AMC is creating an Anne Rice small-screen universe. At least, that’s what the channel seems to be attempting with Mayfair Witches, the second adaptation of a Rice series in as many years. Last fall, AMC brought viewers Interview with the Vampire, a decadent and deliciously melodramatic adaptation of the author’s most famous work. But if the TV powers-that-be plan to create what’s been dubbed the Immortal Universe, they’re off to a bumpy start. There are no vampires here yet — unless the series is haunted by an invisible energy vampire that slowly drains it of life. In its first five episodes, Mayfair Witches is so far a bit of a misfire, starting with an exciting premiere before quickly languishing.
Alexandra Daddario, whose newlywed character was one of the most compelling in the first season of The White Lotus, here plays neurosurgeon, Dr. Rowan Fielding. The show’s first episode sets up Rowan’s intriguing story well. We learn that she’s adopted, hardworking, and not into relationships, but we also learn that she has a startling superpower: Rowan, she’s shocked to discover, can see peoples’ potentially life-threatening medical conditions or maybe even cause them. She’s disturbed by the discovery, pushing her toward a journey to uncover her lineage.
Much of the show’s first five hours follow Rowan on this journey. Though some narrative elements of the series are extremely compelling, the show has an odd limpness that contradicts Rice’s vibrant imagination. As alluded to in the title, the series is actually about witches, namely a family of them whose powers seem darkly intertwined with a presence named Lasher (Jack Huston). Lasher’s connection to Mayfair women appears as if it’s meant to be both sexy and malevolent, but so far, it’s mostly just muddled. He shows up to whisper in their ears but is otherwise a vague antagonistic force, one that’s not interesting enough to hold together an entire show.
Unfortunately, Daddario’s character may not be either, at least not the way she’s being written. The series lays excellent groundwork for Rowan, revealing her to be principled and clever, but it soon starts throwing her into mysterious, logic-defying, sometimes-deadly situations that make her feel more like a pawn than a protagonist. More than once, she ends up in situations with chauvinistic men, and the show seems to have something on its mind with regard to male arrogance and hunger for power, but those themes have yet to come to fruition. There may be complex ideas around the fringes of the series here, and there’s some potentially great Gothic style too, but it’s all trapped under a strange blandness that permeates the show’s visuals, scripts, and even some performances.
To be clear, Mayfair Witches isn’t a total loss. Daddario does the best she can with the material, and the show features a promising supporting cast, including Annabeth Gish, Beth Grant, and Harry Hamlin. There’s also some cool lore within the world of Mayfair Witches, from flashbacks to ancestors from the 1600s who suffered through patriarchal paranoia to trippy, neverending illusions to a gaggle of Mayfairs with largely as-yet-unexplained powers. If given a chance, it’s perfectly possible that the show can course correct. However, its slow, energy-sapped start means it’s already unlikely to be mentioned in the same breath as its instantly fabulous vampiric counterpart.
Mostly, the show lacks any serious bite. Rice’s oft-controversial writing is nothing if not over-the-top in its drama, yet Mayfair Witches feels subdued. The book on which the show is based, Lives of the Mayfair Witches, is rife with violence and taboo-shattering content that most people wouldn’t want to see on screen even if Esta Spalding and Michelle Ashford’s series did try to adapt it. Still, the show also seems to stay away from anything even lightly edgy and effectively neuters itself in the process. Rice’s works are typically sexy, scary, or a complicated mix of both, and this show, at least so far, manages to be neither.
I couch these criticisms in qualifiers like “so far” because even five episodes in, Mayfair Witches still feels like it’s barely starting. That might be the most unfortunate part; the series starts with a promising pilot that will get viewers tentatively invested, then languishes in a weird limbo made entirely of disjointed, mysterious goings-on and seemingly endless exposition. It’s unfortunate that AMC’s Immortal Universe was likely in jeopardy before it even began, thanks to restructuring that’s led to layoffs and cancellations. It’s even more unfortunate that Mayfair Witches doesn’t leave a strong impression, either alone or in contrast with the channel’s far-superior Rice-inspired counterpart. Alas, there’s nothing particularly bewitching here.
Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches is currently airing on AMC. Watch the series trailer here.
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