Something wicked is coming to the 2013-2014 American television season. With both Lifetime’s Witches of East End and FX’s American Horror Story: Coven, witches are certainly getting quite the media spotlight. In fact, I can’t recall so much witchy TV-hype since the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, which were certainly helped out by movies like The Craft and Practical Magic.
But, if memory serves, the witchcraft community isn’t likely to respond positively to these Hollywood representations. “It’s all lies! Misinformation!” they’ll cry. I can understand this. Even I got a little techy when I saw the flaming pentagrams in Lifetime’s promotional trailer for East End. But I hope this won’t be our only reaction. After all, fictional witches are not and never have been real witches…and this is not a bad thing. In fact, I think fictional witches can be a great resource for our community in creating a better understanding with the larger culture around us. If we look back through the last thirty years or so, I think we’ll find that the years in which fictional witchcraft ‘enjoyed’ more prominence in pop culture coincides with periods of interest in and subsequent growth of our community. It’s a truth that seeing fictional witchcraft in the media makes people curious about the ‘real witches’ they’ve heard about, and that pushes them to find out more about us. Some turn into seekers, but more develop a greater respect for our beliefs.
I think that’s where we’ll eventually fall out with East End. Those flaming pentacles gave me pause, but my fears were set aside right after the title card when the show proved to ultimately be a pleasant puff piece. It’s far more concerned with love triangles, self-discovery, and the fight between good and evil than it is with contemporary Wicca. Actually, it is to the producer’s credit that they never once called fictional witchcraft “Wicca” like, say, Charmed or Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in the 1990s. Quality wise, I thought the show was middling at this stage. The pacing was incredibly rushed and I wasn’t seeing a strong cast chemistry quite yet. The show is also no cerebral drama…but the writing enjoys some nice humor and wit, the actors do a lovely job bringing life to their own characters, the special effects are convincing, and it is evident that the photographers are really trying to use images to tell the story. Many of the cinematographer’s shots do as much of the story telling as the script and the actors do, which is very heartening for the series’ overall quality.
Actually, the attention to visual detail really impressed me, especially with two subtle architectural homages to two of the most popular witch-related flicks of the 1990s. The first one I noticed was the visual similarity and initial presentation of the Beauchamp house, which made me do a double take. It’s almost identical to how the Halliwell manor was introduced in Charmed‘s pilot episode!
How similar are these pictures? Not only are both houses shown at night, but they’re practically the same house. Both share Victorian architecture, though the Halliwell’s San Francisco home is appropriately more ornate than the Beauchamp’s, which is near Long Island. Indeed, the basic framework of the houses are almost mirror images of each other. If the Beauchamp house didn’t have the wrap-around porch or the second-story addition on the left, they’d be perfect exterior mirrors. Even more amusing is that the two houses use similar colors and decorative details, what with the dark red siding and lighter trim and stained glass details. A further comparison of the homes in daylight really highlights their visual similarities.
The second architectural homage I noticed was a reference to Practical Magic in the Beauchamp’s kitchen. I think this is far more than coincidental, given how iconic the Practical Magic aunts’ kitchen is. After the movie came out, viewers were so curious about the set design and details that Victoria Magazine devoted a huge feature story (and tons of images) to it in their October 1998 issue. More recently, a couple contracted Derek M Design to build a house inspired by the movie, and its kitchen is a near clone. There’s just something powerful about the Practical Magic kitchen that speaks to people, and apparently the Witches of East End producers wanted a little of that magic for their own.
As we can see, both kitchens have prominent heavy wood details; just look at the heavy trim around the Beauchamp’s door and compare it with Practical Magic‘s beams. Both also have darker wood floors that ground an otherwise light and airy kitchen. Both use white cabinets with more exposed uppers, and both highlight the all-important stove with a wonderful tiled hearth in light colors. And, of course, a huge table extends out from the stove in each. The Beauchamp kitchen uses more trendy finishes and details than the ‘timeless’ Practical Magic kitchen, but the bones of each are the same.
I think I’m going to continue to watch East End. I have hopes that the series will find a stronger coherence as the season progresses and become truly addictive mind candy.