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"Hex" Fails to Cast a Spell

I was really looking forward to BBC America's Hex, another drama import from Blighty. Publicity materials had pegged it as a sort of boarding school-set British Buffy, albeit with an emphasis on witchcraft rather than vampires. I had hoped it would be a summertime guilty pleasure, a fizzy concoction whose ingestion leaves you barely intoxicated.

Hex doesn't offer much substance to sink your teeth into and it certainly can't compare to the first five or so years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And while it's not awful, it just really isn't all that good. The overall conceit has promise: an English boarding school in the middle of nowhere, teenagers with rampant hormones, and a girl with superhuman abilities that set her apart from the popular pack. But I wish that creator Julian Jones had followed Joss Whedon's lead a little more and made the use of witchcraft more of a metaphor for burgeoning sexuality rather than overloading the two-hour pilot with sex, sex, and more sex. The end result is a hodgepodge of teen histrionics, supernatural horror, and twee English drama that takes a very long time in setting up its story.

I will say that that lead actress Christina Cole is sensational as Cassandra "Cassie" Hughes, a social outcast who uncovers a mysterious voodoo artifact that she uses to unwittingly release a fallen angel named Azazeal (Michael Fassbender). Cole gives a nuanced performance that appears effortless; she's instantly sympathetic and beautiful in a languid English Rose sort of way. She's so attractive, in fact, that it's hard to believe that this beautiful creature is the object of scorn and derision among her peers. Rarely has a pariah looked this good. Cassie desperately wants to fit in with the popular clique run by the savage and oversexed Roxanne (Amber Sainsbury). While Cassie's a quiet and promising student, Roxanne is an oddly coiffed fashionista who enjoys tormenting the school's teachers by, you know, sleeping with a male teacher and forcing a female teacher (Monarch of the Glen's Anna Wilson-Jones) to reduce a poem to a rather base analogy. She's Cordelia with a Vivienne Westwood fashion style and manipulation skills this side of John Wayne Gacy. It's impossible to turn your attention from Roxanne and she adds more of a spark to Hex than the rather dull Azazeal.

I only wish that Cassie's lesbian sidekick, Thelma (Jemima Rooper), were as likeable as Cassie. From the start, I found Thelma to be cloyingly irritating. While she could have been offbeat in dress and manners, I think that there needs to be something to connect with here, especially as Thelma is essentially filling in for the Willow role in this story. Fortunately, Hex's pilot episode, like the demonic Azazeal, needs a sacrifice and by the episode's end, Thelma is no longer among the living. (Fret not, she returns at her funeral as a ghost). If there's one thing that Thelma isn't, it's subtle and the writer Julian Johns hits us over the head repeatedly that Thelma is a lesbian; in fact, nary a scene with Thelma goes by in which she doesn't mention being a lesbian, make a pass at Cassie, or wind up in a compromising position that leads the audience to think--even for a second--that she and Cassie have hooked up.

The rest of the cast is hit or miss. Anna Wilson-Jones and Colin Salmon turn in fine performances as Cassie's literature teacher and headmaster respectively, but I wish that they had more to do in the pilot. None of the teachers seem to have any discipline over the students and just let them run amok while they stay indoors and share sexually-charged conversations themselves. It's rather jarring. I hope that the members of Roxanne's gang manage to step out of their pigeonholed roles and creator Johns develops their characters a little further. Other than the humorously loathsome Leon (Jamie Davis), they are little more than ciphers: bitchy Gemma (Zoe Tapper) and her boyfriend Troy (Joseph Morgan), the rather bland object of Cassie's longing. I was hoping that these teens would offer some interest, but they're merely sex-crazed and spend the entire pilot talking about or engaging in sexual activity or watching soft-core porn in the common room. That is, when the girls aren't spying on the boys in the locker room shower. I wish that some of this would have been less overtly portrayed as the overall effect threatens to become exploitive. Or at the very least, incredibly cheesy.

Which, in a nutshell, is my main problem with what I've seen thus far of Hex. The script is extremely flabby and the plot moves at a glacial pace. It would have been quite easy to condense the two-hour pilot into a one-hour episode that's much more taut and suspenseful. (As it is, you could skip the first hour entirely and not really miss anything much.) The dialogue and situations come off as incredibly contrived as well, especially those between Cassie and the corporeal Thelma. But Johns does manage to capture that requisite eeriness and gloom, both of adolescence and supernatural phenomena, to create some genuinely interesting sequences. I just wish that BBC America hadn't spoiled most of those by showing a spoilerific montage of scenes from "This Season on Hex" before the credits rolled. If I wasn't all that surprised by anything that happened in the pilot, I certainly won't be about the series' plots now.

However, I am hoping that the writing and action improve in the subsequent episodes. I'm willing to give Hex another chance to enchant me but if I don't fall under its spell soon, this might just be one guilty pleasure that's heavy on the guilt and offers very little in the way of pleasures.

"Hex" airs Thursday evenings at 10 pm ET/PT on BBC America.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Gameshow Marathon (CBS); My Name is Earl/The Office (NBC); Smallville (WB); NBA Basketball (ABC; 8-11 pm); That '70s Show/That '70s Show (FOX); Everybody Hates Chris/Love, Inc. (UPN)

9 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS); Dateline (NBC); Supernatural (WB); So You Think You Can Dance (FOX); Eve/Cuts (UPN)

10 pm: Without a Trace (CBS); Windfall (NBC)

What I'll Be Watching

7 pm: Hex on BBC America. (10 pm ET)

See above. Though unless tonight's installment ("Deeper into the Darkness") is an improvement, I might just have to remove the show from my TiVo's Season Pass list. On tonight's episode, Cassie is drawn further into Azazeal's master plan, which includes the object of Cassie's fantasies, Troy.

8-9 pm: My Name is Earl/The Office.

On tonight's repeat episode ("Something to Live For"), Earl decides to make amends for stealing gas from a stranger's car (guest star Adam Goldberg), only to learn that he may have saved his life. Over on a repeat of The Office ("E-Mail Surveillance"), Michael enrages the Dunder-Mifflin employees when he begins to monitor their email exchanges. To dust off an old TV catchphrase, if you haven't seen them, they're new to you. (Sorry.)

10 pm: 5 Takes: Pacific Rim on the Travel Channel.

On tonight's installment of 5 Takes: Pacific Rim ("Taiwan"), the reality/travel show I just can't say enough about, the gang heads out to Taiwan where resident foodie Gabe's stomach is put to the ultimate test. Okay, even more so than eating scorpions or Marmite? I'm intrigued.


Anonymous said…
"Buffy" this is not. But it does have some good qualities. I really like the lead girl and think that the "spooky" stuff is done well. But the best friend annoys me too and her love interest seems about as interesting as a piece of cardboard. That said, I'll tune in tonight in the hopes that the good elements will shine through and keep me interested.

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