Photo: Joseph Viles / Lifetime

When Did Witches Of East End Cast A Spell On Us?

This author didn't really care for "witch TV." Then Rachel Boston made a wedgie joke.

New Show Attempted: Witches Of East End

Topic: On the eve of "townie" Freya's (Jenna Dewan Tatum) marriage to rich doctor fox Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter), she and her blurty librarian sister Ingrid (Rachel Boston) discover what their mother Joanna (Julia Ormond) never wanted them to find out: they're witches, with wonderful white powers but also dangers and debts to face from the past. Like, the waaaaay past. Like, colonial times. Oh, and also, Dash has a hot brother, Killian (Daniel DiTomasso) (…I know, the naming is nuts) who's apparently waited four hundred years to french Freya at her and Dash's engagement party, and he looks like René Fris, so that's a thing.

How Far I Expected To Get: I thought I'd watch the premiere, shrug, and let it go on its merry way; witch TV isn't my thing. Ghosts and vamps, fine; the occasional alien I can do, but witch shows…I don't know. It just seems destined to devolve into a bunch of junky girl-power corn, plus the "comedy" that proceeds from trying to keep one's powers a secret: blech. And all that foolishness on Lifetime? Yeesh.

That said, I kept an open mind, because she's not always the most astute picker of projects (remember when she went on Dawson's?), but I love Mädchen Amick anyway (remember when her character shat all over Dawson's stupid movie?). I didn't hate the idea of Amick and Ormond as witchy sisters a la Practical Magic's Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest, especially not after Ormond's delightfully bitchy performance as Megan's mom on Mad Men.

When It Got Me


What Did It: I'd pretty much decided to season-pass it by the time Ingrid, a self-described "rational skeptic," decides to humor a friend with fertility problems and calls across the library to her assistant, Hudson (Tom Lenk), "Hey, you wanna help us cast a magic spell to try to get Barb pregnant?" Then Hudson -- who was totally eavesdropping not only on Ingrid and the friend, Barb (Kellee Stewart), but also on Ingrid still not really catching her snap that Detective Adam (Jason George) likes her That Way when he comes in to consult Ingrid about the ritual murders her mother's doppelganger committed while wearing green contacts (you heard me) -- sits up straight and shouts, "Only if I can make hats."

Permission granted, sir.

(They totally make the hats.) (Barb is pregnant the next day.)

It's a good pilot, very smart about how much it has to do and how it just rolls up its sleeves and does it; having Wendy (Amick) come back after an absence of over 40 years lets the "senior" sisters catch up on their respective curses, and the montage of Joanna laying flowers on her daughters' gravestones, over and over, in various period outfits is informative, and striking, and sad and witty also. (Joanna winds it up by sighing, "Do you know how many times I gave birth before they invented the epidural? Not to mention soap." Then Wendy insults her clothes some more.) Joanna's attempt to protect them from their magical fate "this time" is why the present-day iterations of Freya and Ingrid don't know about their powers -- well, one of them guessed as a child and got sent to therapy to deal with it -- although Ingrid is writing a dissertation on the history of witchcraft, and also spotted an old daguerreotype of herself and Wendy in the Gardiners' library, so when Joanna has to core-dump 400 pounds of backstory on her while getting arrested, Ingrid has some idea what's coming.

Of course, "what's coming" is that Freya is trapped in a painting in the bathroom of a bar, and Ingrid has to raid the false back of the breakfront in the dining room to get the tools to free her before she dies in there, but Witches Of East End knows how silly that's going to sound, written out, and it knows its characters kind of have to know it, too.

Some of the humor is cheap, but it's my kind of cheap -- Ingrid announcing to half the library that "my butt is, like, eating this underwear" just as Detective Adam appears to "ask her advice"; Dash's mother (Virginia Madsen) getting all condescending about bonding with Freya ("We'll find you a bra that actually fits") -- and apparently the town has catacombs under it, a setting element that is powerful Buntnip.

Worth Taking A Run At It? Oh my God, yes. Ormond's extensions are a problem, and a lot of the characters talk kind of the same right now, but the show is very funny; everyone's very pretty; it doesn't take itself seriously (Hudson snickering at the word "semen" during the fertility spell); and it acknowledges the melodrama of witchcraft stories without selling the characters out. It's fun, and it really cooks.

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