Witches of East End: TV Review
10 p.m. Sunday, October 6 (Lifetime)
Julia Ormond, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Rachel Boston, Eric Winter, Daniel DiTomasso, Madchen Amick, Jason Winston George
Based on the best-selling book, Lifetime's adaptation piles on both the silly and the gothic, but keeps it entertaining.
Maybe it has to do with the Halloween season, but witches are getting something of a revival. In addition to Lifetime's adaptation of Melissa De La Cruz's best-seller Witches of East End, witches are the focus of American Horror Story's upcoming season, and have also made appearances recently on True Blood and Sleepy Hollow. Are they the female empowerment version of the handsome, mysterious vampire?
Whatever they are, Witches of East End is filled with them. The series focuses on the Beauchamp family: artist mother Joanna (the lovely Julia Ormond), and two daughters, the bookish "realist / skeptic" Ingrid (Rachel Boston) and impulsive bartender Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum, wife of Channing). The twist is that the daughters don't know they are witches yet, though a series of inexplicable events gets them wondering if something supernatural might be going on.
It turns out that Joanna has been protecting the girls from that particular knowledge "this time around." Both the girls and their mother have been around a number of times before. Joanna gives birth, the girls grow up and they die before they are 30 -- over and over again. The Beauchamp's backstory is filled with plenty of mythology, with a focus on cycles and curses. This depth in the world building is a nice way to set up the potential of the entire series, which marries the past and present together fairly seamlessly (time isn't so important when you're immortal).
As Joanna struggles to keep her girls away from the magical, her estranged sister, Wendy (Mädchen Amick), shows up to warn Joanna of a shape-shifter killing in her name (and, well, her face). As the darkness from their past begins to catch up with them, Joanna must decide how to train her daughters in their newfound powers to save all of their lives.
One of the differences between the Witches of East End series and the book is that Freya and Ingrid don't initially know they are witches. It's a good change, because now the daughters (who are older than typically young "I'm different!" characters) must navigate this revelation within their adult lives, which grounds the series from being too silly.
Freya is engaged to the handsome and rich Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter), but feels magnetically drawn to his ne'er-do-well brother Killian (Daniel DiTomasso), who first shows up in her dreams and then in person. Ingrid lives a quiet life as a librarian (both women also live at home with their mother), and has a crush on a local cop, Adam (Jason Winston George), who is investigating the murders that the shape-shifter set Joanna up for.
If this sounds a lot like a romance novel (just from the names -- Freya! Dash! Killian!), it feels a lot like one, too. There are billowing dresses and longing looks and magical bursting flowers. That doesn't mean the show isn't fun, though, and the dialogue is snappy. Witches of East End doesn't overdo the mythology (like Sleepy Hollow) or make it all about the sex (like True Blood). Instead, it set up a complicated interpersonal world, a plausible (for this kind of show) backstory, and then populated the town with really good-looking people. What else do you really require from a show about witches and shape-shifters?
Witches of East End is up against a number of other supernatural shows, and there becomes a question of saturation. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your own tolerance for it), we aren't at that point, yet. It seems there's plenty more room at the table, and there, Witches of East End currently looks like the most fun.