Fans of Harry Potter will adore this more diverse, matriarchal series by Netflix. There’s more women, more diversity, and more cats!
When I first saw the Netflix series The Worst Witch suggested in my queue, I wasn’t in the mood to watch it. The promotional photo looked a little young for me. I wasn’t sure if I could handle a kids’ series, what with their usual heavy-handed morals and dumbed-down dialogue. But then I got bored and gave in, and I’m so glad I did.
Synopsis: Mildred Hubble, a non-magical girl, makes friends with Maud Spellbody, a witch on her way to Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Mildred soon discovers she is magical, much to her disbelief, and receives a full scholarship to the school. Because of her lack of witch savviness, she’s considered the ‘worst witch’ of her class.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. The Worst Witch book series pre-dated Harry Potter — the first Worst Witch book was published in 1974. And yet, these two series have so much in common.
Similarities of the Worst Witch, Mildred Hubble, to Harry Potter
- Both were tweens who lived with a non-magical family. In the opening, they discover their latent magical powers.
- Both are accepted at a very fancy boarding school castle for witches / wizards.
- Both have a brainy sidekick with curly brown hair, known as the best in her class.
- Both also have a goofy sidekick who gets them in trouble as much as she gets them out of trouble.
- Both have a snotty blonde nemesis.
- Both have a dark-haired potions teacher who is strict, wears dark clothing, and sometimes has questionable alliances.
- There’s a benevolent, wise, silver/gray-haired headmaster / headmistress who dotes on the clueless tween.
- The castle has wards, portraits that can see and interact with the witches, a great hall, ‘houses,’ dormitories, and flying notes.
- There are witch tournaments with other schools.
- There’s a broomstick riding class.
- There’s a concept of pure ancestral witches and a prejudice against witches without magical family.
- There’s a rule that prohibits magical food preparation.
- All witches have a magical animal companion.
There are also several other, unique elements.
Multiple parallels aside, there are several things that are even better than Harry Potter. For one, this series brings a fond matriarchal and feminist touch to good old magical school themes.
I especially like the headmistress and her evil twin, both of which are played masterfully by the ever-classy Clare Higgins. She really nails the different characters. You’ll recognize her from other roles if you watched Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Pride and Prejudice’s 1980 version, which some say is the best version. (She played Kitty Bennett!)
I mentioned being wary of heavy-heanded morals. The good news is that I didn’t find a lot of those here. The girls continuously get into trouble and find loopholes to the problems by being clever or brave, and do their best to attempt to save the day.
I’m happy that there’s more backstabbing and biting in The Worst Witch than in Harry Potter. The snotty blonde, Ethel Hallow, does a great job of being both cruel and smart, the latter of which is something Draco never really excelled in. She also shows a kind side sometimes, which is ultimately more realistic than a constantly sneering Malfoy.
Another great part of The Worst Witch is the diversity in the show. Having come from a diverse background myself, I used to feel squeamish about Harry Potter’s mostly white faces. Those movies only really had three students of color that I can remember — Cho Chang, Lee Jordan, and Dean Thomas. But in The Worst Witch, several of the students are not white. Enid Nightshade, one of Mildred’s best friends, is black, and happens to be the daughter of two wealthy rockstar witches. The flying teacher, Miss Drill, is also a person of color. This inclusiveness feels warmer to me, and much more modern and realistic.
If you like cats, you’re in luck! Cats are in nearly every episode. In the second episode, the girls pick kittens and give them adorable names such as Nightstar, Midnight, and Teaser.
The special effects are also pretty realistic, too. There are quite a lot in every episode, and they vary from flying on a broomstick to turning different colors, transformations into animals, and a magical duel.
However, I do have one complaint.
I wish that The Worst Witch could’ve championed pagan or wiccan rituals or religions. It’s a complaint I have for the Harry Potter series and my own book as well, although the witches in my book at least have full moon circles. It’s a little strange that the accessories of a once-condemned society (cauldrons, black cats, pointy hats, flying broomsticks, herbology, etc.) are used, but the real heart of the matter is not. Sure, there’s magic, but there’s not magick. There’s a serious opportunity for more depth and wonder here, and I feel this part of the trope hasn’t been overplayed.
In short, I don’t have a lot to complain about when it comes to this show. As much as the concept of a magical school or learning magic can be a predictable trope, The Worst Witch feels both fresh and familiar.