a review by Nalini Haynes
Charmed is the story of three sisters, Pru or Prudence (Shannon Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs) and Pheobe (Alyssa Milano) who, after the death of their grandmother, discover they are witches with the ‘power of three’ making them the chosen or ‘Charmed’ ones, battling evil in San Francisco. Each has their own special power: stopping time, moving objects or premonitions respectively, as well as using the Book of Shadows (never abbreviated) to defeat the villain of the week. Inspector Andy Trudeau, their childhood friend and Pru’s former lover, returns to Pru then his police work entangles them further.
Made by Aaron Spelling, who specialises in soapies and soapy-like TV, Charmed really suffers. In the first few episodes there were little sparkles of humour giving me hope that Whedon-esque style humour and banter may be forthcoming; I was disappointed. Although some stories incorporate real issues, such as the return of an absentee father, sibling rivalry and grief, Charmed manages to stay facile, two dimensional and glossy at all times.
Comparison with Buffy
On the positive side, like Buffy, Charmed incorporates story arcs bridging the weekly conflicts.
If Charmed can do it, why can’t more TV?
But even here the story arcs are heavily influenced by soapies. At one point there was a ridiculous story arc where Inspector Andy Trudeau was under investigation by Internal Affairs for having some unsolved cases on his record. Very melodramatic and implausible, and the big dramatic reveal? I laughed out loud. I don’t think it was supposed to be funny: I’m pretty sure this comical highlight was meant to be dramatic.
Dun, dun, DAAAAHHHH!!!!
Buffy and Charmed focus on female characters wearing makeup, with impeccable hair and, I assume, designer-label clothing. Although fashion and I barely nod at each other in the street, I realised Charmed clothes must be a feature in their own right as, towards the end of the season, the sisters increasingly wore strappy tops with either strapless bras or no bras to fight demons. In one scene Pru was preparing to go into a sewer wearing a white strappy top, skin-tight leather pants and heels. Seriously, WTF?!
Like Buffy, Charmed has a team rather than a single main character. Unfortunately Charmed focuses on a team of young women who, although they have their personality quirks, are pretty generic white Generation Y middle class women.
Stars and characters
Michael Weatherly makes a guest appearance around the time he was starring as Logan in Dark Angel. Unfortunately this episode – When Bad Warlocks Turn Good – is one of the worst-written stories of the season. He’s struggling to be good, his brothers need him to turn evil of his own free will, the brothers cast a spell so now he’s evil of his own free will, Pru rushes in saving him from killing someone, he’s good, no he’s bad, no, HE’S GOOD, DAY SAVED.
I just realised: NEW DRINKING GAME. Spot the plot hole. Or the soapy trope. Or both.
On the subject of warlocks, they usually have a ‘game face’ that is strikingly similar to the vampires and demons in Buffy. Charmed shies away from the concept of real people being the villain of the day, not even the villainous version of the Charmed Ones can be real people.
There are lots of guest stars that I recognised but the other one who stands out is Michael Trucco from Battlestar Galactica, Castle and other shows you’ve never heard of like How I met your mother. He plays a supernatural stalker who meets a very convenient nasty end by dint of saying a simple rhyme a few times very fast although every other time he managed to disapparate before the fatal blow was struck. Although Michael plays a supernatural, he doesn’t wear a prosthetic mask – his good looks are utilised to the max throughout this episode, right up until fry time.
The Charmed focus on female characters was the reason I was inspired to watch this series even though it is so old; last year I heard a lecture using Charmed as a positive example of women in pop culture at the Tights and Tiaras conference at Monash University. The impression I have after only watching the first season is that the success of this series is based on a television void pre-Sex in the City, with fashion, soapy-like stories and M-rated affairs. However, I have it on good authority that the series gets better as it engages with more real issues.
I rate season one at 3 out of 5 stars overall, with some episodes so deeply flawed I’m swinging between 1 and 2 stars for the individual episodes. Charmed is a series aimed at a particular demographic; having read the above comments I’m sure you know if you fit that demographic or not. I’m sure some people LOVE this series while others just as passionately loathe it.