It’s much more than “a really fucked up trip”.
Minimal spoilers for ‘The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself’ below .
“Another Netflix young adult fantasy ?” we hear you cry. Yup, following in the footsteps of ‘Warrior Nun’, ‘Shadow and Bone’, ‘Destiny: The Winx Saga’ and more comes another teen fantasy that’s eager to prove she’s more daring than the rest. Netflix describes ‘The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself’ as “a truly fucked up ride” , evoking comparisons to an X-rated adult version of The-Franchise-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. And yes, that description sounds like the strategy of a millennial doing everything possible to sound cool.
But don’t let that discourage you. It’s true that ‘The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself’ is “a really fucked up ride,” but it’s also the best teen fantasy Netflix has ever made , by far, and that’s because it’s not afraid to take risks.
Based on Sally Green’s ‘Half Bad’ trilogy, Joe Barton’s adaptation plays fast and loose with the source material, subverting the generic fantasy platitudes we so often see in these series in favor of something far more intense and grounded. In the real world. Imagine if ‘Skins,’ ‘Misfits,’ and ‘Sex Education’ had a baby raised on fantasy literature, and that’s more or less what appears here .
However, that baby would definitely need therapy, and the same is absolutely true for Nathan Byrn, the star of this story. Unjustly hated by everyone for a circumstance in his birth, the protagonist played by Jay Lycurgo finds himself caught in the middle of a war between two warring clans of witches who believe he is the key to a prophecy that could change everything .
So far, pretty generic, but Barton, the brains behind series as diverse as ‘Giri/Haji’ and ‘The Lazarus Project’, wouldn’t create something so basic. It just isn’t in his nature. So instead, ‘The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself’ goes to great lengths to avoid this genre’s cheesy pitfalls .
There are no magical owls or tedious love triangles here. Instead, Nathan’s life is harrowing from the start, only getting worse as various forces try to take a part of him for their own. Annalize, the daughter of a key figure on the Fairborn Council, represents her only light in the dark, but she soon realizes that things are much worse than they seem.
The way magic works in this world is also pretty grim, and we mean that in the best possible way . After years of fireballs, invisibility cloaks, and other generic nonsense, ‘The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself’ eschews cliché in favor of potion tricks, the possession of a steaming kettle, and a truly vile “gift” that will make some viewers gag. You’ll know when you see it.
But it’s not all “really fucked up” hijinks, and that’s due in large part to a warm and surprisingly witty script that channels the mainstays of quality teen shows much more than their fantasy-genre brethren.
Crucially, the cast is also up to the challenge. Nadia Parkes does a decent enough job as Annalize, Nathan’s partner and possible love interest, but it’s Jay Lycurgo who has the most to carry as a hero who is both daring and a tortured soul . On paper that might seem annoying and obnoxious, but Jay avoids all of that with Nathan, making him the weird fantasy leader with depth that we really root for, despite his flaws.
And then there’s Emilien Vekemans, who coincidentally steals all the attention starting with his debut in episode three. As a troubled, hedonistic Parisian named Gabriel, Emilien’s mischievous twist (and that gay-crisis hair bleaching) is what makes the series really shine, expanding this world out of the monotony of rural England into something much more exciting, and dare we say sexy too.
Because it’s from this point that the series delves into (often queer ) lust and attraction, weaving physical longing into the mix. To say much more would spoil some of the twists and turns this trio will face, but the key is that every kiss or stolen glance or even cheeky smack means something here. These scenes aren’t just included to be adult or, urgh , “transgressive.” They are an integral part of the story and ring true to each character.
‘The bastard son and the devil himself is also pretty sexy in broader visual terms. Every stunning location around the globe feels rooted in the real world, and that’s quite refreshing at a time when CGI sets reign supreme. When special effects are used, they are done sparingly, making them that much more impactful without stretching that presumably tight budget too far. Plus, it also forces directors to be more creative with their staging, and that’s infinitely better than other Netflix series that force you to use (often shoddy) special effects to do all the heavy lifting. .
Sure, some of the training montages and later fight scenes creak under the weight of these visual restrictions, but that’s easy to forgive when a series is so strong and creative overall. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about fighting. And it’s not just about witches or prophecies, either .
Like the best fantasy series, ‘The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself’ puts the spotlight on the characters first and foremost. That’s why we’re happy to follow our heroes through all the terrible things that happen, and why we’re also adapting to unexpected twists and turns. Because they are believable, even in a world as fantastic as this one.
It may sound obvious, but a surprising number of YA fantasy series forget all of that, sacrificing characters for the construction of intricate but soulless worlds. So yes, ‘The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself’ is “a really fucked up ride” complete with all the sex and blood that could go into it, but it’s also so much more than that . Just don’t let that embarrassing description put you off watching it.