Thursday, July 05, 2007

British TV’s ‘Hex’ should leave viewers bewitched

This usually works the other way around. American producers find a clever British TV show, adapt it for the U.S. and spring it on an unknowing audience.

“The Office” and “Three’s Company” are two successful American shows based on series that aired originally in Britain.

“Amanda’s,” based on “Fawlty Towers,” is an unsuccessful one. Which is probably why no one remembers it.

But occasionally, an American show will have such an impact in Britain that it will spawn imitators there. Such is “Hex.”

When it first aired, “Hex” had a reputation as the British answer to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Actually, its first season has more in common with “Charmed.” The more Buffyesque plots don’t kick in until the second season, which is currently airing on BBC America.

The show’s first 10 episodes — all six episodes of season 1 and the first four of season 2 — are now available on DVD. The three-disc box set lists for $49.95, with most retailers knocking at least $10 off that.

Set at an isolated boarding school that once belonged to a woman who more than dabbled in the occult, “Hex” follows a shy student named Cassie (Christina Cole), who discovers she has both supernatural powers and a mysterious link to the late lady of the house.

That would normally be enough for any teenager to cope with, but Cassie’s problems are just beginning. As soon as her powers start to manifest themselves, she attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger, who spends most of his time lurking in the mists just off the estate and doing his best impression of a tortured Jane Austen hero — except evil.

The stranger is Azazeal (Michael Fassbender), leader of a group of fallen angels. And fallen angels are always bad news.

Cassie’s only real friend is her roommate, Thelma (Jemima Rooper), who happens to have an unrequited crush on Cassie. This is doubly bad news for Thelma, who ends up dead by Azazeal’s hand by the end of the second episode.

Normally, I wouldn’t spoil a major character death like that in a review like this, but in this case, there is life after death. When Thelma shows up at her own funeral, it’s obvious: She is a ghost, and she isn’t going anywhere soon — even if Cassie is the only mortal who can see her.

So, it’s up to Cassie and her ghostly and even-more-frustrated-than-ever best friend to unravel the mystery of Cassie’s powers and figure out what Azazeal wants, besides wanting Cassie, which he makes clear at every opportunity. It’s fate, he says.

While “Hex” lacks the self-conscious, pop-culture humor of “Buffy,” it doesn’t wallow in the sheer goofiness that made “Charmed” often too painful to watch.

What it has that those two shows lack, however, is gorgeous cinematography. The producers of “Hex” take full advantage of their rural English setting, and every episode has the look and feel of a movie.

They’re also not afraid to take chances. The seventh episode introduces a new character, Ella Dee (Laura Pyper), a 500-year-old demon hunter with impeccable taste in Goth fashion, who sends the series in a totally new direction. If Ella and Buffy were to ever face off, my money would be on Ella.

Note to movie producers: Pyper is an excellent actress who needs more work.

Although the DVD box set ends four episodes into season 2, it nevertheless ends with a perfect cliffhanger, which will leave anyone hooked by the first 10 episodes eagerly awaiting the show’s final nine episodes.

It’s just a shame “Hex” ended after just two seasons.

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