a review by Nalini Haynes
Charmed revolves around Prudence, Piper and Phoebe, three sisters, who are supernatural witches battling the forces of evil in San Francisco. Story arcs include the addition of new people – usually love interests but occasionally personifications of evil – that develop and resolve usually within a one-season period.
Fashion, music and the city of San Francisco are equally characters in this story. The sisters’ clothes are a regular feature, to the point where they’ll have a wardrobe change between scenes in the middle of a crisis, wear strappy heels, skirts and strappy tops with no bras even when planning to pursue demons and warlocks. Music as a soundtrack to images of the city of San Francisco is a feature of this season as it was in the first season. In addition to this, P3, the club owned by the sisters, has music as a soundtrack as well as live bands in some episodes. Sometimes this is worked into the storyline while at others this appears incidental to the plot although rather staged.
I’ve heard a lot about San Francisco including the gay scene and how hard it is for women to find straight men, particularly in certain areas of the city. All of the sisters’ never-ending series of love interests are good-looking but none have been gay to date. Seriously, the lack of uncertainty, the obsessive heterosexuality of the narrative suspends disbelief.
In this season issues were used as the basis for some plots in addition to referencing other pop culture sources.
Some issues covered in stories
‘She’s a man, baby, a man!’ – Pru turns herself into a man
Pru became a man to trap a supernatural murderer of men. This was almost the classic body-swap story except no-one traded bodies with Pru. I held my breath: was this going to be the episode where they acknowledge the LGBT community in San Francisco? At the very least I thought Pru would be mistaken for a gay man, but no. By the end of the episode she even checked out a woman’s butt after walking past her in P3.
To me this merely emphasised the almost obsessive heterosexuality of the series. The three sisters don’t have any friends that recur throughout the season; the regular characters are the sisters, their love interests and Darryl Morris the police officer who doubles as the token ethnic person. Just about everyone else is ‘just passing through’, featuring as a potential victim in the story of the week or the crowd in the club P3.
‘Reckless abandon’ – mothering instinct, childcare at work
The sisters struggle to look after an abandoned baby, questioning why they can’t cope because they thought parenting abilities were ‘in our DNA’. I loved how Dan, one of Piper’s love triangle, stepped in with more care-taking ability than the trio of sisters put together. Clearly there was supposed to be an element of Three Men and a Baby in this episode, but the humour just didn’t do the themes justice. On the upside, Pru took the baby to work and instead of apologising for disrupting the workplace, she went on the offensive, talking about the need for workplace daycare.
‘Awakened’ – the necessity of quarantine for imports
Piper imported fruit, bypassing quarantine. She was bitten by an exotic fruit fly, becoming incredibly ill. With the addition of magic taking this situation beyond the believable, I’m not sure if the message was lost. On the other hand, the fact that Charmed doesn’t preach even when issues are part of the plot is a strength of the series.
‘Murphy’s luck’ – depression and suicide
Initially I was a little concerned about the potential for trivialising depression and suicide in this episode but at the end of the day I thought Charmed was true to itself whilst being respectful. No issue is taken very seriously in the series, preaching is avoided in order to make this a romantic comedy with mild horror themes as was the case with this episode where a woman was tormented by a demon until she became suicidal (at his prompting). After the woman was rescued by Pru, the demon targeted Pru, who became depressed about current events and life choices she was denied years earlier. People who suffer depression and their families were absolved of all the usual blame. My only concern is that the resolution was simplistic and trite, yet this is Charmed: there is no claim to serious drama.
‘Astral Monkey’ – organ donations
Insufficient organ donors, organ theft and animal testing are elements of this plot although the question of enlisting as an official organ donor doesn’t come up directly.
‘Apocalypse Not’ – ethics
This episode probably had the most obvious and emphasised moral. A lack of ethics leads to selfish, violent behaviour. The sisters are asked repeatedly ‘Would you save 1 sibling or 5 strangers?’ and really engage with that question in practical terms in the development of the plot.
Many episodes spoof pop culture in a light, entertaining manner. For example, ‘How to make a quilt out of Americans’ American Quilt, and ‘Heartbreak city’ references Love Story. ‘That old black magic’ features film students researching the Blair Witch Project by hiking in the bush only to get lost and killed by a witch.
The best line was from ‘Chick Flick’
Billy: “The man is here to save the day.”
Pru: “Billy, it’s the twenty-first century. It’s the woman’s job to save the day.”
Charmed is a light-hearted romantic comedy/soap opera with mild horror themes. Compared with first season, second season has a less obvious soapy feel with fewer pauses, less prologued and less frequent deep-and-meaningful looks. Dialogue is also less over-the-top melodramatic so I didn’t feel compelled to find a bucket or ask for an insulin injection. Humans are nearly always ‘innocents’ while the bad guys are demons and warlocks; even the warlocks usually wear demonic-looking faces so they’re not human. This makes for a fairly simple, black-and-white dichotomy. Obsessively heterosexual, fashion-conscious with music and San Francisco vying to be additional characters, Charmed has a limited core cast that could benefit from a circle of Friends. Having said that, I have to admit this series is growing on me. Lacking punchy timing and snappy dialogue, I don’t believe Charmed will ever reach Buffy-esque heights, but it’s a pretty good substitute for those who, like me, have watched Buffy several times already and need a change of diet.