Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches premieres Jan. 8 on AMC and AMC+.
AMC acquired the rights to most of Anne Rice’s library in 2020, setting its sights on building a new television universe around the bestselling author’s works starting with her debut novel Interview with the Vampire. That show was one of the best debuts of 2022, but the network’s grander ambitions are off to a lackluster start with Mayfair Witches, which fails to cast a spell in its first episode.
Part of the problem is the difference of source material. Interview with the Vampire has a built-in audience surrogate, making it easier for viewers to fall into the story even if they haven’t read the book or watched the film adaptation. The Witching Hour, the first book in Rice’s Lives of the Mayfair Witches series, follows several protagonists through a complicated generational tale filled with languid descriptions of New Orleans and San Francisco and deep musings on the nature of power. The Mayfair Witches pilot was always going to have some heavy expository lifting to do, but it also fails to make its characters or setting stand out.
This pilot, “The Witching Hour,” primarily introduces Rowan Fielding (Alexandra Daddario), a neurosurgeon who trusts her intuition as much as her training. When her adoptive mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Rowan tries to get her into a medical trial, a mission blocked by a series of awful men whose terribleness helps Rowan discover a dangerous side to her gifts.
If we’re meant to feel any sympathy for Rowan’s mother, it’s erased by the fact that she spends the entire episode gaslighting Rowan about her powers and what she knows about her birth family. The show takes some significant liberties with the source material, omitting and combining characters and starting Rowan’s plot earlier.
While the show’s writers may have felt the additions were necessary to convey information the book delivers through internal monologue, the changes do a disservice to Rowan’s character by divorcing the connection between her pursuit of medicine and the guilt she feels for how she’s used her mysterious power. The show also strips away her pursuit of romantic partners who share her experience with making life or death decisions, instead giving her a handsome bartender friend with benefits who wants to be something more. She comes away feeling like a generic mashup of a medical show protagonist and Jessica Jones.
The rest of the premiere uses flashbacks to build on its haunting opening, showing how Dierdre Mayfair (Annabeth Gish) winds up imprisoned in her own home and body. But again the journey mostly feels like a mashup of well trod thriller tropes — terrified confessions to a priest, a party straight out of Eyes Wide Shut, and a conception that borrows from Rosemary’s Baby. The mysterious, decaying Mayfair house in New Orleans is enticing, but the setting overall lacks the richness that Interview with the Vampire immediately captured.
Daddario did great work on The White Lotus as a newlywed trying to grab back some agency as she feels her life escaping her own control, but she so far stumbles even as she moves through similar plot beats. The episode has some highlights, like when a creepy tech bro offers Rowan a spot for her mom in her trial so long as Rowan personally chooses who she’ll replace. But for a series that’s meant to be all about grappling with dark desires, the show’s writers seem to go out of their way to make Rowan seem more innocent than Rice did.
There are some promising storylines introduced in the pilot, including a secret society intimately connected to Rowan and the Mayfairs, the schemes of Deirdre’s hedonist uncle, and most notably Lasher, the mysterious shapeshifter bound to Deirdre. This feels like a show that would have benefited from a multi-part premiere to see if any of the better threads weave together tightly. But with the new series off to a lackluster start, Rice fans might be better off just waiting for the next season of Interview with the Vampire.