Gratingly edgy soundtrack, stomach-churning gore, torture, witchcraft, sadism and an indigestible title. The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself sounds exactly the sort of series most of us would wish to avoid.

It’s aimed at young adults (based on a trilogy by Sally Green called Half Bad) and the only reason I was keen to give it a try was that it has been freely adapted by Joe Barton. For my money, Barton is — along with Jesse "Succession" Armstrong — the most exciting and original screenwriter currently working in TV. His scripts (Giri/Haji; The Lazarus Project) are so engaging,...

Gratingly edgy soundtrack, stomach-churning gore, torture, witchcraft, sadism and an indigestible title. The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself sounds exactly the sort of series most of us would wish to avoid.

It’s aimed at young adults (based on a trilogy by Sally Green called Half Bad) and the only reason I was keen to give it a try was that it has been freely adapted by Joe Barton. For my money, Barton is — along with Jesse “Succession” Armstrong — the most exciting and original screenwriter currently working in TV. His scripts (Giri/HajiThe Lazarus Project) are so engaging, pacy, witty, charming and weirdly unannoying that I bet whatever book he adapted – Klaus Schwab’s Covid-19: The Great Reset; Matt Hancock’s diaries — would instantly be transformed into something riveting.

This one concerns two warring tribes of witches, the goodie-two-shoes Fairborns (whose magic powers tend to involve nice things like making plants grow well and manipulating water) and the more menacing but undoubtedly cooler Bloods who hang out in bars drinking vodka shots. But we can tell from the start that all is not what it seems because the head Fairborn, Soul (Paul Ready), resembles one of those sanctimonious, passive aggressive parents who runs the events committee at your kids’ primary school and you’re always trying to avoid. The Bloods, on the other hand, despite their toxic reputation seem likable and misunderstood — especially the lead character, Nathan (Jay Lycurgo).

Nathan, sixteen, is horribly abused by the Fairborns because his estranged father Marcus (a cross between Sirius Black from Harry Potter and Sylar from Heroes) is an especially evil Blood who has been killing their people in myriad hideous ways. Usually taking the form of a wolf, he has absorbed the powers of every witch he has killed, rendering him almost invincible. Only one person, according to the prophecies, can stop him. And that’s his own son Nathan who is put under the charge of tough, martial Fairborn Ceelia (Karen Connell) to be trained to the point of readiness for this vital mission.

In the books, apparently, Ceelia keeps him in a cage and tortures him brutally and relentlessly. Barton, quite rightly I think, has turned down the sadism in this relationship, so that she’s more like the instructors on SAS: Who Dares Wins, utter bastards but with hearts of warm, gooey, molten gold. Otherwise, I think Nathan’s endless good-naturedness would be inexplicable.

Lycurgo is an absolute joy to watch as the shambolically laidback, wise-cracking Nathan, who just wants to be a normal teenager, not The One chosen to save the Fairborn community from having their hearts torn out by his errant dad. So, too, is Nadia Parkes as his star-cross’d Fairborn girlfriend Annalise whose own father happens to be Nathan’s sworn enemy Soul. They make a lovely, attractive couple, even when splattered with the blood of the office security guard Annalise has caused accidentally to explode with the powers she never much wanted.

I’m currently on episode five and, without giving away too many spoilers, I’d say it develops really satisfyingly as the scene moves from rural England to Paris and then la France profonde. By now, the team has been joined by an impish, cynical, gay French witch called Gabriel (Emilien Vekemans) and there’s lots more terror and gore, including a deliciously sinister, Wicker Man-esque scene in which a captive is imprisoned within a hollow pillar of saplings which then squeeze him to death.

Really, I should deplore all this ghastliness. It has struck me of late that there is far too much nastiness and violence on TV generally, and far too much stuff about black magic aimed at teenagers. But Bastard Son (as I’ll call it because the full title is such a mouthful) carries it off because unlike so many much bigger-budget gore-fests — that’ll be you, House of the Dragon; and you, Rings of Power — it never forgets that its main job is not to gross you out but to entertain you.

The characters are well drawn; the performances are first rate; the background exposition is expertly and lightly handled; the dialogue is often funny; the storyline is involving and exciting. Give it a go!

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s UK magazine. Subscribe to the World edition here.