The comparisons are obvious — “Desperate Witches?” “Hexing Housewives?” — but ABC’s episodic adaptation of John Updike’s novel-turned-1987 movie “The Witches of Eastwick” does conjure up some interesting possibilities. Three women in the hamlet of Eastwick — “the gifted ones,” as the opening voiceover intones — beginning exhibiting strange abilities, just as a wealthy, magnetic and enigmatic figure named Darryl Van Horne descends on the town. Drawing mostly from the movie, series creator Maggie Friedman and pilot director extraordinaire David Nutter have thrown in enough elements to warrant a second look into the show’s bubbling cauldron.
The central trio consists of Kat (Jaime Ray Newman), an unhappily married mother of five; Roxie (Rebecca Romijn), a single mother labeled a “cradle-robbing slut” for her tryst with a younger man; and Joanna (Lindsay Price), an awkward, lovelorn reporter for the local gazette, though Price’s physical attributes are almost comically hidden — porn-style — under glasses and pinned-up hair.
With the arrival of Van Horne (“Due South’s” Paul Gross, taking up the unenviable mantel from Jack Nicholson and proving — as I’ve long suspected — that the Devil is now Canadian), strange things begin to happen. A self-proclaimed “demon between the sheets,” Van Horne seems to know the women’s innermost thoughts, plies them with a nectar that unleashes their passions and hints at powers they don’t even realize they possess.
Even scaled down to TV budgets, the casting proves sharp, including Sara Rue as Joanna’s pal, who chafes at her new-found friendship with Kat and Roxie; and Veronica Cartwright as a town elder who warns that Van Horne is “evil,” laying the groundwork for what’s to come.
How well and how rapidly those events unfold will be the real trick, and unspooling a macabre, mysterious or otherwise fantastical soap has proven one of the more elusive mixes in modern serials. More practically, ABC has done the show no great favors by scheduling it as the capper to a night that begins with four new comedies, though the network competition suggests there ought to be an available female audience for the taking.
At the very least, the pilot represents a polished product that neatly introduces an array of characters and establishes “Eastwick” as a project with no small measure of potential. As for how well that’s realized, as they say, the devil is in the details.