Looking back, it becomes obvious that few series had as much of an influence on my television sensibilities as the original Charmed, a long-running WB drama about three witchy sisters living in San Francisco. In fact, since the woman-powered saga came out when I was just still in elementary school, I don’t exactly remember a time in my life when the sisters of Charmed weren’t a thing. Did my parents let me watch the original, 1998-2006 run live as a child? Did I only get Charmed through the osmosis that is early morning TNT reruns? Was it a late 90s, early 2000s mix of the two?
I have no idea — I just know I was very young and very upset when I found out Phoebe Halliwell’s (#MeToo advocate and Brett Kavanaugh trial guest Alyssa Milano) love interest Cole Turner (Julian McMahon) was actually the very dreamy alias of a red-and-black-faced demon bent on destroying the Charmed Ones (before changing his mind and marrying one of them). Charmed, like many of the series that followed its lead and found a way into my heart — from True Blood and Teen Wolf to Netflix’s upcoming Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina — was lovably wild, weird, and supernatural-obsessed.
Now, the TV powers that be have decided to give audiences the Power Of Three once again with the CW’s brand-new Charmed reboot, premiering in the US on Sunday 14th October (it's on its way to the UK too, don't worry. We're just waiting for a release date). While the new Charmed doesn’t have 179 episodes to prove its worth just yet, like the original does, there is some reason to be hopeful. The magical drama’s upcoming premiere, which was made available to critics, suggests new Charmed is offering up exactly the kinds of modern witches we need in 2018.
The most obvious update from the OG Charmed is that 2018 series is now led by three young women of colour. The original filtered through a stable of five white stars, almost always in groups of three: Milano, fellow #MeToo advocate Rose McGowan, Holly Marie Combs, Shannen Doherty, and Kaley Cuoco.
Yet the reboot’s pilot, it is hinted oldest sister Macy Vaughn (Tomorrow People alum Madeleine Mantock) is biracial, while younger sister Mel (Fruitvale Station’s Melonie Diaz) and Maggie Vera (Jennifer Lopez’s Shades Of Blue daughter Sarah Jeffery) are Latinx. Macy has telekinesis, Mel can freeze time, and Maggie can read minds (all but Maggie’s powers lineup to the cast’s abilities). Part of the fun of the premiere — and, likely, the rest of the season — is figuring out what exactly led to Macy and the Vera siblings, who share a mom in Marisol Vera (Valerie Cruz), being raised separately.
But, no matter the mystery, there’s an extra layer of progressive oomph added to all the purposefully campy fun when you see how the three Ms move through their college hamlet, Hilltowne. There is something special in witnessing how desperately a popular sorority wants to recruit Maggie or Mel’s queer on-again, off-again relationship with detective Nico Hamada (Ellen Tamaki), another woman of colour. Even Macy’s role as a leading scientist and nerd feels rare. After the relentless whiteness of the original Charmed, these characterisations come off as massive growth.
The reboot’s dedication to intersectional feminism makes sense when you remember Charmed 2.0 comes from Jane The Virgin creator Jennie Snyder Urman. For the last five years, Urman has proved she excels when it comes to a dedication to complicated, often joyus tales about women of colour.
Yet, the excitement of this Charmed doesn’t take away from the beloved original, despite the concerns of OG stars Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano, and Shannen Doherty. Again, the Charmed Ones’ names all start with the same letter (“P” is swapped out in favour of “M”). Again, a matriarchal tragedy sends our sisterly heroines on their magical adventure. Again, there is a demonic twist that will certainly feel like a nod to the Charmed of yore for longtime fans; for newbies that surprise will simply be a fun step on the sisters’ journey.
That’s why the “fierce, funny, feminist” tagline that upset the original cast now seems less like a slap in the face to Charmed’s predecessor and more like a personal mission statement. While the OG was unquestionably pro-woman, it often avoided grappling directly with the issues of the day. However, the new Charmed has the declaration, “This is not a witch hunt — it’s a reckoning. And I want him out!” within the first minute of the premiere, posters with the phrase “Times Up” splashed across them and a joke about Donald Trump breaking the final seal of the apocalypse. All of this makes sense as Charmed mom Marisol is a women’s studies professor and the pilot centres around a very #MeToo collegiate scandal, which then takes an on-the-nose supernatural turn. Even the pilot’s final seconds suggests even the one of the two good man in Charmed might not be so good after all.
Yes, Charmed can be a extremely heavy handed with just how woke it can be. But, it seems the series simply wants viewers to know it’s aware of all the nightmares dominating the news and wishes it could vanquish each and every one of them. Thankfully, if always-getting-better, transcendent Jane is any proof, its sibling Charmed will eventually be able to move past its brash messaging for the kinds of subtle storylines that change viewers’ inner lives with emotion and carefully crafted subtext rather than literal sign-waving text.
Until then, we’ll enjoy all the camp, couples, and witchcraft Charmed has to offer.
Charmed will air on E4 in the UK.
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