The 'Charmed' Reboot Is Better Than The Original
“They should have never hired a cis male to lead the Women's Studies department. Even if he has been retweeted by Roxane Gay," says one of the characters of the 'Charmed' reboot in the series’ first episode.
This statement immediately marks the reboot as more “feminist” than the original 1990s and early 2000s version. This assertion rightly rankled the first edition’s stars.
“Guess we forgot to do that the first time around,” Holly Marie Combs, who played middle (then eldest) sister Piper Halliwell in the original, tweeted.
“I think that [the remake] ruined the possibility of [having the original stars cameo] by the way in which the reboot came down. Like, the fact that we weren’t included from the very beginning. It just felt really disrespectful, you know?” Alyssa Milano, who played Phoebe Halliwell, told US Weekly. Rose McGowan (Paige) gave the remake her blessing while Shannon Doherty (Prue) is enjoying a renaissance of her own on the recent 90210 reboot.
I myself am a big fan of the original Charmed, owning all seasons on DVD box set and having rewatched them multiple times. I can even remember some of the spells verbatim and the outrageous outfits hold a special place in my heart.
But the remake, which centres on witches of colour and deals with things such as identity politics and the #MeToo movement, is for these reasons better than the original.
With the original stars out of the way, Charmed 2.0 makes way for Latinx sisters Mel (Melonie Diaz), and Maggie Vera (Sarah Jeffery) and Macy Vaughn (Madeleine Mantock) as they simultaneously discover their familial ties and their witchy powers. Like in the first iteration of the show, Macy is revealed to be Maggie and Mel’s long-lost half sister, raised by her father in a different city until she gets a job as a research fellow at the university where Mel (the gender studies lecturer who bristles at the appointment of a male professor, who turns out to be the Charmed Ones’ Whitelighter) works, and Macy is a student.
The show backs up its feminist tagline, acknowledging the intersectionality of Mel’s lesbian sexuality, while Maggie, who grew up believing she was Mel’s fully biological sister, discovers that it’s actually she and Macy who have the same biological parents. In a surprise twist, Maggie is forced to reckon with her new-found African American heritage and struggles with whether she’s “black enough” to join the black student union. This is a development that is seldom seen in shows that more obviously deal with race, let alone one that has been written off as a performatively more woke version of a classic.
Furthermore, Charmed’s college town setting allows storylines to focus on hot button issues like campus sexual assault and predatory professors.
Though there was controversy over the casting of non-Latinx actresses (Mantock is Afro-Carribean and Jeffery is African American), the original Charmed could never delve into the issues that the remake does because the only non-white cast member was Darryl, the Charmed Ones’ cop friend who covered for them when their supernatural cases intersected with criminal ones. This time around Darryl’s equivalent is Mel’s ex Niko (Ellen Tamaki), who is also a queer woman of colour.
Many of Charmed 1.0’s guest characters were white, too, limiting the problems it was able to address through magic. On the other hand, witchcraft’s rich ties to communities of colour further strengthens the relationship between Charmed’s new sisters and their magical powers.
Additionally, the new version was reimagined by Jennie Snyder Urman, creator of Jane the Virgin, another high-concept CW show that flew under the radar and was, I believe, underappreciated for the myriad of issues (sex, cancer, artificial insemination, immigration, kidnapping, evil twins, the notion of family, magical realism) it tackles. But ultimately, it's clear that Snyder Urman has chops when it comes to the accurate and loving portrayal of Latinx families on screen. (It is worth mentioning that Snyder Urman is white.)
The notion of feminism has changed since the Halliwell sisters were kicking demon butt. Yes, the original’s portrayal of trying to “have it all” (a very third-wave feminist concept) was groundbreaking, but discussions of feminism, identity politics and equality weren’t had. The new version understands that in our highly politicised existence, one has to both practice and preach their politics.
Nostalgia is a powerful force: one only has to look at the copious reboots gracing our screens in the last couple of years. But with actors dying, moving on from the industry or sparking massive controversy and backlash on social media, the most successful reboots of our favourite shows offer something different than the same old, just 20 years later. Instead, they tap into the zeitgeist, realising that social and cultural mores and the types of people we want to see on TV have changed.
The new Charmed can never be replaced in our teenage hormone-filled memories. But while the original introduced a generation of mostly white girls to witchcraft and kick-ass heroines, the modern reimagining empowers today’s queer girls and girls of colour to see themselves represented.
The Charmed reboot returns for its second season on 10 All Access October 12.