The main problem with ITV2’s new ‘Switch’ is that it thinks it knows what show it wants to be. It wants to be a modern, in-your-face, unapologetically youthful take on the idea of witches with day jobs. You can picture the executive meeting at which it was dreamed up – doesn’t that sound like a cool idea? Like a thing the youth of today would lap up? They love supernatural stories, and they’re young and modern and hip and loud, right? So we can write them some pretty young female characters like that, but we’d better make them cripplingly insecure too or nobody will identify with them. And the magic they use – well, everyone knows how magic is. Makes your life easy, until it backfires, and voila – there’s your story each week!
The sad thing is, there are glimpses of a good show hidden under this incredibly predictable formula. The setting of Camden, the direction and the music choices give some energy to the more mundane scenes, and the idea of a coven of girls in their early 20s who’ve been friends for years is a nice one – especially as they treat their magic entirely as a matter of fact, just something that makes their friendship deeper and more rewarding. There’s no hint here of the standard outcast loner who discovers their powers at the start of the story and then has to learn to deal with them; the focus is on the circle of friendship and the standard problems of living in London without pots of money, not a magical quest or even a big bad evil foe (yet). And the core group of four friends is, by and large, well written and well acted. A particular highlight is Grace (Phoebe Fox), the quiet centre of the group, who in the first two episodes has to deal with both family and relationship problems but does so with no more than a few grimaces and wry looks.
Unfortunately, most of the characters are a lot more broadly written than her, at least to begin with. Someone at that executive meeting clearly made a note that every new face should be introduced with a big ‘Personality Trait!’ sign flashing over their heads, so that audience members would have something to latch onto. For example, the bitchy enemy coven of witches who live over in Kensington not only speak with accents that could cut glass as they look down their noses at our slummy Camden friends, but also drop a ‘totes,’ ‘dahling’ and ‘yah’ into every other sentence just in case we somehow avoided realising they’re the most annoying people ever.
It’s true, of course, that almost every new television show takes a while to find its feet – the same was certainly the case for ITV2’s other (imported) young supernatural drama, The Vampire Diaries. But the situation with Switch feels less like teething troubles and more like ITV’s idea of the show being at odds with what the cast and crew are naturally producing – the more nuanced, low-key moments are mostly done surprisingly well, and there are brilliant flashes of humour and genre awareness thrown in, but every so often this is all derailed for a scene of clichés so horrendously tired that you automatically stop paying attention. And an audience Switching channels is something nobody involved with the show should want