Story: As countless people go about their lives as usual, just outside of their awareness are wonders and secrets that would send society into chaos if ever revealed. This includes all manner of mystical and magical entities, supernatural creatures, and more, all just out of sight from the normal population, for self preservation reasons. Diana (Teresa Palmer) has devoted her to life to being a historian, so she has a large scope of knowledge at her whim, but she has learned about the hidden aspects of life in a more direct manner, since she too hides from most of the world. Diana is a witch, a powerful one, but she refuses to participate in the usual witch activities, at least she tries to. Her powers crackle at times and go beyond her control, one reason she chose a quieter, more controlled lifestyle. But when her work as a historian puts her in possession of a powerful, much sought after relic, will she be forced to embrace her magical nature?
Entertainment Value: A slick, smart series that takes some wild concepts and then grounds them without sacrificing the magical aspects, A Discovery of Witches is a near masterwork of television. From the first episode, this show takes the time and effort to build an entire world that feels alive and filled with natural details, so this is not an episodic, monster of the week type series, not even close. Drawing on Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, the series lavishes the material with visual depth and attention to detail, which of course enhances the narrative and characters to no end. While fantasy elements are a central theme of A Discovery of Witches, the world itself feels grounded and believable, as do most of the intertwined threads where the magical bleeds over into the normal world. I found the writing to be excellent throughout the series in general, with later episodes and seasons always building on what has unfolded, rewarding the viewers who experience the full arc. There are some issues, often around how the magic elements operate, but that is to be expected, especially in a case where so many types of magic and supernatural elements are at work. The production values are terrific and continue that grounded approach, but of course, when the fantasy threads are present, things dial up to suit that shift. I was enraptured with A Discovery of Witches and recommend it to anyone who appreciates skilled takes on fantasy and supernatural themes.
As good as the writing is here, the cast is able to make it even better and pretty much across the board, this ensemble is top tier throughout the series. Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode have the leads and both perform quite well, though Palmer does have some missteps at times. Just minor things that stuck out a little, however. For the most part, both are skilled and connect well to the material and that’s crucial. The two also have good chemistry and since there’s a predictable romance involved, that is important for the sake of the narrative beats. I say the romance is predictable because it just seems like all of these kind of stories have to include a romance, more than saying the way it all plays out here is predictable. I do think the romance elements can be some of the weaker aspects of the material, despite some solid character work involved. I’d have rather seen more time in the balance between the magical and normal worlds, for example, but I know the romance resonated with many fans, so I can understand why is was included. Even smaller roles are well handled in A Discovery of Witches, whether recurring or one time guests, so this is an impressive team effort. The cast also includes Alex Kingston, Trevor Eve, Owen Teale, Malin Buska, Gregg Chilingirian, Lindsay Duncan, and Tanya Moodie.
The Disc: The show looks fantastic on Blu-ray, available in a Complete Trilogy set that has all the episodes and some supplements. The visuals are sharp and yield remarkable depth, with bright, natural colors and stark contrast. No issues I could find with this presentation, fans should be more than satisfied. The extras include over 80 minutes of behind the scenes content, from interviews with the cast to looks at the magic elements, special effects, costumes, and other production details, giving you an inside tour of A Discovery of Witches.
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