American Horror Story: Coven

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

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HORROR

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 |

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DRAMA

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.

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YOU'VE GOTTA SEE THIS ...

THE ORIGINALS

In a show full of monsters who look like models, Charles Michael Davis is the sexiest modern vampire since True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård. CW, Tuesdays.

DRACULA

Jonathan Rhys Meyers's sullen peacock charm works well in this 10-episode variation on the classic horror story. NBC, Oct. 25.

WITCHES OF EAST END

Julia Ormond gives a simple, even dignified performance as a woman with supernatural gifts. Everyone else is bonkers. Lifetime, Sundays.

MEET THE CIA'S NEW GIRL

How did you prep for your role as a CIA analyst?

I called a friend in National Security and racked his brain!

Your character's Muslim faith is a plot point.

We're breaking stereotypes. Just because a woman wears a hijab doesn't mean she's obedient or repressed. My character is strong.

Last year Vanity Fair claimed you'd been screened by Scientology as a potential girlfriend for Tom Cruise. Has public scrutiny been hard?

I once heard, if you internalize the good, you have to internalize the bad. I think if you stay true to who you are, the good and bad don't affect you.

NICOLE BEHARIE

You're a modern-day cop fighting evil monsters alongside Ichabod Crane on the show. Pretty out there!

Yes, I love stuff like that. I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones but also childhood fantasies. I'm a grown woman, and I'm obsessed with The Little Mermaid.

How did you toughen up for this role?

I started boxing. It helped me fight and get over the whole vanity of being an actress.

Is your family excited about the show?

They're just happy I'm eating! When I said, "Mom, I think I want to act," she was like, "Uh, no, honey, I don't think that's going to pan out." She's relieved.

NBC's Welcome to the Family is nicely cast, with Ricardo A. Chavira (Desperate Housewives) and Mike O'Malley (Glee). But this lighthearted sitcom about young lovebirds and their families—with Chavira and O'Malley playing at-odds dads—needs to punch up the writing. An angry pregnant woman driving an RV isn't much of a setup for a gag, is it? (The answer is no.)

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