I was just on a trip to Oxford, where I saw zero witches or vampires. Odd, because in “A Discovery of Witches,” which filmed scenes in the historic English town, these creatures lurk in the shadows of ancient spires and in quaint alleyways.
The series originated in the U.K. last fall and launched this month on AMC and BBC America (9 p.m. Sundays). Ratings are good — perhaps because it follows “Killing Eve,” or because supernatural soap operas are such cheesy fun.
In the show, which is based on the “All Souls” trilogy by Deborah Harkness, humans rule the world. Demons, vampires and witches “have all but disappeared,” as Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), the show’s leading vamp, puts it. Those who remain try to figure out where they went wrong.
The main witch is Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) — only she hates being a witch. “I’m an academic,” she proclaims. And a boring one, to judge by a dull lecture she delivers at the University of Oxford on alchemy. Palmer flashes aptly anguished looks but doesn’t bring a lot of kick to the character.
Goode as 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew, however, is a master thespian. The lanky Brit — snarky Antony Armstrong-Jones on “The Crown” and Lady Mary’s No. 2 husband Henry Talbot on “Downton Abbey” — delivers ridiculous lines with menace and foreboding, but also a wee hint of mockery to indicate he knows how hokey the writing is. When Diana obtains a long-lost magical book, he states maybe “it wasn’t missing. [Dramatic pause.] Perhaps it was waiting.”
Also in the cast is Alex Kingston, whose magnificent mane of red corkscrews previously appeared in “ER.” She brings her customary verve to the role of Diana’s aunt, who can’t stand her niece’s anti-witch stance.
As the eight episodes unfold, the plot will thicken (and perhaps curdle because of excessive melodrama). Matthew and Diana are falling in love, even though the supernatural rulebook states that “interspecies relationships” are a no-no.
But no matter how the storyline goes, we’ll always have Oxford — and Venice, too. The on-location shots of beautiful ancient buildings and bridges, of the shimmering River Thames and tranquil Venetian canals, really do sweep the viewer into another world, casting a spell more powerful than any witch’s incantation.