Reviews: Charmed

The power of, uh, three will— zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I've seen my share of cheesy, low-budget TV. I partook in the forced death march that is Ghost Whisperer. My favorite show is The Pretender. I have a soft spot for Diagnosis Murder. Even Smallville, while poorly written, cynical as hell, and ripping off everything in sight, had consistently strong acting and special effects.

Charmed is the laziest show I've ever seen - possibly ever produced. The number of fucks given drop exponentially as the show progresses. No point in retelling the behind-the-scenes coup d'état - we all know what happened. The supporting cast (Billy Zane, Julian McMahon, James Read) and many of the guest actors, broke their asses to make the show something special. Nor should any blame be leveled at the writers. They did the best they could with one hand tied behind their back. If anything, I think the writing staff was covertly pleading through the scripts for us to stop watching this show; that it was all a sham, a fashionista catwalk, masquerading as plot.

No, watch the show for two minutes and it becomes blindingly obvious what the problem was. Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs simply were not interested. Of the two, Combs was the lazier performer. Forget phoning it in, Piper is smoke-signaling it in. Milano seemed to mistake being preposterously rich, powerful and famous as being a role model for girls, when typically, Phoebe would be a anti-hero at BEST. Probably she doesn't know what regular girls aspire to because she can't relate to them.

We fans tend to be very protective of our shows and their actors. All I can retort with is, just watch. These two are as clear as a sheet of cellophane, and no amount of end-of-episode platitudes will disguise that.

Charmed is a fanservice show, and if you enjoy it ironically, then you can have some fun. The trouble is the series keeps posturing, like it has something to teach. This is akin to David Hasslehoff assuring viewers that Baywatch promotes water safety.

Monsters: A Sign of Narrative Strength.

I am a firm believer that the a hero can be judge by the richness of their rouges gallery. Many characters can work with relatively weak rogues gallery if their emotional demons are strong enough to torture them.

Charmed, honestly, has neither.

None of the monsters really prey on any well established fears outside superficial "otherness" and "Adversarial" tropes. The evil of the show is about as deep as an 80's cartoon villain—evil for the sake of evil and for the cause of evil. That can work, but for Charmed, it only served to damn it further in the annals of easily forgettable television.

The monsters generally do not stand out, for all the fireballs, celebrity guest stars and cleavage. Fans are hard pressed to think of a villain beyond "The Source" (or "All Evil"...which seems to change hands every season or so. Other similar Big Bads followed upon his rather unceremonious defeat (and re-defeat when new demons mentioned below tried to take that power for another 2 seasons)), Cole Turner (a Dating Catwoman story arc), Barbas and two demonic seers. If any others are remembered, it is only for the actor who portrayed them rather than anything deeper (like the fear they embody or tap into).

As the series went on, the storytelling weakness of the monsters became more apparent as they lost their otherness by the 4th or 5th season and simply became humans with powers that were bad and thus called "Demons" with few traits to mark them visually in their distinction. As someone with an interest in visual effects, this was rather annoying (not that the original designs were anything to write home about, often amounting to little more than face-paint and teeth).

Other weaknesses are well documented, but the monsters was the main thing for me. Its tendency for the writers to take "Inspiration" from recently popular supernatural films or franchises (Harry Potter style Witch-Schools, Adrian Paul playing out the plot for The Mummy Remake, etc) only further damns it.

People compare it to Buffy rather frequently, but in truth, it should be compared to Power Rangers in terms of nonsensical silliness. But with that series monsters, they are unique and highly memorable (in most series), elevating its overall quality and allowing us to accept the cheese and Narm Charm far more easily.