Wednesday, October 23, 2013

#618. 7 reasons Charmed is not just for chicks

My sister is obsessed with Charmed.  She's rewatched the entire eight-season series multiple times, and on several of these occasions I've watched most of it with her as a result.  Would I have watched it even once without her?  Moot point.  I've grown to love it almost as much as she does.

The series ran from 1998 to 2006, and starred Shannon Doherty (for the first three seasons), Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano, and Rose McGowan (for the final five seasons) as the Halliwell sisters, whose Power of Three enabled them to control individual powers and confront nasty demons on a regular basis.  It was basically the best update of I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched imaginable.

And yet there's probably the sense that unless you're female or at least a male of the horn dog persuasion (because producers made sure all four lovely ladies wore skimpy clothes), you never thought about taking Charmed seriously.  If that's the case, here are some reasons to reconsider that decision:

  1. Deadpan acting.  Hey, the actors in the series knew it could sometimes be silly, too, even if the material was always taken seriously.  That's why all four actresses knew just how to present the material, never melodramatically (which would have been the approach some of the stories could have provoked) or comically (although the sheer blessing of Milano is that she could have it that way and never miss a beat).  Charmed was a drama, but not in the sense of The Vampire Diaries or True Blood (and certainly not Game of Thrones!).  Tone could vary.  So the actors chose a neutral tone to match.  The extremes of the approach are best characterized by Doherty, who took it most seriously, and McGowan, who had the most obvious fun with it.
  2. Kaley Cuoco.  The future star of The Big Bang Theory was featured in Charmed's final season as a counterpoint witch unrelated to the Halliwell sisters with family drama of her own and a different kind of learning curve than had been experienced previously in the series.  I already knew Cuoco from her work in 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (where she was the daughter in question), which is best remembered as the sitcom John Ritter was doing when he died.  I always loved her.  Her part in Charmed is the reverse of Big Bang Theory and 8 Simple Rules, where she's the dumb blonde.  Here she's more capable than the Halliwells are sometimes willing to admit.  In other words, this is her original geek cred.
  3. Cole.  The featured villainous romantic figure of the series, Cole was a human/demon hybrid who seduced Milano's Phoebe for three seasons, married to her when he was technically the Source (as in Of All Evil), which was incredibly bad timing.  Cole's demonic half looked like Darth Maul on steroids.  His human half was portrayed by Julian McMahon before he did Nip/Tuck and played Dr. Doom in the first two Fantastic Four movies.  Though the character was the closest the series ever got to soap opera, Cole was very much the male embodiment of the Halliwell deadpan charm, and thus perhaps one of the easiest conduits for male viewers.
  4. Leo.  The flipside would be Leo, who was the significant other to Marie Combs' Piper.  Sort of like the Charmed version of Lois and Clark's Dean Cain as far as soft-spoken male protagonists go, Brian Krause's Leo was constantly evolving, and not just because the series necessarily spent most of its time with its female leads.  Leo was introduced early in the series and only gradually revealed as a Whitelighter, what this series called guardian angels, which introduced a whole different level to the mythology.  Leo and Piper had their ups and downs, mostly to explain why Leo wasn't around all the time, but that also meant Leo had a good deal of independence and wasn't always tied strictly to whatever the sisters were up to.
  5. Knowledge of its own mythology.  Something every fanboy loves is mythology.  Charmed had that in spades, and always knew exactly how to exploit it.  This was sometimes pretty easy, since the Halliwells were immediately introduced in relation to their ancestral predecessors, including the mother who died when they were young and the grandmother ("Grams") who raised them until her own death (in both cases that hardly meant we saw the last of them!).  Where a lot of other shows would have stumbled when trying to replace a crucial cast member, the subtraction of Doherty and addition of McGowan was handled with aplomb, mostly because the flip-flop was executed perfectly in the fourth season premiere, drawing on groundwork that had been laid years earlier.
  6. Wicca for dummies.  As the sisters discovered themselves, their approach to being witches differed greatly from what you might imagine.  There were certainly key recognizable elements, but for the most part everything here was very specific to the characters rather than Wicca lore.  Hence the heavy emphasis on their fictional Book of Shadows, which was practically a part of the cast, the way the starship is in Star Trek, for example.  And their powers were more like superpowers than magic, anyway.  Only Doherty's Prue had something that could have been considered cutesy (and only because of the sound effect that accompanied it), while McGowan's, which ties into my previous point, was perhaps the coolest, the trademark orbing of a Whitelighter (although in her case, half-Whitelighter).
  7. Awesome guest-stars.  Here I'm thinking of the likes of John Cho (years before Star Trek or Harold & Kumar), David Carradine (he was always awesome), French Stewart (as a surprisingly dramatic genie), Jim Rash (whom you may know either as a screenwriter or a star of Community, although here he's a laughable demon whose name "will haunt you forever"), Rainn Wilson (years before The Office, in a role that might have typified his career if he'd never struck upon Dwight Schrute), and Brian Thompson (who makes everything better in a completely different way than David Carradine).  You don't need to be a chick to appreciate any of these guys, just a fan of pop culture.


Pat Dilloway said...

One of my sisters liked that show but since thankfully I was not living with her I've never seen more than 5 minutes of it. That show was sort of WB's answer to Buffy, at least until they were on the same network. If they ever were; I forget when that merger happened. Or maybe they were on the same channel all along.


My wife's best friend was obsessed by it, we never really hit it off, so I guess that's why I never got into it.
It was Guilty by association!

Tony Laplume said...

Pat, they were both on the WB. Buffy later shifted to UPN.

David, by association!

The Armchair Squid said...

This might be one we'll try at some point. We're currently working our way through Battlestar Galactica and I'm pretty sure Buffy's up next.

Denise Covey said...

Tony, I like Charmed too, and it was great to see it remembered so fondly. I always liked Shannon Doherty. Pretty sharp.

Tony Laplume said...

Squid, Charmed is pretty much the opposite of Battlestar Galactica. So you will definitely have variety.

Denise, it's a show that's hard to hate. I'm thinking that anyone who watched it adores it.


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