Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for the pilot episode of Charmed.
Charmed, the reboot of the WB series that ran from 1998 to 2006, aired its first episode on Sunday, October 14th on The CW. As with any reboot, there are mixed opinions about the quality of the show and its perceived proximity to the original story- some of the criticism even coming from the cast of the original series. Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano, who portrayed Prue, Piper, and Phoebe Halliwell respectively have all expressed their support for the cast and crew, as well as their qualms about the way the show was being handled. Notably, they expressed concerns about the show being explicitly advertised as a “feminist reboot”, despite the original aiming to portray those values, as well as the original cast’s lack of involvement in the production.
— Holly Marie Combs Ryan (@H_Combs) May 22, 2018
However, the cast and crew of the reboot are optimistic that they can sway public opinion of their show, and they are determined to appeal to audiences new and old. Madeleine Mantock, who portrays oldest sister Macy on the new show, responded to the actresses’ concerns in August 2018, saying:
We are using a lot of their central mythologies: white lighters, the Book of Shadows, the Power of Three, the feeling that, at its core, it’s a love story between the three sisters. And they’re gonna have romantic ups and downs, but the core of the show, I think, remains the same.
So, how different is the reboot from the original, exactly? Most notably, the story centers on different characters; rather than the three Halliwell sisters plus Paige Matthews (portrayed by Rose McGowan) who live in sunny San Francisco, the new Charmed focuses on Macy, Mel, and Maggie, residents of a small college town in Michigan. While both sisterhoods’ origin stories follow a similar trajectory, they diverge in part due to the location where their stories take place. The original arguably does not rely much on the setting, but the reboot embeds its plot within the college town; Marisol Vera, the mother of the three women, was a prominent women’s studies professor at Hilltowne University, and the pilot revolves around the expulsion of a male professor accused of sexual assault. The male professor was revealed to be a higher-level demon at the end of the episode, one that fittingly “feeds off of strong women, draining their strength”. It is the characterization of the protagonists and antagonists that ultimately give this reboot promise, especially the three sisters.
Each sister stands out in their own unique way. The showrunners notably flipped the roles of each of the sisters; whereas middle sister Piper Halliwell was more meek and slowly grew into her strength, Mel Vera immediately steps onto the scene with a bold attitude and an unwillingness to settle. This may be due to her assumed role as the eldest sibling; to Mel’s knowledge, Maggie is her younger sister and her only sister. Mel is also described by multiple characters as being very angry, especially in the wake of Marisol’s death. Mel’s anger is more intriguing than her “feminist” persona, which, while it is important, comes across as inauthentic and forced, especially when she begins haranguing about rape culture during Maggie’s sorority rush. In the months following the start of the #MeToo movement, the existence and necessity of female rage have been a focal point of discussion. While anger is absolutely necessary in some scenarios, Mel’s fury has effectively driven away the majority of her loved ones, including Maggie and Mel’s ex-girlfriend Niko. While some people understand where Mel is coming from, most of them find her too difficult to deal with and maintain their distance.
After the sisters’ powers begin to reemerge, Mel discovers her freezing power. Towards the end of the episode, it is revealed that her freezing power only works when she is not angry. This revelation opens up the possibility for some great character development, as well as the opportunity to include some more mythology from the original series. As Mel needs to use her power more often, she will likely have to regulate her emotions more often. This could lend itself to a much-needed discussion about grief and healing after loss, especially as it pertains to women. Since the show wants to put a much stronger emphasis on feminism, they could also show how women navigate their emotions under the patriarchy. Another route the showrunners could take is allowing Mel to channel her anger into her craft, which opens up the opportunity to reintroduce Piper’s combustion powers if they wish. However, as it is still early on in the series, it is difficult to tell where the reboot will overlap with the original, especially since the showrunners are determined to make their iteration different.
On the other hand, youngest sister Maggie Vera is probably the most similar to her predecessor Phoebe Halliwell. Sarah Jeffery, the actress who plays Maggie describes her as “bubbly” and “fun”, and this is clear when she is introduced in the pilot. Maggie, a college freshman, is determined to rush a sorority and find sisterhood with the girls who are already members of the said sorority. This is in part because she wants to live a normal life, and also because remaining at home with Mel after Marisol’s death is too much to bear. Many fans have zeroed in on the fact that her power is telepathy, rather than premonitions like in the original series. However, in the scene where their Whitelighter Harry explains their duties as witches, he cites the source of Maggie’s power to her sensitivity and empathy. Notably, Phoebe was an empath in the original series, and was said to not have “an evil bone in her body”. So while Maggie may lack Phoebe’s enthusiasm about being a witch and her ability to see the future, those intrinsic qualities are not absent. Additionally, Maggie has her own role to play in this story, even if it is not entirely clear yet.
Finally, while youngest sister Paige Matthews was the long-lost family member in the original, in this rendition the eldest is shown to be Macy Vaughn who is a young geneticist working at Hilltowne University. The introduction of a scientist to the series provides a unique twist, and it is honestly enjoyable to watch Macy try to find a scientific explanation to the supernatural occurrences around her. Madeleine Mantock is also a driving force behind the positive outlook on this show. In an interview with Teen Vogue, Mantock discusses how the show will use the actresses’ varying ethnic backgrounds to launch a discussion about how different cultures approach witchcraft. The original Charmed was notably predominantly white, and the reboot attempts to challenge that without “going to the extreme of tokenism”. The way that the cast engages with the public about the show, as well as the possibility of character and plot development, indicates promise.
While it may take a while for audiences to warm up to the idea of a Charmed reboot, there is definitely a myriad of opportunities for growth. It may not replace the #OGCharmed, but it could possibly be just as memorable as the original in terms of quality, diversity, and allure.
Featured Image via Entertainment Weekly