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'Motherland' imagines a military force of witches

Posted 3/18/20

By Kevin McDonough

Talk about militant feminists! An alternate history with an intriguing twist, "Motherland: Fort Salem" (9 p.m., Freeform, TV-14) asks viewers to contemplate a 300-year-old compact with the witches of Salem, a deal that ensures …

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'Motherland' imagines a military force of witches

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

Talk about militant feminists! An alternate history with an intriguing twist, "Motherland: Fort Salem" (9 p.m., Freeform, TV-14) asks viewers to contemplate a 300-year-old compact with the witches of Salem, a deal that ensures domestic tranquility for covens in exchange for providing an army of witches to fight America's wars.

"Motherland" begins as three young women have been drafted into the bewitched military to fight a terror group called "The Spree." This dangerous group uses mind control to force its victims to commit suicide in dramatic fashion.

Most of the pilot takes place at basic training at Fort Salem, where the newbies are trained to maximize their special powers. It's a strange setting that combines the cliches of "boot camp" stories with the highly charged sapphic atmosphere of boarding school melodramas. It's "The Children's Hour" meets "Private Benjamin" by way of "Starship Troopers," where the co-ed army has dispensed with dudes altogether.

Raelle (Taylor Hickson) hails from a Chippewa outpost and is the rebel of the group. She quickly irks Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams), descended from generations of witch commanders. An apparent innocent, Tally (Jessica Sutton) comes from a matriarchal compound in Northern California where she's never been exposed to boys.

There's a lot of "history" to explain and characters to explore in the first hour. Perhaps that's why it seems to drag in places. Clearly feminist in its messaging, "Motherland" is fraught with questionable imagery. The sight of Spree victims throwing themselves out of office windows may be hard to take. The show's combination of gung-ho militarism, hyperpatriotism and the occult can also seem like something out of the Third Reich. Well beyond the realm of you-go-girlism, "Motherland" presents an Amazonian master race.

• Now streaming its first three episodes on Hulu, "Little Fires Everywhere" adapts the 2017 bestseller by Celeste Ng, a tale of race, class and mother-daughter dynamics.

Reese Witherspoon ("The Morning Show," "Big Little Lies") is all but typecast as Elena, the "perfect" Shaker Heights, Ohio, mom who rents an inherited property to a single mother and artist, Mia (Kerry Washington), and her teenage daughter, Pearl (Lexi Underwood).

Elena's patronizing ways have become a bit of a joke in her family. But not to her youngest daughter, Izzy (Megan Stott), who rebels with tragic hairdos and a surly attitude.

The adaptation's late 1990s vibe is underscored by the casting of Joshua Jackson ("Dawson's Creek") as Elena's patient husband.

• If your whole network is designed to blend travelogue and horror, you might as well hire a horror movie star. Freddy Krueger, or the man who played him, at least, returns in "True Terror With Robert Englund" (10 p.m., Travel Channel, TV-PG), offering haunting nonfiction tales.

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• An officer's explanation doesn't add up on "Chicago Med" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• A suburban fire hits home on "Chicago Fire" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• A reformed gang member may unlock evidence on "Chicago P.D." (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• Dex looks into an Afghan cover-up on "Stumptown" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

• The fourth and final season of "Brockmire" (10 p.m., IFC, TV-MA) fast-forwards to 2030, when baseball provides one of the new notions of sanity in a world turned upside down.

SERIES NOTES

Virtual reality on "The Goldbergs" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Drama in the choir on "Schooled" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Engineers come under attack on "SEAL Team" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Claire gets stuck in neutral on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Katie plays matchmaker on "American Housewife" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * A teen offers a link to old terrorists on "S.W.A.T." (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, most late-night talk shows have stopped taping. Repeats will be listed when schedules are available. Fred Armisen appears on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS, r).

© 2020, United Feature Syndicate