Kbatz: Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

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Fun Performances Make Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

by Kristin Battestella

 

We all know the song, and though campy, the 2014 Lifetime Original Movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax utilizes juicy performances to flesh out the murderous ambiguity and did she or didn’t she 1892 courtroom drama.

Christina Ricci (The Addams Family) stars as Lizzie Borden, sister to Emma (Clea DuVall) and daughter of the soon to be bludgeoned Andrew Borden (Stephen McHattie). A messy barn, biting of luscious fruits, and Victorian white undies imply an underlying saucy to the spinster somber and silent dinners – tea time and full skirts make this largely a women’s world with the occasional, overbearing, intrusive man. Fortunately, hatchets are afoot in surreal visions, violent inserts, and murderous dreams, toying with our unreliable narrator and the muddled timeline in a self-aware, campy tone. Talk of previous crimes, grudges, and disgruntled encounters lay more motive drama to Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, rendering the modern, intrusive edge with obvious fake outs or teases unnecessary. Though not super gory, the splatter bash and killer crunch a half hour in do better than any trying to be hip approach. This case is both well documented and a logistical mess, which allows artistic liberties and sensational embellishments on the crowded crime scene, town gossip, erroneous reports, and faulty investigation. Press hysteria and exhumed bodies may seem like standard detective plotting, but period accents and Victorian protocol add to the evidence variables and questionable bloody dresses. Despite staying mostly with Lizzie’s questionable point of view, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax admits its stance via legal briefings and police discussions intercutting possible whack scenarios for a somewhat coherent frame on the what did or did not happen crimes. Debates on the unbelievable possibility of a woman committing such violence counters the scary white male jury versus little miss demure defense, and witness testimonies cast doubt on interrogations suggesting sociopath Lizzie did the the deed. However, Lizzie Borden Took An Ax does have some faulty framework – ye olde timestamps onscreen would have helped tremendously and historical conjecture is used as an excuse to waver between cool criminal warped and serious horror drama. Thankfully, this case’s moving fast topsy turvy doesn’t give us time to inspect the details, and not seeing the killings outright allows for hearsay, jury tours of the crime scene, and a slow horror reveal for the finale.

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Christina Ricci’s Lizzie Borden is “a loner, Dottie. A rebel.” She gets up from the table without being excused, ditches the ironing if she can’t hum while she works, and otherwise spies, lies, steals, or worse. After all, she’s only a Sunday School teacher on Sundays! Lizzie looks at herself naked in the mirror and wants to go to a party at night without an escort – such not a little girl anymore behaviors imply more than just the bucking of Victorian attitudes when Lizzie gets more up close to her father than her cordial but prudish, dead woman walking stepmother. She clings to her dad, saying he wants her to stay with him forever and loves when she calls him handsome, but questions his suspicious sweat when she hugs him. Lizzie vows that she will neither be a wife nor a spinster, adding lesbian innuendo on top of the implied abuses or incest. How long has she been planning to kill? Lizzie Borden Took an Ax suggests a long gestating preparation with Lizzie’s calculated crime scene reaction, careful glances, and a practiced playing to the tears. Lizzie holds up a little too well for the horror that has happened and is more concerned with how polite the police are or how happy she will be to live alone with her sister – almost blissfully unaware of the attributed crimes. These deaths feel premeditated and well orchestrated, yet crazy cracks show once Lizzie faces some tough interrogations. She changes her tune and professes her innocence while dreaming about the killings and resorting to fainting and sensational courtroom antics. We feel she is faking and she says her mind is clear, yet the jury can’t tell either way. Despite the misplaced attempt Lizzie Borden Took an Ax takes with original girl power, button up cool facade, and hip badass style, Ricci creates a wild-eyed, slick transparency, and likable, scene chewing performance. Lizzie is a narcissist liar in action stifled by the courtroom and confused when she doesn’t get her own way, and Ricci clearly has fun with the party-throwing, attention seeking, and ultimately infamous heiress.

In contrast to bad girl Lizzie, Clea DuVall (Carnivale) as the elder Borden sister Emma is quiet and unassuming. Lizzie Borden Took an Ax briefly suspects her and throws shade her way, but Emma is said to be out of the house helping others when the titular slice and dice happens. Unfortunately, she soon doubts Lizzie’s account and comes to live in fear of what her sister may be capable of doing. Lizzie thinks they will be content forevermore in a new home at the top of high society, but Emma realizes her sister is utterly demented and locks her bedroom door at night to avoid Lizzie’s violent threats. She doesn’t like lawyers visiting the house or so many seemingly unneeded males entering their little world – again, whether it is possible abuses or implied feminine preference, Emma seems somewhat small or shy when it comes to men. Though not the fault of the cast, those men in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax are generally styled as inferior to the ladies parade or backhanded to the little women. We don’t have enough time with Stephen McHattie (Emily of New Moon) as the gruff and subsequently late Andrew Borden, yet his hands on innuendo as a potential reason for the crime is felt in those uncomfortable scenes with Lizzie. Billy Campbell (The 4400) as lawyer Andrew Jennings, however, provides Lizzie Borden Took an Ax with the cold facts – a realistic if circumstantial perspective of the situation for the audience compared to Lizzie’s loon and swoon. Gregg Henry (Hell on Wheels) as prosecutor Hosea Knowlton also provides fine legalese, not admissible battles, and harsh interrogations. At times, the media judgments and sensational her word against theirs back and forth feels like a contemporary courtroom drama. However, this famous case was modern, the OJ or MJ trials of its day, and the support here keeps the case grounded, balancing the over the top fun of Lizzie herself.

 

The carriages, period interiors, wallpapers, fine woodwork, and Victorian attention to detail also bring the stifling, rugged ye olde of Lizzie Borden Took an Ax to life. Bustles, gloves, feathers, fancy linens, and vintage lamps add upscale alongside mourning fashions and a visual air of sophistication. Despite congested house crimes, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax is well lit with bonus onscreen photography and old camera fun. Arrests and an overnight asylum whiff suggest the deplorable conditions for women against the system of the era, but swift cuts and artistic side shots keep the nudity ironically demure. Although some of the bright clothing, colorful accents, and modern fashion cuts feel slightly too contemporary as if the Lifetime millennial audience wouldn’t watch anything too steeped in total historic design, the neckties, cute hats, and shopping scenes are pleasant, subtle ways to update the period without being super intrusive. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the modern musical score used in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax. Perhaps some instrumental rock edgy rhythms from Tree Adams (Californication) could have embellished choice scenes, but Southern Rock lyrics are as out of place as the slow motion musical interlude transition scenes are unnecessary. Are such tunes fitting for a gritty western? Sure – but a winking Victorian crime drama about a lady killer? No. This kind of extra try hard is what ultimately leaves Lizzie Borden Took An Ax feeling rough around the edges with no thorough thinking. We’re never going to have a satisfactory definitive on the case so having fun with the yay or nay is forgivable, even expected. However, it’s odd that this ninety minute telling of the story in its entirety retroactively becomes the backdoor pilot for the follow up The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. Had there been a better plotted progression, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax could have been all about the backstory potboiler leading up to the wielding with the 2015 series left to pull out all the courtroom stops. Instead, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax merely ends with a hammy tie to the jump rope rhyme – because, come on, we all knew it was coming.

Lizzie Borden Took an Ax takes liberties with the eponymous case and can be confusing or inaccurate at times thanks to modern music, contemporary shoehorns, and a faulty need to be cool. The undecided nature of the story plays at both horror serious and Victorian sensationalism, and the presentation could have been a much tighter thriller. Fortunately, the entertaining performances and campy hatchet-work make for enough water cooler did she or didn’t she and yell at the screen debates.

 

Kbatz: Lizzie Borden Chronicles

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The Lizzie Borden Chronicles Overstays Its Welcome

by Kristin Battestella

 

Following the 2014 Lizzie Borden Took an Ax Lifetime television movie, Christina Ricci and Clea DuVall reprise their roles as the acquitted murderess and her homely sister for eight episodes of the 2015 The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. Four months after her infamous trial, Lizzie and Emma find returning to the quiet life in Fall River difficult now that Pinkerton Charlie Siringo (Cole Hauser) is investigating the suspicious violence always following in Lizzie’s wake…

The rhyme is made ye old for the “Acts of Borden” premiere of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles while prim ladies giving Lizzie dirty looks, kids spying through the window, slow motion jump rope, and surreal ax blows remind us of the previous forty whacks– as if we have forgotten so soon. The sisters are still wrangling with their late father’s debtors, but herky jerky camerawork and seizure-inducing montages immediately try for audience cool with intrusive contemporary music to match. The Lizzie Borden Chronicles goes for grit via fast action, on the move dialogue, and flashes of crimes past and present with every blink. This is also a reset, with The Lizzie Borden Chronicles placed before the end scenes of Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, adding an initial confusion amid unnecessary music transitions and blaring rifts. I love westerns – cowboys really need to make a comeback – however The Lizzie Borden Chronicles inexplicably attempts to be Deadwood instead of Penny Dreadful. There is no build upon the innate character creepy and precious few still moments between the sisters, but a Borden brother drops by and there’s Victorian pornography. Our Pinkerton doesn’t feel the open and shut cases in “Patron of the Arts” are resolved when every murder always benefits “thee” Lizzie Borden, who’s visiting the New York theatre as more music montages combine the high society parties, dead bodies, and alleyway rescues before another investigation montage. The Lizzie Borden Chronicles plays at girl power or lesbian teases as our titular spitfire smiles over her teacup, charms women, and kills big bad men. Putting the acquitted and her new Pinkerton adversary face to face should be a wonderful battle of wills, but the sloppy angles and distracting camera interferes, rushing any good conversation in favor of the next kill of the week music video. Characters may endeavor to move on, but the attempted scandalous drama always returns to repetitive kills, pointless boudoir photos, and jarring rock music.

 

While the first two episodes set the series off on the wrong foot, director Russell Mulchay (Highlander) adds the potential for cinematic suspense in “Flowers.” The camera should never call attention to itself or a cause lack of immersion – especially in a period piece. Here, however, the camera stays still for a conversation, letting the shrewd fully build alongside creepy coffins and pimps. Viewers are able to follow the story, spend time with characters, and revel in consequences from the past and more twists to come. We know certain players are on borrowed time, so stewing in Lizzie’s wrath is more fun than a fast whack or two. There are still noticeable zooms, but the movement matches the tense one on one scenes. The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is divided into four blocks with directors doing two episodes each amid five show writers. Such a limited series with so few players should have been more tightly focused with one director and one writer. Instead, this short attention span design is too on the nose with an in your face hip trying to avoid some dreaded period piece yawn. The sociopathic camp is creepy enough in “Welcome to Maplecroft.” Who wants to wake up with Lizzie at the foot of your bed offering you a breakfast scone? Nope! The abundance of neat crimes in Fall River are the perfect way to assure nothing is suspected – but Lizzie is too neat, buying up all the neighboring properties via a generous sale or other, accidental means. The audience has to enjoy the systematic way everyone around the Bordens drops like flies, because having the townsfolk unable to follow the trail back to her is insulting otherwise. Blackmailing thugs are right to fear any “ax of Borden” retributions, and high and low conflicts make the supporting players more interesting – The Lizzie Borden Chronicles might have been neat from the Fall River perspective. Fortunately, the twisted drama unfolds naturally, with firm threats unfettered by intruding rock this episode. Background saloon music, tender strings accenting a romance – The Lizzie Borden Chronicles needed music that would invoke the setting, emotions, and vengeance. Chases about the ominous dark house, gunshots, and clock chimes build suspense, and scenes with interplay rather than camera flair do best.

Convenient falling down the stairs mishaps in “Cold Storage” lead to arrests, inquests, self defense claims, and speculative testimony. Naturally, audiences can’t complain about the accuracy of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles as it obviously diverges from history and never professed to be anything but sensational. So-called rough interrogations, however, are weak – character back stories and blackmailing the good catholic over his not so devout proclivities are much more delicious. Unfortunately, the drama is revealingly thin without the busy camera, music montages, and choppy editing. The meaty scenes with the main cast are best, but such moments are too brief to sustain the entire forty minutes. Viewers expecting macabre instead of melodramatic affairs will be disappointed – even the killer twists become routine, and with such transparency, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles might have done better as half hour webisodes. After all, it isn’t a persecution complex when Lizzie really has orchestrated this death tally in “Fugitive Kind.” Swift trials leave little time for prosecution tension – the courtroom consequences are over before the title card – but seeing pathological liar Lizzie swearing to tell the truth on the witness stand is a winking irony. Sadly, important scenes seem left on the cutting room floor, and critical information is dropped in quick throwaways, leaving the viewer to question what just happen or presume the details – a very slip shod way to tell a story. Despite ditching the wham bam music video format, the pace drags with who’s on who’s side or which guy is beating up the other guy this week filler. Jealously, murderous plotting gone awry, and the reaction on Lizzie’s face are better than such back and forth, but the writing on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles really doesn’t give the cast a chance to bring it. Brief confrontations can’t be fully appreciated because Lizzie makes anyone who sees her for what she really is disappear in an episode or less. Besides, it’s no fun when she pays thugs to off her intended in dark, chaotic scenes rather than her own DIY.

 

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Kids daring to ring the doorbell and covered furniture add a spooky whiff to “The Sisters Grimke,” but it is awfully late in the game for The Lizzie Borden Chronicles to switch from Massachusetts to Maine and Nevada with boys will be boys rock outs, unassuming school teacher disguises, and resetting cowboy vendettas. We’re just getting into psychosis reasonings now? Reporters in the middle of nowhere want headlines but where were the yellow journalism muckrakers when the heads were rolling in Fall River? Chopped up bodies, catatonics, institutions – we know murders about campus and electroshock therapy are coming and the disturbing hospital horrors are good. Unfortunately, leap frogging the times and places compromises the development of the series regulars, and The Lizzie Borden Chronicles tacks on Tom Horn and Bat Masterson in some kind of Lizzie Goes West potluck. The Lizzie Borden Chronicles suffers from the same structural problems as its precursor film with little rhyme or reason to its presentation. Again, why not space out the Fall River aftermath, New York actress mayhem, alias move and institution, and Pinkerton investigations in four more telemovies? This series gets off to a very rocky start, provides some suspense potential in its middle, but devolves with another move to Boston in the “Capsize” finale. Recovering from shock therapy and turn of the century traveling move fast amid madhouses run amok, slo-mo shootouts, Irish mob families, Russian roulette, gunslingers, and gangsters. Say what?

Lizzie Borden – who prefers “former Sunday School Teacher” to “ax killer” – knows how to solve problems and enjoys intimating children claiming they are not afraid of her. While Lizzie says she’s glad to be a grown woman on her own with no intention of having a husband, she’ll flirt and seduce for her murderous gains. Lizzie won’t sleep with a guy and further tarnish her reputation, but she’ll bludgeon him hot diggity! From buying a new mansion after eliminating her creditors to playing dress up with a rescued hooker she treats like a pet, Lizzie loves pleasing herself on the party scene. Girl kisses happen fast on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles as well, with Lizzie ready to pounce on her latest BFF in the dressing room so long as it suits her agenda. Although I wish The Lizzie Borden Chronicles had maintained the nude or scantily clad killing theories and going to bathe or naughty whatnot after the thrill, Lizzie commits a lot of bloody acts in some pretty expensive, fashionable clothes. Despite her finery, she’s apathetic and casual, unfettered by the violence she causes. After telling her lies so many times, Lizzie genuinely believes she is not a monster. Ironically, we like Lizzie – Ricci looks the cute but crazy look and viewers know to take all she says with a heap of salt. This could have been a truly fun performance, but Ricci doesn’t seem onscreen very much save for the same act three death strokes each week. Modern dialogue makes Lizzie’s threats feel invalid, and blurry focusing with rock music punctuation is unnecessary. After all, what’s the point of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles if we can’t see all her killer camp?

 

Unable to revel in their infamy, Clea DuVall’s Emma Borden reads aloud for fun and calls what happened to her younger sister “The Unpleasantness.” She tries to do her church going Christian best to see the good in everyone but distrusts their wayward brother and can’t understand why Lizzie enjoys being the star of her own little circus. Emma is aware their family seems marked by tragedy, but rather than having room to become the audience’s moral center, it’s again odd that The Lizzie Borden Chronicles takes places before the coda of the film – confusing the sisters’ timeline and erasing Emma’s subsequent knowledge about Lizzie’s killings. This backtrack dumbs Emma down, going from a woman who leaves her sister alone to one dreaming of having her own husband and happy to have any romantic prospect. Unfortunately, she can’t escape all the skeletons in her closet – wink – and such macabre scandals are forgotten, left unexplained, or throwaway used in as needed contrivances instead of steering any actual character development. Emma’s frumpy, meek style is also more to visually contrast with flashy Lizzie than show personality, and quiet conversations about Emma raising Lizzie are more interesting. She can’t exactly be proud of the woman her sister has become or move on with her life and leave Lizzie alone. Emma tries to vindicate Lizzie and get to the bottom of the violence in their lives, but those answers won’t be coming any time soon. Ultimately, she can’t be bothered to hide her feelings – it’s tough to be an upstanding woman when Lizzie Borden is your sister! However, I’m unsure how The Lizzie Borden Chronicles would have continued with Emma if there had been a second season. Nor I think did they after backing either an unwanted character into a corner or rightfully loving Clea and trying to give her more if silly storylines.

There’s no doubt we need more Pinkerton dramas. However, the inclusion of Cole Hauser (Rogue) as the unwelcome real life bounty hunter Charlie Siringo with his free rein badge shooting people and asking questions later sends mixed signals on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. He’s hired to review the Borden case, but locals are reluctant to go back to the infamous past. Siringo sees through Lizzie’s current crimes, but politically minded officials give him an uphill legal battle. While tension between Siringo and recurring ladies and twists on why he is in Fall River add depth, he seems too invested in persecuting Lizzie – to the point that we know almost nothing else about this wild historical figure. Siringo’s rough past is told rather than seen with no careful battle of wills or accumulation of evidence, and The Lizzie Borden Chronicles resorts to extreme outlaws, shootouts, and half cocked attacks to bring down the character. Numerous guests should have stuck around longer on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles as well, including rival businessman James Heard (Home Alone) and Andrew Howard (Bates Motel) as disowned brother William Borden. Unfortunately even the supporting cast appearing in six or more episodes serve as little more than their stereotypes, such as hustler Bradley Stryker (iZombie), nasty doctor Ronan Vibert (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell), abusive hotel owner John Ralston (Flash Gordon), and former friend to Lizzie Olivia Llewellyn (Penny Dreadful). Not that the Bordens bode well for friendly officer Dylan Taylor (Copper), Nance O’Neil based actress Jessy Schram (Nashville), and mobster matron Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) either.

 

Fortunately, the gloves and muffs add a refined, little lady would never kill vein alongside hats, parasols, feathers, lace, and puffy sleeves invoking fine ladies silhouettes. Lanterns and candlelight create a golden patina, however the camera never stays still long enough to steep in the atmospheric attention to detail, making The Lizzie Borden Chronicles feel nondescript despite being a period show. Brief focuses on cursive writing will be tough for millennials, and the editing moves blink and you miss it fast over the shock reveals, skeleton accents, and dead babies. Zooms and hectic handicam photography almost feel like a deliberate covering up the cut production corners technique. Pull back so viewers can see the autumn leaves, snow on the ground, Victorian carriages, and architectural facades. Thanks to either cheapness or television ratings, there’s only mild splatter and brief gruesomes, and The Lizzie Borden Chronicles name drops Bleak House and Sherlock Holmes instead, hitting home the currently renowned then-entertainment as if the audience can’t be trusted to like the turn of the last century. Again, especially now having seen the series, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax should have been the household up to the forty whacks with The Lizzie Borden Chronicles recounting the courtroom aftermath and any manor of Victorian horror, mysticism, or Massachusetts witches with homicidal Lizzie at the center of it all.

While bemusing for a drinking game, weekend marathon, or fans of the cast, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles never lives up to its potential and fails to provide a coherent, binge worthy plot. The first episode of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is faulty, and the series grows a little too preposterous with fast conveniences and weekly guests becoming just another notch on Lizzie’s ax handle. Despite a fun predecessor and the charming Christina Ricci, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles retains the haphazard flaws from Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, snowballing into an all over the place one trick pony used eight times too many.

Kbatz: Witches of East End Season 1

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Witches of East End’s Season 1 is Too Muddled

by Kristin Battestella

 

Based upon the novels by Melissa de la Cruz, the late Lifetime series Witches of East End had plenty of magical potential. Unfortunately, this ten episode debut falters in balancing its bewitching tales and romantic plotlines, resulting in perhaps too many growing pains.

Artist Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) is surprised to see her wildcat sister Wendy (Madchen Amick) after a century apart – for unbeknownst to Joanna’s daughters Ingrid (Rachel Boston) and Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum), they are a family of exiled and cursed witches. The immortal Joanna is doomed to see her daughters continuously born, grow up, and die, and this time she has steered the bookish Ingrid and romantic Freya away from their dangerous magical abilities in hopes of giving them a fuller, longer life. An old enemy, however, is after Joanna, taking on her lookalike form or shifting into other guises as needed to threaten the Beauchamps and interfere with Freya’s impending wedding to Dr. Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter). While her future mother-in-law Penelope (Virginia Madsen) is slowly warming to Freya, Dash’s wayward brother Killian (Daniel Di Tomasso) makes for a much more steamy adversary to the nuptials.

Glitz, glamour, saucy dreams, and ominous rituals in the garden open Witches of East End, and the “Pilot” moves quickly with fast talking folks and one blink and you miss it spooky incident after another. There’s a lot of house history and paranormal exposition shoehorned in the first ten minutes alone – making it tough to appreciate the morphing red flowers, poofing photographs, doppelgangers, pentagrams, and murder afoot. Did I mention the trite love triangle also being introduced? Witches of East End has much to digest, and although based upon its own book series, comparisons between Witches of Eastwick, Charmed, and Practical Magic are understandably apparent due to this initial patchwork and too similar feeling. Fortunately, Victorian flashbacks and glimpses into the twenties anchor past pain and fate coming to catch the titular ladies – unique tales that might have set Witches of East End further apart from those aforementioned comparables had it been set as a period piece. While it’s nice to have all age appropriate adults and realistic looking dark haired ladies instead of cliché teen bimbos, the enemy evil is told about more than it is actually seen, strong women are always being attacked by icky men, and attempts to be self aware about such cliches end up playing into that very same old. Witches of East End takes too long to get rolling, superficial threats are too easily resolved, and hello look at that shoddy police work. Thankfully, the intercut spell editing and smaller threats in “Marilyn Fenwick, R.I.P.” tie into the intriguing premise’s overall revenge and magical consequences. The sardonic comedy and rules of being a witch remain fun while serious conversations on whether magic is a gift or nothing but problems add drama. Rather than speedy shockers, time is taken with magic training and spell practice in “Today I am a Witch.” More sepia flashbacks and a long list of enemies shape the storylines while magical mistakes, face to face confrontations, and debate on whether these potions and powers should be used for protection and defense or the offensive help Witches of East End get a foot on the right moonlit path.

Fun guest stars, more sinister, and villainous history further up the conflict, surprises, and retribution in “A Few Good Talismen,” and the rules of the realm are established in “Electric Avenue” thanks to ghosts, legal tricks, and courtroom encounters. Witches of East End over relies on fast talking delivery and conveniently mentioned witchcraft information after the fact – we are told about more spells being done that we don’t get to see. However, when action actually happens, it is entertaining and weighted with supernatural arguments. Is the witchcraft right and justified in one scenario and wrong in another? Unfortunately, the pretty people making moon eyes in the pool in “Potentia Noctis” detract from the historical nuggets, turn of the century saucy, and spell casting magical brownies. The period apothecary, rival magics, multilevel spells, and mansion tunnels are top notch, again making one wonder why Witches of East End didn’t just dance the dance and begin with all this quality past beguine. The zombie resurrections and good girls gone bad consequences in “Unburied” are also hampered by the intercut romantic scenes. Yes, the magical hair pulling torture is kind of hokey, but the deadly high stakes is just a bit more important than love la dee da. New character dynamics and more evil shapeshifter meaty end up uneven or stretched thin because this need for dreamy keeps undercutting the magical ruses, occult research, fantastical dangers, and titular charms in “Snake Eyes.”

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Whoa, whoa, spoiler alert! Forget the love triangle soapy, the Beauchamps come from Asgard, can never go home, and more family has been left behind – and all this news is dropped with a mere two episodes left in the First Season. Say what? Knowing this information makes Witches of East End a lot more interesting, even as we again wonder why the series didn’t shoot out the gate with this enchanting who, why, and how it effects the present family. Any and all fantastical dalliances could have come through the town portal for our learning to be witches to wrangle each week and we got sweet nothings at the local pub instead? It’s great to see the sisters going head to head and banging up the house, too – even if the animated laundry is laughable. “A Parching Imbued” has the supernatural feeling Witches of East End needs with the eponymous gals in white robes on the beach casting spells while the evil shifter interferes directly with counter magic. Doppelgangers walk down the street, powers are lost, and conflicts arise over surprise character twists. Granted again the evil torture chamber looks more like an industrial art museum display, but deaths, harbingers of doom, and threats both mortal and magical disrupt the wedding preparations in the “Oh, What a World!” finale. Why ruin all the Asgard answers, bad omens, and major dramatic developments with too many sappy montages and pop songs? I’m ready for the verbal bitch slaps and magic battles! Although the easy, rushed resolution leaves Witches of East End on a cliffhanger and the San Francisco flashback shows the audience the tavern with magic cocktails we already know, the connection to present truths create some much needed character changes to up the ante for Season Two.

Thanks to the lovely at any age and foxy but poised Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall), the viewer immediately likes immortal witch and mother Joanna Beauchamp. She’s trying to keep her daughters safe due to a horrible curse and that live forever quality doesn’t mean that enemies aren’t out to test her immortality. Ormond’s accent is an odd mix of toned down British and put on American, which may bother some, but it can also be excused thanks to her long lived times – there’s certainly some fun Latin and doppelganger mayhem to chew on, too. Despite her continuously telling lies and withholding information, we don’t blame Joanna for hiding the witchy ways in order to save this generation. Everything she does is to protect her daughters, to give them normal lives, and help them realize being a witch isn’t their be all end all. Witches of East End’s uneven focus between the ensemble love and Joanna’s ongoing enemy plot wavers too much – sometimes we don’t see our star very much from episode to episode. However, the backstory and family revelations late in the season add new spins. Joanna has her own moments of happiness amid the dangerous, and her second love interest should have been recurring all along gosh darn it. It’s amazing to see a strong, mature, and classy lady working to keep her family together. Joanna admits she can’t deal with her history and magic on her own, and her coming round to magic uses, accepting her past, and embracing her power gives Witches of East End a positive anchor.

It’s unfortunate that Rachel Boston’s (American Dreams) Ingrid is always siding with Wendy while Freya is most often with Joanna, as these limited pairings inhibit plot variety and keep critical information from all the players – who often behave more like four women in separate events rather than a core family. Unless you read some of the series’ apocrypha, the audience doesn’t get all the details, such as Ingrid being the older sister. Her level headed skepticism and slightly awkward but honest chemistry is a welcome change of pace early on Witches of East End, however her uber shrew detesting of Meg Ryan and Katherine Heigl movies is too textbook on the nose and used more to differentiate her from her dreamy lovestruck sister than develop her own personality. Ingrid is a realistic student of history and witchcraft that suddenly jumps the gun and writes spells because she’s really powerful with a saucy evil past and not just a shy librarian after all. From episode to episode Ingrid is either awed, wide eyed, whoopsie surprised, and scared of her magical mantle or being selfish and stupid with serious life and death spells. It’s great to see when her magic gets out of hand with erroneous consequences, but the character is made smart and stupid at the same time and too often caught in over her head whilst we are also repeatedly being told she is the good one. Which is it?

Likewise, Jenna Dewan Tatum’s (Step Up) wishy washy romantically confused shtick gets old fast, and I wish I could skip over her ‘he’s oh so dreamy’ scenes. We don’t know anything about Freya except how she is torn between two men. Even when she finds out she is a witch, she turns princess and doesn’t want to get her hands dirty with spells – only to be angry later when her powers don’t work. Why couldn’t the love triangle plot be developed later once Freya knows who she is and has accepted her powers? Instead she always needs to be saved by one of her men. Meh. This same old melodrama wastes time Witches of East End doesn’t have to spare, and honestly, I would rather have seen only one daughter in a learning to be a witch plot with more focus on the elder sisters. Isn’t Freya too old to be this juvenile? She learns of her magic history but would rather talk about boys, and she’s a bartender who’s good at potions, ba dum tish! I’m not opposed to Gothic love triangles done right in paranormal fantasies. However, I do expect to know something more about an allegedly strong woman – an immortal witch from Asgard no less – before knowing who she’s boinking as though the boinking is the most important thing about her. As if!

Thankfully, Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks), is a feline delight for Witches of East End as Joanna’s wild sister Wendy. She has nine lives to live and now in her slightly mature age uses her experience to protect her family. Wendy is self aware, sarcastic, and educates her nieces on good magic just as much as she imparts don’t be like her reckless wisdom. Of course, that’s not to say she doesn’t get up to wrong doing spells and danger, but Wendy remains a positive sounding board. Some of her plots do move too fast – they use up her lives quickly and swoop in a love interest, too. However, some of the speedy exposition works when Wendy is dropping witty asides and one line adventures about being widowed, married, divorced again, or eaten by a crocodile. Her knowing how to fix or undo a spell is also a convenient dues ex machina used too many times on Witches of East End, but the sisterly pros and cons are well done with both Wendy or Joanna each being short sighted at times in their magical knowledge or uses. Where Joanna seeks to motherly protect, Wendy would rather empower her nieces. Is one way better than the other or can both styles strengthen the family? Amick is a fun counter balance whose personality doesn’t change from week to week – unlike the under utilized Virginia Madsen (Candyman) as Freya’s snotty future mother-in-law Penelope. It takes half the season for what we already suspect of Penelope to come to light, making for another missed opportunity that Witches of East End should have indulged from day one.

Dimension also comes too late for Eric Winter (The Ugly Truth) as Freya’s fiance Dash. Why couldn’t he have been a doctor first and foremost instead of one half of a limp couple? Scenes with science investigation to counter magic end up going nowhere, and time focusing solely on the brotherly rivalry is so slow compared to the rapid witch pacing. We can see man pain anywhere, and Witches of East End could have at least completed the trifecta and had Canadian Italian model Donald Di Tomasso play hockey instead of serving up the same old dark, mysterious, music, and motorcycle Killian brooding. The series continually falls back on this teen wannabe bedroom ho hum, and such glaring plots don’t belong on what’s supposed to be a sophisticated, women-oriented supernatural show. Fortunately, familiar guests including Matt Frewer (Max Headroom), Joel Gretsch (The 4400), Jason George (Grey’s Anatomy), and Freddie Prinze, Jr. (Scooby Doo) add mature, supporting sensibilities to Witches of East End. It is, however, disappointing to see the charming Tom Lenk (Buffy) and Kellee Stewart (My Boys) typically typecast as the gay and black best friends, respectively. Tiya Sircar (The Internship) as Amy also starts with medical intelligence and character strengths, but is ultimately made stupid with Witches of East End once again wasting better, progressive plot opportunities and giving both its interracial and mixed couples ill fates. Tsk tsk. All these independent, confident chicks and ensemble support possibilities, yet it appears the only purpose of Witches of East End’s unfocused storytelling is to toss every woman a man. Bechdel test my foot – when we do get all the lady librarians, doctors, immortals, and witches together they still end up talking about men!

Witches of East End has a fitting mood with black cats, bewitching eyes, skeleton keys, Latin curses, and a pink Victorian house that belies the spooky within its quaint. Books, photographs, ominous lighting, small period piece doses, and freaky bathtubs should be used even more for a slow burn atmosphere, yet once again I come back to the faulty execution at work. Witches of East End could have been styled as several television movies or at least had a feature length pilot episode, however the ridiculous playing at double speed opening title card is a lighting bolt blink and bam indicative of how by the pants these 42 minutes or less episodes were steered. The witch effects and magical movements are cheap and quick, as if making them one second longer would cost too much. Trite ‘if this were a movie, this would be the part where happens!’ dialogue doesn’t excuse borrowed ideas – like the trapped in the painting plot lifted from The Witches. Cell phones and modern lingo are intrusive, and unlike The Witches of Eastwick, everything in Witches of East End feels lighthearted, too soft with little edge or dark style. Cursing and some near nudity amid brief 1906 orgies are fine, but such saucy is also an obvious, late in the hour desperate move – and something turn of the century should not be montaged with contemporary pop music! Witches of East End never fully establishes its titular setting, and we know almost nothing about the town’s size, how many shops there are, or what the main street layout may be. Are there no nosy neighbors to spy on these backyard spells? Is the Beauchamp name beloved or notorious in the community? Viewers don’t find out the town is shrouded on a map and secretly famed for its occult history or hiding a gosh darn gateway to Asgard until it is too late. Good job, everyone!

If you are familiar with other magical material, Witches of East End will be very derivative. Some audiences may like that whimsical comfort, readers of the series especially I imagine, but that unfulfilled basic may be disappointing for others. Undivided viewing attention is needed for this incredibly fast moving design, and a marathon session is a must to both keep up with the fast moving plots or exposition dumping and breeze over the spinning tires romance. The steamy attempts may cater to the Lifetime audience but such trite strays too far into soap opera over the top at the expense of the unique core potential. All that should have happened to start Witches of East End comes in the second half of the season, with numerous writers and directors falling flat over a backward execution – which is surprising since there is a literary source. Though Witches of East End is certainly watchable for paranormal light fans looking for a streaming weekend or ladies growing out of Charmed, the weekly witchy, immortal trials, and magical tribulations feel like they should be bigger somehow – leaving this debut with more than its fair share of flaws muddling the magic.