Salem is the latest in a line of historically-based horror hybrids with a supernatural core, period costumes/sets, and high production values. While it fits with current TV trends, this series feels like it's showing up a little late to the party. The comparison with more successful shows is inevitable, and it's working overtime to distinguish itself. The tone is solemn and serious, and the biggest surprise is it's target demographic: adults! There is not the slightest levity or wink at modernity, and no side story with blathering tweens who feel things deeply. Perhaps this will be the show’s greatest asset.
The serviceable cast is led by the wicked and intense Janet Montgomery with her intense inky-black eyes that just exude evil. The long-haired Shane West is a little less convincing but he didn’t have much to do in this pilot and his unrequited love story borders on insipid. Perhaps there’s a more ambitious story left to be revealed but I don’t anticipate too many surprises. It's provocative yet still recognizably safe. Some of the most memorable scenes directly reference movies like The Conjuring (it’s there in corner, don’t you see it?) and Rosemary’s Baby (glimpses of demons during a birth scene).
Yet Salem is entertaining and it wasn't a terrible start, just somewhat uninspired. If the story doesn't get more spellbinding soon, discerning horror viewers with a glut of options will abandon it. I'm oddly compelled to return for more but only because American Horror Story is between seasons. There's only so much outlandish scenes will accomplish if the main plot is unsatisfying.