October 7, 2013

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Witches Of East End”


WITCHES OF EAST END:  Sunday 10PM on Lifetime – Potential DVR Alert

The supernatural serial isn’t exactly a neglected genre on TV–this week alone brings the season debuts of American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, and The Originals and Sleepy Hollow have just gotten started–but based on its pilot, Lifetime’s new WITCHES OF EAST END seems like a frothy addition to the brew.  The series creator is Maggie Friedman, in much better form than with than her last TV witch series, the recent flop The Witches of Eastwick (which was based–very loosely–on John Updike’s novel, although despite the strikingly similar titles, this one is based on an unrelated book by Melissa de la Cruz), and the feel of the show recalls Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic.

The witches in this case are the Beauchamps, who live in upstate New York.  Mother Joanna (Julia Ormond) is an artist and teacher, who’s been cursed with a peculiar form of immortality:  over and over again, she has two daughters, Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston), who die tragically before the age of 30, and then the cycle begins again.  This time around, Joanna has determined not to tell the girls of their powers, in the hope that somehow this will keep them alive, but she can’t quite extinguish the signs of magic–Freya has premonitory sex dreams about the bad-boy brother Killian (Daniel DiTomasso) of her upstanding Doctors Without Borders fiancee Dash (Eric Winter), and Ingrid studies the history of witchcraft and doesn’t know she’s casting spells herself.  It all works for a while, more or less, but then Joanna’s free-spirit sister Wendy (Madchen Amick), who’s been running through her 9 lives, shows up from New Orleans (perhaps property values went down when the Original vampires arrived) with the news that someone has been shapeshifting as Joanna and committing murders, determined to kill the girls permanently.

Friedman’s script, bouncily directed by Mark Waters, moves all of this forward at a good clip, with cursed souls materializing out of paintings, flowers turning from white to red with suppressed passion (Betrayal should have tried that one) and a nifty double-cliffhanger ending.  Ormond, who can be dreary when she’s playing very serious, brings the right amount of gravity to the mostly light-hearted proceedings, with Amick (who’s listed as a guest star in the pilot credits, but who’s very valuable to the cast mix) as her more happily supernatural balance.  Dewan-Tatum and Boston are appealing as the magical daughters, and since the pilot ends with Ingrid learning of her powers and Freya–once her life is saved–about to find out as well, they should have more substance to play in future episodes.  Jason George is on hand as the inevitable suspicious cop, who has a crush on Ingrid.

East End isn’t grade A television.  Some of Friedman’s dialogue is much less witty than she seems to think (it’s a little late for rom-com jokes with Meg Ryan and Katherine Heigl as the punch-lines), and the production values sometimes look like Lifetime re-dressed the sets from Devious Maids for the pilot.  But TV is much more about character and plot than special effects, and when the East End pilot is over, it succeeds in its main aims:  you want to know what’s going to happen next, and you’re happy to spend time with its characters.

With the recent cancellation of Army Wives and the new regime of The Client List (assuming that show resolves its own behind-the-scenes soap opera), Devious Maids and now Witches of East End, Lifetime seems to be establishing a voice for itself as a moderately sexy, seriocomic world of soap fantasy.  No one will confuse the network with FX or AMC when it comes to dramatic heavy-hitters, but for any network, building an identity is the first step, and East End fits comfortably in Lifetime’s spell.



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."