Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches is the type of series adaptation that does both a very good job at bringing Rice’s story to life…and makes some very bizarre choices along the way that don’t fit. To be fair, this trilogy of novels by the late Rice was never going to be easy to adapt, especially for a modern audience that has had enough of genre shows leaning too heavily on sexual abuse as a method of storytelling. The second book in the series, in particular, is not one that ever needs to be a direct page-to-screen telling. Period.
Thankfully, the first five episodes made available to reviewers don’t go anywhere near the level of triggering content that Lasher is known for. Let’s hope we can still say that by the end of the first season, as well as any future seasons. What the series does dive right into, as far as it relates to the latter two-thirds of the trilogy, is the weirdness. The bizarre…the outright batshit, if you will.
…which is where Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches both fails and succeeds.
It has, admittedly, been a very long time since I last read The Witching Hour. However, what I remember more than anything was this idea of two people, who thought they were ordinary, being thrust together by their extraordinary circumstances. Rowan Mayfair and Michael Curry brought a real emotional, human story of outsiders trying to find their way in a “new normal.” (Of course, that new normal wasn’t normal at all.) Unfortunately, while Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches does a great job with Rowan, Michael doesn’t appear to exist.
Instead, Ciprien seems to have replaced Michael. This isn’t a problem until you realize the new character is mostly just fighting against his superiors’ orders. We lose the emotional pull of a man who has only recently developed powers and now has to battle back from the wreckage they’ve made of his life. No longer having that element is a great loss — especially to the general thematic pull of Rice’s storytelling. There’s also simply not enough time, with all the other action, to really build the relationship. Toss in the part where Ciprien’s assigned to Rowan for professional reasons, and that’s certainly a choice.
This new character isn’t even a bad one…if you don’t already know this universe. Thanks to what Tongayi Chirisa brings to the role, it’s simple to want to follow Ciprien’s journey, as he’s certainly a compelling character. But if you do remember the story, it’s plain difficult to watch these episodes without wondering, “where’s Michael,” only to realize he’s just not here. He’s someone else. Someone who isn’t struggling against a new gift, who doesn’t find the world difficult to interact with. A person who, instead, already has it all figured out and knows his purpose.
I hope the series has something in store for viewers in the way of a flashback to his earlier days. Because, if I pretend like this isn’t an adaptation of Rice’s work, I really do want to just spend hours and hours with this new character. But, at least so far, he’s missing the struggle against self that’s always made Rice’s work special.
But the Mayfair witches themselves are a huge win
Now that the “cons” of tuning in for Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches are, more or less, out of the way, let’s take a moment to emphasize an important point. Annabeth Gish delivers one hell of a performance as Deirdre Mayfair. Gonna repeat that: Annabeth Gish is the best part of this series. Hands down.
We expected Gish to be great, but her work here is on a level all its own. There is something utterly captivating about the faraway look Gish maintains as the powerful witch, locked away inside herself against her will. Then, she slowly comes back to herself to start the events at the center of the series. It’s fascinating to watch how well she pulls off the tiniest changes in Deirdre. And when she’s awake, just…watch out. She is, absolutely, a force to be reckoned with. That’s not exactly new information. And yet.
Beth Grant and Geraldine Singer are fantastic as the aunts. Basically, viewers should buckle up for Carlotta (Grant) to intrigue, terrify, and enrage them in equal measure. What she intends to do is good, but her methods are dastardly. And Singer’s character, Millie, will manage to break your heart. Even in the middle of the most chaotic and ambitious episode of the five we’ve watched so far. Also on the subject of other generations of Mayfairs: Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches does a great job of feeding the family’s ancient history into the narrative. Or, well. It does a great job everywhere but in one key area. While the series handles the family history pretty well overall, we’re missing the relatives that will lead us to Merrick. Could we not have, somehow, introduced viewers to Great Nananne’s branch of the family tree from the beginning?
That brings us to Alexandra Daddario’s performance as Rowan Mayfair. She’s the 13th witch, the one who pulls it all together. Daddario nails the desperation of losing normalcy, to suddenly being wrapped up in a Riceian drama like no other. She’s equally good with Rowan’s precarious position as a young female doctor in a man’s world, knowing she’s doing the right thing for her patients yet also realizing she can’t outright tell her “superiors” they’re wrong. With that being said, whether or not Rowan is actually “made of sterner stuff than her mother,” as Carlotta remarks at one point, is still up for debate. We’ll probably get there…especially if the end of that fifth episode is any indication.
The verdict: Even with some choices we can’t quite understand, we’re sticking around for more of Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches. And we hope you do, too.
Per AMC PR, the series “will debut across all five of its linear networks with BBC AMERICA, IFC, SundanceTV and WEtv joining AMC and AMC+ for a world premiere event on Sunday, January 8 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.“