Witches of East End: The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 431 minutes) is based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Melissa de la Cruz, and although I’ve yet to read the book, it’s easy to see why her novel was a success. The series isn’t just a cute and bewitching tale of a group of witches, and although there are moments of humor within the narrative, the show itself is blessed with a ton of thematic meat to chew on.
Julia Ormond is Joanna Beauchamp, an immortal witch who is burdened with a huge curse. Her daughters Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) will never live past the age of 30, and after their respective deaths Joanna must complete their cycle of birth and death once again. This unbearable torture continues throughout the centuries, and to change her daughters’ fates she decides to keep their witchcraft abilities a secret.
But sheltering one’s family in suburbia can only go so far, as a shape shifter has arrived to East End to kill Joanna and her brood. Mädchen Amick is Joanna’s free spirited sister Wendy, and although they’ve spent over a century ignoring each other, Wendy returns to the fold to warn Joanna of the new evil they must face.
Freya (Dewan Tatum) and Ingrid (Boston) attempt to juggle their own lives with their newly discovered powers. A local bartender who’s engaged to the a successful doctor named Dash (Eric Winter), Freya is all about living life with passion, but her romantic streak takes a deeper turn after she encounters Dash’s bad boy brother Killian (Daniel DiTomasso).
While Freya balances witchery with being part of a love triangle, Ingrid works at the library and spends her days researching witchcraft. Both women have different approach to their powers and also hold different abilities – Freya is great at mixing potions and Ingrid is adept at crafting spells.
The strength of Witches of East End lies in the portrayal of the four women as highly flawed individuals. Joanna’s (Ormond) overprotective and all consuming love for her kids often brings danger to their front doorstep, and Wendy’s (Amick) quick trigger temper often leads to casting spells she often regrets (she even unwittingly killed her niece Ingrid during an unfortunate confrontation). Though she’s marrying what she believes is Mr. Right, her true soulmate may actually be Killian, and her waffling back and forth between the boys leads to dire consequences by the first season’s end.
Since each of the witches have lived (and sometimes died) throughout the centuries, their behavior and personalities are slightly altered with each incarnation. Before she was a likable and studious librarian, Ingrid was an absolute troublemaker and compromised soul during a previous life, and due to a huge loss she suffers during the first season, one can assume she will return to darker territories during the second season.
Witches of East End is a definite must see if you’re a fantasy fan. More importantly, the show could have existed as forgettable, episodic fare and still could have carved out a sizable audience. Instead, the show’s creative team often puts the characters in unexpected and morally compromising situations, and occasionally our heroines do the wrong thing. The writing on the series is top notch, and the inspired manner in which they portrayed the afterlife in the episode “Electric Avenue,” especially in relation to Ingrid’s journey, absolutely won me over (Jason George, who plays Ingrid’s love interest, is also excellent in the episode).
In sum, Witches of East End: The Complete First Season is worth a look on DVD, especially since the second season premiere begins tonight (Lifetime, 9 pm et/pt)
Special Features – The DVD comes with the featurette “Falling Under Their Spell,” which has most of the cast members talking about their respective roles on the show. Also featured in the collection are deleted scenes. Although the cut scenes run barely two minutes, two sequences are definitely worth a look. One of the deleted scenes has Killian drinking at the town’s local bar and intensely staring at Freya’s picture. Another scene has Joanna and Wendy sharing a bonding moment before they discover that the shape shifter is watching over them. Also included is a one minute gag reel (which includes a moment of levity between Rachel Boston and Jason George). Last but not least, there’s also a cat blooper sequence. It’s just a minute long, but if you’re a cat lover like me, the more feline footage – the better.
A director, producer, or cast commentary would have been welcome for the DVD collection, especially since the show is actually worth talking about. Hopefully the complete second season DVD collection will come with more trimmings.
Below is a few photos from tonight’s second season premiere episode of Witches of East End: