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story.lead_photo.caption Ashley Nicole Williams (from left), Jessica Sutton and Taylor Hickson appear in a scene from "Motherland: Fort Salem," which debuted in March on Freeform. (Freeform via AP/David Bukach)

Anyone tuning in to the new TV series "Motherland: Fort Salem" will find a few changes in the America depicted. For one thing, women are in charge of the military. For another, they're all witches.

Freeform's 10-episode first season is set in an alternate, present-day United States where magical women make up the armed forces and are fighting a shadowy terrorist threat. It's a TV show like no other. Think of "Charmed" mashed with "The Man in the High Castle."

It's the brainchild of creator and executive producer Eliot Laurence, who said the idea came to him years ago like a lightning bolt -- witches plus military. "I had not seen that. And who knows? In the history of fantasy writing, I'm sure many people have tackled this combo. But for me, it felt very new," he said. In his world, witches ended their persecution 300 years ago by cutting a deal with the fledgling U.S. government -- in exchange for fighting for their country, witches would no longer be burned at the stake.

It's an ambitious step from Laurence, whose last project was "Claws," a crime dramedy set in a Florida nail salon. He has always loved speculative fiction and is a big fan of sci-fi writer Octavia E. Butler and "The Handmaid's Tale" creator Margaret Atwood. "I'd always loved that stuff, but I'd never tried it. I'd primarily written in the kind of darkly comedic world," he said. "So this was just sort of letting go in my internal nerd river of world-building and just having so much fun."

"Motherland: Fort Salem" follows three young women from basic training in combat magic to deployment on the front lines. It stars Taylor Hickson, Jessica Sutton and Ashley Nicole Williams. The three young witches learn to work together to hone their raw magic, which includes control over weather and using their voices as a shield or to pierce through metal.

"I don't want this to become another teen show," Laurence said. "I don't want it to be a show about attractive young people with powers. It's so much deeper than that."

The three heroines are a mix of races, classes and sexuality, but in this America none of that matters. "In this world, little petty stuff like gay or straight or black -- all of this stuff crumbles in the face of the fact of witchhood."

Creating this alternate reality gave Laurence a chance to rewrite American history. In this world, the emancipation of slaves took place much earlier, black witches are the military elite, and American Indians have secured a lush swath of the nation along the Mississippi River.

"It's just about getting inside the terrible history of our country and kind of opening it up and looking at it in new ways," he said. "It's just fun to poke around and be provocative with that stuff."

Hickson calls Laurence "incredibly inventive" and had a million questions after reading the pilot. "I had to know more," she said. "I was really attracted to how Motherland pushes boundaries. It's like history and these real, relevant issues had a love child."

NAN What's Up on 04/05/2020

Print Headline: 'Motherland' Bewitched?

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