Eastwick: “Madams and Madames”

Devil May Care


“Madams and Madames”

ABC, Wednesday, 10 PM

Written by David S. Rosenthal
Directed by Michael Katleman

What do you do with a dead guy who won’t go away? Every time Roxie (Rebecca Romijn) turns around, there’s the ghost of the late would-be rapist Guy (Christian Alexander, General Hospital)—pale, dead, and smirking. (Rather like the Vampire Bill Compton on True Blood, when you think about it.) He appears to her in the town square, in her bed, in the middle of the street. At first she feels fear, then curiosity, then guilt as she finally comes to realize that it was her wish that sent the boy to his death by “accidental” hanging. Having come to this conclusion, she confides not in the two other women who might understand, but in Darryl Van Horne, the wickedly seductive newcomer who seems bent on getting her into bed. Uh, what? If Roxie is confessing her deepest fears to a man, and getting what amounts to absolution from him, then I don’t need Madame Alexandra’s crystal ball to figure out where these two are headed. Eventually Roxie finds a way to make peace with the dead boy, and he fades from her life. I hope this means she is coming to terms with her new gifts; it would be tedious to go through this discovery process every week.

Intrusiveness seems to be a theme of tonight’s episode: we begin with Pastor Dunn (Tom Amandes, Big Love), interrupting Darryl’s groundbreaking ceremony for his brewery, continue with Gus’s intrusions into Roxie’s life, segue into Raymond and Kat’s trespass into a public pool, and finish with a break-in in Joanna’s house. Along the way we get to tear the veil from a couple of hypocrites: local “seer” Madame Alexandra turns out to be a fraud and Pastor Dunn is revealed as a patron of a whorehouse. Mia (Ashley Benson,Supernatural) chastises the semi-hysterical, overwrought teen “mourners” at a memorial service for the late Gus: “None of you really knew him… You guys are all using his death to make yourselves feel important.” A nice bit of insight, putting me strongly in mind of The O.C. back in the day.

In fact, there is almost nothing in this show that does not remind me of something I have seen before, usually done better. The plots remind me of Charmed, the characters remind me of Desperate Housewives, and the town reminds me of Smallville. Since imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood, this does not surprise me, but I do wish there was more than a trace of originality in this show. There’s nothing wrong with recycling old ideas—if I liked something once, I’m likely to like it again&38212;but it would be nice if the writers would at least file off the serial numbers.

There is one redeeming feature: Paul Gross is finally giving us a glimpse of the wolf behind the sheep’s clothing. When Pastor Dunn threatens Van Horne with an injunction, the amusement leaches out of Van Horne’s face subtly but quickly as his face hardens. Later, when Joanna insists that he look into her eyes (that trick is getting old), he grins and grins—right up until he stops abruptly, saying “You don’t want to know,” with such soft menace it almost sounds seductive. Gross is a deep actor in a shallow story, so it doesn’t take much for him to convey layers of Van Horne; I’m just glad he gets the chance to show off once in a while. His character yo-yos between creepy and camp so much that only a top notch actor could portray both as gracefully as Gross does.

I’ll confess that I’m not a good judge of comedy; it’s easier to dissect melodrama than to puzzle out what works and what does not in a sitcom. Eastwick is not quite my cup of brew, but I can see how it would be a guilty pleasure for some. I am too bothered by inconsistencies (such as the fact that the witches can make anything happen except what they actually want) that keep pulling me out of the story. This is not a show for the literal-minded. Nevertheless, there are moments I liked: the freezing-over of the swimming pool, Joanna’s friend channeling “George” from the Nancy Drew mysteries, and Roxie getting ghost-summoning tips off the Internet. It’s a good show to relax with, preferably with a scented candle and a box of bonbons. No hard work is required.

For my money, the best thing about this show is that it beat Jay Leno on Wednesday night. This third episode of the series pulled in 5.3 million viewers for a 1.8 share. These numbers are down 22% from last week, as the show has consistently lost viewers every episode. However, the nature of its audience is holding steady: the show placed first among women viewers. And any show that can hold its own against a juggernaut like the CSI franchise on CBS has my respect. Whether it has legs yet, remains to be seen.