This opening run of the Charmed reboot really has been a textbook game of two halves.
During the first part of the season, it had been on a fairly shaky footing at times, coming across as less of a drama series and more of a woke PC manifesto, doing its very best to browbeat and harangue its audience, while at the same time failing to make any of its characters feel engaging or likeable. The first few episodes were a particularly hard watch, and struggled to find its own house style.
However, there were some green shoots of recovery present before it went on its mid-season break, and it certainly looks to have done it the power of good being off the screen for a short while, as Charmed came back feeling vital and renewed, with a new direction being followed, making it all the better for it. In fact, by the climax of the season, it’s actually become rather endearing, and while maybe still not yet totally compelling viewing, is eminently more watchable, and feels like a different show.
The inherent problem with relaunching a known property – whether on telly, or for the big screen – is the big risk of ending up pleasing nobody. If you change things too much, then you risk alienating the fans of the original; however, if you plough much the same course as before, you might not pick up a new audience, if they didn’t take to the progenitor in the first place. While you can sometimes surpass the original – as with Battlestar Galactica – it doesn’t always happen that way, and there have been many remakes which have flopped or failed along the way.
The Aaron Spelling-produced Charmed cast a long shadow over this millennial iteration, and for the first part of this run it certainly felt as though it was hampered by this legacy, doing its best to walk a line between honouring what came before, as well as trying to become its own thing too. Having taken a brief pause, it comes over that the creative team seem to have built up enough confidence to make Charmed its own thing now, and not be hamstrung by the legacy of the previous version. And it’s infinitely better for it.
There’s definitely a feeling of momentum, and both the characters and story have a forward progression, which is reassuring to see. The creative team thankfully sticks firmly to making Galvin (Ser’Darius Blain) aware that the sisters are witches, making sure that they don’t backtrack or attempt to wriggle out of it further down the line – it actually gives Galvin a real purpose for being there, and lightens the character up for the most part. At least the poor bugger gets to smile, after spending the first part of the season looking as though he’s trying to pass a pine cone while doing a difficult maths problem.
Whitelighter Harry (Rupert Evans) is – no great surprises here – rescued from being imprisoned in Tartarus, and his memories of his old life – from before he’d died and was resurrected by the Elders – resurface, making him want to seek out his family. It helps give Harry greater depth, and make him more sympathetic and human than he had been at first. One of the few times they actually drop the ball here is when he supposedly ends up in Manchester: it’s certainly not like any Manchester that I’ve ever seen (unless it happens to be the one in New Hampshire). But Harry can gladly stay, we like Harry.
Mel (Melonie Diaz) finds she can’t easily escape her past, and that her actions have consequences, when Nico (Ellen Tamaki) ends up back in her life, despite casting a spell to alter the past and prevent the two of them from ever having met, in order to protect Nico from a demon. It addresses the issue of choice and free will, and we get to see Mel confess to her actions when she and Nico get close, knowing that it’ll drive them apart maybe permanently, but not being able to live with herself if she’s not honest. It’s refreshing to see that there isn’t a pat resolution and easy forgiveness here, which makes their arc come across as far more credible as a result.
Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) struggles not just with balancing being a witch with trying to have a ‘normal’ life by going to college and joining a sorority, but also in finding out that her love interest – Parker (Nick Hargrove) – is actually half-demon, and his father is the architect of the scheme to release the Harbinger of Hell and bring about the end of the world as we know it, by using Parker as the vessel in which to house the Soutce of All Evil. The course of true love, etc., etc. Maggie also has to try and deal with the fact that she apparently has an enchanted vagina, but that really is another story.
However, out of all of the Charmed Ones, the sister who goes on the biggest journey here is Macy (Madeleine Mantock), who finds out that she was actually stillborn, but was brought back by a necromancer, with the cost being that she’s ended up as part-demon as a result. Her powers grow more than Mel’s or Maggie’s, but it comes at a price, as she taps into her dark side, but finds it increasingly hard to come back. It also creates an interesting dilemma, as her having a demon side means that she manages to take control of the Source, as well as the Sacred Flame, which is the root of all magic.
It gives us a demonstration of just how absolute power corrupts absolutely, as despite Macy’s protestations that she is able to control the Source and use it and the Sacred Flame only for good, she ends up being tempted to try and put things right which once went wrong; however, you can’t fight destiny, which manages to reassert itself at every turn. The more things Macy tries to fix, the more they fall apart, and soon she ends up becoming a threat which the other sisters need to try and overcome without destroying her, or being killed in the process. Mantock steps up as Macy when she starts going a little ‘Dark Phoenix’, and you can certainly see just how much difference there is in her performance.
The real gamechanger here is that all of the Elders end up being killed, meaning that by the season’s end, it’s down to the Charmed Ones to effectively become the new governing body for magic; even the original Charmed didn’t go off in such a radical direction, so it helps distance the reboot from it. The sisters also manage to find a secret chamber (a ‘Wing Of Bat-cave’?), containing mystical weaponry which enhances their existing powers, giving them an opportunity to be more kickass and dynamic. They’re definitely not the same characters at the end of the year as they were at the start, which is frankly a blessed relief.
Granted, this first season is by no means perfect, as the storyline feels like it ends up with too many players, and becomes a bit convoluted; the two main villains of the piece – Alastair Caine (Craig Parker) and Fiona Callahan (Leah Pipes) – are built up as being supreme badasses, but it feels like they’re ultimately dispensed with far too easily, and Fiona’s storyline in particular feels like it ends up just going nowhere, even though they try to get us interested by having her motivation as being to control the Source in order to destroy all magic.
The S’Arcana also come across as being too expendable, given just how much they’re proclaimed to be a threat to the old order, but they come to a rather swift and untimely demise, in what feels like a narrative dead end. We don’t really get to see more than a couple of them as actual characters, so it’s hard to relate to them as individuals, rather than a homogenous and rather anonymous clump. A shame, as they had such potential, which sadly wasn’t fulfilled. The prospect of a civil war amongst the magical community is a tantalising prospect, but there weren’t any real shots fired, and it was all over before it even really started.
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At least the series became comfortable enough in its own skin to start having a little bit of fun and playfulness, which is more than welcome, given how utterly pious, preachy and joyless the first few episodes were. Having already gone and done doppelgängers, we now get to see their take on the ubiquitous ‘body swap’ storyline. There’s also a good-natured dig at shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and – more specifically – Supernatural, in an adventure where two brothers from a, er, supernatural-themed TV show come to life through a magical accident. It’s nice to see them play with the format of TV, with one ad break being heralded by one of the leads commenting this would usually be the point where they go to commercials. Nice.
Charmed has certainly stepped out from under the shadow of its predecessor, and while not quite an essential watch yet, has vastly improved. It’s just such a shame to see E4 have treated it in the same way as Channel 5 did with the Dallas revival, by taking a relatively high-profile import and then pushing it gradually later and later into the schedules, until (ironically in this case) ending up in a graveyard slot. Let’s hope we’re lucky enough to see the next season over here when it works its magic later in the year.