I get it – you’re currently feeling pretty overwhelmed by the sheer volume of fall television. I’ve been there, trust me. I know how difficult it can be the figure out what to sample, how long of a leash to give new shows, and how to balance your love of TV with silly things like family, hygiene, and romantic relationships. So the thought of reaching into the vast library of television available at our fingertips and recommending people devote their already precious TV time to something that’s ended hurts me just as much as it does you. Alas, though, it has to be done.
KSiteTV has a deep and true love of television and knows that not everyone can keep up with the number of shows on air. As such, we’ve began Binge This Show, a weekly feature dedicating to highlighting shows that are currently slipping under the radar, shows that you might’ve missed the first time around, or shows that you should revisit for one reason or another. Not only will we give you who’s in each show, who created them, and the number of episodes you’ll have to power through, we tell you what shows they’re similar to, how you can binge, and most importantly, why you should dedicate X number of hours to bingeing.
Before you check out this latest pick from yours truly, check out the Binge This Show archive to see why myself and KSiteTV Editor-in-Chief Craig Byrne think you should catch up on Channel Zero, Fuller House, the first season of Heroes, and Playing House.
Salem (WGN America)
Cast: Janet Montgomery (Human Target); Shane West (Nikita); Ashley Madekwe (Revenge); Seth Gabel (Arrow); Tamzin Merchant (The Tudors); Elise Eberle (Lemonade Mouth); and Iddo Goldberg (Secret Diary of a Call Girl)
Creator(s): Brannon Braga (Star Trek: Voyager) and Adam Simon (The Haunting in Connecticut)
Number of Episodes: 36, divided into three seasons
Similar Shows: The closest current analog to Salem is probably American Horror Story, which utilizes similarly visceral imagery and appreciation for camp in its storytelling. Fans of witchy shows like Witches of East End and The Secret Circle will find something to like here, while Salem shares a similar construction as shows like Sleepy Hollow and Grimm, the “spooky town filled with unexplained goings-on” thing that Haven had, and the fondness for batshit craziness that drove Hemlock Grove.
Why You Should Binge: Now that the calendar has turned over to October, it’s time for Binge This Show to recommend, at least for one week, something prime for the Halloween season.
That something is Salem, the flagship WGN America drama that ended its run earlier this year after three seasons. Creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, and all together ooky, Salem plays like historical fan fiction on acid, imagining a universe where the Salem Witch Trails were influenced not by the mass hysteria of small town Massachusetts nor the rampant misogyny of those in power, but by the witches themselves, hell-bent on turning the Puritan paranoia against the other townfolk and using it to further their plan of forming a witchy utopia. As one might expect with a premise like that, Salem bobs and weaves between substantive underpinnings, focusing on empowerment, patriarchy, femininity, and radicalization, and high camp gloriousness that is damn near operatic. It’s at times thoughtful, at others silly; at times smarter than it should be, at others blunt and carried away with its own weirdness.
It’s this kind of complication that the show’s lead performance from Janet Montgomery manages to play into while simultaneously grounding. Montgomery never lets Mary Sibley forget her humanity, foregrounding the pain from being abandoned by the love of her life and the thirst for vengeance against a Puritanical society whose weight she must carry every day, while giving into Salem‘s indulgent melodrama and occasionally dusting her performance with the type of elevated soapiness that only adds to her immense screen presence. Watching Mary fall down the magical rabbit hole only to try and claw her way into a world of redemption is a compelling throughline that keeps Salem a sturdy watch for its three seasons. Which is impressive given how turbo-charged the show’s narrative is and how the cacophony of body horror and B-Movie monsters could easily have collapsed in on itself.
Concerned with themes of forgiveness, love, motherhood, and regret, the last of which physically manifests in a later season to fabulous effect that you have to see to fully appreciate, Salem is a compulsively watchable show that’s perfect for a binge. It looks fairly high budget for what was a small show on a smaller network; it features interesting narrative construction, including two characters heading in opposite directions who intersect toward the middle of their journey, and a beast of a recurring player in Lucy Lawless’s purring grand dame Countess Marburg; and it has a well-sketched conclusion punctuated by a series finale that might be the ballsiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a show that consistently surprises you with where it goes narratively and always backs up its craziness with dynamic visuals and a sense of giddiness that makes all the carnage and mischief weirdly delightful.
Above all else, Salem is a fun blast of energy that features a handful of strong women attempting to climb and ultimately conquer a society that deemed them inferior, weaponizing their femininity and embracing both the power that runs within them and the power that society denied them. At a time when women’s issues have come under attack and the first chill has found its into the night air, Salem is a relevant, seasonally appropriate show that you should afford a quick binge watch.
How You Can Binge: All three seasons of Salem are available through Netflix and Hulu, while the series can be purchased through iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Vudu. Only the first two seasons are currently on DVD, however.