Charmed: Why do we reboot franchises instead of building on legacies?
I don’t hate all reboots. Yes, there is a sense of fatigue that comes from seeing shows that you are already familiar with coming back in similar yet different ways, but there doesn’t have to be. I prefer the newest Ghostbusters movie to the old originals, I really love One Day At A Time (though I didn’t even realise that was a reboot), and back in the day I enjoyed the US Queer As Folk for all five seasons, as well as the UK original. I’m also on board for a comeback show, like Will & Grace or Heroes Reborn. What I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is, I’m trying to figure out why this Charmed reboot makes my heart scream “DO NOT WANT” while my brain says “I should want this, look at the POCs, the next generation, its magic soapy drama and you love that!”
The Charmed Ones go to college
If you didn’t know that Charmed was coming back, or didn’t watch it the first time round, then here is what you need to know. Firstly, the original series started with three sisters, Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs) and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano), in their twenties to thirties, working jobs while learning their craft, all living in the same house. The reboot has two sisters, Mel (Melonie Diaz) and Maggie (Sarah Jeffrey), who have grown up together and a third half sister, Macy (Madeleine Mantock) similar to Charmed’s replacement fourth sister, Paige (Rose McGowan) — stay with me here — who all go to the same college.
Secondly, there is now a four minute trailer for the new season which is coming out on the CW:
Thirdly, Charmed was a magical TV show, and book series, that ran from 1998 to 2006. It centred on three sisters who discover that they are witches after their grandmother dies. It was a highly dramatic, sometimes funny, very emotional and wonderfully witchy series. In the vain of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it tapped into the teen angst, fascination with the occult and love of people wearing fabulous but oh-so-of-the-time leather coats that I adored.
The show wasn’t without its faults, which I can see now in retrospect. The special effects weren’t always amazing, the storylines were questionable at times and, as I did notice from the straight males who saw me watching it, the producers often sexed up the female leads while making sure the men were almost always covered in plaid or suits. But it was immersive in its world building and knew what it wanted to achieve, what it was in the TV landscape.
The series was a product of its time and it had its share of behind the scenes drama; Alyssa Milano and Shannen Doherty were reported to have so much friction that is caused Doherty’s departure, leading to her replacement in the fourth season with Rose McGowan, who is now infamous in her own right. Yet, it ran for 8 seasons, the 8th being something of a bonus. It was a success, its beloved by many and its enjoyable escapism. This show should be ripe for a reboot.
Now, it was limited by TV standards of the time, but it had four empowered women at its core, all with different takes on their womanhood and femininity. Following Time’s Up, a rise in awareness of feminism in the mainstream and a call for more women and person of colour fronted shows; not to mention that we should also be calling for more diverse gender identities and sexualities in TV characters, Charmed could be the perfect show to build of those motifs. In fact, the show producers have promised:
“This fierce, funny, feminist reboot of the original series centers on three sisters in a college town who discover they are witches. Between vanquishing supernatural demons, tearing down the patriarchy, and maintaining familial bonds, a witch’s work is never done.”
It should all work, but does it look like it will?
A win for diversity and representation on paper
There are a lot of boxes being ticked with the Charmed reboot, which has now been ordered to series. The original was very white and straight, so having the sisters in the new series be of hispanic descent and one of them being a self-identified lesbian means we are already getting something new. Perhaps the worst thing the show could have done is to cast three white women in the new roles.
The feminist angle is very on the nose, with the middle sister being a graduate student in the women studies department. Yet, the chair of the women’s studies department is a white man, and their Whitelighter. The original series Whitelighter, aka a guardian angel, was also a white man, but having him in contrast to the hispanic sisters here feels like stepping into white savior territory. Why didn’t they make the whitelighter a woman of colour, or a non-binary person or just anything that isn’t a white man? Okay, the non-binary part is probably too much for TV thus far. Although it would be great, seeing non-binary, genderqueer, aromatic or ace and other less publicised gender identities and sexualities are few and far between in any medium, let alone TV. But seriously, why a white man?
Each of the sisters has a partner, be it a potential relationship or an on-again off-again, which is in keeping with the previous series, and that goes with the teen drama territory. Similar to Supergirl, the middle sister’s same sex partner is in the police, which can play into lesbian, butch stereotypes in an unhelpful way if not done correctly. So far we don’t have any suggestions of a bisexual or pansexual character, despite 2.4% of people identifying as bisexual (in the UK), higher than the 1.4% who identified as gay or lesbian. Shows like this which can appeal to a queer sensibility (hello young bi me!) could be more forward thinking with their cast of characters.
There is a lot of see as positive in terms of diversity and inclusion in the new series, but, in my opinion, it’s not quite enough. And yes that is me holding it to somewhat of a higher standard because I was such as fan of the original series.
When I consider what I might want from a reboot of Charmed, it is more diversity, updated graphics and some ironing out of the women as sexual objects issues that it had. I would also want it to build on the legacy of the original series, that is to say: they might have been the first Charmed Ones, but they weren’t the last.
Building on a mythos and legacy would bring in more fans
Adding to the mythology of a show, a series, whatever form it’s in, increases its strength. As a geek and comic book nerd, I appreciate the layers that can be revealed in a character, story or imagined world by writers and creators building on what already existed. Yet, for some reason, many reboots choose to ignore what came before, and if you liked what came before it can feel like your favourite mural is being painted over even though there is a perfectly good, blank space right next to it.
Throughout Charmed there were threads of storyline that suggested a next generation, be it Piper’s future children doing some time travelling, or the eighth season addition of Billie (Kaley Cuoco) getting trained by the Charmed Ones, updating their magic practices with technology.
It would have been to the new show’s advantage to build on what came before, even if it meant changing some of the trends of the series, and the pieces were there. One of the best examples of this in recent pop culture has to be Star Wars. The new movies added to the originals, continuing the Jedi and Sith battle BUT it made it more modern, more suited to our standards, with a female lead Jedi in Rey, and person of colour leads with Finn, Poe and Rose. There has been fanboy backlash from the new Star Wars’ castings but if we are upsetting staunch fanboys then we’re doing something right.
Now, the original cast have been quite vocal about not being on board with a remake of the series, which consequently makes it harder for original fans to get on board. It also means they are unlikely to guest star, and you know that’d be great for viewership!
As with any show that hasn’t actually aired yet, we’ll have to wait and see if the new version is really a painting over of the original or a spiritual successor the OG fans can get behind. My hope is the former, but I fear its the latter.