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'Salem' premiere recap: 99 problems, but a witch ain't one

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “The Vow” | Aired Apr 20, 2014

I’ll give you three reasons to watch WGN America’s new scripted drama about the Salem witch trials: 1) Shane West, 2) great wigs, and 3) I guarantee you will see things on this show that you will never find anywhere else on television. (One scene in particular involving a frog comes to mind.) If you ever wanted a show that combines the cable-ready freak factor of American Horror Story with the puffy-sleeved power struggles of Game of Thrones, you’re in luck. While Salem’s first episode was nowhere near perfect, it’s worth watching for the shock value alone.

Salem opens in 1685, when a young John Alden (Shane West) witnesses his community buckle under the pressures of Puritan ideology. John and his lady friend Mary (Janet Montgomery, Made in Jersey) share smoldering glances as the mutton-chopped George Sibley (Michael Mulheren) brands a man with an “F” (for “fornicator”) on his forehead. John leaves Mary with just half of a coin (and unbeknownst to him, an unborn child) and goes off to war, promising he’ll be home within a year. Nine months later, John is still MIA and Mary is having oil rubbed on her — rather suggestively, I might add — by her mystically inclined gal pal Tituba, as they perform a ritual in the middle of the woods to rid her of the baby she’s been keeping secret. (As you may recall from history class, the Puritans weren’t too keen on having children outside of wedlock.) Things take a turn for the weird(er) when insects start crawling all over Mary’s body in a scene of dark forest-y creepiness that leaves Mary screaming and no longer pregnant.

Cut to seven years later. John returns to Salem more bedraggled than before and significantly less happy. John is now looking more like Nikita-era Shane West (read: scruffy and angry) than the Walk to Remember-esque Shane West we saw at the beginning, when he and Mary were all lovey-dovey. John spends the rest of the episode doing his best impression of Grumpy Cat, and who can blame him? He comes home from war to find his former lover married to the biggest jerk in town: George Sibley. To be fair, John, if you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it.

Isaac, Mary’s manservant and, as it turns out, the “F is for fornicator” guy from earlier, tells Mary that John Alden is back in town (and also not dead). Mary is understandably surprised … so much so that she pricks her own finger with her needle and starts to bleed. (Symbolism!) I mean, back in the 17th century, if somebody left town and didn’t call or write or update their Instagram for seven years, you pretty much assumed they had been eaten by a bear or died of dysentery or something. John shouldn’t be surprised that Mary moved on instead of just sitting around with her needlepoint waiting for him. Still, things are a little awkward between the two ex-lovers, especially with the added complication of Mary now being a powerful witch. (Not to mention her new and exciting thigh nipples.)

Since John left, a new pious Puritan has taken over the town: Salem: season 1, episode 1 Cotton Mather (WGN America)Reverend Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel, Fringe, Arrow). Cotton is a fun mix of run-of-the-mill crazy and straight-up psychotic. He espouses Puritan beliefs and vows to hunt down the witches for their devil-worshipping, all the while letting loose at the town brothel in what can’t be a Puritan-approved manner. One night Cotton wanders into a local pub, where the bartender asks him, “Rum? Gin? Ale?” to which Cotton simply responds, “Yes.” One of those days, eh, buddy? Cotton announces to anyone within earshot that he needs three strong men to help him subdue a girl. John accepts the offer with his usual level of enthusiasm, because really, what else does he have to do but binge on cookie dough ice cream and listen to Alanis Morissette while he waits for his broken heart to mend?

Cotton and John arrive at the girl’s house and find a dark, empty room, until — BAM! — suddenly she pops out of the darkness like a possessed Jack-in-the-box, and John instantly regrets his decision to not stay at the bar and continue drinking in solitude. Even more so when Cotton claims that the girl’s troubles are caused by witchcraft. John comes as close to rolling his eyes as possible and stalks out of the room, leaving Cotton with the possessed girl, pleading with him to help her. Later, when she’s alone, the girl is attacked by a creepy-looking demon spirit who starts to bite her or lick her or some other equally disturbing action. The moral of the story is: Don’t mess with witches.

The next day, Cotton leads a meeting with the town to reiterate his whole “witches are evil” message, which is frequently interrupted by the gurgling sounds of George Sibley (or, should I say, the frog that lives inside George Sibley) and by John’s scoffing. John delicately explains that anyone who believes in witches is a complete idiot and might as well believe in the Tooth Fairy and Bigfoot and fat-free cheesecake too. John is basically making friends left and right, a trend that he continues when he approaches Isaac in the pub and aims a gun at his genitals until Isaac explains why he’s staring. Isaac tells John that witches are totally real and he’ll prove it. Probably.

Meanwhile, Mary takes off her robe because this is cable and people can just be naked for no reason. And I guess because it’s easier to feed your pet frog from your leg nipple when you’re not wearing all those layers of petticoats? Whatever. Just go with it. Apparently I need to do some more research on the history of witchcraft, because I don’t remember hearing anything about this stuff.

Somehow the central characters all end up together at the most awkward dinner ever. John chews his food sullenly while Mary stares daggers at him, Cotton blabs about witches, and some random woman tries to set up her daughter with Cotton, even though the young girl is obviously into John. Really it’s all just a ploy for Mary to have a little fun with John, mainly by messing with his mind until he has to leave the table. Once they’re alone, the two are able to work out some of their issues. You know, like, “Hey, why did you marry that fat loser?” and, “Why didn’t you write to me for seven years so I’d know you weren’t dead in a ditch?” The answers to both questions are very complicated, but mostly it doesn’t matter because they start making out anyway, at least until Mary puts a stop to it. Salem: season 1, episode 1 Magistrate Hale (WGN America)Right before Magistrate Hale (rocking a killer Lucius Malfoy wig) comes outside to make sure that what just happened isn’t happening. John asks Mary to leave town with him, and for a second Mary seems to almost wistfully consider going. But who would feed her frog if she left for New York with John? It seems John and Mary aren’t meant to be together … at least not right now.

John is smart to want to get away from Salem, but of course he doesn’t get very far. While John is on his way out of town, Cotton is terrorizing everyone with his new pet girl, whom he has strapped into a muzzle so that she can crawl around on all fours and sniff out witches like a bomb-sniffing dog. She whips the town into a frenzy, stopping briefly to lock eyes with Mary before turning around and making a beeline for Mr. Corey, John’s trapper friend who had made the poor decision to threaten Mary. She wants to make sure Corey doesn’t tell John about the baby she and John conceived, so naturally she frames him as a witch. This lures John back to town — well, this and his witnessing the witches’ circle of animal-headed chanters performing a ritual in the woods … until John shot one of them. (I swear, you can’t take that guy anywhere.)

John returns to Salem with a new frenzied look in his eye to go with his permanent scowl. He tries to save Corey from the stones that are crushing him to death, but Corey dies right before he can tell John about Mary’s unborn child. Just like that, John goes from having .5 friends to having zero friends. Although it seems like he and Isaac might not actually hate each other as much as they hate everyone else, so that’s promising.

In other friendship news, Mary and Tituba seem very close, bordering on more-than-friends territory. Tituba caresses Mary’s chest area suggestively while she coos at Mary about their impending takeover of Salem. Frankly, it doesn’t seem fair to the hapless Cotton and his comically misguided witch hunt, or the now-immobilized George Sibley, who seemed so frightening at the beginning of the episode. The only worthy opponent for the witches might be John, whose newfound belief that witches are in fact real could lead him to actually try to get his town in order.

The town of Salem certainly has its share of problems: witchcraft, misogyny, animal cruelty, and most likely some serious STDs going around, based on the promiscuity of Cotton Mather alone. On the surface it appears to be an epic battle of good vs. evil, but what it really boils down to is a battle of hair: Shane West’s wig vs. Seth Gabel’s beard. Who will emerge victorious?

What did you think of the Salem premiere? Too weird? Just weird enough? On the Shane West spectrum of hotness, where does John Alden fall? Can anyone shed some light on the extraneous nipple situation? Please share any and all of your thoughts in the comments!

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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