a review by Nalini Haynes
The Charmed TV series continues…
Season 3 was pretty much a continuation at the same level as seasons 1 and 2, with me wondering why it was discussed with such regard at the Tights and Tiaras conference. Lots of wardrobe changes, special musical guests, guests appearing as the villain or victim of the week, with not a lot of substance. Some episodes dealt with abandonment issues, engaging with death being part of life and a few other real issues but in a very light way, so much so that they were easy to miss. Phoebe took up kick-boxing earlier but in this season the sisters started being more kick-ass in their fight scenes, sometimes almost imitating Xena. I confess to enjoying this; they were stronger, a bit less ‘girly’, instead of cowering and defeating the baddie with only a flick of their hands or a chanted rhyme.
Possibly my biggest criticism for this season – apart from criticisms consistent with seasons 1 and 2 – is that there were a number of episodes featuring Pru (Shannen Doherty) as the central character where I thought the psychic element would have made it more appropriate for Phoebe to be the central character. I wondered if ‘personalities’ behind the scenes were impacting on the storytelling. Like I’ve NEVER seen that spoil a series before [snark].
If you don’t want spoilers stop reading now.
Seriously. STOP NOW.
You have been warned.
Season 4 was a definite step up in my opinion. Firstly, Pru, the older sister, died. Shannen Doherty left the series, leaving the remaining two sisters struggling with their grief, which struggle arced over several episodes (yay!)
A new half-sister, Paige, miraculously appeared with no previous reference to her anywhere, but a halfway plausible backstory was created that gave her a new twist, setting her in the family but also setting her apart. Paige was necessary to fulfil the basic premise that three sisters are the Charmed Ones. I found Paige to be even more annoying than Pru because Paige is young, selfish and irresponsible like younger sisters tend to be.
Piper is now the older sister and Phoebe has become the middle child with Paige the younger sister who was previously an only child of adoptive parents. We’re shown the struggles of each to change their roles as well as some exposition discussing what is going on to explain this to the oblivious viewer. These struggles with role changes are real issues when family structures change, especially with the death of a sibling, so this story arc was the best aspect of this show yet.
Cole asks Phoebe to marry him which opens a whole can of worms in their relationship although they both love each other. The reasons for their relationship difficulties at this point were mostly realistic and another plot point that carried into a story arc. One of my favourite episodes is where Phoebe turns into Samantha from Bewitched, loosing herself in the ‘wifely’ role, while Cole is pushing her to be a kick-ass competent witch. This speaks to so many gender issues in relationships these days.
Cole, Phoebe’s half-demon boyfriend, has his demon half vanquished several episodes in, rendering him fully human. When people have accidents rendering them disabled, they lose a job or in some other way their sense of identity is challenged; in this Cole’s struggles are well-realised.
I was disappointed when the writers ended that storyline, making more changes that returned Charmed to the soapy realm although to be fair the story arcs dealt with family including babies, managing careers with babies, should a ‘working witch’ have a baby and similar engaging issues. I’m personally past that pre-baby time of life; I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d watched the series when it was on TV way back when, in the dawn of time… In my defence, I think the manner in which these issues are included in the storyline is very shallow. In the defence of Charmed, it doesn’t set out to be deep and meaningful. I’m looking for more depth as in Straczynski’s storytelling in Babylon 5 or Joss Whedon’s deepest issues writing in Buffy. It’s a taste thing, and really it’s not fair to judge Charmed against something it does not aspire to be.
My primary compensation for what I perceived as the downward slide towards the end of season 4 was the ‘guest of the week’ who was often someone memorable from science fiction, like Peter Woodward (Galen from Crusade) or Tony Amendola (Bra’tac from Stargate).
I’m sufficiently engaged to plod along with this series. I think I’ve been hooked albeit gently – Charmed is my dose of ‘chick lit’ on TV, of which I could have too much, just like I could eat too much chocolate.