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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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American Horror Story: Coven

FX, Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |


After a chaotic, sadistic second season set in an old lunatic asylum, Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story has returned with a simpler and better-constructed premise. Coven is about an elite New Orleans boarding school secretly dedicated to the training of young witches (among them Emma Roberts, Taissa Farmiga and Gabourey Sidibe). The place is run by Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), but in the premiere she’s overwhelmed by the return of her mother (Jessica Lange). Fiona, we are made to understand, is a supremely powerful witch and, like a Tennessee Williams heroine, desperate to hold on to her fading looks. Despite its cheap shock effects, the show is indulgently ridiculous. I like the catty humor, the casual pop references (everything from Charmed to Carrie)—and the actresses. Horror is like a nature preserve for larger-than-life actresses set free to roam and chew the scenery—not just Lange, a veteran of the previous two installments, but Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett. I can’t say witch I prefer.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET/PT |


Spun off from the fairy-tale mashup Once Upon a Time, Wonderland grabs elements from the Lewis Carroll classic, throws them down a rabbit hole and lets them land willy-nilly. Alice is now a young woman, institutionalized because no one believes her stories about visiting another world and (a fresh detail) dating a genie. So she hightails it back to Wonderland, which is just a different sort of madhouse. For this to work—and right now, it looks like Oz during a shutdown—Wonderland needs the sort of recognizable human types who drive Time. Sophie Lowe, as Alice, is at least striking-looking. She can suggest both Emma Thompson and Sarah Jessica Parker. As profiles go, curiouser and curiouser.