The Witches of East End – The Complete First Season
(Fox Home Video – 2014)
Lifetime cable network has had a bit of trouble getting their dramatic series to catch on. It will occasionally get a brief buzz in a long-running series like Drop Dead Diva or Army Wives, but more often have series seem to burn out quickly like The Client List or receive critical blowback like Devious Maids. Still, Lifetime has a very strong demographic as “Television for Women,” and with the explosion of cable series, the network is ripe for a breakout hit, and a respite from their mind-numbing cheesy reality fare like Dance Moms and Little Women – LA.
Actually, things have improved significantly since the network was bought by A&E a few years ago. The network’s programming has gotten a little more nuanced than the basic storyline “a woman is mistreated by a man in her life” which anchored dozens of Lifetime movies over the years.
The Witches of East End has the ability to be Lifetime’s most significant series success since the sassy Drop Dead Diva arrived to critical and popular acclaim in 2009. (Sadly, in the five years since, Diva lost its buzz and its way, with the recently finished sixth season being the show’s last.)
The Witches of East End is based on the novel by the same name by Melissa de la Cruz. (That is not to be confused with the similarly titled book The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike, which was made into a movie in 1987 with Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson).
It is poised to take the mantle of buzz show from Diva, though it is certainly less controversially in your face than the soapy Devious Maids.
Witches has a terrific cast – Julia Ormond (Sabrina), Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks), Jenna Dewan Tatum (Step Up) and Rachel Boston ( Days of Summer). The first season of the series also has an interesting cross-section of guest stars, including Virginia Madsen (Sideways), Freddie Prinze Jr. (She’s All That), Joel Gretsch (The 4400) and more.
Binging on The Complete First Season over a little less than a week, it is easy to see the potential. The series started off a tiny bit uncertainly. The pilot episode was a bit awkward in trying to find the right tone for the show: the comedy was a bit too broad, as were the gothic elements. However, as the show kept going it found its footing and actually became a very clever supernatural dramatic comedy with soap opera elements.
The one thing that did come out of the imperfect pilot, though, was the fact that Amick’s character of the wild witch aunt Wendy, who was listed as a guest star in the first episode, quickly became the show’s breakout character and second lead. Amick, who hasn’t had this meaty a role in years, is obviously having a ball with her character, and this infectiousness is contagious in the cast.
Ormond plays Julia Beauchamp, matriarch of a family of witches. Each member of the family has a different curse on them. Julia’s curse is that she will be eternally a mother, continually giving birth to beautiful daughters Freya (Dewan Tatum) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) and watching as her daughters die before their 30th birthdays. Freya is the beautiful one who is ruled by love, Ingrid is the intelligent daughter who is ruled by books.
After watching her daughters die many times over the centuries, Julia has become extremely over protective of them. In their current lives, she has not even told them that they are witches, hoping that not using their powers will keep them safe.
Wendy (whose curse is that she is turns into a cat and has a cat’s nine lives) shows up after a century estrangement from her sister because she senses that her family is in trouble. A shape-shifting witch has made it her purpose to destroy the Beauchamp family, framing Julia for murder and wreaking havoc in all their lives. Therefore Julia and Wendy much teach their daughters how to use their powers at the same time as they try to figure out who is coming to get them.
In the meantime Freya is in the middle of a love triangle between two gorgeous brothers, Dash, the rich doctor (Eric Winter) and Killian (Daniel Di Tomasso), the black-sheep bartender. Ingrid is also having her share of relationship problems, her shyness getting in the way of her relationship with a gorgeous cop (Jason George).
While some of the show’s timelines don’t seem to add up, it’s all still great fun.
By the time the first season signed out with a series of well-plotted cliffhangers, I was pretty much hooked. Luckily there is not long to wait for season two, which will start airing in a couple of weeks.
Jay S. Jacobs