Reboots are hard on everyone. They're hard on fans who loved the original and don't want something they've cherished for years to be twisted and tainted by a new version. They're hard on casts and creators who have to walk a thin line between honoring what came before and making a distinct mark of their own. They're hard on those who were part of the original, who have to watch all their hard work and devotion pass into new hands. Mostly though, they're hard on critics like me who have to weigh all this out and then make a decision about whether it was all worth reinventing (and, even more importantly, worth watching) in the end.
The Charmed reboot is a particularly contentious case, but it's one worthy of examination. This new iteration of sister witches who discover their hidden abilities and the destiny that goes along with them has taken the flavor of the original Charmed without stomping on or ripping off the elements we loved. It also, however, fails to create the organic chemistry of the original, which might eventually lead to its downfall.
As a devout fan of the original Charmed, I was both wary of the reboot and eager to see the updates that were long overdue. As much as the Halliwell sisters made a powerful statement about who and what women could be on TV in the late '90s and early aughts, there was a distinctly straight, white scope to the series that cut diversity out of the equation. To say the reboot solves this dilemma is going a little far — the premiere doesn't dig in to the girls' Latina heritage enough to call it a revolution just yet — but it's definitely a place to start. Gone are the whitewashed witches and warlocks the original Charmed had a seemingly endless supply of, replaced with three beautiful women of color who provide a fun, new energy for the Charmed Ones. We're also getting an updated LGBTQ storyline worthy of #20GayTeen, which was something entirely absent from the original.
As for the series itself, it's off to a bumpy, but not unsalvageable start.
The story begins with just two sisters and the mysterious murder of their mother. A third, estranged sister waits in the wings, but once she joins the fold, the hidden magical destiny each girl possesses comes to life, and the new Charmed Ones are born. Macy (Madeleine Mantock), the eldest sister, didn't let her childhood abandonment keep her down, instead rising in the scientific ranks to become a respected geneticist. Mel (Melonie Diaz), the formerly oldest and now middle sister, spends her time obsessing over her mother's death and legacy, championing women's issues on her college campus. The youngest, Maggie (Sarah Jeffery), would rather rush a sorority and avoid her ex than busy herself with witchcraft or anything else of much consequence really, but I sense there are hidden depths to be found there.
Of the three leads, Mantock makes an impression as the one most comfortable with her role and the most engaging to watch. While a large portion of the sisterly interactions in the premiere are peppered with awkwardness that should hopefully fade as the series finds its footing, those with Mantock tend to be more palatable and fluid, which is ironic considering she's supposed to have grown up completely without the ties of sisterhood this show is built upon.
Slowly but surely, the powers of telekinesis, telepathy and the ability to freeze time manifest during the daily lives of each sister, culminating in the moment their new guide and whitelighter, Harry (Rupert Evans), reveals their true destiny to the girls: They are the Charmed Ones, the most powerful trio of good witches to ever exist.
Here, the Charmed reboot hits its biggest snag. In an attempt to be self-aware and expediently dispense information about the mythology of the show, the series demystifies the key component that tends to draw fans to fantasy series like this in the first place: magic. The supernatural component is still a cornerstone of the series, of course, but it's more often than not reduced to a gimmick or a punchline. Comedy plays a prevalent part in this new series, especially when it comes to the revelation and realization that these girls are witches, but more often than not it prevents any kind of real gravitas from taking hold within the story. The electric chemistry one expects to find between these sisters — not only because of their magic, but because of world-shifting changes they're experiencing together — all too often fizzles thanks to flippant remarks about feminism or heavy-handed humor that doesn't quite land. It often feels like we're barreling past plot points in an effort to get to the next punchline as quickly as possible.
The problem persists throughout the rest of the premiere, through standoffs with demons, protests against the patriarchy and even the pivotal moment where the girls must decide whether to embrace this new life or reject it in favor of a mortal existence. It's easy enough to dismiss this as a pilot problem — a wrong turn taken in an effort to sell a series to a network rather than an audience — which is where my hope gets restored for this new series.
With a full season ahead of it to champion its #MeToo agenda (which is serviced frequently and yet not very meaningfully in the premiere), as well as to develop the sisters' bonds as witches and as a new family, the breakneck pace of the premiere doesn't have to become the norm for this series. The foundation the reboot has built itself on is solid. Social justice, sisterhood, and the protection of the innocent weave effortlessly into the formula left behind by the original, in which sister witches fight the forces of evil and save lives on a weekly basis. If this reimagining can find a way to smooth over the clunky aspects of its beginnings, there's no reason it can't enjoy a long and storied run like its namesake.
Charmed premieres Sunday, Oct. 14 at 9/8c on The CW.
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