Charmed should be a familiar name when it comes to older youths and perhaps more so the young adults. The original series by Warner Bros (WB) was a much beloved series focusing on three sisters with a Wiccan history which they were unaware of. It was only after their beloved Grams died that the sisters began to uncover their Wiccan powers and history. The would go on to become the Charmed Ones – hence the name of the series. The sisters portrayed by Alyssa Milano, Holly Marie Combs and Shannen Doherty followed by Rose McGowan would continue to charm the hearts of many homes for seven years after their pilot. The series had its ups and downs but maintained a healthy viewer base and continues to be a cult favourite until today.
Come Fall 2018, when the CW thought it would be a great idea to have a series helmed by strong female leads. Guess which franchise name they dragged up from their closet? Yep, you got it: Charmed. But instead of picking off where our original Halliwell sisters left off (which would have made more sense), the company decided instead to introduce a new trio of sisters: Mel Vera, Maggie Vera and Macy Vaughn. If you’re wondering what’s with the last sister’s name, the new series took a plot point from Season 4 of the original and decided to make it a main plot point in the debut season of the new series. More on that a little later. These sisters are brought together after the unfortunate death of their mother, Marisol Vera. Again, similar to the original, the sisters are unaware of their heritage and mother’s other life. The current trio of sisters are portrayed by Melonie Diaz (Mel), Sarah Jeffery (Maggie) and Madeleine Mantock (Macy).
New(ish) Premise, Same Name, Overtly Politically Correct
I’m not going to be drawing many comparisons between the reboot and the original as I believe that both should be judged on their own merits. But let’s kick-off this review with a comparison between some of the major premises of the reboot and the original.
As mentioned before, the two series have the same general premise: a trio of sisters is thrown into a world of magic, demons and more after their mentor figure dies. The Charmed reboot keeps it relatively clean by focusing on the mother, Marisol, while it’s slightly less straightforward with Grams in the original. In the reboot, the death of Marisol is the start of one of the major story arcs of the series while Grams death was simply a plot point to bring the sisters back together in the original.
That’s where similarities in premise seem to disappear. While the original Charmed series was never blatant in stating the racial heritage of the Halliwells, the reboot throws it in your face a few times within the first few episodes: the sisters are Latina. I have no problems with being racially appropriate with our series but seriously for all intent and purposes we don’t need it thrown into our face all the time. To make things a little more complicated we have Macy who is very obviously (by the end of episode 2) a woman of mixed race: Hispanic and Black. Why am I highlighting this? Well, in this day and age it seems like our television shows are making it a point to highlight racial and cultural differences which is ostentatiously obvious in the reboot of Charmed. It’s later in the series that we see the series start to explore both “Hispanic magic” and “African Magic”. At this juncture, I think it’s important for me to highlight that the original explored a whole load of cultural magic without being blatant and stating the cultural background. In fact, within the first few episodes, the Halliwell sisters use a spell which has its origins in Middle Eastern culture with the Evil Eye.
While I can’t fault the studio for taking such an approach to explore the cultural implication of the Vera heritage in the way they practice their witchcraft, the writing certainly needs a whole lot of improvement when it comes to being politically correct. The first step? Stop being so blatant. We know the heritage of the Vera sisters from their dialogue and their spells. I mean we’ve had 3 spells that are in Spanish so far.
Cliche Characters, Bad Dialogue and Cringe Worthy Acting
The Vera Sisters have so much potential as characters, I mean their cultural heritage alone gives you so much to explore as characters. Instead we’ve got the overachieving sister who’s a researcher in a pharmaceutical, the sorority debutante and the homosexual feminist. The characters have so far, after nine episodes, turned out to be rather one dimensional with little backstory or culture being explored.
Let’s start with the most cliche character: the sorority debutante, Maggie Vera. I would say that she’s one of the most unrelatable characters in the series. She starts off as self obsessed brat with little concern for her sisters or even the death of her mother. She was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of getting into the sorority. Thank the heavens this character arc saw an early end – all I can say is that it didn’t end early enough. Beyond this arc, her character has seen little development since. The only plot point that seems to be explored is her relationship with Parker Caine (portrayed by Nick Hargrove) who seems to have a better character story than one of the sisters. Self obsessed, emotional and frankly one of the most boring characters in the series – that is exactly what Maggie Vera is.
Middle sister, Mel Vera is less irritating and whiny but still manages to stay in the realm of self obsessed. Her character arc revolved heavily around her relationship with Niko Hamada (portrayed by Ellen Tamaki). While I can understand bringing the series into the present with an overtly gay relationship, the writing for Mel’s character makes her one of the most overbearing, stubborn and unrelenting feminist characters ever. Her version of feminism is possibly the only reason she’s a gay character. She sees no compromise with her stance that the misogyny of current norms is the reason for the oppression of women. Frankly, her arguments and stance in the series make the work of many a strong woman a joke. She’s written with such shallow character depth that you’ll be able to guess her every move and motivation. After being forced to end her relationship with Niko as things get a little too messy, she casts a spell to turn back time to erase her meeting “the love of her life” – and as every science fiction junky can tell you, messing with time will have unintended consequences. The character spends a good portion of the episodes following this event brooding in unwashed clothes with a total disregard for what’s happening around her. Again, it seems that the Vera sisters have a tendency to be self obsessed. I really wonder what Marisol did to make them this full of themselves.
One of the sole saving graces in terms of characters is the half sister, Macy Vaughn. She’s an intelligent, self respecting, charming character whose backstory has a lot of potential to grow into a great arc for both her and her sisters. She is the only sister who seems to have an ounce of heart. The only difference between her and her sisters is that she wasn’t raised by Marisol. Instead, we find out pretty early that she was given up for adoption when she was a baby. This character arc as well as her relationship with Gavin Burdette (portrayed by Ser’Darius Blaine) lead her down a path which seems to be steeped in African Voodoo traditions. However, we also have the latino Wiccan ways of Marisol which are also intertwined. Macy is the only sister with any true potential to be a Charmed One and its simple to understand why: she’s not doting over herself. We see her get caught in situations where she is trying to make a decision to serve the greater good for other characters through the first portion of the Charmed reboot.
While the writing for the Vera sisters could use a whole lot of help in terms of character development, the side characters seem to have stolen the spotlight from the main protagonists of the series. The Charmed reboot is littered with supporting characters that not only have more interesting character arcs but seem to have been the focus of the writers instead of the sisters. Both Rupert Evans’ Harry Greenwood, the Whitelighter to the new Charmed Ones, and Parker seem to have been the main focus for the writers of the reboot. Both have equally compelling backstories and have been more entertaining than any of the sisters.
That said, bad writing doesn’t forgive the subpar acting of the main cast. This was especially apparent in the pilot and the following episodes. The line delivery from the actresses are cringe worthy. The acting lacks gusto and comes off forced without emotion. Even the more emotional scenes come off stoic.
Can the Charmed Reboot Reclaim the charm?
While I would really like to give the series the benefit of the doubt and say it will get better given where the series left off before going on hiatus, I find it hard to believe that the series has much to offer given the missteps that it has already taken. Unless by some miracle, the characters become more charming, lovable and relatable, the series is doomed.
The Charmed reboot started off on the wrong foot by shoehorning feminism and girl power into the opening episodes with the character of Mel Vera. It showed even less interest in keeping its audience with a obnoxiously self obsessed Maggie. Even with the little respite found in Macy, Harry and Parker, the series has a lot to do to make up for lost time. The writing lacked the subtlety and finesse of the original series when it came to building the characters and creating a series which could successfully be about feminism without driving away its male audience.
In addition, the CW may want to look at its current line up of shows a little bit harder. The network has become rife with broody dark series such as Supernatural and Arrow with little respite for more hopeful, bright series which was what the original Charmed was. It was able to be dark when it needed to be, but more importantly, the sisters were a symbol of hope and salvation. In the new reboot of Charmed there’s only dark, broody and self obsessed. The series also lacks any form of focus which can lead to meaning character progression.
All in all, the reboot isn’t Charmed. What it is – is the product of a network looking for a show with strong female leads while shoehorning every which minority culture they can find. The show’s first season should be more focused on the sisters, their story and the reason why they decide to stay together as the Charmed ones instead of delving into so much magical lore that it loses itself in mysticism.