One heaping tablespoon of dusty spell book. A pinch of batshit crazy aunt. A cup of polar-opposite sisters with baggage. And the tiniest drop of rabid-like, yet cuddleable black cat. The recipe for a worthwhile show about witches is open to substitutions, but be too generous (or stingy) with the measurements and out comes one seriously overcooked supernatural disaster. For Lifetime’s Witches of East End, the portions could not have been more perfect.
Witches have been resurrected this television season—even being called, gasp, the new vampires. Glee’s Ryan Murphy, perhaps the ringleader of the television coven, sparked an old-new trend when he revealed the third season of American Horror Story would center around witches and voodoo in New Orleans. There are no signs of the wick dying any time soon.
Before Coven hit the air though, Witches of East End, Lifetime’s series based on the best-selling novel by Melissa de la Cruz, debuted. East End is able to capture all of the loveable and relatable elements of shows of the past about witches possessed, while still holding onto its own identity, ultimately fulfilling the nostalgia factor without the forced reunion likely to become of the Charmed reboot.
“I remember watching Charmed when it was on and thinking, ‘Well, now I can’t write a show about witches, it’s been done.’ But the audience has become hungry for more,” showrunner Maggie Friedman says.
And so she accepted her fate. The result: sort of Witches of Eastwick snark matched with Hocus Pocus-style spells (no cauldron though … at least not yet), a soap opera-style sass recognizable in Charmed and topped off with bone-chilling scenes similar to AHS: Coven. As far as the cast: There’s the grounded mother figure Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond). Back-from-the-dead eccentric aunt Wendy (Madchen Amick), think darker version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s Caroline Rhea. The sisters: A rational Ingrid (Rachel Boston) and sexy, free-spirited Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum). And a couple of hot dudes (Eric Winter, Daniel DiTomasso), because sure, why not.
Friedman is acutely aware of the thin line between soap opera and sarcasm. “I want the show to be taken seriously, and I want the audience to connect to the characters,” Friedman says. “The humor makes it feel more like real life, I hope, because people in life aren't serious all the time and with witchcraft, at some point, you have to make jokes about it.”
That Witches of East End can recognize its place on the spectrum of serious to silly witch shows and combining the aforementioned elements unpretentiously is what makes the show so fun to watch. The scenes seamlessly jump from a horrifying death, heated kiss, or work frustrations—Ingrid works at the library and oftentimes people leave their books lying haphazardly, for shame!—and all are captivating in their own ways.
What ties everything together? The inescapable theme of female empowerment. Since the days of Bewitched, the ladies are holding the power in these shows, literally. “It’s part of the fantasy of witches,” Friedman says. “It’s like the female version of being a superhero, but in a very feminine way by connecting with the Earth and cycles and the moon.” More commonly, it’s not just one woman running the show, it’s a family of women. “If you’re a witch, you have powerful women in your family who back you up. And they represent magic,” Friedman says.
Each of the four main female characters in Witches of East End has their own fast-evolving and addicting storylines. Joanna, the most powerful witch of them all, continues to keep secrets about her past and her strength from her daughters. Kooky Aunt Wendy, who only became a regular after Friedman and the rest of the team realized her necessary presence, has the most flair of the bunch, and certainly the most fun. In the middle of the season she seduces a very fit, very shirtless Freddie Prinze Jr. before stealing his magical butterfly (again, literally). Ingrid, the straight-edge skeptic, morphs into an impulsive troublemaker after learning of her powers—she even causes a man she loves to die. And Freya, who holds the power of premonition and potion creation, can’t escape a love triangle involving brothers—one evil, and one good.
“This show isn’t just a case of any time you get into trouble you pick up a magic wand and everything will be fine,” Friedman says. “I wanted a show where dark things could happen and there are consequences.”
While this witch show does deliver wicked moments, don’t expect the gloom without a hint of lightheartedness. Whatever the team has brewed up for the remainder of the season, it’s bound to be tasty.