Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Charmed: Forever Charmed (8.22)

After 178 episodes of cleavage, fairytales, scenery-chewing, stupid police detectives, crummy exposition, off-screen feuds, skanky hooker outfits, underground caves, depressed alleyways, continuity errors, casual sexism, useless Elders, fugly haircuts, cheap knock-off's, McGowan mugging, illogical plotholes, shrewish whining, lazy repetition, vacant fuck-buddies, bad teeth, terrible child actors, desk sex, sperm quests, Shannen Doherty intrigue, ridiculous media commentary, weepy gorilla-face, gratuitous nudity, stank new cast members, Phoebe worship, sustained dwarf employment, cries for a normal life, nonsensical career decisions, questionable morals and more demonic possessions than there are people in China, Charmed is over.

If anything, Forever Charmed isn't too concerned with most of the story arcs that have been building over the last couple of episodes. Instead we get an abundance of weepy family scenes, with all the Halliwell family (sans Prue, naturally) coming back together to reminisce and bond and hug like they've never hugged before. Most of this is casually affecting, especially the big reunion at the end, but it doesn't make for the most energetic of series finales. Piper takes center stage for most of the hour while jumping from year to year with Coop's ring, and Holly absolutely sells the material. It's also kind of fitting that her presence is all over this episode, considering Piper was the least annoying of a trio of ultimately horrible series protagonists.

The Christy/Dumain story ended with an anticlimactic series of explosions, and I was a little disappointed that Billie didn't get a stronger punishment. She may have begged forgiveness, but her stupidity killed Paige and Phoebe, while she seemed perfectly happy to kidnap Wyatt and strip him of his powers last week. She's a huge, dangerous crone, and I would have appreciated a little more retribution, certainly not a nice little coda for her where she ends up babysitting Phoebe's kids. Then again, maybe I'm just sadistic.

One of the obvious elements differing Forever Charmed from last season's finale is the end flash-forward, in which all the important events in the characters' futures are laid out for the audience. I've never been a huge fan of this type of finale storytelling, but that's only because I prefer a little ambiguity. I'm sure there are a ton of people out there who enjoyed seeing the sisters with their kids, as well as the next generation of Halliwells killing demons and taking over from the sisters, but it's all a little too cookie-cutter for me.

I also eluded to this a while back, but I've always had a problem with the sister's last gasp of happiness being derived from settling down with a husband and a pack of kids. It's something that became the entire crux of Phoebe's character over the years, and Paige finds herself dragged into a similar position this episode, too. It feels so regressive a mode of thinking, as if the show is perpetuating the notion that a woman can only be emotionally fulfilled after meeting the perfect guy and shooting out a ton of babies. Paige, in particular, comes off a little jarring in the montage sequence, since I never imagined her even having children, especially ones that look so corny (the twin girls in pink, Henry Jr. -- gag). All I ever wanted her to do was settle down in a career that she had an actual investment in, instead of remaining this self-destructive and schizophrenic mess with absolutely zero direction in her life. I certainly don't recognize the person she became.

Regardless of minor issues, Forever Charmed works fine as a finale. It obviously could have been more interesting as a statement piece, but it's unsurprisingly neat and unassuming, something that veers so far into formulaic wholesomeness that it becomes near-fanfic. But like I said, that's just me. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who welcomed all of that. Personally, I prefer a little edge to my finales, or at least an ending that leaves certain things open for interpretation -- but maybe I'm just expecting too much from the wrong show.

Charmed has been an interesting experience over the years. It's a show that, when written well, is one of the most engaging and easily watchable series that I've ever seen... like comfort food, or the hour-long equivalent of a classic, breezy sitcom that you can drop into at any point and still be satisfied by. But the show frequently became almost too disposable, settling for tired ideas and the most shallow forms of characterization. Creative imagination dried up, Alyssa Milano got bored, and Rose McGowan ended up twitching and sputtering her way through the last couple of seasons.

But the most disappointing problem is that I began disliking everybody. It's easy to forget, in light of recent sisterly awfulness, how sympathetic the three leads of this show used to be, Prue, Piper and Phoebe being flawed as individuals but consistently believable and engaging... there was heart there. You knew people like that, and I'm sure many of us actually were those people. But after a brief successful period following Paige's arrival, a brittleness appeared in each of the sisters, and they began to exhibit harsh qualities that weren't entertaining, weren't particularly well realized, nor performed with much conviction. They became drags, three women who were never happy with what they had, and who appeared to pluck new problems out of thin air just because they weren't through with whining. That is the real crime of Charmed -- not the lack of fresh ideas, not the weak antagonists, but the fact that the Halliwells lost their way.

But, at the same time, when Charmed was on, it was like nothing else around. I still consider episodes like Prewitched, Sin Francisco and Chick Flick some of the finest hours of anything I've ever seen: sassy, smart, well-written and just as tender and endearing as they were hilarious. That's the Charmed I like to remember, not the crippling redundancy of the later seasons, and it's the Charmed that I always switch on whenever I'm bored or unhappy. And that's a mighty fine legacy, don't you think? C

Credits
Guest stars
Marnette Patterson (Christy Jenkins); Drew Fuller (Chris Perry); Finola Hughes (Patty Halliwell); James Read (Victor Bennet); Jennifer Rhodes (Penny 'Grams' Halliwell); Wes Ramsey (Wyatt Halliwell); Anthony Cistaro (Dumain); Leland Crooke (Candor); Denise Dowse (The Angel of Destiny); Soren Oliver (Baliel); Steven J. Oliver (Asmodeus); Ellen Geer (Elderly Piper); Gordon Wells (Elderly Leo); Ivan Sergei (Henry Mitchell); Victor Webster (Coop)
Writer Brad Kern Director James L. Conway

12 comments:

  1. I remember discussing this episode when it aired and my opinion honestly hasn't changed since then. Forever Charmed is easy to watch and better than most of season eight, but I wouldn't call it good.

    Putting Piper at the centre of the hour was a wise decision, though. I'm really glad I did not have to watch Paige or Phoebe hop through time...

    The various Halliwell appearances do nothing for me, since they either brought back characters that never had any depth to begin with (Wyatt, Chris) or characters that had lost any interesting qualities they had in the first place (Patty, Penny).

    I also agree about the future scenes in the end, which are all pretty lame. If nothing else, I'm glad Piper had a long, fulfilling life and finally got to open her own restaurant.

    Liked what you said about certain episodes being among your favourites on tv. The more tv I watch, the more Charmed slips down my list of favourite shows, but episodes like All Hell Breaks Loose and P3 H20 are episodes I would happily watch again and again.

    Great review, gonna miss the snark!

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  2. Ah, major congrats on finishing the whole series!

    So much to talk about:

    I didn't like how lame the conclusion to this big ultimate power arc was. It's something I talk about myself. It was so rushed, just simply to accommodate all those character appearances.

    As for Billie, I ended up getting annoyed with her stupidity, but as one of her few supporters, it was nice to see her come back around and help save the day. I think the whole idea you were supposed to buy into was that she was so overcome with her bond with her sister, that she didn't see sense. She had to fight that bond, and turn on her sister in the end just to do the right thing. I think that makes her a hero. Sure, a stupid hero, but a hero all the same.

    I LOVED what you said about their futures being so regressive and kind of lame. It's something that went over my head completely, but it's an idea that's really opened my eyes to the chauvinistic team behind the Charmed of 2003-'06.

    As for the whole ambiguity thing, which I think we discussed a little after Desperate Housewives ended, I think you're right. But as a fan, it's still nice to see our guys get a happy ending, and see Piper finally be happy. But leaving stuff open to interpretation is still one of the best ways to go.

    I don't know if you're a fan, but I just watched Chuck's finale the other day, and what made the ending so strong was the fact that it was so open to interpretation. It's easy to see where it was headed, but we didn't see it, and the way it could have happened could take any form. It's such a positive way to end a long-running narrative. It kind of feels like it's still going on right now.

    I also really liked what you attributed the show's biggest issue to; the girls themselves. It's sad when a show sucks that you can't turn to the characters just to get you through.

    Anyway, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed all of your Charmed stuff. Your humor and intelligence really shone through your reviews, and I'll definitely miss the snark, too!

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  3. Also, GREAT job with that fun link thing in the header. It must have taken you ages!

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  4. tvfan Absolutely loved what you wrote about the recurring characters getting stale (Patty and Grams, in particular, were really driven into the ground in the end) and also how nice it was to see Piper get her restaurant. I don't know if it's a popular opinion or not, but I really liked Quake as a hang-out for the girls, but they rapidly abandoned her whole "professional chef" thing in favor of pop groups, which... meh.

    And thanks for the compliment, tvfan. It's neat knowing people are out there reading this stuff.

    Panda To follow some of your points:

    - I didn't dislike Billie as much this time around as I did when the show first aired, and I actually liked what they were trying to do with the Christy thing, but it still left me cold on an emotional level. Great story on paper, but I never felt it was executed well at all.

    - I think what makes the femme regression so much worse is that Charmed started out with these women with real careers and actual investments in them. Prue with the auction house and then her photography, Piper being an entrepreneur and a chef, Paige a social worker. But the latter two ended up just whining every time they actually had to do some damn work, while Phoebe's columnist gig became so artificial and "TV show"-ish after a while, especially when she became a San Fran celebrity. It was just another example of the show forgetting to bring the authenticity after a while, the writers making these women desperate for a husband and a bunch of kids, removing a lot of their individual personalities in the process. Boo.

    - Yeah, we've had the "ambiguous ending" discussion before, and I'm still in total agreement about it. I brought it up last time, but Friends to me has just the perfect ending to a long-running show, strongly implying what happens next but not literally depicting it. And it allows you to think of these people as really existing somewhere, discovering where their lives go. Flash forwards like the one here and in Desperate Housewives, for me, are just too literal and unnecessary. Blah.

    And thanks for following these for so long. The turn-out has been really rewarding, and so much more than anything else I've posted here, so thanks to everybody, including the anonymous folks and the ones just out there reading.

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  5. Oh, and the links took forever. About a third through I was wondering if it would even look good or not, but I had gone so far that I sort of pledged to post it like that regardless. Heh.

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  6. I feel Billie losing all her family is a pretty big punishment for her. Remember Phoebe and Paige were brought back to life. Christy died either way regardless. And at the end of it Billie was the one who ultimately killed her in the end. :P

    For me I appreciated Patty and Penny, simply because they weren't always around. I think at most Penny appeared in 3 episodes in Season 5, but never exceeded that. That stopped them from being stale for me.

    I did think that Wyatt and Chris were a little random though..... I feel that wasn't really needed.

    I liked the flashforwards, mostly because we got what we were always wanting. Paige was content with her career, being a whitelighter and helping guide the future witches of the world. Phoebe did get her happy ending, finally having a child (and then some) and finding 'the one', as well as continuing her work in helping people. And Piper got to open up her restaurant she wanted since Episode 1, and watch her kids (and grandkids) grow up, all the while reading to them about magic, showing how she now accepted it as part of them. :)

    And thus we reach the end. :)

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  7. I'm so torn on the entire show in general. With just about everything, I love what they were *trying* to do. You know, the basic ideas that got scribbled on the whiteboards. In that sense, I think they did have a good creative team. But when it came to getting those plots across full-fledged on script, fail. Complete laziness.

    For instance, let's just look at the latter (suckier) seasons' storylines: Piper birthing an incredibly powerful baby, that baby growing up to become evil because of good guys that found him to be too much of a threat, his little brother coming back in time to save or stop him, Leo becoming an elder but eventually losing his way, a new neutral power rising that wants to create a Utopia with the Charmed Ones, the sisters forced into siding with demons after realizing their mistake, a pair of more powerful sisters manipulated by evil coming along and turning the magical community against them...

    That's some great stuff. I think it's tragic that it was butchered so badly. I'll be forever sad on that one.

    Also, I'm a little sad these reviews are done lol. I really enjoyed the snark - as well as the thoughtful musings. Charmed, I think, is a super interesting show to dissect, because it is so up & down in quality and there's so much that works and yet so much that doesn't.

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  8. Hello!!! This is going to be a very random messy rant but I have so much to say!

    Ahh the Maxpower Charmed reviews are finally over. This makes me sad :( You were keeping the legacy and the show alive in my mind. Panda you're the only one left! Take your time with the remaining few and eventually I'll start from the beginning (there's a scary thought)!

    First off Max, that header with all the links is INSANE! I can't believe you went through all that trouble it's brilliant! I'm glad you did it. We'll forever cherish it!

    Here are some points I'd like to mention:

    - The ultimate battle was so pathetic and embarrassing. A pity really but expected with the quality of the show's "thrilling" storytelling. You noticed that Phoebe's powers contributed absolutely NOTHING! She might as well have been Dan the useless neighbor and it wouldn't have made a difference. Compare this final battle to Buffy's (another WB-ish show with a low budget which made its final battle actually epic) and you can't believe the laziness on hand.

    - I never thought about the regressive thing until you mentioned it and you know what, you're so right. It's an insult actually that the writers thought the only way the women would be happy is if they all had 3 kids each. I found this notion cute when I first watched the show but it's really pathetic in retrospect. On the bright side, Brad probably settled on this idea only because he was lazy (and not because he's sexist in any way). I hope...

    - The flashforwards. I used to think they were perfect, and I'm sure they'll make me all teary-eyed when I rewatch but it's such an unambitious choice. Still, I appreciated the closure the finale gives after suffering through so much with the show.

    I guess in the end, the show proved that it was indeed....pardon the very obvious pun... Charming. What other show could keep us coming back after giving us more bad episodes than good? I mean I still have fond memories of the show which doesn't make sense. That's quite an achievement indeed.

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  9. Yeah, it definitely has a sensibility that is pretty easy to dip into. At least the first three seasons, which I really grew a fondness for during this re-watch. Even the bad episodes had a charm that was really entertaining. Great leading ladies and strong chemistry... before it all went to hell.

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  10. I do think there was a lot of thought put into this episode to try to wrap up the series and the ultimate battle. It was a cute/unique family reunion. My only real gripe was that there was not more Brian Krause in the last two episodes. I just felt he wasn't use wisely after being gone for so many episodes in season 8. Other than that, I did like most of season 8. I love Chris and Wyatt visiting the past together this time. And, it was nice that Phoebe finally got her fairy-tale wedding. I would have liked to have seen Henry pop in at the end to see all of these relatives too. That might have been a cute moment.

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  11. Right, I think it's a really strong finale for fans that expect this kind of thing from Charmed -- the kind of cute, generally pleasant reunion thing. I don't think I was expecting more, because the show was so bad at this point, but it gets a little cloying after a while.

    Thanks for reading and offering your two cents, though :)

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  12. I kind of wish they'd shown Billie using her projection power to go back in time and rescue Christie right after she was kidnapped, then raising her as her own child without the influence of demons.

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