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The Charmed Ones are Back

Like a witch in a room full of warlocks, no popular franchise is safe in the golden age of reboots.

Alyssa Milano (Phoebe), Shannen Doherty (Prue), and Holly Marie Combs (Piper)

The original Charmed ran from 1998 to 2006, depicting the ever-changing lives of three magical sisters (at a time) and showed that witches, just like everyone else, are human and need to be loved.

Twenty years after the original premiered, the CW channel has announced that they are producing a reboot, featuring an all-new cast for the new generation.

The new series trailer, released on May 17th, really piqued my interest.  It prompts classic fans to ask questions like “Why are there only two sisters in the beginning?” and answers them in due time.  It also does a great job at reminding old fans of key points in the sisters’ origin story and showing us how they’ve been rearranged for this new iteration.  The trailer also flows like a condensed pilot episode, but still leaves enough to be revealed in a full episode.

Instead of Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs), Phoebe (Alyssa Milano), and eventually Paige (played by Rose McGowan) Halliwell, this series revolves the three Vera sisters Macy, Mel, and Maggie:

  • Mel has the ability to freeze time, like Piper.
  • Macy appears to be a combination of both Prue and Paige’s characters.  She’s the eldest and telekinetic, like Prue; and the apparently biracial child of Mrs. Vera from another relationship — like Paige, who was the Halliwell matriarch’s youngest child with her guardian angel (following the Halliwell parents’ divorce, of course) and thus had the abilities of both a Charmed One and a Whitelighter.  Also like Paige, Macy is introduced to Mel and Maggie following a death in the family.
  • Maggie, by process of elimination, is analogous to Phoebe, but instead of being clairvoyant who later develops empathic abilities, Maggie is a telepath from the start.

Another key difference I picked up is that instead of casting “spells” in English rhymes, the sisters cast spells in what sounds like … Latin?

Viewers of the reboot will miss out on jokes like this!

In both versions of the show, the sisters’ loss of a matriarchal figure serves as a catalyst; what I like about this version is that there’s clearly a mystery with obvious foul play involved.

For its time, the original Charmed show was considered a strong proponent of feminism and women’s liberation.  The three Halliwell sisters were grown women with established professions, had no qualms having serial commitment-free romantic relationships with a variety of men, and wore seemingly impractical clothing, perhaps in the name of showing the young girls watching at home that they can do whatever they want with their bodies and social lives.  (Because, if someone voluntarily sexualizes themselves, that’s okay, right?)  As a socially conservative feminist viewer in the 21st century, some aspects of Charmed‘s interpretation of feminism didn’t sit well with me — at least, in the way I perceived them.  There are many episodes I did not see to the end because I felt uncomfortable.

The rebooted Vera sisters seem like they’re a little bit younger than their classic analogues.  Maggie seems to be in high school (an environment not unlike the set of the original Charmed, according to actresses Milano and Combs), and Mel is in college.  Macy seems to be the only adult with a full-time job.  With that in mind, perhaps some age-related allowances will be made for how these young women interact with society.  According to the CW, this reboot will be “fierce, funny,” and “feminist” while also “tearing down the patriarchy”; I’m just hoping it won’t manifest again as what I perceived to be gratuitous, albeit egalitarian, on-screen promiscuity.

And since the sisters are slightly younger now, it also seems that they have been entrusted with a magical mentor of some sort.  He looks like Lemony Snicket and talks like Edwin Jarvis from Agent Carter, and he could be this show’s version a Whitelighter, a guardian angel sent to look after the sisters and show them the ways of the magical forces.  (Like Leo in the original, only he’s clearly too old and apparently too male to be the romantic interest of Mel Vera.)  But he seems to know an awful lot about Mrs. Vera and the circumstances of her death.  In the original pilot episode of Charmed, the girls had only a ouija board and a magic book to help them sort their new powers out, and one of the few male characters who appeared turned out to be a warlock sent by the underworld to kill the sisters.  So you’ll understand if I’m a little bit suspicious of Mr. Lemony Jarvis here!

Mel, Macy, and Maggie

The new Charmed has garnered plenty of criticism, both positive and negative – and the show hasn’t even aired yet.  Holly Marie Combs, who played Piper Halliwell, accuses the reboot of ageism (age discrimination) because she and her co-stars are now in their forties or fifties.

A Charmed series continuation a’la Roseanne (sorry, I can’t think of a better comparison) showing the sisters’ lives twenty years later would certainly appeal to the original fans … or sadden the particularly superficial ones at the thought of seeing these once- (and, in my opinion, still-) beautiful women approaching middle age.  (Fans can be like that sometimes; rude and upsetting as that may be to the actors’ self-esteem, it isn’t technically an invalid response.)

Charmed is one of those series where a lot went into it, much like the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  I remember when Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin held the prospect of a total reboot of the Stargate franchise over fans’ heads for over a year.  It can hurt for creators and consumers alike to see years and years of hard work go down the decanonization drain … or, in Charmed‘s case, simply be considered old and outdated.

Starting with a clean slate gives the showrunners the opportunity to change things up and customize it to what (they think) a new generation of viewers would want, instead of requiring so many people to play eight years’ worth of catch-up.  Let the new generation see relatable young adults in relatable situations, so that they can experience Charmed the way young adults did at the turn of the century.  Now-older fans of the classic have every right to feel indignant at the changes being made to their favorite thing, but surely there’s still enough similarity that fans new and old (not age-wise, of course) will have things to talk about.

Basically, when it comes to these reboots, I think you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t. 😛

Personally, I’m not upset about the prospect of this reboot.  Perhaps I’m not a credible enough analyst of the series, as I lost interest around its third season (can you tell why?) and couldn’t get into the Paige episodes; in short, I’m not a Charmed purist or a diehard fangirl.  Maybe that’s why I don’t completely see how the reboot “takes shots,” as Holly Marie Combs asserts, at the original.  As a casual viewer, the trailer suggests to me that so much is retained — but also re-imagined as faithfully as possible for a new generation.