In Defense of Charmed: What The CW Reboot Idea Ignores


The proposed Charmed reboot is missing a key factor that made the original so popular.

There’s been some controversy surrounding the news that the CW is planning a reboot of its 1998 supernatural series Charmed. Fans are divided about whether a revival series should even exist. Some want to know whether any original cast members might appear. And others wonder why there’s going to be another show called Charmed at all if it doesn’t involve three sisters or San Francisco, and will apparently be set during the 1970s.  It’s kind of a lot to unpack.

Unfortunately, amidst this debate about whether Charmed 2.0 should exist at all, something’s getting lost in the shuffle. And that’s the fact that the original Charmed was actually pretty awesome in its own right. Was it always good? Definitely not. (Remember that time Lady Godiva showed up? Yikes.) But it was still important in its own way. For all its flaws and silliness, Charmed was a show that was unabashedly for and about women.

The original series was Peak 90s TV, part of that amazing, completely addictive WB lineup that included gems like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicity, Dawson’s Creek and Smallville. While Charmed wasn’t as good as Buffy in its prime, the two dramas were spiritual sisters in that they were both supernatural-themed shows aimed specifically at female viewers. (Genre TV made with women in mind – how novel, right?) And for all of Charmed’s flaws – of which there are more than a few – the show never forgot this fact.

The magic wasn’t the most important part of Charmed

Charmed was built on female power. As a genre show on a major network with three female leads who all kicked butt, had agency and didn’t compete with one another, it would probably still be considered something of a rarity today. It focused on three women who were not necessarily feminist role models, but who still each encapsulated the tensions and triumphs of life as contemporary women. They were all fiercely and unapologetically human. They were selfish and independent and petty and brave by turns. And though they fought supernatural enemies, they still faced real world problems. They struggled with careers and paying bills. They frequently had terrible jobs and worse boyfriends.  Plus, they were witches. They had to fight demons in crop tops and high heels. But that was never really the point.

At Charmed’s center was always female friendship, sisterhood and family. The Halliwell women were sisters first, witches second. Their relationships with each other were not defined by their magic. And the sisters’ relationships, both as a group and individually, felt realistic and honest. Prue, Phoebe, Piper and Paige were allowed to be both admirable and deeply flawed. They fought and betrayed each other. But they also forgave each other. They supported each other no matter what, through breakups and career changes and marriages and face offs with the Source of All Evil. No matter what crazy thing happened – and Charmed featured everything from time travel to a magical boarding school to the irritating introduction of a new novice witch toward the end– the story always ultimately came back to the relationships between the women at its core.

Image via Warner Brothers

And let’s not forget that the Halliwell family was also a matriarchy. Their magic passed through the women in their line, and the girls regularly consulted their female ancestors for advice and help with various problems, both real and otherworldly. While men were great to have around – all the sisters regularly had various boyfriends and husbands and we endured occasionally excruciatingly stupid dating storylines – they weren’t exactly a necessity. The power of three wasn’t for them. It wasn’t about them. The anchor of the Halliwell magic, and Charmed itself, was the love between the sisters themselves. The central truth of the show was that, at the end of the day, their bond was stronger than anything. Sometimes even death.

What this planned reboot is missing

If we’re honest, by the time Charmed ended in 2006, it was probably past time to say goodbye. Eight seasons on-air is a decent run for any TV program, and by the time Charmed wrapped up, its overall quality had declined fairly significantly. This was due to a lot of different factors, including some behind-the-scenes network decisions (such as the addition of the Billie and Christy characters) geared at finding a way to create a spin-off. By the end, Charmed took too much of its focus off of the Halliwell trio and suffered for it. Because it forgot that for all that it was a show about witches and monsters and magic, the supernatural stuff was just an add-on to the family drama.

This is one of the key reasons that many fans react with such skepticism to the prospect of a Charmed revival. They’re probably not that fussed about the fact that Charmed 2.0 is going to be set in the 1970s. The original series featured time travel, astral projection and a storyline where Piper’s unborn son from the future was a main character for a while. It also had regular appearances by various Halliwell relations from different time periods. We met everyone from the girls’ own dead grandmother to a 17th century witch named Melinda Warren. If history is anything to go by, Charmed has no problems with ridiculous historical situations or playing fast and loose with the rules of time. These are fans who understand how to roll with a plot hole.

No, the problem here is that it feels like this new Charmed won’t actually have any sort of connection to the original series or, more importantly, the things that made it so beloved. The reboot will reportedly feature three diverse women who aren’t related and who, if the early character descriptions are anything to go by, have very little in common. That they are not sisters removes the driving force from the original Charmed story. And these new characters apparently have no connection to each other, and don’t even appear to be friends.

Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan in “Charmed”. (Photo: Warner Brothers)

Furthermore, if CW president Mark Pedowitz is to be believed, this new series won’t have much connection at all to the original. “At this point, it’s a self-contained, self-sustaining show,” he told journalists at the Television Critics Association press tour. Which, that’s fine, obviously. But it’s also not Charmed. Honestly, it sounds like this is a series about three random witches that happens to be set in 1976 because Stranger Things was super popular last year. Because if this “new” version doesn’t have any of the family connections that were the emotional and narrative center of the first – then why even call this a reboot at all? Why not just make a completely different show about witches in the 1970s from scratch? Not that that would be a bad thing. Probably a lot of Charmed fans would watch that show too.

If for whatever reason, the CW feels that it absolutely has to go back to the Charmed well, then fine. But at least make a series that connects to, or even builds upon, the existing mythology that fans already love so much. Make a prequel about the Charmed Ones’ grandmother Penny. Or go back a few generations further. A family tree seen back in Charmed’s second season indicates that the Warren line is quite long. And if the prequel setting isn’t a dealbreaker, we already know that at least two of the original Charmed Ones had children. A revival based on the next generation of the Warren line also seems like it should be an obvious possibility.

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In any of these scenarios the odds remain high we still wouldn’t see Phoebe or Piper or Paige again. The original Charmed is gone, and not coming back. But building upon the show’s existing history would provide a sense that these properties exist in the same universe. And it would still be about family, which was the whole point of Charmed in the first place. The magic was just some fancy, occasionally silly, occasionally very awesome packaging.