The Best and Worst of Charmed: Season 1

 

Charmed started out so differently from how it ended, as according to Bustle‘s article, “10 Things From The ‘Charmed’ Pilot You Never Noticed Because Alyssa Milano Wasn’t Always Phoebe“:

In the late 1990s, the now-defunct WB network took up real estate in my preteen heart. There was Felicity, Dawson’s Creek, and the show that I still have a complicated obsession with, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Charmed premiered in 1998, I was quickly hooked. A part of me is still bitter about Prue (the superior sister) being killed off because of the tempestuous disagreements between Alyssa Milano and Shannen Doherty and behind-the-scenes drama. There were rumors of a Charmed reboot last year. But for any worried Charmed diehards, there is no need to worry; the reboot was nixed soon after the announcement.

Charmed may not be considered a great show — especially not by the prestige standards of today’s television — but I have great fondness for its first few seasons. That’s why I decided to rewatch the first three seasons, and I was surprised by how much I still enjoyed the pilot. At its best, Charmed mixes strong female characters, intense sibling dynamics, frothy romance, and a fun take on witchcraft. It’s interesting to compare the pilot episode to where the show ends up eight seasons later. Why don’t we take a look back to how Charmed started all the way back in 1998?

Alyssa Milano Wasn’t The First Actress Cast To Play Phoebe

Lori Rom was the first actress cast as soon-to-be-fan-favorite Phoebe Halliwell, but she quit after filming the unaired pilot. Milano definitely fits the role much better than Rom did. Just check out the YouTube video comparing their different takes on the character to see why it’s for the best that Milano took on the role.

The Animosity Between Milano And Shannen Doherty Is Evident

Very evident. But that’s why their dynamic worked so much better than it did with Phoebe’s original actress.

It Feels Like A Real Sisterhood

What’s wonderful about the pilot episode, and which I forgot about, was how much Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Milano imbued their characters with a sense of sisterhood. It was the perfect mix of sibling rivalry and genuine caring. This is why it doesn’t surprise me that Doherty and Combs are still good friends to this day.

Charmed Is Totally ’90s

Just look at the fashion.

Charmed Gets Compared To Buffy A Lot, But It’s More Like This ’90s Show …

I get why Charmed gets compared a lot to Buffy. WB ordered Charmed after witnessing the critical and cult success of the better-written Buffy take shape a year into the series. But these two shows only have a superficial resemblance. Charmed far more resembles Xena: Warrior Princess, with its mix of drama, wacky humor, intensely layered mythology, and feminism-lite vibe.

Witchcraft Is More Central In The Early Seasons

Charmed was very interested in potion-making, spells, how the badass Halliwell family line gives these sisters their powers, and legit Wicca terminology. But in the later seasons, as mystical beings were introduced, the show moved away from witchcraft as a central theme, and had the sisters rely more on their increasing powers sans intricate spells and potions.

The Writing Wasn’t Always Ridiculously Cheesy

Rewatching the pilot made me realize that Charmed wasn’t always a cheesy, love-obsessed show more interested in fantastical creatures than the witchy sisterhood at its center. The pilot mixes a compelling dynamic of sisters reconnecting and finding out their true calling.

Demons Aren’t The Only Issue For These Sisters

These women have a lot of dating issues. The first few seasons find a balance between modern womanhood and the sister’s lives as witches. But somewhere around Seasons 4 and 5, the show tips over into caring much more about the drama that comes from the men in their lives, rather than how the sisters relate to each other.

Love Is The Main Theme

At it’s heart, Charmed was always about love between sisters and true romantic love.

The Show Lost A Lot By Killing Prue

Charmed definitely lost something when the big sister went to the great beyond. While a lot of people blamed Milano for Doherty being fired, it had much more to do with other behind-the-scenes tensions. Doherty felt that the show could be better, and wanted it have more depth — going for a darker tone while keeping the theme of sisterhood intact.

The powers that be behind the show weren’t keen on her demands and fired her. They felt that they could lose her, since Milano had the fanbase. The other person who left the show when Doherty did? Series creator and writer Constance M. Burge. Charmed got pretty bad in its last few seasons, and I can totally understand where Doherty is coming from. It was a fun show that never really amounted to much and lost track of its core theme, instead becoming obsessed with increasingly soapy plots and the sister’s love lives, rather than their own sense of sisterhood, in the five seasons that followed after Prue died. Even then, I still have a soft spot for Charmed, and that recommend you to fire up Netflix to watch the show. Just stop around Season 3, for your own sanity.

Finally, according to the Digital Spy article, “How Charmed lost its charm – what went wrong with the magical hit?“:

More than ten years after the eighth and final series of Charmed staggered its way over the finishing line, the CW has announced a “prequel-ish” reboot of the magical teen series.

Charmed broke records and won awards in its heyday, and the female ensemble fantasy show at its best could be thoroughly fun and – well – charming. It was daft, but knew it and made it work.

But the wheels slowly began to come off, so that by the time Old Piper finished telling the Charmed Ones’ story to her granddaughter in the last episode, we’d all forgotten about the good witch the show had been and remembered only the fireball-hurling hag that it became.

1. A game of dress-up

When Charmed began, it was a light-hearted and aspirational wish-fulfilment fantasy – occupying a similar place to Buffy. These were young women trying to find their place in the world, working hard and trying to iron out the kinks in their strong family bond.

And they also got to be witches with magical powers who save the world every week, which was pretty damn awesome.

But somewhere along the line, Charmed seemed to stop focusing on the needs of its audience and began to feel very self-indulgent towards its stars. Character-driven storylines were replaced with gimmicks. The biggest evidence of this? The game of dress-up that the show became.

Alyssa Milano’s weekly transformations included mermaid, Greek love goddess, Cinderella, a valkyrie, a genie and a Demonatrix (don’t ask). We’re sure she was having great fun – the audience, not so much.

2. Prue’s uneasy death

We’ll never know the truth about the on-set feuding and Shannen Doherty’s season three exit. The girls seem to be playing nice these days, and Rose McGowan was a great addition to the cast.

But Prue’s death was handled badly and essentially off-screen, and remained a shadow over the show for the rest of its five years. We get that Doherty was totally out, but in the world it never made sense that she would vanish so completely. Prue never showed up in spirit form, and there wasn’t even a picture of her on their wall.

Every time she was mentioned it was more like an elephant in the room than the ghost of a beloved sister. Awks.

3. The trouble with Phoebe

The Charmed Ones had serious problems with holding down jobs – remember when Prue went from antiques dealer to celebrated photographer in about a week? But that pales in comparison to Alyssa Milano’s Phoebe, who somehow graduated in psychology and became an agony aunt at The Bay Mirror, then a talk show host and the bestselling author of Finding Love.

But who in their right mind would take her advice? Phoebe (and her past lives) had a tendency to turn evil, not to mention burning through love interests like they were going out of fashion. That included two failed marriages – one to Cole, who the Charmed Ones ended up killing a *few* times.

And then there were her powers, which changed almost as often as her boyfriends. The show had no idea what to do with Phoebe.

4. The sufferings of Cole

Half-demon Cole (played by Nip/Tuck ‘s Julian McMahon) had the misfortune of being one of Phoebe’s aforementioned one true loves, and he couldn’t catch a break. He was turned into the Source of All Evil while preventing his then-girlfriend and her sisters from being horribly murdered, and was eventually ‘vanquished’ for his troubles.

Not content that he had suffered enough, the show brought him back, making him invincible and generally miserable – and finally, after much hand-wringing, killed him off again.

And what about what the sisters did to Cole and Phoebe’s evil unborn baby? They blew it up – a popular solution to most of their problems.

5. Everyone’s least favourite mum

Holly Marie Combs did a great job of making Piper the sensible, reliable (if sometimes a little boring) sister while the others circled the chasm of insanity.

But eventually she tipped over the edge from ‘sensible’ into ‘boorish nag’ – probably thanks to her ever increasing brood of time-travelling magical sons. Either way, Piper deserved better.

6. Incest keeps a family together

Speaking of time-travelling sons, remember when Phoebe put the moves on Chris in ‘Oh My Goddess!’?

She might not have known that he was her nephew, but the writers sure did. Ick!

7. The gruesome twosome

You know a show is in trouble when it introduces a ‘fun’ new Cousin Oliver type to “liven things up”. Charmed‘s Cousin Oliver was Kaley Cuoco’s young witch Billie – who read like one of the terrible roles Cuoco’s wannabe actress Penny was forced to take on in The Big Bang Theory.

If this wasn’t bad enough, there was her long-lost sister Christy, who was raised by demons and had a habit of pulling “evil” faces when no one could see her like a pantomime villain.

Billie eventually helped blow Christy up (of course!), and didn’t seem too shaken up by it.

8. Hollywood Hogwarts

The introduction of ‘Magic School’ in season six was a sure sign that the Charmed writers had run out of ideas and didn’t care who knew it.

Of course, Harry Potter‘s Dumbledore didn’t go evil like Charmed‘s headmaster Gideon, nor did he try to kill any babies. Though we’re sure JK was tempted from time to time.

 

The Best:

Something Wicca This Way Comes, Dead Man Dating, The Fourth Sister, The Truth is Out There…And it Hurts, The Witch is Back, Wicca Envy, From Fear to Eternity, Is There a Woogey in the House?, Which Prue is it Anyway?, That 70’s Episode, Love Hurts, and Déjà Vu All Over Again

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  • Something Wicca This Way Comes introduces Prue, Piper and Phoebe, as well as Inspectors Andy Trudeau and Darryl Morris;
  • Dead Man Dating is essentially Ghost, more of less;
  • The Fourth Sister sees a troubled been befriend Phoebe in order to join the Halliwell sisters, but, like any deviant, is also being lured into dark powers by a sorceress named Kali;
  • The Truth is Out There…And it Hurts sees some great development between Trudeau and Prue;
  • The Witch is Back features the first time in which a Charmed ancestor appears;
  • Wicca Envy is the first episodes to feature the Charmed Ones losing their powers, as well as the first time we witness someone orb;
  • From Fear to Eternity features the first appearance of Barbas, the Demon of Fear, as well as Patty Halliwell;
  • Is There a Woogey in the House? sees Phoebe turn evil via the Woogeyman, as well as the first appearance of Penny Halliwell;
  • Which Prue is it Anyway? sees Prue get split from her super-ego and id in order to defeat the Lords of War;
  • That 70’s Episode features the Charmed Ones lose their powers again, and time travel for the first time;
  • Love Hurts sees Piper learn the truth about Leo; and,
  • Déjà Vu All Over Again sees David Carradine as Tempus, a demon who will keep turning back time until all the Charmed Ones are dead.

 

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Something Wicca This Way Comes:

Charmed is the definition of ‘guilty pleasure television’. It’s a show I’d never confess in public to enjoying. It’s also a show that I’ve tuned into more times than I’d like to admit. Throughout its shockingly long run, it was fun, energetic, dumb and frequently appalling. But through most of it, it maintained its heart. The chemistry between its three leads (both sets of them) was always palpable, and while the show regularly aimed for the lowest common denominator in terms of storylines, character growth, antagonists and love interests, once in a blue moon it came up with something that had considerable power. Seriously.

It’s easy to critique this show, but its pilot episode features a surprisingly well-crafted script. You can tell that creator Connie Burge poured laboriously over it (but it’s not overwritten, I may add), rooting the supernatural premise in something ridiculously human. The three protagonists are immediately vibrant characters, each with their own distinctive personalities and flaws, with magical powers in direct parallel to a certain aspect of themselves.

Phoebe is the reckless, excitable youngest sister. As Prue notes, she has no vision and doesn’t consider the future, so her powers try and make up for that. She’s the impulsive, ‘fun’ character of the pilot, and Alyssa Milano brings a sense of joy and underlying vulnerability to the part, a world away from the skanky girl-trash she played for much of the 1990’s.

Piper is the frantic middle sister, trying to ease tensions between Prue and Phoebe and frequently stuck in between others. She’s a great character, but also open to danger, especially when her boyfriend is revealed to be a warlock. There must be something about her which made her the easiest to manipulate, which is unfortunate.

Prue is kind of a drag here. Connie Burge tries to explain Prue’s anger away with some insight into how her history has made her bitter, but she’s not exactly fun to watch throughout most of the pilot. Shannen Doherty brings a softness to the character in her scenes with Andy, but too much of her performance here is shrill and monotonous. It’s also interesting that, despite what we witness through much of the episode, she’s immediately thrust center stage in the climactic battle, an issue which affects the series for much of Doherty’s tenure. I don’t know who demanded it, but there were a lot of times where her importance on the show far outshone the importance of her two sisters, who were arguably far more interesting characters…

The villain here is routine, but typical for a pilot. A warlock is stalking and murdering witches, and sets his sights on the Halliwell’s when they come into their powers. It doesn’t set the world on fire, but the story is fun, and featured that great scene in the cargo elevator with Piper.

Something Wicca This Way Comes is a pretty wonderful pilot. The leads have immediate chemistry, and you’re made aware from the get-go what the show’s mission statement appears to be. These are sisters, flawed in a variety of ways, who are forced to bond once again when they discover a huge connection between the three of them. It’s a theme that stays with the show for a lot of the series, and is something undeniably empowering and fun.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Dead Man Dating:

I remember years ago posting something on a message board about how Charmed never really represented the diversity of San Francisco. Where were the gays? The Asians? It’s no big deal, but the Halliwells did always seem to exist in their own little bubble of white folk. And the writers rarely attempted to reflect varying lifestyles or cultures throughout the show’s eight-year run. Dead Man Dating is one of the only episodes I can remember which actively reflected another culture, and in doing so created one of the first hours which signposted that the show could be something pretty great.

Piper and Mark had mad chemistry. I don’t really get why the show didn’t pursue this relationship further. Sure, he’s a ghost, but the complications could be just as great as the ones created by Piper’s relationship with Leo, and the show went there with the latter. John Cho certainly has more spark than Brian Krause does. It’s also a credit to the show that despite only sharing a handful of scenes together, the two of them really do seem connected in some way.

The actual storyline is a little contrived, since Tony Wong looks absolutely nothing like Mark, but it works, and is probably the best demon story so far. The innocent involved doesn’t bug, while the mystery aspect is crafted well.

Phoebe’s subplot is mildly amusing, even if Alyssa Milano’s performance seems to have been turned right up to ‘shrill’. Man, does she shriek a lot when trying to save that guy. Elsewhere, Prue’s story uses Andy well (at least he’s not only involved through a police case here, like so much of the rest of the season), even if she was a little out-of-line in being so rash over Andy’s ex, especially considering the secrets she’s keeping herself.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Fourth Sister:

Season two saw the introduction of Jenny Gordon, a neighborhood girl who (in her brief tenure on the show) asked about tampons and sex and threw herself into dangerous situations. Then she vanished. It was never explained what the writers had intended for her, or why anybody thought she would be an asset to the series. Watching The Fourth Sister, I can almost see what the show may have had in mind. Here we have a lonely teenage girl, desperate for some kind of acceptance, turning to the Halliwells for wicca-related guidance. While the character bugs at times, her presence isn’t entirely reprehensible, and I’m a little surprised that they never asked Danielle Harris back. Which leads me to thinking that maybe Jenny was supposed to be a new incarnation of the same character?

I was actually surprised at how decent The Fourth Sister is. It’s one of those ridiculously forgettable Charmed hours that nobody ever talks about, and it’s probably because it’s entirely un-showy. It’s not the most dramatic episode ever, nor the most action-driven. But it has enough character moments to make it fun.

Aviva, in principal, is irritating. She’s one of those annoyingly miserable Gen-X teenagers from every other 1990’s TV show, but there are elements of her character that work. I liked that she was a little nutty in her loneliness, and pretty unpredictable. Maybe I’m crazy, or maybe I’m just subconsciously comparing her to the dozens of other teenage witches the show introduced at some point down the line — compared to the likes of that tumor in the eighth season who shall not be named, she’s a walk in the park. I also loved the ending with Phoebe smashing the mirror. Badass.

Great sisterly interaction here, too. The whole ‘attempting-to-derail-your-love-rival-through-slander’ thing has been done countless times before, but it’s pretty reliable for humor. Especially the gay and lesbian support group line, and the addressing of the HoYay between Phoebe and the sexually ambiguous goth girl sharing her bed. Heh. Fun episode.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Truth is Out There…And it Hurts:

This episode’s subplot was pretty fun, featuring the aftermath of an ill-advised truth spell. So far, so Sabrina. However, the show puts enough dramatic weight behind the storyline to increase its power, in particular where Andy and Prue are concerned. While it’s a little silly that Andy discovers the secret, thinks it over, and eventually decides he’s against the whole “witch” thing in less than a couple of hours (with few questions asked), I’m excusing it. Everybody’s allowed at least a little bit of artistic license once in a while.

Prue’s tag-sequence epiphany was pretty sad. She heard the truth, only it wasn’t what she had hoped for. Elsewhere, the sisterly interaction here was great. I loved Piper’s “small penis” outburst while Phoebe’s mad!detective!skillz! were cute, too. Also interesting was Hannah literally revealing her evil intentions towards Prue, only Prue remains blind to it all, assuming Hannah meant “destroying you” in a typical office-bitch kind of way. Not, you know, all fire and brimstone.

The fun of the B-plot isn’t so present in the A-plot, a routine Charmed demon-killing mission with elements cribbed from a famous (and infinitely greater) movie. It doesn’t help that so much of the story is filled with plot holes. If the warlocks from the future can send at least one assassin back to exterminate everybody, why can’t they just send another one, straight after the first one fails? Why is this future-dude so afraid of killing people in public? Why does he give a damn? I guess logic isn’t the best thing to look out for with this show, but sometimes the laziness is just too distracting.

This is a typical early-series Charmed episode. It has some fun character interaction and an amusing subplot, but falls short when it comes to a believable threat for the sisters to fight. But it’s fine.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Witch is Back:

Another vaguely flat early season one episode, this does at least advance the show’s mythology a little, even if it is contained in an episode full of obvious humor, obvious characterization and generic plotting. Nobody ever said Charmed was subtle, but this episode essentially smashes you over the head with a sledgehammer, in terms of both the writing and the acting, the latter presumably performed by a bunch of daytime TV actors and ex-models. Essentially, Aaron Spelling-types.

This week’s storyline goes nowhere fast. We have a hammy bad guy pursuing the Halliwell’s and seeking their powers, and a vacant cipher of an innocent to protect. In this case it’s the sisters’ ancestor Melinda, a clueless Salem witch who spends a lot of the episode inquiring about modern-day clothing, standing frantic near answering machines and asking what in the damn hell a ‘zoo’ is. Ugh. They’re not good guest stars.

Equally annoying is Andy’s random bursts of anger as he discovers that Prue is wound up right at the center of yet another mysterious murder investigation. You know, he has a point, but his rampant stupidity kind of eclipses that. The fact that the episode ends with Prue presumably getting off scot-free despite being so heavily involved in a series of killings and a freak accident at work… it’s just a little silly.

Sorry for shitting all over this one, but it is pretty awful. I guess it speeds by pretty fast, if that’s anything positive. Charmed is like comfort food, though, there’s something generally likable about it regardless of how abysmal the show actually is at times.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Wicca Envy:

Re-watching the early episodes, it’s pretty great to see a story arc involving villains that aren’t just reduced to the whole “crush, kill, destroy” method of dispatching the Charmed Ones. The show’s villains eventually became so shrill, flat and one-note that seeing Rex and Hannah forming this elaborate plan is actually pretty refreshing. Wicca Envy is occasionally both melodramatic and ridiculous, but it’s probably the strongest episode of the series so far, and a benchmark for what the show would eventually become.

Rex’s astral projection is a lot of fun. From the comedy created by the freezing-the-cops-and-moving-the-tiara scene to the eerieness of Phoebe discovering that Rex’s gorgeous penthouse is in reality an empty dump, it’s a great plot device. Rex and Hannah weren’t individually great villains, (Hannah too much like a catty secretary to convince, Rex clearly from the Hugh Grant School of Complete Non-Intensity), but they added some necessary weight to the series. It was clearly an attempt at a Buffy-esque “big bad active in the background of every episode” arc, and for the most part it worked.

The Piper/Leo chemistry and the revelations about his magical ‘abilities’ works, but it’s soured by my later boredom of the couple, after the seven subsequent seasons of “blah-ness” they made everybody endure. But, attempting to put myself in the shoes of somebody watching this for the first time, they do have a lot of chemistry, and it’s sad to see the unlucky Piper once again getting into a relationship with certain ‘complications’. Warlock, ghost… Leo. Aww.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of From Fear to Eternity:

The strongest episodes of Charmed usually contrast a ridiculous demon/warlock/witch storyline with a human ‘issue’ that the sisters are experiencing. From Fear to Eternity, another surprisingly decent season one hour, explores the long-lasting after-effects of a tragedy. In the case of the Halliwell sisters, it’s the demise of their mother. Prue not only faces her greatest fear, but also finally tells her sisters that she loves them. It’s not the most complex of problems, but it makes for an intriguing episode grounded in a kind of emotion that the show deserted later on.

Billy Drago is hideously awful as Barbas. But the show clearly loved him, bringing him back again and again and again. He’s also likely the instigator for the scenery-chewing villains that quickly became Charmed’s trademark, actors being generally shrill and intense until they’re blue in the face. Barbas’ M.O., like the rest of the episode, isn’t complex, but I liked that the show used the “face your fears” idea to explore heavier issues.

Both subplots were fun. Holly Marie Combs was again great in the comedic scenes (I loved her reaction to putting her hand in that steaming pot at the restaurant), while I liked the whole ‘superstition’ angle to her story. Equally fun was Phoebe’s short-lived secretary job. Whatever people think of Phoebe as a character, she undoubtedly has a conscience, and the scene where her boss’ husband thanked her for not lying to him was surprisingly effective.

From Fear to Eternity again sees the show shifting gears and gradually hitting that difficult balance between campy nemesis-of-the-week schtick and earnest sisterly interaction. It’s still flawed as an episode (the finale is a little too neat, and Andy’s presence still highlights how ridiculous Prue’s involvement in all these murders are), but it isconsistently entertaining.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Is There a Woogey in the House?:

This is one of my favorite episodes, and it may have something to do with how simple, almost cliched conceits were made fun, intriguing and pretty ingenious. For one, we have yet another hour in which a Halliwell sister is possessed by evil. At the same time, the episode hinges on the oldest of sitcom-style storylines: “the boss coming round for dinner”. As a result, Is There a Woogy in the House? (extravagant title and all), is a wildly uneven but most importantly an entertaining thrill-ride of a Charmed hour, and one of the best of the first season.

This is undoubtedly Alyssa’s hour, revisiting those one-note bad girls she played on Melrose Place and in every one of those direct-to-video soft-porn movies she did post-Who’s the Boss? (Poison Ivy 2, anyone?). She’s great as Woogy-Pheebs, underplaying the craziness with some deep, clipped vocals and the casual body language of a secretive killer. She’s just a lot of fun here.

Elsewhere, great job by John T. Kretchmer on directorial duties, especially in the scene with Phoebe walking through the Manor, wallpaper peeling off walls and glass breaking as she saunters by. Also of note were the askew camera angles as Prue and Piper get thrown out of their own house. He generally creates a dark and energetic atmosphere which immediately forces this episode to stand out from the pack.

It’s also easily forgotten that Woogy is a great mythology episode, details revealed about the spirituality of the Manor itself and featuring the introduction of the Nexus. It’s the show daring to be a little deeper than typical Aaron Spelling series and granting the Halliwell lineage a depth that so far has been noticeably absent.

A welcome breather from the now repetitive “innocent in need of rescue” episodes, Woogyis the highlight of the season so far, combining some great character work with a memorable bad guy and some awesome sisterly interaction. Series classic.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Which Prue is it Anyway?:

This is a great Prue episode. Rewatching Charmed, I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s probably the least likable of the sisters, and comes across as both overly controlling and uncontrollably bitchy and annoying. It also bugs that at this point in the show she’s ostensibly written as the ‘lead’ and gets total story dominance most of the time (the same happened with Phoebe right after Shannen’s departure). However, an episode like this explores the different facets of her personality, and goes some way in explaining exactly why she is the way she is.

The two Prue duplicates are embodiments of both ‘sides’ of Prue, the uptight and conservative part obsessed with work and doing the right thing to the nth degree, the other side being the more relaxed and overtly sexual side that barely gets ‘unleashed’, if at all. And then there’s our Prue, a neurotic amalgamation of the two. It’s an interesting idea to base an episode around, and if anything makes you feel pretty bad for her.

Elsewhere, Andy, as a character, continues to fail. But it’s at least something that he’s becoming a little more pro-active. One of the most ridiculous aspects of Charmed’s first season were all the bizarre murder cases and accidents Prue somehow was involved in, and Andy’s repeated bemusement over it all was just plain stupid. He’s a cop, and the show repeatedly wrote him as an illogical moron. This is a fantasy series, but this particular element went too far. It’s no surprise that they quickly moved away from it with the Darryl-related developments in season two.

An undeniably fun episode even with some of the dumber plot holes and story twists,Which Prue Is It, Anyway? utilizes Shannen Doherty extremely well, and she excels as all three Prue’s. Throw in some great banter between the ‘five’ sisters and some sitcom-y humor as they’re all trying to hide from other characters, and it’s pretty darn entertaining. The demon plot is a little vague, but what are you going to do?

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of That 70’s Episode:

Charmed was always a series which bathed in its own sincerity at times. This is especially true whenever the Halliwell’s long-gone mom is brought up. In later seasons, it was an excuse for Rose McGowan to do that annoying ‘talk-really-slowly-and-shed-a-tear’ thing she does. It’s always been an odd dichotomy in Aaron Spelling series. You have the boobs and the hot chicks and the sexy outfits, and then the most-of-the-time undeserved moments of cynical weeping or trite ‘messages’, like the show has completely bypassed the boundary-pushing escapism of late-’90s WB TV and settled into Touched by an Angel territory.

That ’70s Episode at times dips its toe right into that pool of mawkishness, but if you bypass the corn, it becomes something admittedly powerful and engaging. It’s also the strongest episode of the first season, and pretty much a series classic.

Charmed repeatedly based episodes around time loops and time paradoxes, and a lot of its greatest hours came from this area. Unlike something like season six’s similarly-plottedWitchstock, That ’70s Episode doesn’t utilize its premise as an excuse to merely mock the era or reference the past, but instead uses it to develop the show’s leads.

The reunions between the sisters and their mother are all beautifully played. From Piper and Prue’s awestruck faces when Patty serves them in the diner to Phoebe’s cute realization that both she and her mom are total klutzes, it’s all really heart-warming stuff. A lot of the time, too, the script just avoids total sentimentality. I loved Prue and her younger self both saying how beautiful they are (chortle), followed up by a Piper rolling her eyes and proclaiming “oh brother”. There’s a real intelligence to this script, and it all works so well. Pretty darn wonderful.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Love Hurts:

In the rush to the season finale, we have an episode where a lot of interesting stuff happens, only none of it is given the considerable weight it probably should have deserved. Power switching? Cool. Piper desperate to save Leo? Romantic. Darklighter stalking? Internal affairs? It’s all pretty great, but a little rushed when condensed into forty minutes. It’s also annoying that the Piper and Leo story didn’t really drive the episode. I don’t know if the writers hadn’t figured out how important their coupling would be to the entire series at this point, but it’s disappointing to see such a huge chapter in their relationship get the screentime brush-off.

I appreciated the obvious parallelism between Leo and Piper and Alec and Daisy. Both relationships broke the rules, but the latter only resulted in jealousy and obsession. Sometimes it felt a little obscure in regards to what Alec actually wanted (did he want to kill her? Or just force her to be with him?), but the story worked, mostly by Prue and Phoebe’s involvement. The power switch (which I’m sure the show did again at some point, unless I’m imagining it) was a lot of fun, especially Prue feeling everything in sight and attempting to get Phoebe angry whenever she wanted her to use her telekinesis.

It’s a little ironic considering the events of the finale, but Andy’s suddenly become far more interesting now that he’s aware of the Halliwell’s secret. It adds a layer to his relationship with Prue that’s not entirely annoying for once, while the internal affairs investigation is to my recollection the only interesting cop-related subplot Charmed ever did in all one hundred-plus episodes.

A little rushed, Love Hurts was clearly a victim of bad plotting. Maybe if the show cut down on the number of awful filler episodes at the start of the season, they may have had a little more time to develop Andy’s character beyond being generally moronic, and possibly showcase more of Piper and Leo as a couple. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent attempt.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Déjà Vu All Over Again:

Time loop episodes are almost always guaranteed to be fun. Pretty much every fantasy series has played around with that formula, and this is one of the best variations on the idea. By turns, Deja Vu All Over Again is entertaining, enlightening and pretty darn heartbreaking. Plus it features the first use of that old Charmed stand-by: when in doubt, send characters flying into random glass objects located in the Manor. For real, they always do that.

Phoebe’s ability to remember the varying time loops does admittedly cut corners a little (was her realization handled too abruptly?), but the story is undeniably fun. Carlos Gomez chews the scenery every time he goes backward in time, getting more and more enraged, while the late, great David Carradine is so imminently reliable in these kinds of things. Plus, he makes corny dialogue sound for once pretty legitimate.

As with every time loop episode of every show ever, the fun was in the subtle differences brought to each additional incarnation of the same scene: from Joanne’s flouncy gestures to that great scene in the third loop where Prue’s cutesy “don’t make me use my magic on you” suddenly becomes serious, as if this version of Prue knows fully well the threat looming.

Andy’s death doesn’t come as a major surprise (he stopped being useful, oh, around episode two), but I admit that the funeral scene got me. Throw in any ol’ Sarah McLachlan-esque ballad and it’s guaranteed to bring out the waterworks. It’s a little frustrating that Andy and Prue finally seemed to have chemistry just as he was getting written out, but he won’t exactly be missed. It always felt like the writers struggled to write him into every episode. And didn’t T.W. King and Shannen hate each other? Or maybe Shannen just hates everybody? Or maybe we all think Shannen hates everybody? Blah.

Charmed started pretty badly, but has grown with confidence over the last ten or so episodes. It’s still flawed and somewhat manipulative in a lot of ways, but there’s undeniably a sense of fun about the show. And those three ladies at the center of the series have serious chemistry with each other. They’re just great to watch every week. And this was a great finale.

 

The Worst:

Thank You For Not Morphing, The Wedding from Hell, Feats of Clay, and The Wendigo

Hecate's_Minions

  • Thank You For Not Morphing sees the first appearance of the Charmed Ones’ father, Anthony Denison as Victor Halliwell. His last name would later be changed to Victor Bennett as well as be played by Jame Read;
  • The Wedding from Hell sees the sisters face Hecate, an evil demon seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4);
  • Feats of Clay features the return of Phoebe’s ex-boyfriend, Clay; and,
  • The Wendigo features the first time a Charmed One would turn into something, and it would be heavily referenced in later episodes.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Thank You For Not Morphing:

Victor was always kind of a question mark, mainly down to the writers. He is, in essence, one of those ancillary characters that isn’t important enough to give a consistent personality. It’s a little like Buffy Summers’ father, originally shown to be pretty low-key and protective, then written as a heartless, child-abandoning sociopath when the scripts called for it. The same happens on Charmed. Played by a different actor here, Victor is depicted as a sleazy, heartless abandoner; something entirely flipped in later appearances, Victor eventually appearing worlds away from the kind of person who would ditch his entire family at one point or another.

There’s a big missed opportunity here in regards to Victor’s possible allegiance with the shapeshifters. Not only the idea of Victor working with them, but it would have been pretty fun if the Victor depicted here wasn’t Victor at all: maybe a shapeshifter impersonating him to get close to the Halliwell’s. There’s a lot of potential there, and the writers didn’t totally utilize that.

Speaking of the shapeshifters, lord they blew. Bad acting all round, weirdly inconsistent characters… ugh. Charmed was never known for its dynamic antagonist characters butyeesh they were pretty appalling when the series first opened.

Some of the sisterly banter feels a little contrived here, the dialogue is pretty bad (“Last week we had no Dad — now we have two!!??”) and a lot of the episode is rendered useless by the time Victor resurfaces in season three, but generally Thank You for Not Morphing isn’t quite as awful as I remembered it being. It’s certainly not good, but it’s pretty acceptable for episode three of the series. And you can’t fault the show for at least attempting to explain why Prue is so damn angry all the time…

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Wedding from Hell:

One of the funniest things I have ever read online is the Television Without Pity recap for this episode. The comedic genius over there, Demian, entirely tears this god-awful episode to pieces, saving his most intense derision for Sara Rose Peterson, an actress who briefly popped up on a host of ’90s shows, in roles which proved strangely memorable. There was Elizabeth Hornswoggle on Friends, Jerry’s girlfriend with the hellooooo belly button onSeinfeld, and here as the ridiculously named Jade D’Mon. I always wondered if Demian’s recap, in which he dubbed Peterson a ‘cancer’ upon acting, was responsible for her swift retirement from the industry. She hasn’t worked since 1999, and maybe there’s a recap-related reason…

While Peterson isn’t exactly ‘cancerous’ as a performer, she is unspeakably awful here. Chewing the scenery with a dead-eyed glare as a vindictive hell-bitch marrying a millionaire to get at his sperm. What we shouldn’t forget is that Peterson is just one of a host of reasons why The Wedding from Hell is one of the show’s worst ever hours.

The tone the episode appears to be aiming for is a supernatural Dynasty, with an evil bad girl, a repressed matriarch and star-crossed lovers. However, the characterization is soinsanely lazy that any campy success is instead rendered unintentionally hilarious. Seriously, every character is just ridiculous. There’s the sniveling Jade, the sickly-looking groom with all the sexual allure of a house plant, the shrieky banshee of a fiancée who openly admits to loving Touched by an Angel, the weirdly angry maid of honor, theOmen priest, the worst male stripper in the world, the mother dressed up in outfits Hilary Clinton would deem too butch. It’s a cast of truly appalling wonders! Even the demons blow. They literally stand around snarling, just waiting for somebody to vanquish them. Seriously, check it out, it’s all they do! Every one of these people needs to be burned alive. The writers too. “This [negligee] should make his assets rise…” Ha ha ha ha ha. No.

It’s also entirely noticeable that the episode was held back from its original airdate, since references are made to people like Jeremy and Chef Moore. Piper’s maybe pregnant with demon spawn, and is later angry that Phoebe snooped through the garbage to find her pregnancy test. Okay, I normally like Piper, but maybe she shouldn’t have just placed that obscenely large pregnancy box right on top of the rest of the garbage? Gahh!!

The Wedding from Hell is one of the worst ever episodes. Or, coming at it from a different angle, the best ever episode. Because it’s sure as hell entertaining. And read this recap, too. It’ll brighten up your unhappiest of days, for real.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Feats of Clay:

This should have been an interesting episode from a Phoebe stand-point, but unfortunately too little time is given to her history, or her own feelings of personal growth since her return to San Francisco. Instead, most of the script’s attention is given to her dull-dull-dull love interest Clay, his ham-fisted proclamations of having ‘gone straight’, and a flat mystery involving a cursed urn. Throw in a couple of dull subplots and yet another superfluous Andy appearance, and it’s no surprise five writers are credited to this mess.

One thing I genuinely love about the show is the chemistry between Prue and Piper. It’s probably due to the real-life friendship between Shannen and Holly, but their scenes together totally ring true. Said scenes also allow Prue to ease up a little, since she’s so unbearably tense and high-strung everywhere else, especially in regards to Phoebe. I get that Prue has always felt like the mother figure to her younger sisters, but her interaction with Phoebe here is plain annoying. Whining about Phoebe’s secrecy, creepily sneaking a peek at her love-making, and then unabashedly bursting in on Phoebe’s bedroom when she’s clearly screwing Clay. Seriously, she’s a real pain in the ass this episode, and it’s only in her scenes with Piper when she actually becomes a little bit likable.

The urn storyline is pretty awful. Phoebe comes across as a complete moron, especially in her scene with Palmer, who could not be more of a sleazy criminal. Clay is a listless cypher with little in way of intrigue, while Stacy Haiduk’s sleepy portrayal of the Guardian doesn’t fit with the rest of the hammy plot.

The awfulness is rounded off by another uninteresting subplot involving two of Piper’s co-workers. What saves Feats of Clay is the sisterly interaction, which isn’t surprising. Even the worst episodes of Charmed (especially in the show’s prime) could usually rely on the easy chemistry between the leads to create at least some entertainment.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Wendigo:

The first of many, many, many episodes about one of the sisters becoming possessed by something demonic, The Wendigo is nowhere near greatness, but it is an atmospheric little mystery. It’s by turns fun, exciting and ridiculously contrived (all ingredients that create the best Charmed episodes), and there’s enough here to make it one of those early classics. This is mostly down to Holly Marie Combs, who has so far created the most vivid of the three sisters, and who gets a real showcase here to display her versatility as well as Piper’s neurotic charm.

What’s interesting about the Wendigo story is not only how much it influenced the series, but also because it looks and feels so un-Charmed. The Wendigo itself is a monster more in line with Buffy than the demon types Charmed eventually settled upon, while the atmosphere created by the creepy forest scenes and the full-moon shots feels decidedly different, too. It’s also the only episode I can recall that portrayed Andy and the rest of the show’s procedural elements like they were all straight out of The X-Files. Agent Fallon is a weird amalgamation of both Mulder and Scully, only with more ridiculous dialogue (“All I’m interested in is sex”), and played by an actress who sounds like she’s walked straight off the set of a soft-porn movie.

The subplot of the episode veered a little too much into Touched by an Angel territory. It’s also pretty amusing that there were so many bidders for what is (essentially) a piece of junk jewelry. Heh. The story’s only really notable for the brief appearance by a pre-teen Christina Millian, now best known for rolling around in oil while wearing a stripper get-up in her video for that hilariously awful Dip It Low song. Also of note here is that Prue and Phoebe don’t work that well together. There’s always an undercurrent of petulance from Prue’s side, as if she’s sick of the sight of her less ‘together’ sister. Shannen and Alyssa work well with other people, but not so much as a pair. And this isn’t an opinion just formed via ‘the rumors’; it’s something that just strikes me in these early episodes.

Writer Edithe Swensen juggles a series of balls in the air to create a pretty dynamic episode. There’s the neat whodunnit angle, the humor of Quake’s health inspector visit, the abject horror Piper experiences before her full-blown transformation, as well as her cruelty towards her sisters. It’s not a flawless hour, but it’s probably the best indication of what the series will eventually become. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

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