Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Worst Witch: Season 2 (1999-2000)

When it comes to reviewing TV series The Worst Witch, I said most of what I can say about it as a whole in my Series 1 review, so I'll get right into reviewing the individual episodes of Series 2. First though, there are a few bases I'd like to touch upon (and yes, I am writing this post as if you've already read the Series 1 review, as I am FAR too busy to be more accommodating).

First things first, the character of Ethel Hallow has been recast, and the show is hilariously self-referential about it in the season's opening episode, addressing the casting change in an amusing way!

Teachers Miss Bat and Miss Drill are oddly at each-other's throats in many episodes in the series' first half, which feels pretty out-of-nowhere, but it's not annoying or poorly written, so I don't mind the sudden shift so much

Series 2 introduces the character of Sybil Hallow, and she's my favourite in the whole series, next to Mildred! She starts off as a seemingly problematic character, and one might think that her always crying could be something serious that the show is just playing for laughs like a jerk, but you'll quickly realize that's not the case. Sybil starts out extremely timid, often prone to bursting into tears at the slightest provocation, but grows as a character, rather than just being the butt of jokes for crying a lot.

Ok, let's dig in...

Old Hats and New Brooms

It's a new school year at Cackle's Academy for Young Witches, and Mildred Hubble is trying to be kind to an impressionable new student, Sybil. Unbeknownst to Millie and friends, Sybil is Ethel Hallow's sister, and has had her head filled with nasty falsehoods of 'Mildred Hubble worst witch of the entire school', leaving her terrified...

This is an entertaining season opener, with great characters, and it's very funny, such as with Miss Bat's belief that there's such a place as 'Inner Mongolia' (as otherwise, why's there an Outer Mongolia, in her words). My only issue with Old Hats and New Brooms is her Mongolian Undertone Chanting, which is kinda grating.

The casting change of Ethel is distracting at first, but only for this episode, I found. Katy Allen quickly moulds into the role and really makes it her own.

Alarms and Diversions

The Cackle's Academy caretaker Mr. Blossom has installed a new security system into the school, and the school is quick to react to training drills, except for Mildred, who sleeps in during a drill, then rushes out to defuse what she thinks is a genuine emergency. Unfortunately, Mildred's efforts to help out land her in hot water...

Alarms and Diversions is a funny-as-usual episode, with quite a few particularly amusing moments in mind. The finale is very loud, thanks to the tornado, and the alarm system, but it's never annyoing, nor is the dialogue ever drowned out.

Especially hilarious is the academy's 'Break glass in case of emergency' container, which doesn't contain a fire axe, or anything of the like, but a broom!

It's A Frog's Life

Ever since Mildred saved Sybil from a magical tornado, the hero-struck Hallow has been following her around. A frustrated Mildred eventually goes off at a vindictive Ethel, angrily insulting the Hallow name. Later, when Mildred's sleeping, a vengeful Ethel turns her into a frog...

It's A Frog's Life is an amusing episode, and nicely creative. I especially like that things come from its events, rather than it simply being a one-off story. The only real problem is that it's meant to be a mystery who turned Millie into a frog, but it's obviously very obvious.

Georgina Sherrington carries the episode for most of the episode's runtime with just her voice, and she does very well. Especially adorable is the distorted frog voice she gets at times.

The effects for the leaping frog (Millie) is pretty bad in places, but it's no big deal for this show

Crumpets for Tea

After the events of last episode, Mildred is determined to restore Algernon the wizard back from a frog to human. She sees an opportunity to restore him when the Grand Wizard Egbert Hellibore is due to visit Cackle's for the Halloween celebrations, but things are complicated when Millie is banned from attending, due to recent events...

Following the previous episode's events nicely, Crumpets for Tea is a fine episode which plainly shows just how determined Mildred can be, and how far she'll go to help out a friend in trouble.

Drusilla is very entertaining here, possibly moreso than any other episode she's in, from her bug-handling ways, to her use of the word suchlike (I love England!), etc.

One aspect of the episode that only just doesn't make sense is Grand Wizard Hellebore's attitude towards Mildred, and Cackles Academy to an extent. He's wary about the academy, and angrily distrustful of Mildred, and both would make sense if this was the character's first appearance since A Mean Hallowe'en in Series 1, but it isn't. He appeared in Sweet Talking Boys, and not only was he completely complementary there to Cackle's, but to Mildred as well. I'm not sure what to take issue with here, Hellibore's possibly too positive attitude in Sweet Talking Boys, or his suddenly hostile one here, so I don't think I'll pick either.

Apparently there's been a casting change here for Hellibore, but I've never noticed. Effective use of make-up/beard-up, I guess.

The Inspector Calls

Cackle's Academy is due for an inspection, and assigned to the case is Mistress Hecate Broomhead, Miss Hardbroom's old tutor. The terrified teacher warns her fellow staff member's about the exceptionally domineering and hostile Broomhead, and they plan on making sure the school is in perfect condition on the inspection, which includes such steps as removing and hiding all the friendly bats, and Mildred herself. Meanwhile, in an effort to get in Millie's good books, Sybil resolves to get her bats back from where Miss Hardbroom hid them with help from Fenny and Griz...

The Inspector Calls is possibly my favourite episode of Worst Witch Series 2! The writing is solid, funny, the ending is hilarious, and we get character development from Sybil! Charlotte Knowles is great here!

Janet Henfrey is perfectly evil as Hecate Broomhead, and the rest of the acting is great.

Animal Magic

There's a blizzard outside, and the girls of Cackle's are stuck doing exercise until Grand Wizrd Hellibore, Algernon Rowan-Webb, as well as Merlin, Baz, and Gaz come over, to take refuge from the weather. Using his position as Master of the Revels, Rowan-Webb declares the rest of the day a half-holiday, much to the chagrin of Miss Hardbroom, and Hellibore.With the whole school under upside-down day rules, the students have lots of fun games, despite the attempted interference of Baz and Gaz, while the teachers are stuck in class. Soon, a frustrated Hellibore challenges Rowan-Webb to a shapeshifting duel in order to return things to normal...

Animal Magic is another favourite of mine from this season, not because it's the best written, but because it all-round has an atmosphere of fun. The whole episode is of joyful celebrations, and amusing reversals of roles, such as Fenny and Griz acting as teachers, and the staff stuck in menial class (resulting in Miss Hardbroom and Cackle failing their potions test).

The acting here is hilarious, especially the aggravatedly* stoic Miss Hardbroom, courtesy of Kate Duchene, and Richard Durden as Grand Wizard Hellibore.

*Yes, yes, I know that's not technically a real word, but it should be.

Carried Away/The Dragon's Hoard

The second-years of Cackle's Academy are spending their half-term holiday at Algernon Rowan-Webb's new seaside house, but unfortunately for Mildred, she's not allowed to bring Tabby with her, due to his displeasure of flying. She secretly brings him along anyway, instead of the replacement she was meant to bring, and   Meanwhile, Rowan-Webb's new understudy/apprentice Merlin, having heard mysterious whispering in a nearby cave, accidentally releases Lord Dunston, the long-trapped dragon lord...

This is a two-parter that I had conflicting opinions about as I watched. At first I was entertained, but then I started to get impatient with it. It wasn't boring, but I wasn't really enjoying myself a whole lot either. Then the dragon lord plot started, and I felt it was pretty railroaded into the story, pointlessly and unnecessarily extending it to two parts. However, as The Dragon's Hoard went on, I progressively enjoyed it more and more, until come the end, I did enjoy the entire story.

This is a well-written two-parter, which makes good use of recurring characters, and has an interesting 'antagonist'. The effects are pretty bad in one case though-The make-up for the dragon lord is pretty unconvincing, looking like silver greasepaint has been smeared all over the actor.

The Genius of the Lamp

Back at Cackle's Academy, while the second-years are at Rowan-Webb's seaside house, the first years are growing especially displeased at the school's gloomy conditions, specifically Sybil and Clarice. With Miss Drill and Bat's permission, the two look through some magic books, under the pretense of creating a light spell, and soon enough, they have their very own magic lamp. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Sybil and Clarice, whenever the lamp conjures something up, it destroys something else...

It's with this episode where you'll realize that Sybil is in a way The Worst Witch's other main character, as while she doesn't appear as much as Maud, Enid, and the others, she's the only character besides Mildred to get her own episodes. The Genius of the Lamp is the first of two Sybil-centric eps, where neither Mildred, nor the majority of the cast appears. I really appreciate these episodes, as they show off what Cackle's is like for the show's secondary characters, and it's great to see more of Sybil! She's one of my favourite characters in the show, so I'm glad she gets more than just a few scenes in a few eps here and there.

Sybil's character is developed nicely here, and while her actions leading up to the climax aren't necessarily likeable, they're definitely understandable, given her life, and she's a pretty sympathetic character.

This episode does have one glaring issue, however-Miss Semolina, the new cook for Cackle's. She's an out-of-nowhere new character, and that wouldn't be too bad, if not for the fact that she's a total copy of Miss Tapioca, from the name, down to the Italian accent!

Up in the Air

Once again, Charlie, nephew of the Cackles school caretaker Mr. Blossom, is at Cackle's, this time with aspirations to become a witch. Miss Cackle is intrigued by the idea, and let's Charlie take an exam, which will allow him to become a pupil on a trail basis. Things go awry, however, when Millie and co. see that he's not performing the test all that well, and Enid magically helps him along, inadvertently creating a ruckus, which may mean the end of Charlie's time at Cackle's before it's even started...

Up in the Air is a fun episode, and while you do want to smack Enid upside the head for what her spell does, it's at least nifty in its effects! We get Attack of the Numbers as every digit in the castle leaps of pages/blackboards to fly around.

Recurring character Charlie appears again in this episode, after a lengthy absence (which Series 3 makes up for), and he remains a likeable addition, with a good plot surrounding him.

Fair is Foul and Fouls Are Fair

It's close to the end of term, and in an effort to alleviate the antsy schoolgirls of Cackle's, Miss Drill sets up a basketball match between the second-years and another school, Heversham High. The girls are forbidden by Miss Drill to use any magic, but after the first half, they're losing 0-44, and have to do something, fast...

This is a well-written and funny episode. It's funny seeing the basketball-inexperienced Cackle's girls getting demolished, and equally so seeing  how they set about magically winning the game. Especially funny is Miss Bat, who is feeling particularly hard-done-by by Miss Hardbroom's stern attitude. The episode's guest stars-the Heversham schoolgirls-are also amusing.

Green Fingers and Thumbs

There's a highly important potions test coming up at Cackle's, and Mildred is afraid she won't pass. She tries to gain inspiration by helping out in school caretaker Mr. Blossom's greenhouse. He's growing some prize marrows for an upcoming garden festival, which turns out to have chosen Cackle's Academy as its venue...

This is a fun episode, with an entertaining enough villain, conflict, and some neat singing!

My favourite line is definitely from Miss Hardbroom at the end, when she's talking to Mildred after having caught Ethel and Drusilla sabotaging in the act, while Millie is under the impression everything that went wrong was her fault. "The trouble with you is that you believe you're the only one who ever does anything wrong".

The Millennium Bug

Former Cackle's pupil Amanda Honeydew, now a famous pop singer, has plans to buy the academy ground, and chair of school governors Mr. Hallow will use the money to build a brand new, state of the art Cackle's Academy (an act that leads the traditionalist Miss Hardbroom to tender her resignation). While Mildred the girls do appreciate the idea, they don't think this new school will have any of the history, ookiness, and special witchy atmosphere that Cackle's should have, and set about trying to sabotage the plan...

My other favorite episode of the series, The Millennium Bug perfectly ends Series 2. It's well-written, has numerous great scenes, very nice music, and not only does Mildred shine here, but so does Sybil!

As I said, the great scenes of this episode are many, my favorites being two particular ones. The first is when Clarice convinces Sybil to try out the clarinet again, and to play how she feels, resulting in a nice blues tune, which segues perfectly into the next scene of Mildred and Miss Hardbroom discussing their time together in retrospect, which is my other favourite.

Series 2 of The Worst Witch is my favourite. It has at least three episodes that I consider my favourite of the whole show, and is all-round a fun time! Just like the previous season, this comes highly recommended from me!...

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