Charmed's Season 2 Premiere Just Got a Fresh Start in the Most Dramatic Way Possible

Yeah, shit’s about to pop off.
Yeah, shit’s about to pop off.
Photo: Colin Bentley (The CW)
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I have never seen anything quite like the season two premiere of Charmed. The series has returned but it’s not a happy reunion. Instead, this was a giant bonfire where everything and the kitchen sink were tossed into the flames and left to burn. I still have no idea how I feel about it.

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Illustration for article titled iCharmeds /iSeason 2 Premiere Just Got a Fresh Start in the Most Dramatic Way Possible

After Charmed wrapped its first season back in May, the series switched showrunners and there was a big fuss made over changing the focus to be more about supernatural storylines. This raised alarms for me. The original Charmed started going downhill after creator Constance M. Burge stepped back and let Brad Kern take over, switching the focus from sisterly bonds to supernatural costume changes and petty squabbling.

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However, I was willing to give it a chance. Since the season finale was about Mel, Macy, and Maggie taking over for the Elders as leaders of the magical community, focusing on supernatural stuff felt like a natural way for things to go in season two. Keep calm and Harry on, right? Boy was I naïve.

“Safe Space” started off innocuous enough, with the sisters hosting a raging party at their house. Danger is still lurking in the shadows, with a witch informing Mel that her whitelighter has gone missing, but overall things are going pretty well. Then, the next morning, the sisters are attacked by a mysterious assassin wielding bombs, blades, and a Hot Topic-friendly hooded coat. This seems like a typical baddie that’d be defeated by the end of the episode. You’d be mistaken. This event is apparently so bad it completely changes the fabric of the show.

Within the span of three minutes—trust me, I tracked it—everything about the show goes up in flames. Their childhood home is trashed, the Book of Shadows is destroyed, and they’re sent through a portal that strips them of their powers and dumps them clear across the country in Seattle. They do eventually get their house back because, apparently, homes can travel through portals and become invisible. Don’t ask, it’s Charmed.

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This isn’t just a temporary change of circumstance for the sake of drama. I’ve watched the first three episodes of the season: This is where we are now. Maggie is no longer in school. Macy isn’t a scientist. Niko is seemingly gone for good, with no hope of resolution after her and Mel’s painful goodbye. Everything about their former lives has been tossed to the wind, including the powers that made them the Charmed Ones (though that could change). The first season may as well be a prequel YA novel about how things used to be.

The rest of the episode is spent setting up our new status quo. The sisters have set up camp in the Elders’ Professor X-style command center, hidden inside a co-working spot called Safe Space (har har), where they can track witches in distress and travel instantly to their location using portals. They’re confronted by demons hinting at something dark rising and we get introduced to the new love interests now that Parker and Niko have presumably gone extinct. Charmed is also leaning hard into Macy and Harry’s sexual tension with a side-plot involving the assassin’s secret identity—I’m sure you can guess who. I don’t blame the show, honestly; their chemistry was one of the best unspoken things about the first season.

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I have never seen a series pull something like this before. We’ve seen shows make shifts to lift things up after a lackluster first season. For example, Legends of Tomorrow changed from a drama to a comedy and was much stronger for it. But LoT still worked within the framework of the world it had already set up. To have a series so drastically upend its story, throwing everything out the window to start fresh with something new? It’s not only strange, it’s uncomfortable. It reeks of desperation and makes me worry how long the series can last.

I’m sure some fans will like the new-new Charmed, and maybe eventually I will too. But for now, I’m kind of lost. I already spent 22 episodes getting to know these characters and their world. I’m now being told that none of that matters, and I have to be honest: I don’t like it.

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Guess we just live here now.
Guess we just live here now.
Photo: Colin Bentley (The CW)

Random Musings:

  • Content warning: There’s a disturbing moment toward the end of the episode where we see a woman who’s been hanged. Kinda comes out of nowhere. It seems like the show is experimenting with darker imagery, but I hope it’s not just for shock value.
  • The moment I saw Safe Space I knew this wasn’t going to be a temporary storyline. You don’t spend that much money on a multi-level, multi-room set if you’re not planning on it being a major part of the series.
  • I’m going to get real sick of the Safe Space gimmick real fast.
  • I did like how they explained away the loss of other Whitelighters, as it makes sense that if the Elders died out they would too. It also explains why Harry is still around, since he was no longer attached to them. On that note: How does Harry manage to keep getting hotter?
  • Why is there a Wiccan shop inside a co-working space, anyway? I mean, apart from the fact that the Charmed Ones need it and to give Mel a new love interest. I suppose that’s reason enough. But I’ve worked in co-working spaces. They usually don’t include Wiccan stores.
  • RIP Niko. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how wrong they did her.

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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DISCUSSION

“I have never seen a series pull something like this before.”

I have, at least twice. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979) was initially a fun, insubstantial show set on future Earth with Buck working for the Earth Defense Directorate on special security missions that were basically just routine action-adventure plots with superficial sci-fi trappings because showrunner Bruce Lansbury believed audiences would be alienated by any challenging SF concepts or message stories; however, the show managed to be pretty feminist and inclusive for its day, with Wilma Deering being a very effective and capable female lead and with lots of strong female guest characters besides. In season 2, a completely different production team led by Gunsmoke’s John Mantley took over and retooled it into a starship-based show with Buck, Wilma, and the robot Twiki being the only returning characters — although the network didn’t want a transition episode so the season just began with the new status quo already in place without explanation. Initially it tried to do smarter science fiction plots but was quickly dumbed down to really inane ones, yet it took itself far too seriously most of the time and was mostly far worse than season 1 (although the first and last episodes of season 2 are actually pretty terrific). It was also rather misogynistic, reducing Wilma to little more than eye candy and lacking the strong women that season 1 featured.

The second was War of the Worlds: The Series (1988). The first season, developed by Sam & Greg Strangis and showrun by Herbert Wright, had been a direct but revisionist sequel to the 1953 George Pal movie, in which the aliens could now hide inside human corpses as a disguise, plus nearly everyone had forgotten the global invasion due to a mix of mass denial and some weird alien effect on human memory. So the multiethnic team of heroes worked secretly with the government to fight the aliens behind the scenes of a pretty everyday world. It was a pretty dumb show, often badly written due to using non-union writers during the ‘88 strike, but it had a charming cast with a terrific rapport. Yet in season 2, Frank Mancuso, Jr. was brought in to boost sagging ratings and totally retooled the show. Suddenly the world was a polluted, decaying hellhole due to the long-term aftereffects of the invasion, which would’ve made sense if it hadn’t contradicted the entire first season. The alien-looking aliens were killed off and replaced by a rival faction from their homeworld who disguised themselves as humans and spoke English, so they no longer bore any resemblance to the movie aliens. Both non-white leads were killed off and the remaining two leads lost their government safehouse and teamed up with Adrian Paul, so now the cast was 100% white and the charmingly eccentric lead character lost every personality trait he had. And the show that resulted from this attempt to boost ratings was almost unwatchably dismal and unpleasant, as well as virtually unrecognizable.

So both times I’ve seen this happen (that I can think of), the retooled, “improved” show was far worse than the original version. I hope that’s not the case with Charmed. I was surprised by all the changes here, and learning that they changed showrunners explains it. Still, it’s unusual for new showrunners to modify a show’s premise so radically unless it’s really struggling in the ratings. Hopefully they won’t change the lead characters’ personalities too much, like in the previous examples.