Magic, Sisterhood and Terrible Effects Return in the Charmed Reboot

20 years after its initial debut, The WB’s bewitching drama Charmed returns in the form of a reboot, beginning Tuesday, 8th January 2019 on E4.

The pilot sets up the same story as the original from 1998. Three young sisters who discover they must protect the world from evil using witchcraft and their unique ‘Power of Three’. But the reboot also plays into more realistic and contemporary themes, with a focus on social issues like consent and sexual assault, all taking place within a college town; ‘Hilltowne’.

We’re introduced to sisters Mel (Melonie Diaz) and Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) Vera who discover their long-lost half-sister Macy Vaughn (Madeline Mantock) after the tragic death of their mother. Once reunited, the trio of sisters discover their destiny as powerful good witches, the Charmed Ones.

In its pilot, the reboot is able to blend its new take on Charmed with the campy fun of the original. After Macy reunites with Mel and Maggie, the sisters’ powers begin to manifest. This introduces us to Rupert Evans’ Harry Greenwood; the sisters’ ‘Whitelighter’, a guardian angel. He brings the sisters back together, explaining their individual powers and their destiny as the Charmed Ones.

Through Macy, the show introduces an interesting magic versus science storyline. Macy, who can move objects with her mind, is a scientist (as the show keeps reminding us) and doesn’t believe magic exists and tries to find a scientific explanation for her powers.

As Harry explains, Maggie, with her insecurities on fitting into her college’s sorority, is able to read people’s minds, a surprising but welcome change to her OG Charmed’s character counterpart, Phoebe, who could see into the future.

In contrast, Harry points out that Mel’s power to freeze time is common among “control freaks” and that their powers are controlled by their emotions. Like the original, the writers use this as a way to tie its supernatural mythos with the sisters’ real-life struggles.

With Mel, who is a firebrand, lesbian, feminist activist, Charmed is able to mirror the social issues that women deal with now with the persecutions of witchcraft they had to contend with in the past.

The first words in the pilot we hear come from Marisol, the sisters’ mother. “This isn’t a witch hunt," she says angrily over the phone, as she tries to prevent a professor at Hilltowne University from being reinstated after being accused of sexual assault.

Since the rise of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, the term ‘witch hunt’ has been used as a way to excuse the accusations of sexual assault towards powerful men like Harvey Weinstein. The Charmed reboot links the ‘witch hunt’ phrase back to when it was used to subordinate powerful women, creating a compelling story where supernatural terror can emulate the horrors of real life.

Mel, once learning of her destiny as a Charmed One, tries to persuade her reluctant sisters to join in the fight not just against evil, but against patriarchy in light of that the accused professor has indeed been reinstated at the university despite the allegations.

“Strong women throughout history have been called witches and they are! We are!” Mel says, encouraging Maggie and Macy to accept they witchy destiny.

After the initial exposition from Harry, the show focuses on the monster-of-the-week formula that classic Charmed employed during its run. The sisters discover there’s a demon on campus that preys on powerful women, linking actual feminist discussions to the narrative and effectively utilising demons as metaphors for real-life issues that people face daily.

This lets the reboot create a conversation for the viewers on consent and assault through the safety of a television show. The writers cleverly utilise Charmed’s concept of strong women defending each other to reflect on the aims of the #MeToo movement, and how powerful of a force the idea of women supporting each other can be.

This makes the original feel outdated in comparison; it was set in San Francisco but starred a mostly white, straight cast – a sharp contrast to the Latinx lead reboot that has already introduced two queer characters. Unlike its predecessor, this modern adaptation allows the show to delve into new and complex storylines with unique characters, making it fit more for a diverse audience.

Even though the political aspects of the pilot can be a little too on-the-nose sometimes, Charmed still keeps its focus on what made the original so special: The Sisterhood. The relationship dynamic between the sisters provides the most emotional appeal towards the pilot; whether its Macy opening up about how lonely she was before meeting her sisters, or Mel and Maggie reconciling after their mother’s death, the show provides us with relatable and complex characters that we enjoy watching.

The reboot comes from Jane the Virgin producer Jennie Snyder Urman, as well as writers Jessica O’Toole and Amy Rardin. Their ability to create complex stories that combine family struggles, drama and humour are all present here, whilst still making homages to the original. When Harry gifts the sisters with the iconic Book of Shadows, Maggie flips through and stops on a page about Melinda Warren, an ancestor of the Halliwell sisters from the OG series.

Overall, the pilot episode is a strong start for the Charmed reboot. The series has a clear idea of what it wants to accomplish: Creating an important conversation on social issues within the safety net of a genre show. The writing is sharp, the characters are likeable and a cliff hanger at the end of the episode leaves a compelling mystery for the viewer. If none of this interest you, you can still watch and laugh at the terrible special effects that the original was also infamous for.

Charmed premieres Tuesday, 8th January on E4 and E4 demand.

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