this first series are, I'm actually quite shocked by what they managed to get through by the end of the sixth and final episode. The second half of the season is pretty damn cool, and races by at a frantic pace. The problem is, you need to get to the second half. I can see this show losing a lot of potential fans in the pilot, which is slow-moving and often dull. The camera wanders around this big, old, gothic, supposedly spooky house (that amazingly serves as a school) as if it too is searching for something better to do. There's no intensity, no serious atmosphere building. The first hour and a half is downright flat (and 90 minutes out of a six hour series is a lot, quite frankly).

It isn't enough anymore for a show to just reveal "woohoo, she has some powers!" That's where shows such as Buffy and Charmed really have had an influence. They've spoiled us. Anyone who has watched those shows expects there to be some powers, some magic, some supernatural twist. What really needs to get moving to catch our attention is the character development. It wasn't really until Thelma's death that I felt the tugs of interest forming. Before that the backstory and unveiling of the plot surrounding shy, innocent Cassie was pretty yawnworthy. (No really, the first thing I'd do if I found a strange urn is bleed into it!) I was keeping myself interested by wondering how many cast members the show would have in common with Sugar Rush.

Around episode four I really started to sit up and take notice. (OK, the interesting lesbian scene in episode three was kind of distracting...) While Thelma struggles to convince Cassie that she really has genuine concerns and isn't just jealous of her sudden sexual prowess, it digs up real emotional drama. Apart from the occasional attempt to use the whole lesbian ghost angle for laughs, this really isn't a show with much comic relief. That's OK, I actually don't mind fantasy that takes itself seriously. Hex really needed to be serious in order to have a hope of building the kind of atmosphere it needs.

The problem is, while the storylines and characters do get more interesting as the episodes roll by, the direction never really does. I was also a bit disappointed in the lacklustre Azazeal. I know he's a smiling bad guy, a smooth talker, but it isn't until the final episode when he gives his rather chilling speech on abortion that I sensed any real malice in him. Giving someone a long coat, calling them a fallen angel and having a few lightweight scenes in S&M clubs doesn't necessarily make him evil. Like I said, we're a bit spoiled these days really. You really need more clues that someone is bad than just having them light up a cigarette and have bloodied eyeballs.

Thelma the lesbian ghost really is the main drawcard here. Through her we get most of the story, most of the best acting (the always-appealing Jemima Rooper) and most of the real emotional connection to the story as a whole. Without that little gambit to keep things interesting I think Hex might have died and been buried in obscurity, but as it is there's enough good writing and interesting twists here for a few hours of cool, supernatural entertainment. Some people might even become addicted. It really wouldn't shock me in the least. If they'd really amped up the suspense and drama another notch I suspect I would have been one of them.

Got a comment? Write to me at nancyamazon@gmail.com