Image: Charmed (The CW)

The first words uttered in 2018’s Charmed reboot are “this isn’t a witch hunt.” Woody Allen called allegations against Harvey Weinstein—allegations that eventually became formal rape charges in May—a witch hunt. Liam Neeson has used that phrasing when talking about the #MeToo movement, too. But this new witchy CW series makes its stance on the issue very clear, immediately grounding itself not just in the present but specifically in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, providing a compelling and smart narrative framework. It sets up a story about three young witches protecting the world from evil, but it steeps that story in themes of power dynamics, gender, consent, and social justice.

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The beats Charmed follows in its pilot are familiar as far as an origin story goes. Two sisters—Mel (Melonie Diaz) and Maggie (Sarah Jeffery)—have their lives upended when their mother dies, which leads to the discovery of a long-lost half-sister named Macy (Madeleine Mantock). The reunited sisters also learn that they are the most powerful trio of witches in the world, the Charmed ones.

In its pilot, Charmed perfectly marries camp and drama. It has a lot of fun, especially via Rupert Evans’ Harry Greenwood, the sisters’ Whitelighter, a guardian angel whose as earnest as the original series’ Whitelighter Leo but also has the librarian vibe of Buffy’s Giles. The show’s supernatural elements lean way into the camp: crows circle the house ominously, a demon dog attacks Maggie in the woods, fogged breath foreshadows impending doom.

After working through its initial exposition, the pilot falls comfortably into a standard Monster Of The Week episode structure, but the details are very telling of the kind of story the series wishes to tell—one that’s grounded in present-day politics. That monster turns out to be a professor accused of sexual assault by three women and also an actual demon who has preyed on powerful women for centuries. Sure, it’s extremely on-the-nose but that kind of explicit storytelling works well here, grounding the more supernatural elements in real-world horror.

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The sisters’ powers are tied to their emotions, another way the show acutely uses its supernatural details to explore and communicate more than just magical fun. Mel is always fired up and a little neurotic, determined from the start that her mother’s death wasn’t an accident, passionate and fierce even though the people in her life—including her ex-girlfriend Nico (Ellen Tamaki)—are making her feel crazy. She has the power to freeze time, and she only has control over the power when she has control over her anger.

Through Mel, the show also directly engages in a meta commentary on witches throughout history. She bristles at the attempts to describe the onslaught of sexual assault allegations made against power men as a “witch hunt.” She’s aware of the history of women being persecuted under the false presumption that they were witches, and when the sisters receive the overwhelming news of their powers, she immediately makes those connections, linking the sisters to something bigger than them and linking the show to real history and gender politics.

Maggie, the youngest sister, wants to be liked and to fit in, deciding to rush a sorority. But she’s also sensitive and insecure, carries guilt about their mother’s death around and is the least into the idea of committing to a life as witches. She has empathic abilities, can read the personal thoughts of others. That leads to a few funny moments at the sorority, but it also is an intensely emotional power to have. When comforting Macy, who grew up not knowing she had sisters, she accidentally reads her mind and learns that she felt lonely her whole life. And as for Macy, she’s a scientist with a PhD in molecular genetics who has trouble wrapping her mind around the whole “magic” thing, but she winds up with the power of telekinesis, and heightened emotions seem to have a trigger effect on her powers, too.

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That the new Charmed is already so positioned within a conversation about sexual assault and feminism is particularly striking because of how the original series feels outdated...even during the time it was airing. And I say that with great love for the original series. But it was never exactly topical television, and its portrayal of San Francisco was almost fictitiously white and straight. The reboot is far more diverse on both of those fronts, and for me, a queer woman of color who held the original close to her heart for a very long time, that genuinely means something special.

Above all else, Charmed centers sisterhood—which the original also did in its strongest installments. The relationship dynamics between Maggie, Mel, and Macy provide a strong emotional backbone for the pilot. The series comes from Jane The Virgin showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman as well as Jane The Virgin writers Jessica O’Toole and Amy Rardin, and that same depth and complexity when it comes to stories about family and relationships that has made Jane The Virgin such a knockout—as well as its deft blending of comedy and drama—are present here as well. The rebooted series accomplishes a lot in its pilot, nodding to the camp and humor of the original series while also quickly establishing that it stands on its own, that it has a clear point of view underneath the layers of horror and fantasy.


Stray observations

  • I could go on and on about the role Charmed played in my life, so I’ll try to keep it short, but it was the first television show I ever loved, and my love for it was a big part of my identity around middle school. I had my own Book Of Shadows, novels from the companion series of books, the soundtrack on CD, and posters covering my room. So these weekly reviews are coming from a certified Charmed fanatic.
  • On that note, I’ll try to point out any callbacks to the original series that pop out to me. In the pilot, a shot of the Book Of Shadows shows a page for Melinda Warren, one of the ancestors of the Halliwell sisters.
  • This show literally names the Trump presidency as the first stage of the apocalypse!!!!
  • I really appreciate the way Mel has been written so far in terms of her sexuality. She’s established as queer right away and with little fanfare but in a way that feels authentic and meaningful. Hoping to see more explored on that front.

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