Thursday, October 30, 2014

The New Worst Witch (2005-2007)

It only took a few years after Weirdsister College's end before The Worst Witch gained a further continuation, this time with a new main character. The New Worst Witch features an entirely new cast, save for a couple of familiar, albeit recast faces...

Henrietta 'Hettie' Hubble is a new pupil at Cackle's Academy for Young Witches. Making just as a disastrous entry as her cousin Mildred did when she arrived at the school, Hettie isn't off to a great start, but She quickly makes friends with fellow students Mona Hallow, and Cressie Winterchild-And an enemy in bitchy Belladonna Bindweed. Over the course of the school years, Hettie is always plotting and scheming, whether it be for selfish purposes, or to help her friends, but unfortunately they often backfire, and she's often in the firing line of the staff...

The New Worst Witch is a highly amusing show. It's often funny, the episodes are all well-written, and none are bad. There aren't even any lesser episodes in its 26-long life span!

This show isn't without problems though. It's annoying the amount of times people say "Hettie Hubble, you are going to be in so much trouble!", or dialogue to that effect! Frankly, I'm not sure what surprises me more-That this show says that so much, or the fact that the original Worst Witch series never took advantage of that rhyme at any point in its 3-season run.

The biggest problem with the show is its continuity with previous entries in the franchise. For example, Mona Hallow really doesn't fit in with previous chronology, not only because she's never been mentioned before, but because of everything to do with Sybil Hallow-She doesn't have a younger sister, and vice versa, The New Worst Witch's continuity doesn't work either if Sybil exists.

Stuff like that, and other moments I'll mention below, make me exclude The New Worst Witch out of the main continuity, and instead lump it in its own bubble universe.

The characters in The New Worst Witch are great! Hettie Hubble isn't at all a carbon copy of Mildred, and is very different. She's not clumsy, and she knows plenty. Her knack for getting into trouble is usually down to her scheming. She's always performing schemes to help out her friends, or other reasons, which tend to backfire more often than not. While she never learns to stop scheming, she does thankfully learn some things from these incidents.

Mona Hallow is likeable and fun to watch, although her being a Hallow is pointless and just muddies up continuity. Crescentmoon 'Cressie' Winterchild is likewise a decent character, and just as with Mona, she's different than the sidekicks of the original series, which is of course much appreciated.

Belladonna Bindweed is a completely insufferable character, but in the good way! Francesca Isherwood does a fine job!  The only problem with the character is that a lot of the time in Season 1, she's always thought of as a golden pupil by the staff of Cackle's Academy, which is pretty dang frustrating!

Like Drusilla Paddock before her, Cynthia Horrocks is a great villainous sidekick, a schemer, and is pretty adorable! She's a likeable character, despite her being a complete bitch. Granted, I still kept accidentally referring to her as Drusilla for a long while. That's not the show's fault, it's just me.

Clare Coulter returns as Miss Cackle, and is of course very good. The casting change of Miss Hardbroom is extremely noticeable if you've just come off of an original series marathon, but even in the event that 'worst case scenario', you'll still get used to Caroline O'Neill very quickly. Her voice is distracting at first, given its stark difference to Kate Duchene's, but she does the character much justice.

Onto the rest of the staff. Miss Nightingale is bland, especially once her replacement Miss Widget is around. Widget is very lively, quirky, and amusing, and gets across more Joie de vivre in a single episode than Miss Nightingale does in all of Season 1. The librarian Caspian Bloom is very funny. Finally, there's Deirdre Swoop, who's now a main character in a Worst Witch show, this time as a teacher. It's a nice character progression, and she's a highly likeable and funny character, especially with her upper-class vocabulary. It's a shame that actress Stephanie Lane was in very little else besides this franchise, as she is hysterical. She really is one of the highlights of this entire franchise!

The acting in The New Worst With is mostly great. Here and there there's a lesser actor, or a lesser line delivery, but for the most part, things are all good. One thing that's pretty neat is that both Alice Connor (Hettie) and Anabel Barnston (Mona) get a chance to play their characters as evil (whether it be under the influence of a spell, or potion).

By the way, a *little* aside. The character of Miss Pentangle (who was in an episode of The Worst Witch Series 3) not only looks nothing like Charmian May, but looks about forty years younger!...However, the director or actress clearly did their homework, as the performer emulates May's mannerisms in the character from her appearance! Isn't that awesome? Well it's less awesome when Pentangle shows up in a later episode, once again recast, this time by someone who does none of those things!

Onto some individual episodes. The first, Give a Witch a Bad Name, sets things up well, although it doesn't do a great job at showing how the main trio become friends. Hettie and Mona just converse a bit, then are suddenly fast pals, while Cressie just starts hanging out with the duo [out of nowhere]. A big problem with this story is that it is absolutely miserable, given what happens to Hettie! Thankfully the episode does end on a happier note though.

The Black Hole Club is a fine episode, but it spits in the face of continuity with its predecessor for a number of reasons. Then there's the Cackle's 1000 year anniversary continuity screwup in The Curse of Cackle's (the school already had its 1000th anniversary in The Worst Witch's Series 2 finale). And finally, The Odd Couple, aside from being a mediocre finale (good episode, but it's just another episode, not anything grand or special, despite its status) is pretty icky when it comes to Hettie and Cressie! I'll spare you the details!

The effects in this show are fine when practical, but there's some bad CGI in places. And I'm not talking small things you can shrug off either. There's one scene where the school is being flooded by glue, which looks embarrassingly unconvincing, and a couple of moments later in the series where characters are flying through a forest, and they're going through a CGI backdrop, which looks like something out of a PS1 game! Thankfully there are only a couple of moments like this, and the broom flying is otherwise decent for what it is.

The setting is still fine though. Its not set at the same castle and (possibly) sets as the original series but I didn't notice much difference. Also, the sets never look unconvincing, and in fact made me think this was actually filmed inside a castle too. Not much of a leap, seeing as how you can trip over a castle any which way you go in Europe, and it's probably cheaper and certainly less time-consuming to film there instead of designing/creating or makeover-ing a set.

In closing, The New Worst Witch is an extremely entertaining show! It's only real faults are when viewed side by side with its predecessor. On its own merits, this is great fun! Granted, if you're not into this kind of show, I don't recommend it. If you are, watch away!...

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