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Witches of Eastwick: A Rant

  • 9/24/09 at 1:20 PM
Witches of Eastwick: A Rant

Photo: Courtesy of ABC

So, I'm watching Eastwick now. I figured I shouldn't violate my own prime directive: Don't hate anything you haven't really immersed yourself in. Not fair, not right.

But now I've earned my own malice. Because, Lord, this show is depressing. The original book was a wildly effective misogynist satire, a nasty portrait of three widows who'd killed their husbands divorced women who had bewitched their husbands out of existence — and who were terrible mothers, neglectful and dismissive — bridling against their Puritan small town. These quasi-feminist outcasts slutted it up with every married man around. It was Updike's revenge on his feminist critics, and it was a masterpiece of malice, an attack on what he saw as the excesses of seventies female-superiority Goddess ideology.

The movie was not nearly as good, but it was pretty hot, because it had fantastic actresses (Susan Sarandon, Cher, and Michelle Pfeiffer!) and Jack Nicholson winking so hard he practically broke his winker.

But while that original trio consisted of a depressive sculptor, an acid-tongued violinist, and a manipulative journalist, the TV series has transformed them into refugees from a very bad romantic comedy: a lovelorn ditzy single chick, an unhappily married mouse, and a strutting cougar played by the fabulous Rebecca Romijn (bring her back to Ugly Betty!). It's chick lit cut with Ally McBeal — they alternately stutter and sass, a bunch of weaklings, except for Romijn, whose character is the closest to the original, but with all her bad behavior watered down into mere sassiness. (She sleeps with a young man, not a married man.)

On almost every front, they've softened the material into mush: It's witchcraft as assertiveness-training self-help — nearly the opposite of the original theme, which was not about women learning to speak up and party down, but about women getting high on their own rage, malice, and power. (And then losing it when they fall for the Master of all PUAs.) Instead of garden-variety sexist bores, they face date-rapists and abusers everywhere, turning the devil into as much of a stalwart rescuer as an instigator of orgies. (He actually uses the phrase, "Touch her again and I'll kill ya." And follows it up with, "He is a child; you need a man.") When the witches do something "bad," they do it by accident, or repent immediately. Bonus negative points for clichéd use of the song "Baby did a bad, bad thing."

As I suspected in my earlier post, the wonderful Canadian actor Paul Gross is wasted as Darryl Van Horne. Maybe this will get better, but right now I'm more excited about Desperate Housewives, a show that has its own troubles, but where the campy divas are at least allowed to be truly larger-than-life, where malice can stretch its legs, not just wobble about in high heels.


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