'American Horror Story: Coven' casts its spell on FX
Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates join Jessica Lange in witch-centric new season.
* THE TOMORROW PEOPLE. 9 tonight, CW57.
* AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN. 10 TONIGHT, FX.
* ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND. 8 p.m. tomorrow, 6ABC.
THE ADOLESCENT struggle between fitting in and standing out tends to interest television most when the struggling adolescents are superrich or just plain super.
Producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk colored outside those lines in Fox's "Glee," but as their bloodier anthology series, "American Horror Story," returns to FX tonight for its witchy third season, "Coven," it's all about teens with powers (and their even more powerful elders).
On the CW, the return tonight of "Arrow" will be followed by the premiere of "The Tomorrow People," a remake of a 1970s British series that stars Robbie Amell - cousin of "Arrow" star Stephen Amell - as a high-school student whose sleepwalking turns out to be evidence of powers that will make him the target of a shadowy government agency trying to wipe out representatives of the race "homo superior."
Zoe Benson could relate.
Played by Taissa Farmiga, who, like many in the "American Horror Story: Coven" cast, had a different role in an earlier season, Zoe discovers that she's inherited a peculiar gift/curse at pretty much the worst possible moment and is shipped off to a New Orleans boarding school for her own protection. There, her fellow student witches are played by Emma Roberts, Jamie Brewer and Gabourey Sidibe.
The headmistress (Sarah Paulson) seems interested in protecting her gifted charges from witch trials and such, to the disdain of her mother (Jessica Lange), a supremely powerful witch who, like all of Lange's "AHS" characters, gets most of the best lines.
"Don't make me drop a house on you," she tells her daughter at one point.
Lange's star power isn't dimmed by the addition of Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates, who play historical figures from New Orleans - Bassett the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and Bates the sadistic socialite Delphine LaLaurie, whose treatment of slaves was a real-life horror.
The premiere, "Bitchcraft," isn't for the squeamish, but as someone who's moderately fainthearted, I found it at least as intriguing as the opening of last season's "Asylum," a season I had hopes for before realizing, no, this show still wasn't for me.
There are aspects of "Coven" that are stylish and clever, and others that are just "Carrie" on steroids. The cast, of course, is tremendous.
Brewer, an actress with Down syndrome, seems to be playing a less stereotypical character than she did in the show's first season, and, while that's a relief, I'm not sure there's anyone in "Coven" I'd actually root for, except, perhaps, at the Emmys.
As for "The Tomorrow People," I never saw the '70s original. But there's nothing in the pilot that feels particularly like today, much less like tomorrow.
A Disneyfied 'Alice'
The consequences of being different play a big part in ABC's "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," in which a nearly grown-up Alice (Sophie Lowe) finds herself confined to a 19th-century insane asylum for insisting that her tales of journeying down the rabbit hole hadn't just been a neglected child's bid for attention.
Like its Sunday-night sibling, the spin-off premiering tomorrow takes place in at least two worlds, in this case a fanciful Victorian past and an even more fanciful universe in which reimagined characters from Lewis Carroll's books mix freely with those that Disney happens to own rights to. A scene in the pilot also touches down in present-day England.
She's not quite a superhero, but Lowe's Alice has acquired impressive combat skills, executing "Nikita"-style moves in a corset and petticoat. Old enough to have fallen in love with a genie(!) named Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), she's also in possession of three wishes in the form of twinkly rubies, but can't, for technical magic reasons, use them to bring back Cyrus, who's missing and presumed dead.
The show's real power resides in Lowe herself, whose screen presence makes even the silliest bits of "Wonderland" work better than they probably deserve to.
John Lithgow lends his voice to a timorous CGI White Rabbit who sees the world through rose-colored glasses, and Michael Socha is the Knave of Hearts, sent to fetch Alice from the asylum. Emma Rigby plays the Red Queen, a scarlet vision in pageant hair, and Naveen Andrews ("Lost") is Jafar.
Yes, Jafar. The appearance of the "Aladdin" baddie suggests that this isn't, after all, a whole new world, but merely the latest outpost of Disney's empire.
On Twitter: @elgray