It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…
Episode: 7.08 ‘Charmed Noir’
Writer: Curtis Kheel
Director: Michael Grossman
“The ’30s was a fabulous era,” remarks Paige at one point in this season seven episode of Charmed, words Rose McGowan could have written herself. The actress has often spoken about her love of Hollywood’s most glamorous epoch and, with her vintage style and classic looks, I’m not sure many people would be surprised if one day we discovered McGowan had secretly time-travelled to the present from the 1930s. True to its title, ‘Charmed Noir’ fully capitalises on McGowan’s old-school allure by vaulting her into the past for a black-and-white storyline involving gangsters and crooked cops.
She gets there via a book at Magic School – Crossed And Double Crossed – which inexplicably sucks her and current-squeeze Brody (Kerr Smith) into a plot involving a hunt for the ‘Burmese Falcon’ (“You can’t be serious,” the latter rightly scoffs, “it’s a total rip off!”). In an episode with little magic (Paige’s powers don’t work in book world), writer Curtis Kheel cleverly plays with noir cliches, whether dropping pianos out of the sky or – in one gorgeous moment – unleashing a brilliantly realised flashback.
Of course, McGowan slips into ‘Lana Turner’ mode with the ease of a witch skimming clouds with a broomstick. Whether camping up the femme fatale or digging her claws into dirty cops, she’s clearly in her element. Her breathy delivery – at times so incongruous in a show as popcorn as Charmed – is bang on the money, and she plays off Smith’s bewildered agent brilliantly.
The real star, though, is the black and white. This stylistic flourish was a sticking point for The WB, the network that originally aired Charmed, which attempted to convince showrunner Brad Kern to dump the concept. He pushed back and thank goodness he did, because while ‘Charmed Noir’ suffers some unavoidable ‘late Charmed’ foibles (a fairy tale creature; a gnome, the dreaded Magical School), it’s also one of its most innovative outings ever.
We’ve seen black and white in the show before (season’s two ‘Chick Flick’ featured Phoebe’s favourite movie, Kill It Before It Dies), and Halliwells have been trapped in inanimate objects before (paintings, films), but that doesn’t diminish any of the fun to be had with ‘Charmed Noir’. There’s some solid continuity (“We don’t do bullets,” one character says, which is true – the last major plot to involve firearms was season two’s ‘Miss Hellfire’) and ‘Charmed Noir’ is ultimately a daring departure that’s masses of fun – and gives McGowan her shining moment in a season that too often lumbered her with fairy tale creatures and Magic School.