The Best and Worst of Charmed: Season 2

 

Lochlyn Munro of Jake 2.0, Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, and Smallville, has a recurring role as Jack Sheridan.

Greg Vaughan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, joins the cast as Dan Gordon.

 

The Best:

Witch Trial, Morality Bites, The Painted World, They’re Everywhere, P3 H2O, Ms. Hellfire, Awakened, Pardon My Past, Murphy’s Luck, Chick Flick, and Apocalypse Not

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  • Witch Trial sees the demon Abraxas steal the Book of Shadows and release Jeremy Burns, Nicholas, and the Woogeyman;

  • In Morality Bites, Phoebe has a premonition from 2009 of her being burned alive at the stake, prompting the sisters to travel to the future;

  • The Painted World sees Prue discover someone trapped inside a painting, only to release the warlock and get trapped herself;

  • They’re Everywhere, featuring Boston native Misha Collins (Castiel in Supernatural), sees the Charmed Ones face off against the Collectors, who are after Eric Bragg, after he translated ancient tablets;

  • In P3 H2O, the Charmed Ones find out the truth about their mother’s death, as her whitelighter, Sam Wilder, is introduced;

  • Ms. Hellfire sees the Charmed Ones reveal their true identity to Darryl after a mysterious hit woman attacks them. Prue also develops the power of Atral Projection in this episode;

  • Awakened sees Piper’s order of Kiwano, an illegal fruit that gives her Oroya fever, from outside the country get her sent to the hospital in a coma;

  • Pardon My Past sees the demon Anton from Phoebe’s past life return;

  • Murphy’s Luck, featuring Amy Adams (Catch Me If You Can, Doubt, Man of Steel), and Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns) sees Prue face off against a Spirit Killer, a special kind of Darklighter intent on ensuring Maggie Murphy, a Future Whitelighter, commits suicide;

  • Chick Flick sees the Charmed Ones battle a Demon of Illusion; and,

  • Apocalypse, Not sees them face off against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Witch Trial:

This is an impressive season opener, maintaining the humor and chemistry of the first season and that new found sense of confidence the show genuinely appears to have discovered. The demon of the week, who resurrects some past enemies of the Charmed Ones (one legit, the other a cheap special effect and a different actor playing another), doesn’t break any new ground, but from a character standpoint it’s mightily impressive. Each sister now has her ‘role’ on the show, and it works really well.

Phoebe has always been the more pro-active sister, and her interest in Wicca has always been the most clear. She’s great this week, exploring Wicca minus all the literal magic powers. Sure, it involves some gratuitous nudity, but this is Brad Kern, amiright?? At the same time, Piper is setting herself a new challenge: opening up a nightclub. I liked the mundane feel to Quake, and Piper’s club quickly becomes an excuse to welcome on low-rent pop rock bands with new CDs to shill, but it does admittedly create a new ‘space’ for the Charmed Ones to hang out.

Prue gets some decent character stuff to work with. She’s still feeling guilty over Andy’s death and is hesitant to use her powers again. It’s understandable, and Shannen Doherty easily sells the idea of being completely sick of the world she’s stuck in. And, yes, that was my attempt at an in-joke.

While a lot of Witch Trial is great, it does also introduce two vacuous new cast members. Dan Gordon is dead weight who will stick around to bore all season. But Jenny Gordon, his whiny pre-teen niece, is a total abortion of a character. I always thought it was interesting that nobody ever stated what the hell they were thinking when they wrote her in to the show. I guess the three things Charmed was lacking were conversations about tampons, boys and science projects. Jeepers.

Besides the Gloomy Gordons, this is a confident, fun and generally amusing start to season two. It retains all that was lightweight and entertaining about the first season, but with it comes some new challenges. It’s pretty absorbing.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Morality Bites:

The idea of “personal gain” is always brought up in regards to witches. I remember Sabrina Spellman was always being lectured on the results of personal gain, and the Charmed Ones equally experienced first-hand how selfish acts of witchcraft can result in unpredictable side effects. Morality Bites, one of the series’ finest hours, is all about the growth of a selfish act, and how one small moment of magic being used as a weapon can result in murder, public outcry and state execution.

It’s heavily implied that the Charmed Ones’ actions in the teaser sequence not only impacted Phoebe’s future, but also the lives of Piper and Prue. Both end up in an unhappy state. Piper is a divorced single mom, driving the same car ten years later, and at odds with her ex-husband. Prue is a lone wolf, somebody who has cut her family out of her life and exhibits power-mad tendencies while being entirely unsympathetic to ‘the little people’ who make up her auctioneers enterprise. Plus she has awful dress sense and that heinous blonde wig. Sheshould have burned at the stake just for that.

The episode is also fun from a historical standpoint. I mean, it’s now 2011, and the future depicted here is over a year old now. It’s amusing to see that we all thought things like this were possible back in 1999: televised executions, vocally interactive TV sets. Then again, maybe it’s not too far from where we’re headed…

Morality Bites is the rare Charmed episode that is played mostly straight. It features intelligent ideas at its core and some of the series’ best acting (especially Alyssa Milano in her pre-execution scene). The show frequently coasted on its trademark of being perky and lightweight, but when they really tried, episodes like this came about.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Painted World:

This wasn’t actually as bad as I remembered it being. The idea of being trapped inside a painting is arguably pretty innovative, and The Painted World crosses that with general Charmed ridiculousness. But the hour is probably strongest from a Phoebe standpoint. There’s an annoying “stay in school, kids!” message at the end, but up till then it’s an amusing character-driven subplot, with Phoebe conjuring up a smart spell when she comes to the conclusion that her supposed lack of intelligence is what’s preventing her from truly moving up in the world. Alyssa Milano is great here, showcasing her focused, impressive sitcom skills.

The A-plot is pretty great, too. I guess the twist could be considered a little disappointing, especially as the idea of the Franklin family being driven ‘insane’ by the painting is so interesting, but all together it pretty much works. Undoubtedly the story perks up when Piper gets stuck in the painting with Prue, and the interplay between them is pretty hilarious. Especially Holly’s line reading of “blades!”. Ah, she cracks me up.

Less successful (yet again) are Dan and Jenny. I get that they’re neighbors, but asking Piper to help Jenny out is just way too contrived a plot point. It’s homework. Can’t she research online or at a library? Yeesh. But, away from this minor annoyance, the episode is a lot of fun.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of They’re Everywhere:

All the stuff about the Halliwell’s dad never really goes anywhere. They raise Victor in part because of how dedicated Eric is to his own father, which is in sharp contrast to the fact that Victor abandoned them and seemingly doesn’t give two hoots about his kids. This is all fine, but the fact that it goes nowhere fast and nothing is really achieved as a result of such breezy references severely impacts on the episode. What’s more vapid than something so standalone are lazy attempts to make a standalone episode more important. And considering, with hindsight, that Victor’s early season characterization is casually dismissed once you get to the James Read years, episodes like They’re Everywhere become even more redundant.

Eric is the latest in a long line of charisma vacuums on this show. I know Misha Collins has improved as an actor since this episode aired, but he really is appalling here, like a vacant block of wood in search of some kind of purpose. The story isn’t that great either. First off, there’s the lazy contrivance of Phoebe interning at the hospital, the half-assed romantic subplot she embarks upon with Eric, and the heinous disregard for historical artifacts. Does Eric just get away with destroying an ancient text? Or did the writers assume that little nugget of information was irrelevant? And what the hell was up with the editing throughout the episode? Anybody else notice the distracting choppiness of everything?

The magical subplot is effective in parts, but it’s unfortunate that the story revolved around the two love interests currently on the show. One is a safe, dull hunk. The other turns out to have an even sleazier twin brother. It’s all very, very dumb. I always get conscious about trashing this show too much, since there’s always a breezy likability about it, but this is the latest in a long line of season two stinkers.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of P3 H2O:

Angsty and deeply personal for the series’ protagonists, P3 H20 is season two’s version of That ’70s Episode, a dense family melodrama wrapped around an intriguing demon plot. The script explores the idea of history repeating itself, notably in Prue’s terror that her life is becoming more and more like Patty’s, making her worry that she’ll suffer a similar fate — her life cut short before she can experience anything truly meaningful. Meanwhile, Piper discovers that she is not the first member of the Halliwell genealogy to have a romance with a Whitelighter. Both stories are serviced with the care and time they individually deserve, and a lot of it is oddly prescient.

I’m a big fan of genre shows experimenting with fresh locations, removing the characters from their familiar surroundings and throwing them into different environments. The abandoned summer camp, as depicted here, was pretty great, and the various stylistic choices (the bubbling water, the POV shot of the demon) were all especially effective. The use of location shooting is particularly noticeable, especially since budget cuts forced the show to eventually drop all of that, leaving the show reliant on clunky sound stages and studio back lots.

Each character gets a moment to shine here. I especially loved Phoebe’s anger at being asked to experience her mother’s murder via her premonition, a real moment of horror in an otherwise light season. The episode also marks the first truly interesting chapter in the Piper/Leo saga, with the discovery of Patty’s affair with her whitelighter Sam. The story, too, is interesting from a modern perspective. It’s almost like the writers were fully aware that certain events and cast departures may occur, so they created a story to cover up any potential loopholes for the future.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Ms. Hellfire:

There was always an odd dichotomy to the character of Prue, and it’s something the show has played around with in the past. There’s the fiercely protective and conservative side, which is released at the office and in her insistence in being professional and working hard. Then there’s the free-spirited, sexual and fun side, which isn’t seen as often but is clearly screaming to get out. And by the flesh-o-rama outfits that have crept into her wardrobe this season, you can tell she’s getting riskier. Charmed played around with this concept in Which Prue Is It, Anyway? last season, and the same is reflected here, both in her undercover stint as a leather-clad assassin-for-hire, and in her discovery of a new power: the ability to be in two places at once.

Even with its greatness, the shadow of Aaron Spelling looms all over the episode. First there’s soap veteran Antonio Sabato Jr (who I notice recently played a character named Jagger Cates, which is just awesome) as a sleazy/hot criminal kingpin; a good girl seduced by darkness and jewelry; and numerous shots of Shannen Doherty stalking through nightclubs in revealing outfits, all in slow-mo naturally. It’s a ridiculously trashy episode, but at the same time crazy fun. It even has a memorably ridiculous teaser sequence full of smashing glass, gun-toting female assassins and frozen-in-time bullets. Heh.

I also loved the satirical lampooning of annoying faux-witches through the character of Marcy Steadwell. She’s a complete cartoon, but hilariously so. And while Barbas still bugs, it’s notable that the show has the confidence to bring back villains it assumes are fan favorites. And we have Darryl discovering the sister’s secret. While he’s still pretty much a non-character, it’s the only logical route the show can go down with him. We sure don’t need another Andy.

Ms. Hellfire is an obviously busy episode, with stories that maybe aren’t given the full weight they deserve. However, it’s also unquestionably a lot of fun, with a memorable performance from Shannen Doherty, a glut of funny scenes, and a great soundtrack.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Awakened:

I’ve mentioned it several times before, but for this episode I once again need to reiterate that logic was never Charmed’s strong suit. Nevertheless, I never really understood why Leo and the Elders wouldn’t step in when one of the sisters was endangered. In Awakened, Piper lies dying on a hospital bed, and reference is made to Leo not even being the Charmed Ones’ Whitelighter anymore. When did this happen? I thought his powers were just taken away? Or am I blanking? Regardless, the sisters are seemingly without any kind of protection at this point, leaving them open to fatal attack. It just seems all so reckless and ridiculous. Won’t somebody think of the [Charmed Ones]!!??

Awakened is very much an episode of two halves. The first half is a pretty underwhelming medical drama, with Piper afflicted with a disease and stuck in a hospital bed, Phoebe being shrill and obnoxious with the hospital staff, and an annoying ninja doll coming to life. Then, midway through, things suddenly become interesting. The idea of long-term consequences to saving Piper’s life and not the countless others threatened by the same virus is intriguing, while the imagery of Piper’s ‘death’ and her subsequent resurrection is profoundly moving.

I don’t think Awakened is the classic so many folks claim it is (a lot of the hour involves treading water, and the tone veers from cloying sentimentality to silly sitcom shtick constantly), but it is a pretty strong hour in general. It’s kind of buried in the middle of a bunch of pretty awful episodes, though, so I find it a little forgettable. Eh.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Pardon My Past:

This is an interesting episode, filled with some intriguing commentary on past lives and the seductive quality of evil. It has a lot of momentum for the first half, with some beautifully shot flashback sequences and some memorable performances from both Alyssa Milano and the guest stars. But it’s also completely annoying that the episode falls apart in the last fifteen minutes. Anton and evil-Pheebs are vanquished without any trouble, no real explanation is given to why Phoebe Russell’s cousins were so determined to kill her and not try and ‘save her soul’ instead, and I wish we had learned a little more about the lives of the Russell’s in general. It’s a major anti-climax.

Anyhoo, besides the ending, Pardon My Past is pretty great. The 1920’s flapper-era makes for a wonderful location for a lot of the episode, with the repeated use of If You Were the Only Girl in the World, the brass band and all the wacky outfits. As previously mentioned, I would have loved to have seen more of this, but I’ll take what I got.

Great work by Jeanette Miller, too. I’m assuming that the Christina we see early in the episode was actually Anton, but it was pretty creepy either way. She’s like this weird old-lady/child, the mannerisms and dialogue of a little girl but stuck in the body of an old woman. Her hatred of Phoebe for breaking her doll and the continued bitterness over it was pretty ingenious.

The Leo/Piper/Dan love triangle is becoming more obnoxious by the episode. Leo’s repeated insistence that Piper is making a terrible mistake with Dan and his snarky comments about her past life, soulmates and ‘writing wrongs’ are all just pathetic. And then there’s poor, strung-along Dan, who’s now investigating Leo’s past and sure that there’s something off about him. Ugh. And, yes, I get that it’s a cheap gag, but Piper calling Leo an ‘angel’ right in front of Dan is just not fair on her actual boyfriend. This whole storyline is a clusterfuck of annoyance.

Not as great as it should have been, but you have to at least admire the script’s ambition. Great acting all round, and wonderful set design for the 1920’s Manor.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Murphy’s Luck:

It’s always annoying when a show randomly comes up with major character points only to service a certain storyline, even more annoying when that story is referenced just once, and is only there to service a standalone mystery. Here, we discover Prue is familiar with depression, feels a huge amount of sadness over a car accident that occurred forever ago that injured Phoebe, and has contemplated suicide. Combine that with her out-of-nowhere ‘passion’ for photography, and Murphy’s Luck should be a pretty annoying episode. However, even with the contrivances, it’s a dark and emotional hour, saved by some great work from the actors.

Amy Adams is without a doubt the most successful actor to ever appear on Charmed. At the time of writing, she’s a three-time Oscar nominee, and her career has been a favorite of mine because I was aware of her through guest spots on shows like this (and Buffy, and Smallville, etc.) before she actually made it big. She’s great here, selling some spotty dialogue and easily conveying a woman terrified by the effect she has on people close to her. Shannen Doherty is equally great here, especially in those scenes where she is stalked by the Darklighter, who fills her head with misery.

I actually prefer Leo as a mortal than as a Whitelighter. It always felt a little too easy in future seasons when he just orbed in and saved the day, or healed the sisters whenever they were injured. As a mortal, he’s for once actually intriguing: upset over his inability to help, but in a truly human relationship with Piper. Unfortunately, the show abandoned this story early. Meh.

Continuity nor logic are particularly strong points of Murphy’s Luck, but it’s a pretty entertaining hour which doesn’t patronize or insult a serious subject matter.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Chick Flick:

It’s always evident that a TV series has reached full confidence in what its doing when it starts to poke fun at itself. One of the countless things that make Chick Flick such a masterpiece is that writers Chris Levinson and Zack Estrin repeatedly pull from Charmed’s history to create great dialogue, allowing our familiarity with the show as an audience to enhance the viewing experience. So, here, we get references to how terrible exposition can be, we finally get some answers on whether or not the sisters clean up after the demon attacks (and how they feel about in general). Chick Flick is also one of the few truly innovative Charmed hours, with a great central idea and perfect use of the show’s protagonists.

There’s also a clear theme of illusion running through the episode, especially in Prue’s introduction to her idol. Finley Beck is an obnoxious egotist who treats everybody as beneath him, and Prue learns a lot about expectations through the story. It was pretty funny, though, to see Prue act so devastated, since I’m sure Shannen Doherty would probably beat you over the head with her purse if you ever met her in reality. Heh.

And then there’s Phoebe’s infatuation with a movie character. Unlike Finley, Billy actually lives up to Phoebe’s expectations, even though both know that they can never actually be a couple. Bizarrely for Charmed, there was actual tenderness to their relationship, especially their great goodbye scene with Billy on the theater screen and Phoebe standing in reality.

The script has some truly great comedic dialogue, too, especially during the sister’s interactions with the horror monsters. “We have got to do something about that complexion!”, “Hello, privacy – hello, axe murderer!” And I am the only one who loves that there’s a movie called Axe Husband in the Charmed universe? Chick Flick is that rare episode which not only features some fun, intriguing concepts. It also straight-up looks damn cool (Prue and Piper punching the bad guys at the same time; Piper and Phoebe falling backwards when the film resets), with a wonderful script from Levinson and Estrin. A real series classic.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Apocalypse Not:

It features a wailing performance from Paula Cole, as well as the worst running in the worldever, but Apocalypse Not is in fact a tightly-scripted detour down dramatic avenue. Hot on the heels of Astral Monkey, the show once again explores darker territory, with dialogue about the evils of the world, and the selflessness sometimes required to do the right thing. Charmed rarely delves into serious storytelling, but when it does, it’s pretty memorable. Again, the show is exploring the sisters’ actions themselves, and the cause and effect of the powers they wield.

Prue is absent for a lot of the episode (Shannen directs the next episode, which explains why she’s incognito), leaving Piper and Phoebe to agonize over whether to save her and by turn threaten the lives of the world’s entire population, or sacrifice her for the good of mankind. It’s a decent dramatic device, paralleled with that cute self-help question about saving ‘five strangers or one sibling’ in a theoretical fire.

The characterization of the Four Horsemen is ridiculous, but also a lot of fun. They’re cast as sleazy businessmen, with those weird color-coded ties, orchestrating evil in some fancy-pants office somewhere. It’s all pretty dumb, but I admire the show’s attempt to make their villains a little more interesting than simply ‘cave-dwelling scenery-chewers’. Great work by Geoffrey Blake, too (if you excuse the running), especially in his scenes with Phoebe. Both he and Alyssa convey the seductive power of evil, a neat flourish casually explored in one or two scenes.

Apocalypse Not isn’t perfect, but it’s an admirable attempt at exploring serious issues. I always like when the show explores the bond between the three sisters, and how that can be manipulated to produce positive results… like averting an apocalypse. Fun episode.

 

The Worst:

The Devil’s Music, She’s a Man Baby a Man!, Heartbreak City, Reckless Abandon, Animal Pragmatism, Give Me a Sign, Astral Monkey, and Be Careful What You Witch For

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  • In The Devil’s Music, P3 is finally opened, though the manager of Dishwalla, Jeff Carlton, has made a deal with the demon, Masselin;

  • She’s a Man, Baby, a Man! sees the Charmed Ones go up against a Succubus, but in order to face her, a spell is cast which transforms Prue into a man;

  • Heartbreak City sees Phoebe come to the aid of Cupid after a Demon of Hate steals his ring;

  • Reckless Abandon sees the Charmed Ones take a seemingly abandoned baby home;

  • Animal Pragmatism sees Phoebe without knowing turn three animals into men for a romantic evening;

  • Give Me a Sign sees Bane Jessup return with Prue being forced to use her powers to save him from Litvack;

  • Astral Monkey, features Matthew Glave (Stargate SG-1) as Dr., Curtis Williamson, an infectious disease specialist assigned to Piper when she contracted Oroya fever in Awakened, and decides to inject the sister’s blood into monkeys, causing them to gain their active powers; and,

  • Be Careful What You Witch For is a clunky finale, complete with a guest appearance by sitcom actor French Stewart.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Devil’s Music:

Aaron Spelling became notorious throughout the 1990’s for forcing his shows to introduce a night-club hot spot for the characters to hang out and therefore listen to a popular band who just so happen to eschew major venues and perform at some low-rent Peach Pit instead. As a result, Charmed, through P3, welcomed onto the show an array of one-hit-wonders over the years. This, the first episode featuring a ‘musical guest’, features an elaborately contrived story involving Dishwalla, a name which creates a resounding “who?” nowadays. Away from the constant name-dropping of the band, The Devil’s Music is still pretty darn awful, from its vaguely sleazy demon storyline to the various annoying subplots.

Jenny Gordon continues to be the show’s most hellish creation so far. Anybody who makes klepto-era Dawn Summers seem appealing deserves to be banished to hell for all eternity, and The Devil’s Music is truly the nadir of her brief time on the show. Whining about how she’s treated, falling into a trap by a potential sex predator, getting fashion advice from Brooke Shields circa Pretty Baby, she’s just completely, reprehensibly awful here.

Elsewhere, Prue’s subplot just isn’t interesting, while Piper’s annoying love triangle with Dan and Leo (stuck between a hunk of wood and… a hunk of wood) is about as scintillating as a toaster-oven. Throw in numerous scenes of Piper histrionics and it’s by far the worst episode in a while.

Okay, to give the hour some credit, the Masselin costume was pretty great, while the idea of sleazy music producers in cahoots with a demon is admittedly interesting. Unfortunately, it isn’t so great on screen.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of She’s a Man, Baby, a Man!:

Parts of this episode are pretty great. It has an absorbing ‘whodunnit’ format with a variety of suspects, an intriguing nemesis for the sisters to battle, and some hilarity in the gratuitous Alyssa Milano boob shots and her various scenes of orgasmic moaning and talk of vivid sex dreams. However, the episode is entirely derailed whenever it tries to get serious. Sexual politics when explored on this show almost always end up being trite and offensive. And we haven’t even talked about Shannen Doherty’s ‘Manny Hanks’ transformation. I’m guessing Hilary Swank won’t be losing any sleep over that…

Prue’s transformation is insanely dumb. I didn’t get why Succubus lady was so interested in his testosterone, as anybody with sense would assume that the throaty-voiced, flawlessly-skinned short guy is, if anything, overdosing on estrogen pills during the transitioning process. It’s really hilarious. Especially the fact that both Dan and Prue’s latest stud-muffin both fail to recognize that it’s clearly Prudence Halliwell in drag. Yeesh.

Even worse are the discussions about gender politics. It takes Prue an actual gender switch to realize that men are equally as nervous and unsure as women when it comes to dating? Then there’s Phoebe’s belief that a car, a job and a huge paycheck make a man, and that Prue instantly begins to think about sex all day and knows her way around a tool-belt only hours after she magically gets a penis. Ugh.

However, I really liked the mystery aspect to the hour. The Succubus is a great villainess (loved the serpent tongue!), even if she is played by somebody who, even before I scanned her IMDb page, was clearly a Playboy model thinking acting might be fun for a change.There’s also an erotic sensibility to Phoebe’s part in the story that, while never explicitly explained, really works. It’s a lot of fun. Even if the rest of the hour is pretty dumb.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Heartbreak City:

Phoebe is all ‘woe is me’ here, naval-gazing and being generally mopey despite making everything worse for herself by hanging out with two couples on a daily basis. Doesn’t she have friends away from her sisters? This episode mostly revolves around Phoebe and her love life. Or, to be more specific, lack of a love life. I find it amusing that the writers seem to have pulled this plot strand out of their butts. She’s considered the most fun-loving and man-crazed sister, yet suddenly is written as a woman on the verge of cat lady territory because she happens to be the one single sister right now? Gah.

The A-plot here is generic Charmed. There’s a in-brand spin on a literary/mythological character, a scenery-chewing bad guy and some innocents to save. The story runs out of steam twenty minutes in when Drazi is first vanquished, and continues to drag on until its expected conclusion.

The only decent angle to the episode is the brief scene with Dan and Jack. It’s always interesting to see ancillary characters discussing the Halliwell’s, especially Dan’s reference to all the random men that appear in their house and then suddenly disappear. Leo, ‘Manny’, Eric, Kyle, the baby next episode. It’s so silly, but somehow it doesn’t end up a trainwreck. Heartbreak City is the definition of filler episode. It’s great background TV, but nothing particularly memorable or interesting.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Reckless Abandon:

I’ve mentioned it before, but one of the major TV staples I can’t stand is the ‘wacky results of maternally-inexperienced women thrust into a motherhood role’ episode. It’s always the same shtick. Characters rush around for diapers and baby supplies. Somebody is at some point covered in pee and/or poop and/or vomit. Or all of the above. Women usually end up learning some kind of lesson in the end, and learn to love the baby. It’s just awful. Reckless Abandon, besides one or two cute moments, fits this pattern to a tee. From the annoying mid-’90s Lois & Clark-style sitcom music which plays over every baby scene to the various abhorrent montages of baby butts or the sisters cooing over the abandoned little boy they’ve taken in, it’s pretty much a disaster of an episode.

The Van Lewen story reminded me a lot of The Wedding from Hell from last season. Both involve wealthy San Francisco families, both involve secrets from their history, and both feature guest acting reminiscent of one of Aaron Spelling’s old soap operas. And the ending, in which Stephanie Beacham throws herself over a balcony after Phoebe suggested she kill herself to end the curse, is pretty awkward. Thanks for just giving up and putting the whole ‘suicide’ idea in her head, Pheebs. Yeesh.

Piper’s romantic problems continue to blow, if only because she comes off like an annoying shrew here. Oh noes, her boyfriend is just too damn perfect. In the words of Chandler Bing: “My wallet’s too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!” Girl needs to cram it. This whole episode is pretty annoying. Way too cutesy, folks acting way out of character, baby moments straight out of some bad sitcom, and Sable Colby giving sustained O-face while getting electrocuted by a ghost. Eek.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Animal Pragmatism:

Watching these episodes again, I’m actually starting to feel for Dan. Sure, he’s as thrilling as a bowl of oatmeal, but Piper’s shabby treatment of him is pretty awful. She’s clearly hung up on Leo, and it’s completely obnoxious to not just cut Dan loose, instead she’s stringing him along and giving him the impression that he actually stands a chance. I always loved the final scene in Animal Pragmatism, with Piper’s dream of running into Leo’s arms in the middle of P3, but it’s a little tainted now by how awful the two of them are being. Ugh. But, still, that scene was pretty wonderful. I’m usually resistant to big, sweepy romantic moments like that, but I admit that this one got me.

The rest of the episode is pretty awful. The hour strung a risky line between horror story and sitcom comedy, first with the uncomfortable-to-watch abuse of the three female students, and then with the dumb ‘everybody in P3 gets turned into an animal’ closer. Tonally, this episode was all over the place. The show didn’t attempt to address sexual politics, the metaphors I assume the writers were going for with the snake and the pig, nor the brutal abuse of women depicted in the episode. The guys acted like thugs towards everybody, but nothing was actually said. It just happened, with no message or moral to back it up.

It should have been an interesting contrast that when the sisters conjure up men, they’re able to protect themselves by simply undoing the spell. But, when regular females do it, they end up getting attacked and brutalized. Is the show trying to say something? A lightweight series like Charmed shouldn’t introduce ideas like this that they can’t follow through on.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Give Me a Sign:

There was always something a little low-rent about Charmed’s demons, and it’s especially noticeable in seasons three and four, with various scenery-chewing actors gesticulating wildly in badly lit caves and crypts, clearly located on a sound-stage in L.A. somewhere. I bring this up because Give Me a Sign is really the first episode to feature that. Litvack is the first of numerous ordinary-looking demons wearing some kind of cape or robe, able to fling fireballs or whatever. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this episode is also the first to reference The Source, Charmed’s biggest Big Bad. While the character is interesting (I think, if I remember correctly), it marked a visually underwhelming evolution in Charmed’s history, where demons and their headquarters were all universally fug…

Bane Jessup, Rent-a-Hunk, isn’t the most scintillating of characters. You can sort of understand why the show brought him back (Antonio Sabato Jr. being Charmed’s version of a ‘big-name guest star’… chortle), but it doesn’t make for a hugely powerful storyline. We have some chemistry-free banter between Bane and Prue, some gags about nudity, and a completely non-absorbing demon plot. Meh.

Elsewhere, Piper smugly chooses Leo, but decides to drag out her relationship with Dan just for kicks anyway. There was potential for fun in the ‘signs’ spell, but it feels so much like a re-run of the ‘finding something lost’ spell, or the one where they could hear thoughts. And it doesn’t help that the subplot is full of annoyance (like the Mariners/Angels reference). Double meh.

Give Me a Sign suffers, for me, because its weighed down by an uninspiring mission-of-the-week and one of the worst story arcs in the show’s history. You can’t really escape the suck, which is unfortunate.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Astral Monkey:

Wacky shenanigans with monkeys ranks up there with baby poop humor in my list of all things awful, but Astral Monkey reaches the once-believed-to-be-impossible feat of not being indescribable garbage. It’s actually a pretty wonderful meditation on cause and effect, morals and guilt. The ambition of the script and the concept of questioning the sisters’ actions sticks out like a sore thumb on a show like Charmed, but judged on its own it’s one of the series’ strongest episodes, anchored by an emotional rollercoaster of a performance from Holly Marie Combs, who really works wonders with strong material like this.

I loved Piper’s conflicting emotions over Dr. Williamson’s transformation. On the one hand, he’s himself responsible for playing with forces beyond his control, and his obsessive determination to prove the sister’s abilities highlights some form of madness. On the other hand, the sisters messed with fate, and these were the repercussions. But, without a doubt, Dr. Williamson was a good man, his untimely fate a result of merely being so wrapped up in his desire to help others. Piper’s anguish was beautifully played, as was Prue and Phoebe’s more gung-ho attitude to stopping him.

Prue’s subplot with movie star Evan Stone was less successful. I can appreciate the parallels between both stories (characters being forcibly put under the microscope), but it felt a little hollow. Prue was never interested in Evan, he was kind of a scumbag. Eh.

Astral Monkey successfully explores some dark territory for once, with the sisters acknowledging that they can’t always save the day and can’t always do the right thing when it comes to innocents. They’re flawed ladies, not picture-perfect goddesses.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Be Careful What You Witch For:

It feels like the writers threw literally everything into the pot for the season finale. It’s a method that show-runners employ all the time, and most of the time it works. But Charmed‘s second season ends on a messy note, with a plot that explodes into a dozen different storylines before dovetailing it to a routine conclusion. It’s fine as an average episode that could have aired at any point during the middle of the season, but after stories like Astral Monkey and Apocalypse Not (two hours that easily could have been the season finale considering the explosive concepts of both scripts), Be Careful What You Witch For is more than a little underwhelming.

Charmed once again explores the mythology of the series here, introducing the Council, three robed gentlemen who orchestrate various attacks on the Charmed Ones. I’m assuming that they’re the Triad explored in greater detail next season, but it’s a little vague here. The Council sends two villains after the Charmed Ones: an angry Dragon Warlock played by a hammy Australian, and an obnoxious French Stewart as a wise-cracking genie. Ugh. Both are pretty awful.

There are, of course, moments of greatness. Phoebe flying past the windows of the Manor before smashing through is one of the finest comedy moments the show ever produced, while it’s a natural progression for the show to once again return to Phoebe’s desire for an active power. However, the rest of the storyline is pretty uneventful. Prue’s in danger, and the stakes felt a little contrived. Her ‘death’ occurring simply because it’s the finale, not for any real purpose. It was also a little annoying that Prue is suddenly desperate for a man. Her missions lately have been work-related, Prue trying to find some kind of meaning in her life. Suddenly that has mutated into settling down with a good boyfriend. Hmm.

Dan is finally written out, and at least he got a happy ending. His transition from caring boyfriend to crazed destroyer-of-Leo was choppy, but at least wasn’t granted so much screentime that it destroyed his character. Not that he had much of a character in the first place.

Season two was notable for its confidence and strengthening of the characters, and it featured a bunch of classic episodes. However, the story arcs were bogged down by the Piper love triangle, and several standalone episodes were pretty crappy. But, as always, there is a charm (no pun intended) and sense of humor which make the show so watchable.

 

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Next in the best and worst is Season 1.

 

 

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