'A Discovery of Witches,' Season 1 - TV Review

I was intrigued when I heard about the "A Discovery of Witches" TV series: I love fantasy (in this case urban fantasy, as it's set in 2018 when it was released) and reviews suggested it was kind of Harry Potter and/or Twilight with more brains. A review on the DVD case from the library said "... 'True Blood' with a PhD!" While the author (Deborah Harkness) of the book trilogy this TV series is based on has a PhD, that in no way guarantees that she writes intelligent prose. Although this is of course hard to judge by watching the TV series and not reading the books. Regardless, the reviews definitely set my standards too high.

Our main characters are Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) and Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode). She is an American historical researcher and reluctant witch who has just moved to Oxford, England to continue her research into the history of alchemy. This brings her into contact with a book at the Bodleian Library called "Ashmole 782" which appears for her despite having been missing for a century and a half. This is our first plot driver, as many of the "creatures" (their name for vampires, witches, and demons walking the earth in human form) are very, very interested in this book. The witches she encounters consider the book a good way to exterminate vampires (not all witches think this should be done, but unfortunately for Diana that's who she meets), which drives her into the company of the good-looking vampire and genetic researcher Matthew Clairmont.

And here we're immediately thrown into a classic - and badly overused - trope, which is also the major plot driver: forbidden love across families (Romeo and Juliet), gangs (West Side Story), or species (Underworld, Twilight). This has often been used to comment on the destructiveness of feuds or racism, but is now so worn down that it's just a convenient literary excuse to escalate simmering resentment between two groups into outright war and thus present obstacles for our lovers. And the writers don't try to make the attraction between our leads subtle, or build over time: they absolutely cannot resist each other within a couple days of meeting, and by three weeks in are clearly destined for eternity - despite little proof to the viewer that they're actually a good match. And wait - a guy who's 1500 years old hasn't learned to control his impulses? Vampire or no, he'd be dead. Also, after a season it's clear how to tell the bad guys: anyone who is loyal to family and friends above race is on the side of right. While it's a sentiment I agree with, it's never that simple in a conflict, is it?

Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer are attractive leads who aren't given good dialogue and don't work too hard on their acting. The whole thing is essentially a romance - and there's a reason "rom-coms" are more popular than "roms" - they're more entertaining. This has almost zero humour and takes itself far too seriously while frequently being downright silly. Comparisons to Twilight are entirely justified, and while the writing isn't as bad as that series of movies, it's certainly not very good. I haven't seen mention of the "Underworld" series of movies in reviews of this, but that connection should be made too: after all, that's Romeo and Juliet for vampires and werewolves, with a dollop of genetics.

One of the series' best features was shooting on location mostly in Oxford and Venice - and if that's the best thing going for you, you're in trouble.