Fans of the original Charmed, which ran right in a GenX/Millennial pop-culture wheelhouse, were both wary and excited to see a reboot announced. In an era of the Disney ‘Live Action’ remake, reboots can be hit or miss, especially when fans decide to take ownership and resist change of what they’ve always known. But not all change is bad, and not all reboots are created equal. The 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, reimagined with something that long felt lacking from the originals (women heroes) was more of a success than some fans would have you believe. Star Wars has opened a new world to a new and broader generation. It would be a lie to say that the third time’s not the charm with Spider-Man.
Constance M. Burge takes the helm again in this reprisal, pushing a step further than other reboots with diversification. The 2018 Charmed starts with a more diverse cast than seems usual in present day urban fantasies, giving us not only three women of color leads in Melonie Diaz, Madeleine Mantock, and Sarah Jeffery, but at least two queer women of color. A few episodes into the series, we also discover that at least two of the sisters are also mixed race. This is especially notable if, like me, the seemingly black and white reading of racial ‘diversity’ leaves some people of color feeling persona non grata.
The new Charmed avoids several pitfalls that impede many a reboot: While the premise is generally the same (three sisters discover their magical destinies after the death of their matriarch caretaker), it doesn’t not follow the original beat for beat, even if it takes a few episodes to reveal just how well this is done. Charmed offers a nice blend of complicated family secrets portrayed in a non-linear path of acceptance. The introduction of estranged sister Macy to Maggie and Mel feels a little too easily accepted, until the show later reveals the authentic reality of reacting belatedly after new information has been allowed to simmer. Enough homage exists to reassure long-time fans, but it manages to stay refreshing.
Burge boasted that the new series would take a more feminist approach, something which received criticism from many, including the original cast of the 1998 original. Original Charmed had a definite feminist flavor relevant to its time, including exploring the ways in which different paths for different women can all be valid, so long as it makes them happy. When the series came to a close in 2006, these were still hot button topics of conversation with women pitted against women on things like working outside the home versus in the home, or having children or not. 2018’s series runs in hard, with the sisters’ mother, Marisol, being the head of the Women’s Studies department at the local university, and a decidedly vocal Mel, who is bold and unafraid to criticize the world around her from her feminist perspective. Right from the get-go, Charmed touches on relevant topics, including the #MeToo movement, men’s rights activists, and the problematic situation of a school naming a white, cisgender man to the new head of the Women’s Studies program (no matter how many times he’s been ‘retweeted by Roxanne Gay’). It doesn’t let up from there.
Not every piece of media needs to be feminist to be enjoyable, and if Charmed only existed as a mouthpiece for social justice issues, it would fall flat. It’s carefully woven with relationships of varying sorts among the diverse cast and their equally diverse love interests. Each principle character enjoys a meaningful character arc, and never feel as if they are simply set dressing in the lives of the Charmed Ones. Even better is that the new Charmed maintains some of the ridiculous over the top plot viewers loved in the original (and even keeps some of the character types). It’s fun, it’s frivolous, and it’s also poignant at turns. Charmed 2018 includes a discussion of the nuances of racial identity issues and the varying ways in which racism affects different people of color differently, in a way that only seems to be rivaled by One Day at a Time.
Long time campy fantasy series fans will recognize Craig Parker in a role that is equal parts delicious and absurd in its evilness, which is a place where he truly shines. Jane the Virgin enthusiasts will enjoy a special treat with an appearance by Jaime Camil in an episode directed by Gina Rodriguez. In fact, this reboot hosts many more women’s hands in its creation than its predecessor, and it shows.
The season ends with all ends tied up and a cute Easter Egg nod to the original, so if this was as far as the series went, walking away doesn’t leave us unfulfilled. At the same time, just enough has been teased that the series will have no trouble picking up again. Luckily for Burge and the rest of the team, Season 2 is underway.
Charmed S1 is streaming in full now, on Netflix.