In the "everyday" New England town of Eastwick, a town filled with local legends of magic and witches, three unfulfilled, oversexed women suddenly discover their own supernatural powers, allowing them to take control over exactly which men stare at their boobs. This is a show that could have been described at the pitch meeting in hushed tones of suppressed excitement: "Two words: Charmed Cougars!"
She's That Type of Woman
The women of Eastwick (ABC, premiere date Sep. 23, 2009) start out as stereotyped figures right out of the Estrogen Cliches catalog. Kat (Jaime Ray Newman—for this she gave up Eureka?) plays the Doormat—a nurse who lets her equally cliched husband, Ray the Beer-Swilling, Unemployed Neanderthal (Jon Bernthal), push her around. Joanna (Lindsay Price, Lipstick Jungle and the original Beverly Hills 90210) is the Mousy Spinster, a meek reporter who wears her hair in a tight bun and is afraid to talk to the object of her crush, Will the photographer and the town's requisite Handsome Dreamer (Johann Urb).
And Roxie (Rebecca Romijn, last seen in the third season of Ugly Betty) is the Tramp, a flaky widow who sculpts erotic figurines (!) and who's keeping a Boy Toy (a very game Matt Dallas from Kyle XY) on the side. (The town biddies whisper, naturally, that she killed her husband.) Roxie is the kind of mom who, on discovering her daughter, Mia (Ashley Benson, Days of Our Lives), has a hickey, asks excitedly, "What base you get to? Second? Second and a Half?" As Mia, the Normal Teenager, exclaims, "God! You're such a freak!"
Mysterious and Unexplained ... The Plot Points, That Is
For unexplained reasons, these three women start waxing wistful at a town festival, causing fifty-cent pieces to drop on their heads (one each, and in Joanna's case, literally). They somehow feel compelled to toss these coins in the town's big, grotesque fountain, and for some reason they toss their coins high in the air, where they clink together above the fountain. This unleashes their powers, and has two side effects. First, it draws into town a Mysterious Stranger, a tycoon named Darryl van Horne (Paul Gross, doing his best to erase our fond memories of Due South). And it causes the Kooky Old Lady Who Really Knows Everything, "Aunt" Bun (Veronica Cartwright, who was great recently in Straight-Jacket), to be attacked at the festival by a huge army of red ants. For some reason.
None of these women is the slightest bit original, and these talented actresses play them as the hoary tropes they are (though Romijn has trouble reaching for "flaky"—she seems to know better). You would think the unleashing of their powers would liberate them from their shells—certainly that's the idea—but they merely exchange old cliches for new ones. Roxie starts having clairvoyant dreams, starting awake with a gasp like a tarted-up Alison Dubois. Kat gains control over the elements, allowing her to literally shake her husband around. And Joanna gains the power of suggestion, but only over men, which she uses to get a promotion from her snake of a boss, Clyde (the invaluable Steve Hytner, Hung), capping it off by getting him to give her the contents of his wallet.
Where Do We Go From Here?
All of this is catalyzed by Darryl, played by Gross as if he were Jack Nicholson's grandson and really felt an obligation to live up to the family name. It's hinted at that he's evil (if you can call Bun waking up from a coma to grab Kat by the arm and scream "He's evil!!!" a hint!) and manipulating the women for his own purposes, in line with the original Updike novel, but as a regular in an ongoing series, how is that going to work from week to week? There's no way the relationship can remain static, yet there's nowhere for it to go beyond the inevitable team-up of the women against him—and what happens after that?
The pilot is very well directed by David Nutter, who specializes in being brought in to do a smashing pilot for a new series (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Supernatural, Smallville, Roswell), and the art direction and design are top-notch. The writing, on the other hand... This is the kind of show where Roxie, talking about her dream man, muses that he should have "a really huge ... appreciation for art" and where Darryl, who introduces himself to Roxie naked in the pool (leading to a awed reaction shot when he steps out and exposes his "goods"), mentions that he's "a demon ... between the sheets." If only Maggie Friedman (Related) had learned to write ... with any kind of subtlety.