By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
One more witch and I'll scream. Every season, one, two or three networks add to TV's population of ghouls and ghosts, monsters and vampires. HBO did succeed at bringing in a gusher with its twisted hit "True Blood," but most attempts are lazy old retreads that never reach the wit level of, say, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."
"Eastwick," ABC's attempt at a spooky-smirky sort of satirical soap opera, premieres Wednesday and quickly curdles in its own cute quaintness. We're back in Stephen King country, except King isn't really to blame for this mess; it is based on books by John Updike, whose work in this vein already resulted in the movie "Witches of Eastwick" with Jack Nicholson, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Veronica Cartwright, the last also appearing in -- and classing up -- the ABC romp.
It certainly needs classing up, since the dramatis personae tend to wander about a lame, uncertain void in which the funny thrills and the scary thrills bumblingly clunk heads -- the script is not terribly clear about which is which. "Eastwick" has already been christened "Desperate Witches" for its resemblance to ABC's facetious murder mystery "Desperate Housewives," which has been running on fumes for quite some time.
"Eastwick" would appear to have, at best, a far more limited appeal.
One of the things the two shows do share is a plinkety-plunk, pizzicato musical score, a style that ABC honchos must be humming in their executive washrooms, because it has spread like influenza through other shows on the ABC schedule. It's okay in moderation, but what in television is ever held to moderation, at least if it appears poised to succeed?
The stars of "Eastwick," who are bewitching and would be especially so in a better series, include Rebecca Romijn as Roxanne, Jaime Ray Newman as Kat and Lindsay Price as Joanna. They carry on like mischievous scamps, and while they are fun to watch up to a point, the point is reached well before the shenanigans peter out. A petered-out shenanigan is not of much use to anyone; even so, the music keeps plankety-plinkin' along as a way of insisting we're having a riot.
Of course, the greater your tolerance for this kind of show -- and for things that go thump in the night generally -- the more likely you are to find "Eastwick" a feast of delicacies. It probably correlates with the amount of enthusiasm you have for Halloween, that horrible pagan holiday that is more than a month away yet has already begun popping up in grocery and drug stores.
As the very old saying goes, there's no accounting for taste. Tastelessness, however, is less inscrutable, and those who perpetrated "Eastwick" are clearly among the accountable.
Eastwick (one hour) premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on ABC.