Eastwick: “Reaping and Sewing”

Devil May Care


“Reaping and Sewing”

ABC, Wednesday, 10 PM

Written by Maggie Friedman

Directed by David Nutter

Much better. Much better indeed. The second episode of Eastwick is funnier, warmer, and more self-mocking than the pilot, and the result is a frothy confection designed to waste brain cells at an agreeable rate. During the annual harvest festival in Eastwick, our three witches wrestle with love, justice, and the mystery of Darryl Van Horn. Rebecca Romjin’s Roxie continues to appeal the most–earthy and practical, she is plagued by visions of her own murder at the hands of newcomer Jamie (Jack Huston, Shrink) even as she deals with the aftermath of her daughter’s near-rape by young Chad (Matt Dallas, Kyle XY). Kat (Jaime Ray Newman, Eureka) is still trying to deal with her imminent divorce from her ne’er-do-well husband, Ray (Jon Bernthal, Night at the Museum), which lands them back in bed in a passionate reunion/goodbye (depending on which one you ask).  Joanna (Lindsay Price, Lipstick Jungle) is hot on the trail of the elusive Van Horn (Paul Gross, Due South), who seems to be no stranger to Eastwick; her vigorous pursuit of the investigation is mirrored by the lackadaisical pursuit of Joanna by Will (Johann Urb,Knight Rider).

Joanna gets the most fun out of this episode, as she uncovers what appears to be mass amnesia. She finds an old newspaper photo that looks like Van Horn, which claims his name was Sebastian and he drowned thirty years ago. But not even the bylined reporter, Milton (Martin Mull, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) remembers the incident. Joanna breaks into the county records office, faces down a black guard dog, and identifies another person in the photo, a local recluse named Eleanor Rougement (Cybill Shepherd, The “L” Word). I noted right away that Rougemont is a name from the original novel by John Updike, although this Eleanor doesn’t fit the character in the book. She gleefully admits that the woman in the photo is herself (“Look how high my breasts are! I didn’t even have to wear a bra back then!”), confesses to having murdered “Sebastian”, and then slams the door in Joanna’s face. Her gleeful cackle was suitably and hilariously witchy.

In keeping with the spirit, at least, of the original text, there is plenty of sexual innuendo, and explicit discussion, in this episode. From the opening scene comparing Kat’s amateur sculpture to female genitalia, to some pretty free discussion of marital sex between Roxie and Kat, the tone of most of the dialogue is racy and sharp. When Darryl is around Roxie, his every utterance fairly drips with innuendo. He gives the very married Kat a sexy nightgown; he assures Joanna that her sexual allure has little to do with cheap perfume and everything to do with the way she’s now wearing her hair. Sexual expression, however, far from being devilish, is confined to pretty tame prime-time standards: the married couple romp in bed, the widow consoles herself with a boy-toy. Prim and virginal Joanna holds her suitor at arm’s length (or at least, until she orders him to grab her ass), and blonde bimbos who encroach on Roxie’s “territory” are sent to the rightabout very quickly. The only sexual transgressor, Chad the unrepentant, meets a nasty end I saw coming from miles away. But this is not a show about subtlety, so while it was not unexpected, it was satisfying.

Given that this story is a soap opera, I wasn’t too surprised when the “story” really didn’t wrap up so much as reach a stopping point. Soap operas don’t have conclusions, they only have rest stops. The story goes on forever. I expect the storyline about the mysterious Jamie and the mysterious Darryl will stretch out beyond all reason. Innocent Mia will find a true love. Kat and her husband will fight, separate, reconcile, etc. ad nauseum. The only ongoing story that holds any real interest for me is the identity and purpose of Jamie, and whether he really is planning mischief with Roxie. The weakest storyline is Kat’s–are we really supposed to think that the answer to her problems with her layabout husband is to have Darryl rescue the family by giving him a job? Joanna’s story has potential, but her cringeworthy verbal gaffs around Will are more irritating than endearing–a little of that sort of gaucherie goes a long, long way. Nor is her story all that original–I’ve already seen the intrepid reporter and the shy photographer romance when Supermancame out thirty years ago.

There were a couple of endearing moments — Jamie telling Roxie her faux-Willendorf knockoffs were artistic, Kat’s daughter in her squash costume, the butterflies. The idea of the devil buying dental floss made me laugh (but on the other hand…). Gross’ character is growing on me–the more he subverts my idea of Mephistopheles, the better I like it. I mean, the Prince of Darkness takes oracle advice from a kid at the mall with black fingernails? The idea of the devil as goofy cut-up is a refreshing one. Seeing Martin Mull and Cybill Shepherd was a marvelous kick.

Director David Nutter kept the pace fresh, the tone light, and the colors cartoonish as he firmly established this story in its own universe. Like a sardonic version of Mayberry, the small town of Eastwick is large enough for a festival, a set of recluses, and an extensive newspaper morgue, just what I’d expect of a modern incarnation of Salem. I suspect that Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane is somewhere in the suburbs of this deliberately, relentlessly quaint redoubt of WASP America, where “feminism” is rendered as mystical insight and the object of the heroines’ attention is still, always and forever, male. Apparently witchcraft is not as “empowering” as it’s knocked up to be, unless one needs to murder an almost-rapist in full public view. Who needs trial by jury when you can execute your own justice?

A strong follow-up episode to a flaccid pilot, this second episode nevertheless saw an audience drop of 22 percent from last week. It’s not unusual for a series to debut with a stronger pilot than its follow-up, and 6.6 million viewers is still respectable. It was enough to keep ABC from slipping to third place. If it slips this much next week, though, not even a deal with the devil will keep this tasty cheese on the air.