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Television review

‘Eastwick’ elements have their potential

Rebecca Romijn plays a sexy, widowed artist in “Eastwick’’ and Paul Gross the mysterious man who ruffles the little town. Rebecca Romijn plays a sexy, widowed artist in “Eastwick’’ and Paul Gross the mysterious man who ruffles the little town. (Michael Desmond/Abc)
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / September 23, 2009

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Is it an accident that “Eastwick,’’ ABC’s new drama, starts off looking and sounding like a supernatural version of “Desperate Housewives’’? We get scenes of domestic bliss, a picturesque town green, and a wry voice-over suggesting that danger lurks beneath the surface.

It’s delivered by somebody living, at least: the head of the historical society in a small New England town with witchcraft in its Colonial past. For TV purposes, witchcraft is defined as real hocus-pocus as opposed to a set of murderous false accusations, but no matter; this isn’t a tale of potions and spells but a story of women and power, a look at issues we still haven’t resolved since John Updike’s “The Witches of Eastwick’’ was published 25 years ago. And as a prime-time study of the ways women get what they want - and figure out what it is they want - “Eastwick’’ has more potential than, say, a show with Geena Davis as a pious female president.

The power women here are a camera-ready mix of domesticity and underachievement. Rebecca Romijn is Roxy, a widowed, bohemian artist who’s considered a town floozy. Lindsay Price is Joanna, a buttoned-down reporter for the local paper who wears her hair in a too-demure bun and carries a torch for a photographer. Jaime Ray Newman plays Kat, a hard-working nurse with five kids, a do-nothing husband, and an uncanny knack for growing tomatoes.

They don’t know each other well, or suspect they have special powers, until they meet at a town fountain to make wishes with a set of mysterious coins. A wind picks up, some weird things happen, and suddenly, they’re gathering for dinners and drinks and sharing secrets like lifelong friends. More significantly, they seem to have conjured a mysterious man named Darryl Van Horne, who blows into town with gobs of money, 1980s hair, and formidable powers of suggestion.

In the 1987 movie version of Updike’s novel, Van Horne was played memorably by Jack Nicholson. Here, he arrives in the form of Paul Gross, a Canadian actor who lacks that iconic Nicholson sneer. Still, over the course of the premiere episode, Gross grew on me, as did the show itself. “Desperate Housewives’’ is frustrating because it can’t seem to decide what it is: murder mystery, silly farce, or realistic look at domestic woes. “Eastwick’’ is allegory and knows it, so it can be plausibly silly and over-the-top, and hint at real issues - women in the workplace, gender politics at home - without trying too hard. Or maybe it’s just that small New England towns are more naturally dark and intriguing than anywhere-America suburban streets. I’ll take witch hazel over wisteria any day.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com.

EASTWICK Starring: Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price, Jaime Ray Newman, Paul Gross

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tonight, 10-11

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