Friendly witches, wicked witches, witches scarred by the violence of a patriarchal society, modern witches… The list of series that have explored the complex mythology surrounding these women cloaked in a magical aura, bound to the earth by tellurian forces is long and varied indeed. They range in genre form comedy to terror and we thought we’d take a look at a few of these here seeing as we’re about to enter Midsummer’s week, closely tied to the celebration of the solstice.
On 17th September 1964, ABC launched the series introducing us to a character who was to become TV’s quintessential witch for almost the entire decade following. For eight straight seasons, Elizabeth Montgomery starred in this sit-com, where she played a happy, perky witch, very much in tune with the times, who had the power to play pranks every time she wiggled her nose, and wiggle it she did at every chance. Married to a mortal, her adaptation to ordinary domestic life was the backdrop for nice clean family fun and humorous situations, where love always triumphed in the end.
The Adams Family
And it was ABC again who the very next day following the debut of “Bewitched”, also began broadcasting the first episode of “The Addams Family”, an adaptation of the Charles Addams comic strip which had been published in the “New Yorker” since 1938. This macabre perversion of the ideal American family came complete with an endearing grandmother character – played by Blossom Rock – who spent the afternoons concocting potions and sharpening throwing axes in the family dining room. The show soon became a pop icon and Morticia and family have appeared in multiple subsequent adaptations, theatrical productions, animated series, movies, video games, and even a pinball machine.
And ABC chose a supernatural after-lunch serial, nothing more and nothing less for the lunchtime slot from 1966 to 1971, on the heels of their success with their previous series revolving around witchcraft. In this case, a town in Maine was the setting for the tribulations of the well-to-do Collins family. In an environment with gothic overtones, witches live side-by-side with zombies, werewolves, ghosts, and the entire catalog of monstrous creatures. The show ran for 1,225 episodes and achieved cult status with radio episodes appearing since 2006 featuring some of the original actors.
Three sisters with fabulous powers are the three most powerful witches in the world. But there isn’t an ounce of evil between them, au contraire; these ladies are as benevolent as they come, as they protect humankind from demonic dangers. WB aired the show from 1998 to 2006 and it had a cult-following, above all thanks to the chemistry between the three protagonists: Alyssa Milano, Holly Marie Combs and Shannen Doherty, with the incorporation of Rose McGowan from season four onwards. The girls try to lead ordinary lives when they aren’t fighting evil, but the overlap and interference between their dual identities makes for a tough time in their sentimental relationships.
The Salem Witch Trials took place in Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693 resulting in around twenty people sentenced to death accused of witchcraft, most of whom were women. This traumatic episode is part of American popular culture as reflected in series as diverse as “The Simpsons”, “Agents of Satan”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and even “Bones”. There have been many miniseries that have delved into the case, including “Three Sovereigns for Sarah” starring Vanessa Redgrave (PBS, 1985) and “Salem Witch Trials” (CBS, 2002), a miniseries with Kirstie Alley featuring appearances by Shirley MacLaine and Peter Ustinov . The most recent of these, “Salem” has been the most successful of all. Created by Adam Simon and Brannon Braga, this new version introduced an interesting plot twist: they really were witches and they were overseeing the from the shadows.
American Horror Story: Coven
Loosely based around the Salem Witches, Ryan Murphy envisioned the third season of “American Horror Story” as a terrifying fantasy that followed the fate of the descendants of those who managed to escape the inquisition and were now boarders at a private school in New Orleans, Louisiana. One of them and in the worst imaginable fashion, discovers that everyone she has sex with dies. The show relied heavily of flashbacks to revisit the original trials. And, much in line with Murphy’s trademark tone, the series denounces the repression throughout history suffered by those whose sexual habits were considered unconventional.
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
The teenage witch is a versatile character and ideal for showcasing the awakening of becoming aware of one’s powers as a woman. One of the most popular versions using this approach was the series “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” which garnered 17 million viewers on its debut for ABC in 1996. Melisa Joan Hart played the character based on the comic strip who discovers her superpowers at the age of sixteen. The series ended in 2003, but Netflix wanted to rework the character in 2018 and released “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, with a much darker approach than the original and starring Kiernan Shipka, known for having played Sally Draper, Don Draper’s daughter, in “Mad Men”.
A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness’s “All souls” trilogy formed the basis for this British series from Sky (2018) starring Teresa Palmer, Matthew Goode, and Edward Bluemel. The protagonist is a historian and, much to her regret, a witch, who discovers an enchanted manuscript while leafing through old documents in an Oxford library. The discovery forces her to own her identity and explore the world of magic, with the help of a vampire, challenging the common notion that vampires are enemies of witches. The success of the first season led to the platform automatically renewing the show for a second and third seasons, pending release.