John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick has been a book, a film, a sequel and people have twice tried — and failed — to make it into a television series. Now ABC has done just that, but is it wise?
In a word: no. When Updike wrote the book, he wanted to break free of his generally misogynistic mold and created women who weren't whorish, stupid or baby killers.
Some argue, yes, that the portrayal of women as witches only reinforces negative stereotypes, but Updike disagreed. "Let us respectfully construe the word 'witch' as 'free woman," he explained, while also assuring critics that the book was "one attempt to make things right with my, what shall we call them, feminist detractors." Political or no, the book was pure Updike: a dirty, satirical examination of American ways.
While most of the original's sumptuous descriptions couldn't be directly translated to film, at least the 1987 adaptation provided an excuse to bring three lovely actresses — Cher, Michelle Pfeifer and Susan Sarandon — onto one screen. Plus, it's pretty damn good and was wildly popular, which explains why Hollywood types continue to salivate over the story of three magical women and the man they love, Darryl von Horne. Separate pilots were shot in 1992 and 2002. Neither made the cut, obviously. So why would ABC have a go?
It's unlikely they wantto make a feminist statement, nor do the show's previews have much hint of satire — or even brains. And certainly a network show can't be as sexy as the book or the movie, although the writers will definitely try.
No, the network appears to be trying to capitalize on pop culture's supernatural obsession while also attempting a revival of its Desperate Housewives brand of quirky soap. None of that should be surprising considering the remake mania that has swept the nation as of late, not to mention the recent spate of spooky soaps.
But will viewers buy it? Who knows. The reviews haven't been great. Washington Post critic Tom Shales already says he wants it to "disappear," while the Boston Herald says the show has "all the markings of being an early casualty of the season." That's not very promising. This writer loves the show's more recognizable stars, Lindsay Price and Rebecca Romijn, and I hope it doesn't get axed right away, but even on paper this sounds like an unnecessary, doomed mission, so I'm not holding my breath.
It's hard to know what Updike would say about this whole mess, because he's dead, although this quote may provide a hint: "Americans have been conditioned to respect newness, whatever it costs them." That's obviously no longer true.