So, I’m going to be honest here: I came onto the scene of the CW’s newest Charmed with the teensiest bit of bias, and for a handful of easily justified reasons. After all, outside of being a reboot of a series that ran through a round and very complete eight seasons, the program has already landed itself in hot water for misrepresenting the culture it touted as part of a younger, more diversified set of Charmed ones. There’s also the issue that the show decided, for all its diversity, the same old tried and true Wicca mythology was the best option, as opposed to delving into the mysticism of other, non European lands. But I digress. I volunteered to watch and recap this show, and if the original series’ leading ladies were willing to be diplomatic, I can do my best to keep the [salt] baking soda to the bare minimum required (trust me, it’ll make sense later). That in mind, here we go
Charmed‘s pilot opens with a quick introduction of the dynamics we’ll be working with.
Phoebe Maggie Vera is the younger, party girl, and her older sister Piper Melanie is the straighter laced (ha, more on that later) sibling lightly keeping things in check. From there we meet their ill-fated mother, a women’s studies department head at the local college, and a solid multi-tasker, fighting over the phone to keep a pervy fellow professor from getting reinstated, all while extolling the show’s tagline wisdom that the girls are strongest together.
From there, the girls head out for their evenings as planned, Maggie to a party and Melanie to a late night hookup with her girlfriend, all while mama gets menaced by the sudden appearance of an ominous crow. Figuring this is more than just a regular old, bad brush with nature, mama calls the girls home and retreats to the attic to begin defensively chanting in Latin. Unfortunately more crows and an ominous cloud join the party, and by the time the girls get home they’re too late to save her from an apparent dive out the window that the mystical interlopers broke.
The death is ruled a suicide (because crows and mist are not credible suspects in the way too much alcohol and a fall are), and three months after the fact the girls are, understandably, still struggling. Maggie has turned to a sorority for comfort and Melanie is mired in anger, fighting with the man taking over her mother’s position at the university (which, fair), and slapping misogynist undergrads who talk smack about her mom (double fair). Meanwhile, another young woman
from the trailers named Macy finds herself drawn to the same set as its nineties predecessor girl’s house, and after a revelatory google search winds up on their doorstep claiming to be their long lost sister, a bombshell underscored by a sudden lightning strike… Or light’s popping out? I wasn’t clear because it cut to commercial super fast.
After showing the sisters fairly concrete, picture evidence of her identity, Maggie is welcoming but Melanie is still suspicious of this arguably sudden and fortuitous meeting,
Paige/Prue, Paigue? Macy decides her time would be better spent in a bar with a sympathetic ear than in the dark trying to find common ground with her stranger sisters (stristers?). Only, she apparently picked up a case of the telepathies back at the Vera house, because the moment she gets too heated in her venting, a bottle flies out of her hand like every ghost hunter’s dream. Elsewhere, the other girls are having similar difficulties, Maggie with a sudden bout of telepathy during an oh so important pledge meeting, and Melanie with a glitchy ability to freeze her immediate surroundings while in the midst of an argument with her now ex-girlfriend. All sisters are pretty justifiably weirded out, but not for long because their mother’s British academic successor, Harry, shows back up with a helpful and expository kidnapping, magically whisking the ladies back home and tying them up in the attic to make sure he has their attention. One really has to wonder what the thought process here was, given that telling a group of people they have magical powers is already a tough sell, and I just can’t see the tracks of the logic train that led to unlawful detainment as a solid icebreaker. In any case, Harry handily lays down the basics: they’re witches born to stave off the apocalypse and they have 48 hours to unanimously decide if they want to accept their powers, seemingly within the safety of the underworld being ignorant of their burgeoning awakening (or not so much, says the creepy CGI crow lurking outside the house). Oh, also, their mom absolutely didn’t slip and fall her way out of that beautiful antique window.
Needless to say, the revelation goes over with decidedly mixed results. Armed with the validation of her mother’s death being a case of supernatural foul play, Melanie wants to dive into this new chapter, but the others not so much; Macy immediately goes full Dana Scully in her skepticism, and Maggie rushes right back into, well, rushing. They go off in pointedly separate directions, with all but Melanie attempting to either rationalize or repress the situation back to normal. Sadly, normalcy seems to be in a whole different stack of tarot cards when Maggie is attacked by a demon dog, and the girls are forced to admit that, for the time being there isn’t any going back to the way things were.
After calling up Harry for some healing and information, they sisters learn that, surprise surprise, black cat’s out of the bag and the demons are after them in the guise of anyone who can get close, but the girls still can’t get on the same page. Macy is still trying to science her way toward a reasonable explanation, and Maggie can’t overcome the feeling that Melanie blames her reluctance to bail on a party for their mom’s death. Eventually, Maggie storms out of the house and into a second kidnapping, only in this instance for an induction into the sorority she’d been so gung ho about before the [plot] magic ruined everything. Fearing that the demon hiding in plain sight is the head sorority girl (thrice times fair), Maggie sneaks off to safety with the help of a thirsty ex, only to telepathically uncover him as the demon. Luckily, she’s the Phoebe of the group, so she uses a second power to literally high kick her way out of danger just long enough for Macy to deliver on the promise of a scientific solution, banishing the bad guy with common baking soda (salt is so Supernatural, after all).
Demon vanquished, the girls have a heart to heart, Macy aptly echoing the earlier
show motto Mama Vera wisdom that they are better together, and Melanie declaring that whatever her sisters decide about their powers will be fine with her.
Only, it’s not that easy, because after a restless night of indecision, Macy realizes through the power of deduction that the demon who killed their mother is still out there (the last demon didn’t trigger that questionable ice-breath effect), and in true Scooby Doo fashion it turns out to be the skeevy professor their mother was trying to get rid of at the top of the show. Turns out, his name is Teydeus (pronounced, I kid you not, “tedious”), and the second Melanie starts to get a whiff of something fishy during a campus protest, he puts on his best Night King cosplay and corners her in a convenient basement setting. Fortunately, Maggie and the brainy Macy come to the rescue with a spell and the juice to literally pull the three of them together to vanquish the demon Monotynous with the Power of Three. After a cryptic, bad-guy typical warning of more and worse to come, and an explosion about as violent as a new year’s eve party favor, he folds, leaving the girls to embrace their powers, and walk arm in arm into a
full series order the sunset.
At least until they fiddle with a Oujia board and are told (presumably by their mother) not to trust Harry. I smell recurring conflict…
All told, we didn’t get much here that you couldn’t find in the original Charmed’s premiere, right down to the character dynamics, plots, and set pieces. Did that make it the worst thing out there? No, not even by a long shot, and it was okay enough that I’ll probably be recapping for at least a few more episodes to come. That said, I’m holding out just a little bit of hope that the creators will take note of some of the show’s early criticisms and rework its basic framing to present certain aspects, such as the latest Charmed Ones’ ancestry and magical methodologies, a little more mindfully. If not, powers of no, I foresee a rather bleak road ahead.
-Much in the way this pilot mirrored the original series’ opener, this version seemed to keep certain established characteristics intact: the oldest, (Prue/Macy) being the first to master her powers, the youngest sister being the one with the more passive gifts but with potential for greater ability… There was also some built-in tension between the middle sister and the whitelighter, though I’m not sure how that’s going to play out because until I’m shown otherwise it appears that Melanie is a lesbian. We’ll have to wait and see I guess.
-The disparities in the girls’ appearances and backgrounds were still very glaring to me. I mean, Obviously Alyssa Milano, Shannen Doherty, and Holly Marie Combs didn’t look particularly identical, but it wasn’t as bad as trying to pass off similar skin tone as a shared ethnicity. It’s been said before, but yikes.
-Good on Macy for delivering on her promise to solve their problems with science. I mean, baking soda against demons? Who the heck knew?
-Maggie getting attacked by a demon dog after approaching said animal in the dark, in the woods: really girl? Really? I know your mom kept secrets but she never said anything about approaching strange animals? In the dark?? In the woods???
-It took me a second to get that they all had names starting with “M”, just like the first Charmed Ones all had “P” initials. Actually, if I’m being honest, it took me a while to get their names period. I still keep calling “Maggie” “Phoebe”, and I’m still not sure if Macy is Prue or Paige (Praige?)
Rating: Three Whitelighter Snaps out of Five
Charmed airs on Sundays at 9 PM EST on The CW