One of the WB’s biggest hits, Charmed held the record for the network’s highest rated debut until Smallville premiered. Aside from Tarzan and 7th Heaven the WB had what can only be called a stunningly anti-Mac line-up over the years. Between shows like Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, and One Tree Hill it was like diving into a pool of all the gooey, girl-squealing, schmoopiness that would make me want to poke my eyes out with a dull pencil.
Charmed is a series I’ve never watched before, had absolutely no interest in, and had no reason to watch. It’s always seemed to be a very chick-oriented show, which I stay away from like the plague. Give me explosions, brutal fight scenes, and a heavy helping of science fiction and I’m in entertainment heaven. Give me over-dramatized love stories, over-emotional female characters, or even just a mostly female cast and I’ll either contemplate allowing my head to be used for batting practice or want to enact the aforementioned interaction between a dull pencil and my eyes – it’s a toss-up. And yet, despite my impression of this show as just another member of that category, somehow the idea of watching Charmed got stuck in my mind. And since that could only be remedied by watching the show, I took the plunge, albeit not happily.
In the first season we meet three sisters, Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs), and Phoebe (Alysa Milano), powerless and unaware of their wiccan heritage. It starts out as a textbook study of sibling rivalry: between Prue’s overwhelming sense of responsibility, Phoebe’s laid-back attitude toward everything, and Piper’s aversion to conflict you automatically start the series with a nagging suspicion you’re going to be getting into more of a soap opera than a show about witches and the crazy monsters they deal with. Thankfully, by the end of the first episode the sisters have stumbled across their abilities and those of us hoping to avoid yet another teen soap were able to collectively let out our breath and enjoy a much more fun romp through the magical and sometimes absurd.
Of course, for all these magical shenanigans to come into play you need villians, and Charmed definitely has its share – quite possibly more than its share, actually. The various monsters/demons making an appearance in this season include warlocks (bad witches), a wendigo, the Woogeyman, and banshees (among others). We also get to meet Leo Wyatt, the whitelighter charged with protecting the sisters from harm (he compares himself to a “Guardian Angel”). There is a noticeably heavy police presence in the show because of Prue’s relationship with Inspector Andy Trudeau, which means we also spend a lot of time with his partner, Inspector Darryl Morris.
Throughout the first season the monsters/demons are introduced in a format that anybody familiar with The X-Files will recognize: the monster-of-the-week. If you have no choice but to start in the middle of the season you will not feel nearly as lost as you would if there were huge story arcs covering entire seasons. Granted, some things the sisters talk about or do may seem cryptic if you don’t start with episode one, but it’s definitely not enough that it should discourage anybody from picking up whatever episodes they can in the first season and giving it a go.
The downside of this, of course, is that after viewing multiple episodes you get a bit sick of seeing a parade of monsters bite it by the end of every episode. Every once in a while it’s good to let the baddie get away and come back in a later episode (case in point: Goren’s arch-nemesis Nicole Wallace in Law & Order: Criminal Intent). Not only does a recurring enemy break up the monotony of the monster parade, it can also act as a fantastic arena for the good guys’ character development, which feels a bit underdone. Failure is an integral part of the human experience and every once in a while it’s nice to be reminded that the characters on our TVs are supposed to be people, even if they are also witches. But it’s a small complaint and one that, from the reading I’ve done, is remedied in later seasons.
The actresses themselves are great as the three sisters. My initial dislike of Prue because I’ve never been a big fan of Shannen Doherty was quickly replaced by a grudging admission that yes, I do like her after all. Neither Holly Marie Combs’ nor Alyssa Milano’s characters gave me that first impression of dislike, but there was some confusion because Combs comes off as younger than Milano the whole season, yet Milano is the one playing the youngest sister, Phoebe. This is probably because in real life Combs is actually younger than Milano. But at this point I’m splitting hairs and I wouldn’t be surprised if anybody wanted to comment and say I was totally wrong and Piper (Combs) didn’t seem younger than Phoebe (Milano) at all.
Verdict: B+. The strengths of this season definitely outweigh the weaknesses. The sisters have a fairly balanced sibling relationship that is not perfect, though it treads mighty close to cliché in some instances. The actresses actually share enough physical qualities that I can believe they are sisters – they don’t look similar, but for me that doesn’t matter much considering the fact that if you put me and my sisters together you probably wouldn’t peg us as related. While some scenes are corny I’m convinced it has much more to do with the fact that it is a TV show and therefore must work on a TV show’s budget than it is a problem with script issues. The weaknesses are more along the lines of, as I said, a little too much reliance on the monster-of-the-week format and character development that feels like it’s been pushed to the background in order to accommodate that. All in all it’s a strong watch and even if you told yourself you’d never watch it because it’s a “chick show” I recommend at least giving it a try. Hey, my dad is as action-oriented as any guy and even he loves this show. So you have no excuse to not give it a chance.
Before I started I never thought I’d say this, but I’m now happy that the odd urge to watch this show struck. Heaven help me when Charmed: The Complete Series Limited Deluxe Edition is released in November.