Halliwell vs Vera
20 Years Later – Does The New Charmed Cast A Spell As Good As The Original
I love Charmed (1998). I grew up watching it from age five, and I don’t know why my parents let me watch it, but they did. Now at 28 it’s still a comfort show for me. That, and Doctor Who (2005).
One of the biggest hits of late 90s television was the show of sisterhood and witchy powers that continued to grow into the early 00s and cemented itself as a staple entertainer for many.
When the news first broke a reboot of the show was being made, there was immediate concern along with cautious optimism. Maybe they were aiming to expand the Charmed-verse like fans wanted. However, that cautious optimism didn’t last when further news came out that the legacy cast were not going to be included at all and this new Charmed would be a complete overhaul and reboot of the original.
How very dare they! One of my most beloved properties of prime-time television, and a show that has legions of fans and continues to be discussed at length on Reddit forums is getting a complete wipe for something new with the same name and loose plot specifics.
Indeed, the new Charmed would be about a trio of sisters who discover they have powers, and each of these sisters would have the same first letter of their name, and would battle the forces of evil along with their guide, a Whitelighter. That’s about as far as the comparisons could go from what we could gather in the beginning.
The announcement of the reboot and subsequent news articles on information as it came to light aligned this new series with a lot of controversy. These stemmed from a hard marketing push of a “feminist agenda” and from casting concerns. I won’t delve into these as there are stronger and better voices than mine that have better understandings of these topics, such as Preeya Phadnis’ 2019 article here: https://medium.com/characteristic-impedance/the-charmed-reboot-brings-intersectionality-to-white-feminism-55df344d1313. This article delves into the reboot casting and provides an insightful analysis on the concerns held why they’re important to remember.
With season 4 of the reboot looming for a current release of 11 March 2022, I wrote this piece with the intention of presenting a view from a long-time fan of the original who gave the reboot a chance and didn’t shoot it down and spit on it like some extreme fans of the original did even before they watched the first episode. I’ve tried to present with the most unbiased lens I can and will focus on the qualities and disservices of both versions.
So, I’ve now seen the first three seasons of the new Charmed, and following the season three finale I watched a few months ago I went on a quick-binge of the original to freshen my memory.
Overall, the original has much more memorable demons and “monsters of the week”. I won’t spoil plot-relevant baddies in case there are newbies to the original that haven’t seen it all yet. To name a few off the top of my head, Barbas (the best demon in the show’s history), the Wendigo (terrifying to a year year old in 1998, terrifying to a 28 year old in 2022), the Grimlocks (also terrifying), the Seer (she’s an icon and she is the moment), and Zankou (one of my sexual awakenings, surely).
The reboot has a hell of a lot less iconic and memorable monsters, but did have several “big bads” over time that were much more plot-relevant and therefore I don’t want to spoil anything for new viewers. Sure the reboot also had some familiar monsters like the Banshee and Darklighters, but overall there were less “big bad of the week” to be remembered. Often the show has less focus on a small baddie and instead opts to revolve the plot around the season-wide arc villain. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s harder to distinguish which episodes I’d watch if I were to say to myself “hm, maybe I’ll watch this particular episode of Charmed”.
That rewatchability is important for fans to connect to the show on a deeper level. When I think of the original I could just as easily tell myself “I want to watch the one where the horror movies come to life” or “I want to watch the one with the three blonde sisters” and I’d be able to pick the episode purely because of the memorable villains.
For the reboot, however, it is much harder because most of the episodes tend to revolve around the season-wide arc and therefore don’t really work as a “stand-alone” quick comfort watch.
The rewatchability also affects what type of episode I’d feel like watching in the original series. There is a clear distinction between the two eras of Charmed (1998). The first three seasons of the original, and much of the fourth season tend to lean into the “darker” forms of witchcraft and story narratives, while the fifth season onwards tend to feel more lighthearted regarding the “monsters” with an emphasis on fairytales and myths. This is a constant source of debate and heated discussion on the Reddit forum for the original. Plenty of fans enjoy both eras, but the distinction lies in the “lighter” tone of the later run compared to the “darker” story-telling elements and more emphasis on wiccan culture of the first few seasons. This of course is due to behind-the-scenes changes and the show going in another direction of vision. I find both eras of the original just as good as one another, and I think every season has great episodes and some poor ones.
The reboot feels like a mash of it all. All three seasons so far have balanced the light and dark and been consistent in storytelling from this front. Regarding the plot twists, some are much better than others, but overall, the show is good at managing the plot threads and juggling the sisterhood and witchcraft as both as important as the other. There was a lot of marketing around the new show using witchcraft from other cultures, in particular, a focus on Latina traditions. I was extremely excited to see this as we didn’t get that in the original, however, the reboot moved quickly away from the sisters consulting the Book of Shadows for the answers and began to use technology for some of the vanquishes. I enjoyed that, especially considering the eldest sister, Macy, is a scientist and her character revolves around logic and reason and analysis to problem-solve. The other sisters, Mel and Maggie (the Piper and Phoebe of the reboot respectively) tend to perform the spells from magical readings and texts and with the assistance of their allies.
That sisterhood is an integral part of the show and in the original run it was a vital part of making the show “family-friendly”. As I said, I was five watching it, I didn’t get the sexual jokes and innuendo, I didn’t get a lot of the emotional undertones. What I did get was a show of three sisters kicking bad guy ass and growing together as sisters.
The reboot also focuses on sisterly bonds, but it seems less integral. Many episodes involve each sister having their own plot to follow whether by themselves or with one of the allies in the large supporting cast rather than as all three together solving the plot. The expanded supporting cast and their importance is highlighted as they all receive their own arcs and character growth, which is good for world-building and expanding the lore and universe, but it also doesn’t leave the sisters as centre stage. They also don’t spend much time in the “magic world” throughout the three seasons. Instead, the sisters go searching individually and sometimes the sisters lose growth together as an outcome.
Granted, not having the three sisters at the end of each episode sitting in P3 discussing the moral of the week with the band of the week playing is a better approach to take with modern audiences. That aspect of the original is a product of its time. In the reboot, we can have our moments to see each sister shine as individuals.
Hands down Macy and Maggie from the reboot are equally tied as my favourite characters in the series. They both have exceptional growth and development and Madeleine Mantock and Sarah Jeffery (Macy and Maggie respectively) really steal the scenes they’re in. Especially in season three.
Now to some of the issues of the reboot, and I will keep them somewhat brief. In the first season I found myself loving one new element of the show, and then hating another two. Every time they took one step forward and I was like “great, this is awesome!” it would be undone in the same episode because it would go somewhere cliché, or a character would do something that didn’t align with the previous aspects of their character we’ve come to know. The first season in particular I felt as though the reboot was stepping on the toes of the original and was treading the same ground with the personalities of each sister, or the allies and enemies such as “the Elders”, “half-demon boyfriend”, “Whitelighter constantly being Deus Ex Machina”.
By season two things had changed dramatically and I was totally onboard. It was a bizarre change-up that I didn’t see coming and I enjoyed the subversion of expectations. By the end of season two I was really interested in where it would go, and how the plots would come together. Then COVID-19 happened and they had to cut the run short so the last few episodes of season two became the first couple episodes of season three.
Season three started poorly because of this, but I found myself really getting into it during the run, and I thought “ok great, this is now its own thing and finally we’re getting some new lore and new powers and new character developments”. One element I loved was the introduction of an extended family member, something the original didn’t really do (only immediate family members). I wanted more of that new extended family member, and I wanted an expansion into their world and their lore and plots. But then the season finale hit and yet again it was a big step backward after progressing so much in season three. I was annoyed with the season finale, mainly because of what it means for season four as they had great characters to use that were introduced, and yet, by the dialogue in the finale, it’s going to shift once again in this new season to a place I feel they might have missed the mark.
So, in final thoughts, the reboot is a rollercoaster. There are great characters and plot ideas, but equally there is bad acting, and cliché resolutions, but hey, it’s a CW television show so you know what you’re getting into when you start these programs. I believe the reboot has done well to last to season four, even if a vast majority of original series’ fans seemed to hate the very idea of a reboot, but I am in a way glad it has continued as it’s become its own show and finally been able to step out of the (Book of) Shadows of the original.