Friday, November 26, 2010

Charmed: Something Wicca This Way Comes (1.1)

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. B+

Guest stars Eric Scott Woods (Jeremy Burns); Matthew Ashford (Roger); Chris Flanders (Chef Moore)
Writer Constance M. Burge Director John T. Kretchmer


  1. Haha, the first paragraph sums up my feelings of the show absolutely to a tee. That's our Charmed!

  2. How I wish Piper and Phoebe had been allowed to remain these characters even after Prue's death! Piper as the oldest just didn't work and neither did Phoebe as the middle child. And Paige who was raised as the only child was definitely not the baby. Worst of all, their powers no longer fit their personalities. It's all why I think the first set worked so much better than the second - the first set were sisters who happened to be witches, which is always when I like this show the best. The second set were demonhunters who happened to live in the same Manor.

    But I love this review, reminding me why Phoebs was originally my favorite sister, and why I hated her once Cole came into her life, turning her into Freebie/PhoeME and making me hate her.

  3. A couple of months ago I read this incredible IMDb post about the sisters and their powers, and how they should have been changed to greater suit each sister. I think they wrote that Prue should have had premonitions, especially since her antiques work is all about the past, amongst other things. It was a really great read, I wish I had saved it.

    Great comment, agreed with everything you wrote, especially the "sisters who are witches vs. witches who live together" thing.

  4. OH! I was the one who posted that, based on a post from a different site, and I found that post. I can't fit the whole thing into one post, so I'm going to do it in separate ones.

    "I would choose a set of powers that would be the easiest on the production budget, still relatively interesting, and also ensure that the sisters are capable of using their powers productively without evolving to the point where they can play super-witch and vanquish every demonic threat with just a wave of their hand (ahem, Piper post-season three). This is to make sure that throughout the entire series they'd have to rely on their wits and each other to vanquish their biggest adversaries throughout the entire series run.


    Prue - Premonitions

    As the oldest and wisest sister, I would give Prue the power to see the future and eventually the past. Knowledge is power and I think Prue would value the information gained from her visions, interpret them wisely and ultimately use them to save the day. I also think having a passive power will encourage the protective Prue to take up self-defense classes much sooner than in the actual series. I'm not sure, but I think Prue was an Art History major in college. Art History would tie into her interest in photography and kinda explain her vast knowledge in antiquities and dead languages like Latin. I think a history buff having the power to see into our world's future and past would really reflect her personality.

    Piper - Invisibility

    The middle child, clichéd or not, usually feels "invisible" when it comes to their older and younger siblings. I think just like "freezing" mirrors Piper's early panicky characterization, I think this power would reflect Piper's sense of not being a "super witch" like her sisters. The power could manifest during moments of insecurity and genuine fright, making for some sticky situations. It would also give her the chance to shine as her power would come in handy in a plethora of different scenarios.

    Phoebe - Empathy

    As the wild child and the youngest, Phoebe would still need a power to keep her grounded. Being forced to experience the emotions of those around her would be the thing to do it. Like her premonitions in the actual series, empathy would give Phoebe a chance to connect to their innocents and make her their most vocal champion, seeing as she'll really be able to understand what it is their going through. I think she'd also be able to help them heal."


    If this sister's powers had to expand, it would be as follows.

    Prue - Premonitions expands into Telepathy

    During the second season Prue's powers would expand to give her the power of telepathy. I think her intellectual curiosity and her natural perception, her sixth sense about people and things, would "naturally" expand into this new power.

    Piper - Invisibility expands into Forcefields

    Yeah, it's comic bookish and reminiscent of The Invisible Woman, but this power compliments invisibility so well. As Piper becomes more confident in her craft and herself, her powers would expand into a more aggressive ability, but not as offensive as her exploding power in the actual series. Thus, she'll still need her sisters to vanquish upper-level baddies instead of being able to do it on her own. Also, being invisible and having forcefields would also explain why, unlike her sisters, Piper doesn't feel the need to rely on hand-to-hand combat skills to protect herself from baddies.

    Phoebe - Empathy expands into Cloning

    At the beginning of season three, Phoebe would have gained the ability to split into an empathic clone of herself. Basically, she would be able to displace extreme emotions into a temporary clone of herself (sort of like "Which Prue Is It Anyway?"). When very angry, she could split into an aggressive version of herself or when very excited, an overly perky version of herself. When she gains control of the power it would come in handy, especially when needing to use a decoy or when outnumbered by demons and other baddies.


    When Paige is introduced to replace Prue, she would have received these powers...

    Paige - Prophetic dreams and Orbing

    Like Prue, Paige would be able to see the future in order to fulfill the prophecy of the Charmed Ones. However, she would only be able to do so through vivid dreams that prophesies forthcoming events. It would be a twist on the original third sister's power, much like telekinetic orbing was a twist on telekinesis in the actual series. Somewhere down the line, Paige's power would be used to find a "lost prophecy" that details the defeat and rebirth of the Charmed Ones, showing how both incarnations of the Charmed Ones play an important part in the death of the Source. Also, I would think that Paige would retain the power to orb, because like in the actual series, it would be a power that is independent of her Warren roots and comes strictly from her whitelighter side. But she wouldn't have any other whitelighter power.

    As Paige's powers evolve, she'd gain Mind Projection

    Keeping with the dream aspect of her powers, initially Paige would gain the ability to project her consciousness into other people's dreams (much like Isabel Evans of the TV series ROSWELL or Leo in "Brain Drain" from season four of CHARMED) in the season five finale. Eventually in season six this power would come to reflect Prue's telepathy, by allowing Paige to interact with other people's subconsciousness whether they are awake or not. Basically, she'd be able to pull their ID into a dream like world, and interact with them. Of course, while using this power Paige would be unconscious, which would make her vulnerable but what's the fun of magic without risk? By season seven, this power would allow Paige to cast dreamlike illusions on others, plus she gets to stay awake while doing so, allowing her mind projection to serve as more of an active power for her."

    Hope that's the one you were talking about.

  6. Hah! That's fantastic, thanks so much for finding that. Small world that it was you who originally posted it.

    Really strong stuff there, fan-fiction that actually has a lot of internal logic.

  7. I'm so glad that that was the post you were talking about and that you now have it as part of your blog. It made *so* much more sense than the actual show did.