October 14, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Witches of East End”


WITCHES OF EAST END:  Sunday 10PM on Lifetime

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on WITCHES OF EAST END:  Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormand) is an immortal witch with a family curse.  Over and over again, she bears her daughters, free-spirited Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and studious Ingrid (Rachel Boston), only to see them die before they reach 30 years old and then begin the cycle again.  In their current incarnation, she had decided to keep their supernatural powers a secret from them, in the hope that it would protect them.  But the magic is leaking through anyway, even if the girls don’t know it yet, and now a shapeshifter is after Joanna, determined to destroy her and kill the girls for good this time.  Joanna’s sister Wendy (Madchen Amick) has come to town to help, but she has her own curse (a total of 9 lives), and she’s not the most reliable witch around.  All of this comes amid Freya’s sudden romantic tangle, being engaged to respectable doctor Dash (Eric Winter) but wildly attracted to his bad-boy brother Killian (Daniel Di Tomasso).  By the end of the pilot, Joanna’s been arrested (by the cop who has a crush on Ingrid) for a murder committed by the shapeshifter, Wendy’s been killed (again), Freya is in danger of permanent death thanks to a former boyfriend “she” had imprisoned in a painting 80 years ago, and Joanna has no choice but to tell Ingrid about her powers.

Episode 2:  At Witches of East End‘s best, it moves with the breakneck speed of a screwball comedy.  Those scenes, in episode 2, mostly involve Aunt Wendy (happily made a series regular since the pilot) and one or both of her nieces, as Wendy throws several lifetimes of exposition at them–between deaths–while they race to save someone’s life.

Witches picked up at the point of the pilot’s cliffhangers, and series creator’s Maggie Friedman’s script zestfully rescued Freya from what other supernatural shows would call “the true death” that would have occurred had she died within the Prohibition-era photo where her ex imprisoned her, while freeing Joanna temporarily from jail by way of her immortal (yet still shady) lawyer and an entire coffin of money hidden in the grave of the girls’ fictitious Aunt Marilyn.  Along the way, an unknowing Ingrid brought Wendy back from one of her deaths with an unnecessary resurrection spell (she would have come back anyway) that, once incanted, meant that someone else that she loved would die, and Freya, too, learned the truth about her witchy self and was none too happy to have been lied to and told she was imagining that she was different from other girls all her life.

It was all silly but quite entertaining, and director Jonathan Kaplan handled the wide mix of tones–from light comedy to moderately serious violence when Freya was under attack–very capably, wisely concentrating on the characters instead of the clearly limited special-effects budget.  The actresses make a winning ensemble, even if Ormond’s accent slips so often that the producers should probably just insert a line about Joanna having been brought up in England and let her sound the way she does.  The weak spot in the show so far is the romantic triangle between Freya, Dash and Killian, since despite all the hints that there’s more to them than we know just yet, the brothers seem like little more than watered-down Vampire Diaries Salvatores.  Still, there’s plenty here to keep the series frothing along for the rest of the season.

Witches got off to a fair start in the ratings last week, solidly above its Drop Dead Diva lead-in and just about equal to the premiere of Devious Maids–although Maids rose 50% from that level in the course of its run, and against regular season competition, Witches may find that hard to match.  Assuming the ratings hold or grow, the series feels like a good fit for the network, and certainly more fun than the soap ABC has in the same slot, the tepid Betrayal.  


PILOT + 1:  Sit Back and Put Your Brains On Hold For An Hour


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."