Review: “Salem” Television Series

I’ve been putting off watching this series for a while because I’m always hesitant these days to watch anything set in the 17th-century. I set aside my preconceived ideas and had an open mind when I watched the first episode, but from the moment the first line was delivered, I was cringing – and it was not the writing (which I thought was good), it was how the dialogue was delivered by some of cast members.

This series has a very heavy emphasis on supernatural elements and drawing on witch lore. Topics include sexual congress with a/the Devil, a woman seeks an abortion in the woods via demons, a demon suckling from a witch’s mark or teat, etc. There was the de rigueur gore and violence that one now expects from a horror. At one point there was a scene with a load of writhing bodies in black tar/mud, I suppose in order to commune with the Devil.

Now, my readers know I have no problem with creating a historical fantasy/horror story. In fact, I’ve written historical horror before using figures that once lived and drawing from historical events, but this series just didn’t do it for me. I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief, but as my husband said (who saw this with me), some bits were “just corny”. There are elements of psychosexual horror which don’t really work in this – the opposite of one of my favourite television series, Penny Dreadful. The first episode took a real historical event – the pressing of Giles Corey – and incorporated this into the storyline.

My main problems with the show are as follows:

  • Actors adopting strong American accents (that reminded me of Old West films) when the majority of the inhabitants of Salem would have been English settlers with English accents. These accents would have been a mixture of English regional dialects, which are quite varied.
  • Several characters speak disparagingly of Puritans, when Puritan values and beliefs were very much the norm. Many Puritans fled from religious persecution in England, and they sought a New Jerusalem.
  • The actresses looked far too clean, have perfectly waxed eyebrows, and appear to be wearing makeup when Puritans were strongly against the use of makeup.
  • Gratuitous nudity and sex. I mean, I enjoy love scenes but did we really need to see the clergyman have hard sexual intercourse with that woman?

There is an attempt at a love story between Mary and John, but I simply didn’t find it convincing – and I’m a person who is always up for a romantic storyline. It’s nice to see Tamzin Merchant in a historical fiction role again, as she previously was Queen Catherine Howard in The Tudors. I liked her character much more than the main character of Mary.

The series wins points for visual and special effects. The costumes, while pretty, are not historically accurate for Puritans. They show too much flesh, Mary wears glitzy jewellery, etc. I know it’s fictional, and that’s great but sadly, as was the case with The Tudors, there are people who will watch these programmes and think that’s what happened and how people lived.

Honestly, I found this series a missed opportunity. Have you seen this series? If so, what are your thoughts?

My rating 2.5/5.

Hear ye! 2 thoughts — so far — on “Review: “Salem” Television Series”:

  1. Cindi

    I agree with your comments. But found myself intrigued enough to watch season 2. However as a pagan I still am disturbed in the portrayal. I suppose some witches may have or do worship Satan or do horrible things. But most of us do not. I’m afraid this series only adds to the fire that first brought us the witch trials. I hope none take it further than a fictional drama like Supernatural or True Blood.

  2. Heather Boylen

    It really annoyed me how the houses were decorated, particularly the pictures on the walls. They are such obvious prints, particularly the famous one of Venus. And the costumes were totally distracting, Cotton Mather has normal haircut. I like the show though for what it is.


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