Admittedly I am a fan of witches and am thrilled that this appears to be the Season of the Witch on TV (vampires, werewolves and zombies have had a LOT of exposure ...), but Hollywood tends to focus on darker, evil, wicked witches - I've been told they're more interesting. But if Charmed can pull off the good side of them, why can't other shows (you hearing me, Supernatural?)?
The new CW show The Originals, a spin-off from The Vampire Diaries, is decent and does feature witches, but it failed to win me over when the psuedo-pilot aired as an ep of TVD last season, plus I already reviewed it, so I'm concentrating on two new shows that are very witch-centric: Lifetime's Witches of East End and FX's American Horror Story: Coven.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Now, this is a Lifetime series, so going in you know it's going to center on the female characters (yay!) and feature lots of big drama, sexy couplings, maybe some outlandish plot lines ... but of course, this is a series based in the supernatural, so that's to be expected. So did the pilot cast a spell of good storytelling?
Beauchamp sisters Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum, American Horror Story), an uninhibited bartender, and Ingrid (Rachel Boston, In Plain Sight), a shy librarian, lead seemingly normal lives (Freya's even engaged), until a warning arrives from their estranged aunt Wendy (Mädchen Amick, Damages), forcing matriarch and free-spirited artist Joanna (Julia Ormond, Mad Men, Temple Grandin) to reveal the family secret: they're witches, gifted (and cursed?) with a magical birthright, immortality and great power.
Let me start by saying, Ormond looks incredible (if I can look that stunning at 48 ...). And the lead ladies fit their parts esthetically, though blond Ingrid looks a little out of place given the rest of her family with their very long, dark locks. She embodies her character, though, with soft, light make-up and very modest attire. On the flip side, right from the jump we see Freya is this:
The yummy she's canoodling with is not her fiancee, handsome Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter, The Mentalist) - yes, that's his name - but a man she's never met but has been having unexplained dreams about, the dashing Killian (Daniel DiTomasso, CSI), who happens to be Dash's brother. Turns out he's been having the same dream, which, after confessing this to Freya, leads to hot (literally ... they start a small fire) make-out session in a side room at her engagement party.
Friends, if you've ever wanted a cheesy romance novel brought to life, here you go. The pacing is fast enough and does its job getting to the sexy and forbidden moments (there are plenty), the dialogue is bantery and light with lots of sparring. And then, of course, there's conversations like this:
Wendy: "I know you've been angry at me these past hundred years."
Joanna: "Why would I be angry at you? You only killed my eldest daughter."
Wendy: "It was an accident! Plus Ingrid was reborn."
Yep, it's that kind of show. Overall, this is a good, not-taking-itself-too-seriously fit for the network that features fun fare like The Client List and Devious Maids.
As for the witch aspect, the show puts it right out there: a black cat when hit by a car turns into a naked woman who is seemingly dead but later walks right out of the morgue very much alive; there's lots of spellwork spoken in a rapid foreign tongue, tons of candles, freaky (and kind of cool) visual effects and "what was that?" quick camera cuts. Nothing that ties to the Wiccan spirituality here, which Charmed did at least in its earlier seasons. And I know Ingrid knew nothing about witchcraft when she and her friends, out of curiosity, tried to do a spell in the library, but did they have to resort to wearing pointy black hats?
Speaking of Charmed, can't help but notice, whether intentional or not, the similarities: the Beauchamp house is quite similar to the Halliwell homestead, especially the kitchen and functional attic. There's also three female witches living together. Both shows have their lead characters learning the secret of their magical heritage well into adulthood, having had their powers hidden as children ... they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery ...
Guest stars of note in the pilot included Tom Lenk (Andrew from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) and Jason George, who seems to be on everything these days, including regular gigs on Grey's Anatomy and Mistresses.
The show is cheesy and entertaining enough to earn a second-episode viewing (I didn't really connect with Devious Maids till the third episode, then I enjoyed the whole run). As I write this review, I haven't yet watched American Horror Story: Coven, but try as Witches of East End might to create some scares, I guarantee it ain't gonna have NOTHING on that show. Keep reading to find out ...
BOTTOM LINE: Not ready to "End" my ride with this show just yet ...
Witches of East End airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.
What I really like about the AHS series is the repertory theater aspect of it: the fact that it keeps brining back the same actors in different roles (sometimes so different the level of talent astonishes - I'm looking at you, Paulson). Loved the first season - dark, shocking, so very, very twisted. Didn't care for the second - overly dark, trying-too-hard-to-be-REALLY-shocking, too twisted to be fun. I've read this third outing is going for some chuckles (still in a very twisted way) as well as the usual shock value and genuine creepiness and terror. So did the pilot bewitch me to return?
AHS: Coven tells the secret history of witches and witchcraft in America. Over three hundred years have passed since the turbulent days of Salem and those who managed to escape now face extinction. Mysterious attacks have been escalating against witches, so young girls are sent to a special school in New Orleans to learn how to protect themselves. Wrapped up in the turmoil is new arrival, Zoe (Taissa Farmiga, making her second AHS run), who is harboring a terrifying secret of her own. Alarmed by the recent aggression, Fiona (Jessica Lange, in her third AHS role), the long-absent Supreme, returns determined to protect the Coven and hell-bent on decimating anyone who gets in her way.
The impressive cast includes Kathy Bates (above, R, Harry's Law), Angela Basset (above, L, ER), Patti Lupone (Life Goes On), Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sibide and returning AHS alums Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe and Jamie Brewer.
First, NEVER get on Kathy Bates' bad side. Second, normally too numerous quick cuts in succession bothers me, but here, because the images are so creepy and disturbing, I'm kind of grateful they go by fast.
In true AHS tradition, the opening credits are creepy (sorry, gonna use that word a lot here). Remember the video from The Ring? Times that by about 10. The KKK-like people in black robes is particularly unnerving.
Love the angles and images that the cinematographer and director create - it's like video art. Nice to see Lange playing a more glamorous role from her others on AHS ... she really eats up being evil and manages to (most times) not chew the scenery to bits. And I love that she and Paulson are always direct antagonists - they really play off each other so deliciously.
The flashback sequences enhance the overall story incredibly well, and I like that FX has always and continues to allow this show the freedom of language, the portrayal of vices (smoking, drug use, sex) and graphic images and violence, although it's best when it works and is not just gratuitous, which is how I felt through much of season two, AHS: Asylum.
Already I like this season much better and I can't wait to see how this story unfolds. I fully expect it to go off the rails in true AHS form. I just hope this doesn't hurt the oft-negative perception of witches even more (yeah, right). To be fair, the show will focus not just on typical witchcraft, but also voodoo and other black magic.
BOTTOM LINE: Wicked good fun.
American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.