Every part of my brain (and Jed’s) is shouting at me. It’s calling Good Witch cheesy, treacly, corny, sugary and all the other food-related words people use to say something is too hackneyed and sentimental for its own good and everyone else’s. But for some reason, I, an avowed anti-binge-watcher, have managed to watch 13 episodes of this Hallmark concoction (both seasons including the 2-part Halloween special – oooooh – are on Netflix UK at the moment) over the past 3 days and although I can see every single thing wrong with it, I really don’t want to stop.
A spin-off from the popular TV movies (my next step is obviously to track them down and watch the hell out of them too), the show centres on the apparently omniscient Cassie Nightingale (Catherine Bell) whose supernatural skills are more sixth sense than spell-related; Cassie has a “feeling” about everything and everyone, and dispenses advice, tea and herb-based remedies (many of which seem to involve beets) accordingly, thereby curing all sorts of emotional, physical and social ailments for all comers to her shop, her home / B&B (which is both gorgeous and HUGE) and Middleton, the idyllic Canadian-masquerading-but-not-remotely-convincingly-as-American small town in which she and her family live.
Unfortunately, Cassie’s advice, while always right, tends to be of the fortune cookie variety and, since it’s always accompanied by her beatific, enigmatic smile and a tilt of the head, gets a bit repetitive. So Cassie sometimes mixes things up by sending people to deliver a pie/ cocoa/ something similarly heartwarming to somewhere else in town where they can then stumble upon the solution to their problem themselves – hurrah!
I told you it was cheesy.
Because her husband from the TV movies wasn’t available for the show, Cassie is recently-widowed, and a little bit sad in a stoic, heroic kind of way, so flashy divorced New York doctor Sam/ Mike-from-Desperate-Housewives moving in next door with his sulky teenage son obviously ups the fromage factor – at first, he mistrusts Cassie and her “feelings”, but it only takes about an ep and a half for him to adore her as much as the entire rest of the town does – by providing the oldest ship in the book for me to happily squee over. The pair of them bond both quickly and adorably, despite not very many obstacles at all, because this is Hallmark not Homeland, and no matter how long it might take, we know they’re going to be together, the only question being when it’ll happen.
In fairness, the show does try to engineer a bit of family-friendly conflict to delay the inevitable. In season 1, both Sam and Cassie are romanced by very pleasant people they’re very clearly not into, and now (I’m a few eps into season 2), Sam’s appalling ex-wife and Cassie’s as-yet-underwhelming ex-boyfriend have turned up to try and get in the way as well. Might as well save yourselves the effort, guys! Meantime, however, the writers have decided things could stand to be a bit less cosy so Cassie’s more tricksy-than-evil (but still annoying) cousin Abigail uses discord and manipulation to get the same good results Cassie gets through sweetness and light, Cassie’s exceptionally pleasant teenage daughter has some growing pains, and her perfectly nice stepson and his perfectly nice wife have perfectly normal but not remotely interesting marital issues. Everything’s going to be just fine, though, worry not.
So mild and gentle that it makes the delightful Private Eyes look like Game of Thrones, Good Witch is the kind of tv your elderly aunt (and me, God help me) will like, although there are a couple of notes that did strike me as a little off. Firstly, the incessant banging of the “small town is way better than big city!” drum gets a little wearing. I’m sure small town living suits plenty of folk, but I doubt there’s a small town anything like Fantasy Middleton anywhere on the planet, and anyway, I live in a biggish city and I like it. So there. And secondly, this small town isn’t exactly diverse – I could count the number of non-Caucasian people who’ve shown up so far on the fingers of one hand, and none of them had speaking parts or more than five seconds on screen. Is it stretching things to worry that idealisation of this type of racially homogenised, determinedly insular setting might – absolutely unintentionally, because Good Witch is nothing but good-hearted – be a dangerous thing given the type of twisted, angry racial politics that have given us 2016: The Year Fascism Came Back Into Fashion?
Now, of course, I feel horribly guilty for even suggesting that something as determinedly innocuous and sweet as Good Witch could conceivably contribute to something so appalling, but it’s been a strange year and a terrible one. Which, conversely, might be why I’m currently wallowing in this show at all; it’s pure escapism, easy on both the eye and the mind, even if mine keeps trying to rebel against it. So I’m off to fire up the Netflix and dive back into season 2 – a few more hours away from the world sounds good to me.