'Charmed' Reboot Pilot Review: An Ambitious, But Clumsy, Start

A dozen years after the original aired its finale, Charmed returns to The CW on October 14 with a revival that introduces a new trio of Charmed Ones doing battle against a new Source of All Evil…but it is worth tuning in?

Jessica O’Toole, Amy Rardin, and Jennie Snyder Urman have developed the new version, which utilizes the mythology of the original series, which ran from 1998 until 2006, but not the characters.

The reboot has both the blessing and the curse of the original series; it will be compared to the first by fans (many of whom have been irate since the series was announced), but certain concepts that did not hold up over the life of the original series can be improved upon here, if the writers play their cards right.

For the pilot, it’s a mixed bag. The chemistry between Melonie Diaz and Sarah Jeffery is strong, and the two play off each other nicely, creating a believable sisterly bond. Madeleine Mantock is introduced as a third sister, abandoned by their mother for reasons not yet explained in a likely nod to the “surprise” fourth sister who was introduced after Shannen Doherty’s character was killed off in the original series.

Mantock’s character, Macy, is not quite as neat a fit as Mel (Diaz) and Maggie (Jeffery), which may be about her performance, their chemistry, or may be by design, since she did not grow up with her sisters and is the outsider of the group.

She is, though, arguably the most likable of all three characters in the pilot. Mel, traumatized by their mother’s death, has descended into near-madness trying to solve a murder that nobody believes was actually a murder. Maggie is a self-centered party girl who hangs out with stereotypical and insufferable sorority sisters. Macy, meanwhile, is a scientist who finds herself thrust into the role of skeptic as she and her sisters are greeted with revelations about witchcraft and prophecy. It’s a nice touch, and provides a framework for a “magic versus science” debate to color the show in the way some of the best stories from The X-Files did.

Rupert Evans as the Whitelighter is a bit on the generic side; in trailers, he is reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Rupert Giles, but in the pilot he leaves little impression. This is likely to provide the writers with as much room to develop him as possible — this feels more than most like the kind of pilot that was written early and then given a series later — but it leaves Charmed’s major male lead feeling a bit weightless.

One question might be whether Harry was in a relationship with the girls’ mother at any point, since the relationship between Leo (Brian Krause) and Piper (Holly Marie Combs) in the original was a centerpiece of the series. That could give them something to really hang his character on, but only time will tell. Certainly Harry seems too old (even ignoring the fact that he died years ago and is essentially their guardian angel) to be a love interest for any of the three girls.

The particular brand of feminism espoused by the original series is a confusing and confounding enough conversation to fill a book, and the new Charmed is certainly much more nakedly political and brazenly feminist. The show wears its politics on its sleeve — which is not a bad thing, although it is sometimes not that well executed. A protest scene in the pilot feels particularly cringe-inducing, reducing serious issues to a single catchphrase and in so doing, making (probably unintentional) false equivalencies.

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Charmed is a series that is off to an ambitious, if clumsy, start, and it’s fun to watch. The performances are uniformly solid, but there is a weird mix of effects that are legitimately good and effects that feel like they could have come right out of the original series — which was a low-budget show from a decade-plus ago. Hang around for a few more weeks and get a sense for whether it finds its footing or stumbles.

Rating: 3 out of 5