Lifetime’s new supernatural drama Witches of East End premiered last night, solidifying the trend that witches are the new vampires, so ubiquitous have they become. Julia Ormond stars as Joanna, mother to Ingrid (Rachel Boston) and Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum), who have somehow made it to adulthood while still living at home and never discovering that they and their mother are witches. Or that they have an aunt (Mädchen Amick). Unfortunately for the entire family, some evil is afoot, and now they have to tap into their deep witchy reserves to battle it.
There’s clunky dialogue and heavy-handed imagery — a vase of flowers wilts while two people who shouldn’t be having sex are having sex, oy — but those issues pale in comparison to the show’s main problem: The central family doesn’t seem at all like a family. They don’t look alike. They don’t act alike. There’s nothing unifying about them at all. They might as well be a coven of friendly neighbors.
In life, there are plenty of families whose members do not resemble each other, either because they’re not biologically related or owing to the magical unpredictability of genetics. But visual shorthand goes a long way on television, and there’s something deeply satisfying about seeing similar-looking actors playing siblings. Witches tries to get around the lack of physical resemblance by giving Ormond, Boston, and Tatum the same fashion-blogger hair, but it’s not quite enough; Amick and Ormond are supposed to be sisters, too, but again, using the same size curling iron does not a resemblance make.
More crucial, though, there’s also a stiltedness to the interactions between the women, a weird lack of intimacy that goes against whatever familial connections we’re supposed to assume about the characters. Shows can overcome actors not looking much alike when at least the characters act like one another: Peter Krause and Dax Shepard have completely different features, but the way their characters talk to each other on Parenthood makes them completely brotherly. (Not so for Lauren Graham and Erica Christensen, who just … really do not feel like sisters on that show.) And it’s not just good relationships; Troian Bellissario and Torrey DeVitto resemble each other to a certain degree, but it’s Spencer and Melissa’s constant mutual nastiness on Pretty Little Liars that really seems sisterly.
Witches will in all likelihood wind up on my mehgnetic list, given that there’s the possibility for fun campiness and not just slightly dreary Charmed-esque low-production values, plus a show about a family of witches just sounds enjoyable. After one episode, though, I’m only sold on the witch part.