I think we can all agree that by the end of its 8-season run, Charmed (1998-2006) was looking a little tired; I don’t think anyone was too surprised that this was not a show to make the switch from the WB to the CW. So, while the CW could have continued the original series (such as was done with Doctor Who, Full(er) House, Gilmore Girls, Roseanne, Twin Peaks, Will and Grace, and The X-Files), I can understand why they chose to reboot. Charmed is the latest in a long line of nostalgia-driven reboots and the idea that, if it worked once, why can’t it work again? (Clearly, WE can do it better!)
There are a lot of benefits to a reboot in an era where supernatural/fantasy/sci-fi TV is more prevalent, and, in many ways, this reboot learns from the almost 20 years of content since the original’s premiere episode (“Something Wicca This Way Comes”, October 7, 1998). Since then, the supernatural/fantasy/sci-fi genre has blown up and become a genre to be taken seriously rather than dismissed, both by audiences and critics.
For example, Charmed, like many supernatural programs, contained a rich mythology that developed and changed over time. Because the genre was still young, however, the show lack consistency and contained gaps in continuity since the show often changed to meet the demands of the plot or characters. (The exit of Shannon Doherty made the jump between seasons 3 and 4 particularly jarring.) It is now part of standard convention for such programs to plan the mythology in more detail in advance and for closer attention to be paid to continuity (the latter is thanks to the internet and people like me who examine content under a microscope).
This new Charmed also benefits from, if not a bigger budget, than more access to more sophisticated special effects. The show looks great, with the special effects bringing the magical world to life in a way that is hard to accomplish with just fire and a mask. As I will discuss, the show has potential.
…there are still some elements of what I like to call, ick.
My original plan for this week was to talk about female characters in roles typically occupied by male characters and how sad it is that that is so jarring. These roles typically demonstrate a female demonstrating the confidence and aggression typically reserved for male characters. But, then I watched this new Charmed, and while it very obviously contains an anti-Trump agenda– and displays traits and characters that would’ve been scandalous in 1998– it does not do anything really interesting with gender portrayals.
In fact, these Latina sisters actually defer to an old white man (their Whitelighter, who died in the 50s) who is also notably the head of the Women’s Studies Department at the local college. So, while I love that these characters have such a strong feminist agenda, the deference to their Whitelighter– who was notably second fiddle and very clearly support staff in the original– leave me feeling ick.
Again, there are benefits to modern TV. The special effects are better, there’s attention to the current political climate and a very clear choice to bring in minority and LGBTQ+ characters. It all reflects current TV, though. Charmed was an unusual show at its time. It, like Buffy, like Sabrina, featured strong female characters with powers that made them stronger than their male counterparts. Reflecting the time, all these characters at one time or another deferred to the men in their lives, but these female characters were still breaking new ground. The point is, that, so far, this Charmed is not doing anything all that special.
In its premiere episode, the original show had the sisters combating a domestic-violence situation in the making, using their powers to undermine the misogyny in their lives– something they did for the remainder of the series. Prue and Piper were both successful professional women, while Phoebe was a strong independent woman, a free spirit who made deliberate choices and was in control of her sex appeal and sexuality. Even if Charmed wasn’t doing something all that new and different at the time, there wasn’t this element of ick, in fact, the sisters all had moments where they simply refused to answer to men…
….but perhaps that is down to 90s girl power and what have you.
Yes, Mel (middle sister) has a girlfriend and Macy (eldest secret half-sister) is in a successful STEM position, and, sure, Maggie (youngest sister) gets to demonstrate the evils of sororities (sorta), but this isn’t exactly new territory…
In many ways, this reboot is so far a rehash of the original, but with the benefit of current technology, storytelling conventions, and politics. In the final minutes of the episode, the sisters get a warning about their (significantly more powerful) Whitelighter that could possibly undermine some of the ick (but not really because instead they were taken advantage of) but that will not be clear until future episodes.
Charmed (like the original) airs on the CW on Sundays at 9 pm EST.