Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Diana's Adventures in TV Land: Hex

As Whitney Houston said on her wedding night, "That's gonna leave a bad taste in my mouth." Nota bene, I'm going to spoil the one big twist in this series, and it's an instance that actually warrants an advance warning.

"Hex" caught my interest after its recent move to BBC America, where it was touted as the British answer to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that they based the comparison on the Marti Noxon years, because this show makes no sense, features a bunch of unsympathetic caricatures, is obsessed with "teh sexxx" and really, really makes no bloody sense.

It starts off well enough, mind you, with a dark and mysterious atmosphere built up at a leisurely pace (befitting the more patient British audience). The characters make a good first impression, particularly protagonist Cassie and her best friend Thelma. And the supernatural elements are introduced nicely, weaving together to create the beginnings of a mythology that's both straightforward and interesting.

But by the second episode, "Hex" begins to indulge its single greatest flaw - the supernatural angle, established by the end of the pilot, is completely forgotten. Supernatural, demonic characters walk around like they're normal people, and everyone else treats them normally as well. The antagonist of the first season, fallen angel Azazeal, is intent on seducing Cassie, but rather than maintain the sinister overtones, the whole thing degenerates into ridiculous dialogues about playing house and fixing their relationship and being a family.

The first season (five episodes) is really quite dull; supernatural subplots are set up and then ignored, never to be referenced again, and a bit too much emphasis is placed upon the teenage melodrama. The characters gradually become typical bores, some of whom are completely expendable and some of whom are very interesting, but disappear after an appearance or two (I'm thinking here of Cassie's mother Lilith and Peggy, both interesting figures who just aren't seen again, with no explanation). The big problem with Cassie as the heroine of the story is that she's frustratingly passive: when faced with evil, she either runs from it or surrenders to it. Now, sure, you could make the argument that it's a realistic depiction - how many people would actually muster up the courage to take on demons from Hell? - but it just doesn't make for good fiction. By the time the season concludes, the only issue relevant to Cassie is whether or not she'll shag Azazeal, and you can probably guess the answer to that one. Thelma is entertaining, but even she wears thin after a while.

Things start improving with the second season, and I give "Hex" credit for going where Joss Whedon never dared. It's always a big gamble to switch out your protagonist; in fact, the only show I've ever seen that successfully wrote out its main character mid-series was "Reboot", and even then, Bob wasn't gone long. The second season premiere introduces Ella Dee, a 500-year-old witch and sworn nemesis to Azazeal; one episode later, Cassie is dead, and Ella takes her place as the primary focus of the series.

The switch actually goes over quite nicely at first: Ella is a much more active character, though she's a bit distanced from the viewer in the sense that Cassie was the everywoman, easy to identify with, and Ella isn't very accessible on that level. Of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing - in fact, quality starts dropping again when they try to make Ella a typical teenage girl, weak and drawn to bad boys and hungry for sex, all the usual cliches. By mid-season, after a few strong episodes, we're right back in the whole insipid good/evil love story, where the female characters are victimized to ludicrous extents and the villainous males get away with pretty much everything. It comes off very, very poorly.

I was completely numb towards the end of the second (and final) season: characters were acting in repetitive and incomprehensible ways, the melodrama was overpowering the darker aspects, and it just became a mess of "Charmed" proportions. It's a shame, really, because I do think "Hex" had a lot of potential, it just lost the plot fairly early on and never found it again.