‘Witches of East End’ can’t quite sustain its cleverness



Julia Ormond plays a witch, the mother of two daughters, who are unaware of their ominous heritage in Lifetime's "The Witches of East End."

WHY TO WATCH: “Charmed” in the Hamptons.n WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Novelist Melissa de la Cruz set her “Witches” original on Long Island. Lifetime series developer Maggie Friedman (“Eastwick”) and premiere director Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”) are more vague on location. (The pilot was filmed in North Carolina; the series shoots in Vancouver; license plates say New York.)

But the game is (pretty much) the same. Artist mom Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) celebrates the engagement of her bubbly bartender daughter, Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum, Channing’s wife), to storied-family heir and do-good doctor Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter, “The Mentalist”). Her librarian daughter, Ingrid (Rachel Boston, “In Plain Sight”), is a history buff with interests in the occult and the local police detective (Jason George).

Dash’s mysterious brother (model Daniel DiTomasso) arrives, instantly mesmerizing a baffled Freya. And Joanna’s spirited sister (Mädchen Amick) drops in — “I know you’ve been angry at me these past hundred years” — to remind Joanna of the witchly powers she’s passed on to her unaware girls. All hell breaks loose, perhaps literally, certainly figuratively, in the form of local murders, resurrections and more.

MY SAY: So what’s the tone of this show? Soap? Thriller? Sci-fi/ fantasy? Tongue-in-cheek? The pilot keeps changing its mind. Ingrid teases Freya early with “You only have one superpower, and it is your breasts.” People analyze life events in the context of movies / genres they’ve seen. And then there’s mom’s climactic crisis-time daughter-warning, “But first there’s something I need to tell you.”Yes, “Witches” wants to be all jauntily self-aware but can’t quite consistently conjure its cleverness. The pilot must cram in lots of coming-up clues about tunnels under the Gardiner mansion, and past century revenge-seekers trapped in painted portraits, and eternal-life exceptions that allow these witches to die, except when they don’t. What’s utterly clear is the starter hour picks up steam whenever loose-cannon Amick bops around, although Ormond does a nice job of grounding its shenanigans in a semblance of reality.

BOTTOM LINE: If it sounds like I’m bewitched and between, so’s the show. Makes sense that the pilot wraps with a cliffhanger.