By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
8:30 AM CDT, October 3, 2013
Ever since "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," tales of the supernatural have provided a bridge between demographics, offering a way to showcase female empowerment while still keeping the guys interested. So it was only a matter of time before Lifetime got in the game.
Inspired by Melissa de la Cruz's bestselling novel and starring such heavy hitters as Emmy-winning Julia Ormond and Oscar-nominee Virginia Madsen, "Witches of East End," premiering Sunday, moves the network one step further away from its sob-sister niche roots and closer to the mainstream.
In the idyllic seaside town of East Haven lives a witch, Joanna Beauchamp (Ormond), and her two daughters, Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston). We meet Joanna, or so we think, as she is up to dark magic/no good in a cemetery while the daughters prepare for Freya's engagement party. Although Freya is plagued by troubling dreams and believes she can read auras, neither has any reason to believe she is not "normal." That is about to change, of course, because whether the magical child is Tabitha Stephens of "Bewitched" or any of the "Charmed" girls, the power will out.
Especially since the man Freya is marrying, Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter), isn't just the local rich boy with the mean mama (Madsen). He's the local rich boy with the mean mama who lives in the house built by a man who oversaw animal sacrifice and ritualistic orgies in his basement. Also, he has a broody-licious brother, Killian (Daniel DiTomasso), who turns out to be the man of Freya's troubling dreams.
More important, Joanna is being stalked by a shape-shifter so malevolent that her sister Wendy (Madchen Amick) breaks their hundred-year feud to warn her. As Wendy reveals what she suspects, we learn Joanna's story: Though she is immortal, her daughters are not.
Or at least, not quite. Every generation they discover their magic and then die. Which is why Joanna decided to keep their heritage secret.
If this sounds silly, it is and it isn't. Throughout both literature and history witchcraft served as a powerful, and often fatal, metaphor for female awakening, sexual and otherwise, and so it is used here. Ormond, with her mournful wise-woman eyes, gives Joanna's curse a physical veracity, a weary determination that reaches beyond the confines of her supernatural circumstance to the concerns shared by mothers in every time and place.
Indeed, while all the characters have boilerplate for bones — the brainy one, the pretty one, the smart aleck, the tortured hunk — crisp writing and buoyant performances keep the story from trending too trite or too "Twilight."
By contrast the CW's "Vampire Diaries" spinoff "The Originals," debuting Thursday, goes very dark 'n' stormy, though also quite heavy on witches. One of the first vampires ever created, Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan), has not had a happy life. The product of an affair his witch mother had with a werewolf before she turned her family into vampires (yeah, OK, just keep up), he is feared and hated by pretty much everyone, including his own family. Now apparently, some New Orleans witch is planning his destruction and so he has returned to the town he once ruled to find out why and destroy her.
Things have changed in the Big Easy and not just because of Katrina or increased film production. Klaus' protégé Marcel (Charles Michael Davis) has the witches and mortals under his thumb and he's not happy to see his hybrid creator sniffing around. Klaus' brother Elijah (Daniel Gillies) shows up, hoping the family can be saved and a witch/vamp peace brokered.
New Orleans saturates "The Originals" with a weightiness it may not deserve — it all started here with Anne Rice's still unparalleled "Interview With the Vampire" — but at least we can dispense with self-denial.
As Marcel boasts, in his town no one is trying to pass, which makes "The Originals" less of a ghost story than a political drama. It's "House of Cards," with a werewolf/vampire hybrid instead of a charming but ruthless Southern senator. Which, in these hyper-partisan times, just might work.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)
'Witches of East End'
When: 10 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)
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