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Witches of East End - Episode 1.01 - Pilot - Review

Lifetime has brought us another promising new drama in Witches of East End, which premiered last night.  The pilot winningly blended family and romantic melodrama with supernatural shenanigans.  But can the adventures of the witchy Beauchamp women win a place in viewers' hearts?

Here’s the breakdown of the series premiere:

The Power of Three: Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) is a protective mother who lives in (fictional, adorable) North Hampton, NY with her two beautiful daughters.  She knows that her girls are immortal witches, but they don’t.   Now a terrible evil has come to town to ensure the Beauchamps’ demise - and Joanna's secret is bound to come out.

Hence a quite effective premise is unfurled, made compelling by the wonderful performances of the cast.  The always-fabulous Ormond is both warm and understandably tightly-wound, and the actress grounds the show. Joanna's constantly busy fighting to keep shy librarian Ingrid (a cute and relatable Rachel Boston) and slightly ditzy bartender Freya (fun, sultry Jenna Dewan-Tatum) from remembering their past lifetimes.  She thinks that this deception will protect them, but the jig is up.

The pilot does a terrific job of balancing the main plotline - the threat of the new villain in town, who’s a creepy doppelganger of Joanna - with some excellent subplots that are surprisingly well-developed considering that they have to fit within a single, and first, hour of storytelling for the show.

The mythology of Witches, so far, has a Charmed sort of feel to it, while the “quirky small town” aspect recalls Eastwick.  Sure, the idea of a female family of witches living together and dealing with soapy crises while fighting evil has been done before...but there’s just something about this particular subgenre that feels so comfy-cozy, it’s hard to resist another such saga.

If it’s originality - or at least intriguing weirdness - the show needs, the writers can look no further than the source material.  Witches of East End is based on a series of novels by Melissa de la Cruz, and in those stories, the history of the Beauchamp family stretches back to some shocking extremes involving ancient Norse gods.  Will the tv show follow suit and develop this unusual, complicated back story?  Time will tell.

Love and Spells: Dewan-Tatum is about as delightful and sympathetic as anyone torn between two lovers can be.  She’s engaged to well-behaved, wealthy Dash (Eric Winter) but irresistibly drawn to his newly arrived brother Killian (Daniel DiTomasso).   While eerie dreams suggest that Killian is Freya’s long-lost soulmate, could he be evil?   After all, whoever the mysterious villain is, they’re new in town too.  But what about Dash - could any love interest in a supernatural show really be as buttoned-up and innocent as he seems?

The plotline involving Freya’s old enemy trapped in the painting was as seamlessly tied into the rest of the episode’s events as Ingrid’s fertility spell on her library co-worker (P.S., bonus points for casting Buffy's Tom Lenk as Ingrid's other bookish buddy).  Both incidents reveal that the sisters are, by their very natures, incapable of remaining ignorant of their witchhood any longer.  After all, Freya has even long suspected that she has certain psychic capabilities.  She's not as flaky as she may seem.

It’s nice to see the excitement of spell-casting mixed with the sense of imminent doom, creating a tone that can go from cute to sexy to scary at the drop of a hat.  Similarly, Freya’s passionate love triangle is neatly juxtaposed by the tentative and awkward flirtation between Ingrid and the town cop, Adam (Jason George).  Wow, I bet that potential relationship’s going to work out well once Adam has to investigate supernatural events in which Ingrid has been involved!

Wendy: Madchen Amick, as Joanna’s long-estranged, free-spirited sister Wendy, brings a welcome infusion of humor to the show, and clashes perfectly with goody-two-shoes Joanna.  Let’s face it, we all love a witch who turns into a black cat.  It’s just awesome, and so are Wendy’s snarky one-liners.  Additionally, that whole nine lives thing is pretty suspenseful, given that we can’t know ahead of time which death will be Wendy’s last.

Cliffhanger: The pilot ends with Ingrid at the brink of learning more about her abilities, knowledge the librarian will need to save Freya from her painting-freed, vindictive stalker (being trapped in a scaldingly hot desert for hundreds of years is enough to annoy anyone, and it doesn’t look like this guy was much of a sweetie-pie to begin with).  We’re on the edge of our seats wondering what fascinating mysteries will unfold with Ingrid’s discovery of her gifts, as well as how she, Wendy, and Joanna can save Freya (now trapped in another painting, albeit a much more fun one than that which her enemy inhabited).

Did Witches of East End charm you?  What would you like to see happen in future episodes?  Share your thoughts in the comments!


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