Many readers know the late Anne Rice for her Vampire Chronicles, which began in Interview With the Vampire (1976); they inspired two theatrical films and an AMC TV show that made our list of our favorite adaptations of 2022. However, Rice also crafted multiple other series featuring supernatural creatures, including mummies (The Mummy or Ramses the Damned and its two sequels), angels (Angel Time and Of Love and Evil), and werewolves (The Wolf Gift and The Wolves of Midwinter). Another popular book trilogy focuses on witches, and it provides the inspiration for a new TV series: Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches, premiering on AMC and AMC+ on Jan. 8.
The trilogy’s first installment, The Witching Hour (1990), is a sprawling work that centers on the wealthy Mayfair family of New Orleans. Rice spends a great deal of time detailing the rich backstory of the clan, which has generated no less than 12 witches over multiple centuries; all have a connection to the malevolent spirit known as Lasher, who has a diabolical plan. The 13th witch, Rowan Mayfair, is a tough-minded San Francisco surgeon who was sent away from the rest of the Mayfair family as an infant and has only recently begun to grasp her power, which includes the ability to cause fatal brain hemorrhages, and the significance of her lineage.
Such is the leisurely pace of the novel, however, that Rowan doesn’t become a significant part of the story until about 100 pages in. By then, readers have been introduced to many other characters, including the haunting Lasher; Rowan’s troubled biological mother, Deirdre, who’s been drugged into catatonia by family members; Aaron Lightner, an agent of the Talamasca, an agency that keeps tabs on supernatural beings (it also appeared in Rice’s 1988 vampire novel The Queen of the Damned); and Michael Curry, a home restorer who, after Rowan saves him from drowning, struggles to come to terms with his own new paranormal ability: He can see the recent history of objects, just by touching them.
The new show, created by Esta Spalding (On Becoming a God in Central Florida) and Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex), streamlines Rice’s tale considerably, but not always to its benefit. Part of the appeal of Rice’s work is how she immerses readers in her fictional worlds. An early chapter of The Witching Hour, for instance, doesn’t merely introduce Michael Curry—it tells the entire story of his life up to the present day. It reveals how he found his way to his building-contractor vocation, his feelings about his New Orleans roots and his current life in California, and his difficult romances with various women; it also delves into his angst over his new superpowers, which has transformed him into a hard-drinking hermit. There’s enough in this single chapter to provide fodder for an entire novel of its own, and by its end, readers know Michael very well indeed.
The TV show, by contrast, eliminates Michael entirely—even though, in the book, he eventually becomes Rowan’s husband. Instead, it merges him with Talamasca operative Aaron Lightner to create a brand-new character: Ciprien Grieve (played by Tongayi Chirisa), who has Michael’s powers but none of the character development; he’s just a determined, generically anxious secret agent of a type that viewers have seen many times before.
The show never matches the depth and darkness of Rice’s work, and by the hallucinatory fifth episode—of the five provided to critics for review—it has added several elements that don’t appear in the books. The character of Deirdre, for instance, gets rather more to do, with Halt and Catch Fire’s Annabeth Gish offering a startlingly emotional performance. But these don’t add very much to the narrative, and one can’t help but compare this show to the recent Interview With the Vampire series, which refreshingly revamped the original story by foregrounding its gay subtext and addressing issues of race. Mayfair Witches is far less ambitious, and fans of Rice’s work may yearn for the source material’s complexity.
The performances, for the most part, do little to make up for these drawbacks. The White Lotus’ Alexandra Daddario, as Rowan, displays little of the strength and determination of her counterpart in the novel; instead, her portrayal is anxious and brittle, which makes for a far less compelling character. Similarly, Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston, as Lasher, has none of the charisma that Rice gives the character on the page. To put it simply, this adaptation lacks magic; hopefully, the final three episodes of the season have better tricks in store.
David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.