From vampires to witches… another supernatural series is headed your way from AMC: Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches.
Adapting Rice’s Lives of the Mayfair Witches book trilogy, the series follows Alexandra Daddario as Rowan, an intuitive young neurosurgeon who discovers that she is the unlikely heir to a family of witches. As she grapples with her newfound powers, she must also contend with a sinister presence that has haunted her family for generations.
AMC kicked off its “Anne Rice Universe” with Interview with the Vampire in 2022. The widely well-received vampire drama proved a hit for the network. Clearly, AMC hoped to continue that success with Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches. So, did this new show capture the same magic?
I wish I could say yes. But based on the first five episodes available for review, I’m not totally convinced.
Mayfair Witches: A Premise With Potential
Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches begins with our lead, Rowan, going about her day-to-day life as a neurosurgeon in San Francisco. But unfortunately, life as Rowan knows it is about to completely fall apart. As her adoptive mother’s cancer progresses, Rowan finds herself emotionally on edge. When her repressed supernatural abilities suddenly manifest in a horrifying way (she accidentally kills – twice), she begins a search for answers that will lead her to her biological family – a long line of witches.
As Rowan’s journey takes her to New Orleans, the series gets an instant aesthetic boost. The Mayfair House looks appropriately foreboding and intriguing; the Mayfair key necklace, which plays a pivotal role in the series, is an enviably witchy heirloom.
Our Mayfair family too proves aptly cast: Annabeth Gish looking perfectly believable and sympathetic as Rowan’s biological mother Diedre; Beth Grant, delightfully villainous as religious zealot Aunt Carlotta; and Harry Hamlin, oozing untrustworthy charm like a politician as Uncle Cortland. We’ve also got Tongayi Chirisa as Ciprien, a man on a mission boosted by his own psychic powers and employed by a secret mystical protection agency.
All that is to say, there’s enough individual elements to make Mayfair Witches take off… Which is why it’s so disappointing that it never quite seems to make the most of its magic potential.
Sadly, this one seems to keep missing the mark
One of the issues with Mayfair Witches is its odd pacing. There will be long stretches where it seems like not much is happening. Or where the same thing is happening over and over again to belabor a plot or character point. Then other times, scenes feel like they’ve been spliced together with an important middle piece missing.
This becomes doubly jarring and confusing since its magical premise makes Mayfair Witches one of those shows where what’s presented as reality can actually turn out to be some sort of dream, vision, or fantasy. I don’t mind being misled as a viewer into thinking something is real when it isn’t. (In fact, when the mislead is done well, I love it.) But more than once watching Mayfair Witches I thought something was a dream or a fantasy, when it was actually just the show being cobbled together oddly. Not only does this make the series more difficult to follow, it lessens the dramatic impact of the moments when the series does set up a moment of unreality.
But the biggest challenge facing Mayfair viewers seems to be the same one plaguing the Mayfair family for generations: the Lasher problem.
Even though this is Rowan’s story, much of the series hinges on Lasher, a shapeshifting being tied to the Mayfair matriarch for generations. Now, I haven’t read the Mayfair Witches books, but based on just what I’ve seen in this series, Lasher feels like the most “Anne Rice” of the characters. It’s clear he’s meant to be powerful, dark, and seductive – a force to manipulate and tempt Rowan.
But honestly, that’s not landing that well on screen. Is it a lack of chemistry between Daddario and Jack Huston? Is it the way Lasher’s actions always seem inscrutable, but in a way that’s confusing instead of compelling? Are we simply seeing too much of Lasher, removing an element of dark mystery that makes him appealing? Is it just me thinking, Oh, absolutely not when he hooks up with the mother and then sets his sights on her daughter?
I really can’t say for sure. But I do know Mayfair Witches wants to hang its pointed hat on the Rowan-Lasher dynamic. And as an audience member, that’s just not working for me.
Is there still hope for Mayfair Witches?
I’m trying to remain hopeful for Mayfair Witches, because I see it as a series with a lot of potential. The many Mayfair family members, each with their own personal agendas, sets up an intriguing familial conflict (and no doubt, plenty of backstabbing and subterfuge, of magical and non-magical varieties). What we know about Ciprien and his magical protection agency remains vague, but it gives the series a great angle to make its magic and mysticism more complex and varied; it feels like the show could introduce a new being of undetermined powers at any time to play friend or foe.
And my favorite dangling thread from the Mayfair pilot is the potential to see Rowan’s newfound witch abilities coalesce with her scientific background. (I mean, she was giving people aneurysms by accident. What could she do with her powers actually under her control?)
I love witch media. I want this show to work! But five episodes in, Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches is still struggling to make magic.
Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches premieres on AMC and AMC+ January 8.