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‘Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches’ stirs up a tepid cauldron of gothic horror

<i>Alfonso Bresciani/AMC</i><br/>'Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches' stirs up a tepid cauldron of gothic horror. Alexandra Daddario and Harry Hamlin are pictured here in the AMC series.
Alfonso Bresciani/AMC
Alfonso Bresciani/AMC
'Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches' stirs up a tepid cauldron of gothic horror. Alexandra Daddario and Harry Hamlin are pictured here in the AMC series.

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

After a sterling start with “Interview With the Vampire,” AMC’s plan to build a cinematic universe around its gothic author casts less of a spell with “Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches.” Moody, erotic and reasonably well paced at first, the series yields diminishing returns over the episodes previewed as it slowly teases out another “you are the chosen one”-type plot.

The lucky or unlucky child of destiny in this case is Rowan (Alexandra Daddario of “The White Lotus” season one), a neurosurgeon working at a San Francisco hospital who suddenly discovers that she possesses strange, hard-to-control powers.

Losing the adopted mother who raised her, Rowan begins to poke into her past, which leads to New Orleans, glimpses of a comatose birth mom (Annabeth Gish) and eerie visions involving a dark figure (“Boardwalk Empire’s” Jack Huston) seem to invade her dreams.

Throw in centuries-old flashbacks, and “Mayfair Witches” certainly doesn’t lack for dense mythology or atmosphere, and a decidedly creepy “Rosemary’s Baby”-ish vibe, with a shadowy cabal courting ancient evil.

The net effect, though, feels increasingly derivative, which a pinch of “Witches of Eastwick” here, a dash of “Dark Shadows” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” there, with maybe a sprig of “X-Men” (that whole mastering your powers thing) as a garnish.

Daddario is appropriately confused by the strange world into which she’s stumbled, and the birthright she appears to have inherited. The shift to New Orleans also brings an assortment of flamboyant Mardi Gras-worthy performances, including Harry Hamlin as the patriarch of the wealthy and mysterious Mayfair clan.

Knowing that “The Walking Dead” was lurching toward its finish (despite the sundry spinoffs yet to come), AMC sought another genre-friendly replacement by making a sweeping deal with Rice’s estate. Adapted by producers Michelle Ashford and Esta Spaulding (“Masters of Sex” alums), the show strives for the mix of the macabre and the erotic “Interview With the Vampire” conjured without delivering the same level of narrative momentum or watchability.

AMC is clearly playing a long and more intricate game, and “Mayfair Witches” has enough going for it that it’s not worth writing the concept off just yet; still, the underwhelming introduction offers a reminder that best-laid plans for a movie or TV “universe” are usually only as good as the individual components that populate it.

Barring a yet-untapped reservoir of magic, this tepid cauldron of gothic horror looks like the product of plenty of toil that, as viewing commitments go, might not be worth the trouble.

“Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches” premieres January 8 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC and its linear sister networks (BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV and WEtv) as well as AMC+.

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