The real action, however, involves the interspecies affair — banned by centuries-old tradition! — between Diana and Matthew. It’s a love for the ages that starts out kind of stalkery, the way these things do, and graduates to torrid but clothed canoodling enacted by the commensurately gorgeous Palmer and Goode.
They are not equally talented performers, though, and that’s a problem for “A Discovery of Witches.” Palmer is a little out of her league in a cast that includes, along with Goode, the top-flight actresses Lindsay Duncan and Alex Kingston and, as the bad guys, the polished scenery chewers Trevor Eve and Owen Teale. While those veterans engage in the kind of dignified slumming that makes material like this enjoyable, Palmer gives Diana — on whom the story hinges — the flat affect of a lesser CW heroine.
Adapted for the screen by Kate Brooke, who also wrote or co-wrote five of the season’s eight episodes, the series lays out its world and characters briskly and intelligibly, and the early episodes invest the fantasy clichés with some elegance and picturesqueness. (Shooting in Oxford and Venice, where the creatures’ HQ occupies a hidden island in the lagoon, helps.) As the action, physical and supernatural, picks up in midseason, the writing and direction start to lose some of that restraint, taking a turn into pulpy, B-movie territory.
Eventually the scene shifts to upstate New York, which is a loss in terms of landscape but a plus for the story. Diana’s hippie-Wiccan aunts, touchingly played by Kingston and Valarie Pettiford, live in one of the tale’s more charming inventions: a funky, sentient house that rattles the crockery when it’s irritated and supplies flashbacks by conjuring up life-size holographic scenes in situ.
Season 1 ends on a cliffhanger that practically dared Sky not to renew the series — the channel didn’t take the dare, renewing the show for two more seasons. Perhaps its spell will grow stronger.