The first season of CW’s Charmed reboot wasn’t very good, but that didn’t matter. It was silly and fun, with an emphasis on sisterhood and challenging the status quo of its namesake. Season two brought in new showrunners with a new vision—one that rejects or mocks everything that made it stand out in the first place. I’ve never seen a show despise itself as much as Charmed seems to.
The CW show aired its midseason finale, “The Rules of Engagement,” last Friday and it was a directionless mess, capping off a half-season that felt confused and resentful of its own origins. I’m not talking about it resenting the original Charmed but rather the first season of the current incarnation. This Charmed seems to not like how it started, and has done everything it can to distance itself from what came before. The show moved its setting cross-country, took away all of the sisters’ jobs and relationships, removed their powers, destroyed the Book of Shadows, expanded Rupert Evans’ role as Harry, and added a sassy new demon-witch character.
These changes are largely thanks to the new showrunners and creative direction. The first season was helmed by Carter Covington, who left and was replaced by married duo Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro in season two. Creators Jennie Snyder Urman, Jessica O’ Toole, and Amy Rardin are still involved, but it doesn’t feel like the show they started. The new showrunners’ arrival promised a major change in the series’ direction, one that would focus less on the sisterly relationship and more on supernatural elements. Here are some of the ways Charmed has downgraded in its attempts to become a different show.
In the first episode of season two, Charmed physically and metaphorically destroyed itself. The first season took place in a college town which had built up connections to the witch and demon worlds. Maggie was a college student, Macy was a scientist, and Mel was a grad student and activist who lost her scholarship and ended up working at a bar. But the show said “fuck that” and blew up their home, transporting the sisters to Seattle for a reason that still barely makes sense. Now, they spend almost all of their time on a single set, a WeWork-type co-working hub called SafeSpace.
The changes didn’t just destroy the location, it also destroyed the characters. Charmed makes no effort to include (or even recognize) the sisters’ lives and work from the first season, i.e. the goals they’d spent much of their lives working toward: Maggie now works as an assistant manager at SafeSpace, Mel is running the co-working space’s magic shop after her kinda-sorta love interest weirdly left it in her care, and the biggest victim is Macy, the scientist, who hasn’t done anything but go undercover in sexy outfits and get caught in two separate love triangles. This isn’t even getting into how the show removed the sisters’ powers so they could be replaced with other, “cooler” abilities.
It’s like Charmed hated everything about the Charmed Ones, so they stripped away all of their growth to start with blank slates—ones that are way less interesting. Furthermore, you can tell how much the show doesn’t care about their familial bonds anymore. The sisters are barely in the same scenes together, let alone commiserating or communicating. That would distract from Demon Jesus and Sexy Harry time.
The Charmed giveth and the Charmed taketh away. The series seemed eager to strip away most of the development and engagement from the sisters’ shared storyline, possibly so they could give it to someone else. Namely Harry, whose role is majorly expanded in the second season. It’s not much of a surprise—he’s the best actor there and runs circles around the others—but it does change the show on a fundamental level. Harry is now less of an authoritative figure and more of a sexy Jekyll and Hyde (with two kinda-maybe girlfriends) whose backstory is more important than getting Macy a new job. Even the season two Charmed poster had Harry’s portrait right alongside the others.
Then, there’s the new addition to the team: Abigael, the secret daughter of Alastair Caine (from season one). She’s one of the most annoying television characters in recent memory but it’s not the actress’s fault. She’s clearly trying her best, even while dealing with corny dialogue that makes the original Charmed look Shakespearean. The problem is that the show has put all of its stock in her. Abigael is always the smartest person in the room. She has all the answers, is never taken by surprise, and can play anybody for a fool. There’s at least one scene every episode where Abigael is exposition dumping something that one of the others should already know. And the fact that she’s a white women explaining everything to women of color is a questionable choice not lost on me.
Abigael has been pulling the strings for months now, trying to become the new Demon Overlord. They’re clearly setting her up as the Charmed Ones’ next villain, but it’s hard to see her as just another threat when she’s been set up as so much more than that. There’s literally no contest. Abigael wins. Plus, there’s the other problematic aspect of her “personality.”
The first season of Charmed was pretty mindful when it came to topics of sexuality and the male gaze. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but it tried. The sisters wore outfits that expressed their characters and their bodies didn’t feel like they were on display for the camera—at least not in a way that felt like it wasn’t on their terms. This was especially noticeable in the character of Macy. Not only did she wear more modest outfits that suited her character, she started out as a virgin, only to later find a partner whom she wanted to take that personal journey with. It was a storyline that I felt was handled respectfully.
The second season has added scenes that exploit the female body for the male gaze. In some instances, it’s incredibly uncomfortable how they’re going about it. As previously mentioned, Macy tends to dress more modestly and has had a complicated relationship with her sexuality. This season, the show has had her dress overtly sexy at least twice...under the guise of going undercover. The first was at a demon club, while the second was her trying to trick Evil Harry after he had kidnapped her. Not only is it something not ever established in her character, it’s antithetical to the Macy we’d come to know.
But the character most impacted is Abigael, who was introduced early on as a bisexual who practices BDSM. Not only does that play into negative stereotypes of bisexuality equalling promiscuity, neither of those traits inform her character—they just provide opportunities to show her nearly naked. One of the first scenes we see Abigael in is a tracking shot of her ass as she strips down for a BDSM session, only for her to discover that her partners are dead. It was a reveal that could’ve happened any number of other ways, but only happened this way so the camera could spend time lingering on her body. It’s wild that in 2019 we’re still getting a show about women that feels stuck in the past.
This might be one of the biggest things that’s insulted me about Charmed season two: It openly mocks social justice on a recurring basis. Charmed started out as a fantasy show that wanted to be cognizant of social issues, for better or worse. I mean, the first episode of the series was about Me Too and sexual assault on college campuses. Sure, the issue wasn’t handled perfectly, but it marked an ongoing trend of Charmed using the realm of magic to discuss and explore issues of social justice that affect young people in the 2010s (much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in the ‘90s). You wouldn’t know that watching Charmed season two.
It feels as if the showrunners, the writers, or some television executive standing behind their shoulders decided that “wokeness” was a bad thing. Characters don’t discuss issues of social justice anymore, they ridicule them. The central location of SafeSpace is a recurring joke, with side characters in thick rim glasses brewing slow pour coffee, offering vegan taquito samples, and saying things like how you can’t use the word “office” because it’s offensive to desk workers. There’s even a point where Mel gets annoyed because someone offered her kombucha and she has no idea what that is. What kind of former grad student from a New England college town has never heard of kombucha?
Granted, there is a moment where Abigael complains about the patriarchy of the demon world, but it feels less like a remark on systemic sexism and more like some 50-year-old white man who’s known nothing but privilege trying and failing to write a Strong Female Character. Any actual commentary the series had in the first season has been replaced with banal gestures and mockery. These are “Old Man Yells at Cloud” things you’d expect from a show like Last Man Standing, not a millennial-focused series starring women and largely staffed by a diverse writer’s room.
The way things are going, I don’t think Charmed has much gas left in the tank. Older fans are growing frustrated at the choices it’s making, and it doesn’t seem to be bringing in enough newer viewers to compensate. You can’t build a show on the ruins of its predecessor if you don’t, in some way, show respect for where it came from. Legends of Tomorrow makes fun of its first season, sure, but it does so from a place of love and respect. Charmed has no love for its origin story. The first season might as well be a non-canon prequel novel they’ve hurled into the garbage. The magic is gone.
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