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AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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FRESHFARM workers ratify union agreement
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 15, 2024

What We’re Watching: “Salem”

Hatchet reporter Eric Robinson shares his thoughts after attending a preview for the pilot episode of  WGN America’s new series “Salem.”

Shane West as “John Alden,” Seth Gabel as “Cotton Mather,” and Janet Montgomery as “Mary Sibley” in "Salem." Photo courtesy of WGN America.
Shane West as “John Alden,” Seth Gabel as “Cotton Mather,” and Janet Montgomery as “Mary Sibley” in “Salem.” Photo courtesy of WGN America.

Airtime: Sunday April 20, 9 p.m., WGN America
Names you’ll know: Janet Montgomery (The Human Target), Shane West (Nikita, ER)
Watch if you liked: “American Horror Story”
2 out of 5 stars

Move over zombies and vampires: Witches are taking back television.

With the popularity of “American Horror Story: Coven,” which focused on a group of witches in New Orleans, it was almost inevitable that a show centering on the Salem witch trials would eventually hit sall screens.

Enter “Salem,” the new series on WGN America that mergers horror with history, though somewhat unsuccessfully.

Salem seems to have adopted some of the same storytelling tactics of “American Horror Story,” mainly the rapid storytelling peppered with insanely brutal events and little context or explanation. This is the pilot in a nutshell: undiluted violence mixed in with maniacal craziness.

But this new take on a witch-centered plotline also happens to be extremely boring.

“Salem” follows the exploits of war hero John Alden (West) and powerful witch Mary Sibley (Montgomery), two former lovers who are reunited in the town and attempt to deal with the various witch trials motivated by its puritanical population. Mary also plans to destroy the entire town through satanic means.

The show pushes a lot of content in the first episode, but gives no reason for viewers to become invested in the characters. Sloppy direction, bad writing, and even worse acting make this a slow plodding mess that is hilariously insane, but also boringly predictable.

None of this is more evident than the scene where John attempts to stop the execution of a man about to be crushed by rocks. The terrible camera work fails to create tension, the unconvincing performance by Shane West makes for some unintentionally hilarity, while the writing, which has John screaming, “You puritanical hypocrites!” at a large crowd, is both completely unsubtle and much to anachronistic for a historical drama.

With a premise like this and a seemingly high production value, the potential for exploring the social issues surrounding the Salem witch trials is immeasurable, with lots of juicy religious and gender topics that can be explored.

All of this potential is completely dashed away. The opening hints at these issues when a man and woman are beaten and branded for having sex. The very next scene then proceeds to toss these issues out the window in favor of a cliched and cheesy interaction that sets up the central romance between John and Mary.

“Salem” may be crazy, but it proceeds without any risks.

 

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