Charmed Rewitch: Episode 12 – The one where Piper falls for a dead guy

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: 1.04 ‘Dead Man Dating’
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Director: Richard Compton

Oh, hi, Charmed, it’s nice to meet you. Four episodes into the show’s wobbly first season, Charmed finally found its groove with this emotional humdinger, which mixed a ghost plot with moments of genuine warmth and romance as Piper (Holly Marie Combs) falls for dead guy Mark (John Cho). Killed by a Chinatown gang member, Mark is attempting to outrun an ancient Chinese soul collector when he stumbles across the Charmed Ones and begs them for their help.

The pairing of Combs and Cho is a big reason this episode works so well. Charmed wasn’t always the most subtle of shows, but this episode perfectly underplays the tragedy of Piper and Mark’s romance. Although unable to touch each other, they share an intense connection that goes beyond the physical, and there’s a lovely scene in which Mark passes his hand across Piper’s face and asks her to imagine she can feel him.

Right from the start, Combs was the heart of Charmed, and that’s never more apparent than in this episode. She ups the emotional stakes hugely, and there’s a real sense of peril that a lot of Charmed episodes lack – Piper cares so much about Mark that we desperately want him to be OK. And just when the day’s been won and you think you can relax, there’s a beautifully delicate funeral scene in which Mark joins his father in the afterlife. Piper’s tearful “leave it to me to fall for a dead guy” is the perfect coda.

In fact, the humour is spot on throughout ‘Dead Man Dating’. While Prue’s boring Andy saga creeps its way to an early grave, Phoebe takes a job as a hotel’s resident psychic. Dressed up in a very I Dream Of Jeanie outfit, her poster (‘The Amazing Phoebe’) is brilliant, and her attempts to save a man who doesn’t want to be saved are laugh-out-loud funny – including her nonchalant confession that she broke off a key in his door so he couldn’t leave his room. Her hit and run premonition was also so impressive it made it into the show’s opening credits.

‘Dead Man Walking’ is where Charmed started to forge its own identity away from the X-Files-esque ‘monster of the week’ premise and Buffy-aping wisecracks. Even showrunner Brad Kern admits they “found” the show when they made this episode. “We were watching the rough cuts in the screening room and went, ‘That’s it! That’s the show!’” he said in 2006. “It was romantic, supernatural, emotional, funny, quirky — it was really an eye-opener. From that point, we tried to figure out how to replicate that vibe going forward.”

You can see why. There’s a confidence to ‘Dead Man Dating’ that makes it feel like a different show to the episodes around it (after this, we got dodgy dream episode ‘Dream Sorcerer’ and bridal misfire ‘The Wedding From Hell’.) Tonally, visually and in its nuanced performances, this is elevated Charmed. It’s where Charmed became Charmed.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 11 – The one where everybody’s a superhero

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: 5.05 ‘Witches In Tights’
Writer: Mark Wilding
Director: David Straiton

505

It’s crazy to think that it was in 2002 – six years before Marvel unleashed Iron Man and took over comic-book moviedom – that Charmed let its geek flag fly with a superhero episode. With its glittering cityscapes, smokey alleys and cool costumes (punk-chick Paige FTW), ‘Witches In Tights’ is an unapologetically camp love letter to comics that has fun sending up things like Adam West’s classic Batman TV series, all while giving the girls a chance to raid the dress-up box for possibly their coolest ever transformation.

This is also one of the busiest ever episodes of Charmed, which has a tendency to make it feel like it’s stuck on fast-forward, like one of the newly superpowered sisters. First up, Piper’s worried that her pregnancy is making her boring, particularly when she discovers Phoebe and Paige have been checking out a hot new club without her.

Meanwhile, Paige is having problems with a hot guy who she can’t seem to relax around, and Phoebe is attempting to take down a villainous landlord; but with Cole determined to prove he’s good, things get more than a little complicated. On top of that, Leo (remember him?) has been charged with bringing an actual live Elder to the manor as the Elder prepares to pass on his powers.

And we haven’t even got to the A-plot, about a bullied teenager with the ability to bring his sketchbook creations to life. Yeah, this is one seriously over-caffeinated episode of Charmed, but for the most part, it all coalesces into an entertaining 40 minutes, particularly when the Halliwells are transformed into superheroes by the sketchy teenager, Kevin (Andrew James Allen).

Ignoring the fact that we have no idea how Kevin knew the Halliwells well enough to draw their super selves, the superhero stuff is handled with a perfectly judged side of cheese. There’s a thrilling moment where Piper catches a bullet with her bare hand (naturally – Holly Marie Combs’ hand choreography was always excellent), and Paige’s slow-mo fist-fight with a supervillain in the manor is hellacool.

Mark Wilding only wrote three episodes of Charmed (he returned for underwhelming season seven eps Freaky Phoebe and Ordinary Witches), and he went on to write regularly for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. That perhaps explains the episode’s soapy feel, especially with regard to Paige’s bedroom bother and Phoebe’s tenancy crusade. Soapiness has always been part of Charmed’s DNA, particularly during its second season, which is probably why ‘Witches In Tights’ really resembles early Charmed.

505-2Easily the most interesting parts of the episode, though, are Leo’s conversations with Ramus the Elder (Gerry Becker). This is the first time we’ve properly met an Elder, after they briefly appeared (avec hoods) in season three’s ‘Blinded By The Whitelighter’. Ramus is every bit as enigmatic and snippy as you’d expect, and there’s a lovely scene in which Leo asks if his and Piper’s baby will be healthy. (That scene wasn’t originally in the script, but the episode ended up running short, and it was added in later.)

‘Witches In Tights’ was broadcast two years after the M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable, at a time when comic-book movies weren’t really a thing. Clearly, though, Charmed was ahead of the game – it probably helped that showrunner Brad Kern previously worked on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman.

Perhaps the episode’s funniest and most philosophical moment comes when Paige removes her superhero mask. “I don’t like it,” she says, discovering that the mask gives her more self-belief. It echoes a conversation Iron Man (aka Tony Stark) has with Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it,” he says. Luckily, we know the Halliwells are more than the sum of their powers; it’s their bond, brains and bravura that see them through.

Although, actually, Tony and the Halliwells… now there’s a team-up I’d like to see.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 10 – The one with Mama Halliwell and the disco soundtrack

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: 1.17 ‘That ’70s Episode’
Writer: Sheryl J. Anderson
Director: Richard Compton

charmed-117

Despite the spells, the demons and the odd dodgy costume, Charmed has always been about one thing: family. In this first season episode, we finally get a full deck, as three generations of Halliwell women unite (through time and space) to confront the demons of their past. That’s both literally and metaphorically, because while Prue, Piper and Phoebe battle a power-sucking baddie, the real kicker comes when they find themselves face to face with their dead mother.

At this point in the show, we had already met a time-hopping ancestor in the shape of Melinda Warren, but That ’70s Episode is a whole new supernatural kettle of fish. A brief prologue sees the sisters attacked by a warlock who’s so unscary his best line is “Call me Nicholas”. Yeah, quaking in our boots here. Escaping to the attic, the girls play Wiccan roulette by reading a spell at random, and are instantly transported back to the 1970s.

Before you can warble “gypsies, tramps and thieves”, they’ve bumped into kiddie versions of themselves, pissed off Grams (Jennifer Rhodes), who mistakes them for warlocks, and are forced to go on the run in a past without cellphones, Advil, the Book of Shadows or – most importantly – powers.

As with the best episodes of Charmed, the demon stuff merely acts as a mechanism through which the sisters embark on an emotional journey – and it doesn’t get much more emotional than meeting your dead mother decades after she was murdered. The girls first encounter her at the diner where she works, and it’s not difficult to understand why Prue and Piper are rendered speechless when they’re confronted with Patty, aka Mama Halliwell. Finola Hughes is radiant in the role, and her ability to underplay the tragedy of Patty’s doomed future only increases the poignancy.

Rarely for a show that frequently leaned on her for comedy, Alyssa Milano gets the the episode’s most bittersweet moments. Mama Halliwell died when Phoebe was just a baby, and here the youngest Charmed One is given an opportunity to finally create real memories with her mother. Their encounter outside the diner is beautifully handled, and there’s a great pay-off line at the end after Phoebe takes a picture of her pregnant mother with Young Prue and Young Piper. “That’s the best picture of me I’ve ever taken,” she grins.

charmed-117-1This really is an episode where family rules and demons drool. Nicholas has a decent plan but is blandly cast, but that hardly matters when the Halliwell stuff is so perfectly executed. Predictably, Grams gets all the best lines. Whether asking what IBM is selling at in the future or boasting about her powerful progeny (“I always knew that I would deliver the Charmed Ones… Uh, once removed of course”), she’s a scene-stealer and a half, and cemented Jennifer Rhodes as a long-standing fan favourite.

Effectively combining nostalgia, time-travel, fun period details (Jaws is showing at the cinema, vintage Cher’s all over the soundtrack) and some seriously hip threads, That ’70s Episode was an early highlight for the show and established a ‘feelings forward’ formula that the writers would return to again and again. In a word: groovy.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 9 – The one with the hot hunk of Man-Wyatt

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: 6.10 ‘Chris-Crossed’
Writer: Cameron Litvack
Director: Joel J. Feigenbaum

Adult Wyatt CharmedWho is Chris? Why did he come back from the future? And how does he always get his hair so perfect? These questions and more are (sort of) addressed in this flash-forward-heavy sixth season episode, which administers 1,000 volts to the show’s lethargic ‘Chris arc’, giving the whitelighter from the future an intriguing backstory (or should that be forward-story?) without ever managing to make him more likeable.

“That’s one bitchy whitelighter,” snips Piper at the start of the episode, and it’s hard not to agree with her. For over nine episodes, Chris has orbed around like a whiny stick-in-the-mud, shoving his nose in the Halliwells’ business and irritating everybody with his pious attitude. That changes, though, in ‘Chris-Crossed’, when Chris is attacked by Bianca (Marisol Nichols), a hot mama in leather he clearly has a past (uh, future?) with.

Weakened and even more puppy-eyed than ever, he remembers his future (past? Oh, I give up) in handy flash-forwards that reveal he and Bianca were engaged before he hopped back in time to protect the Halliwells from an evil that will leave San Francisco resembling Planet Of The Apes by way of Minority Report.

Which brings us to Man-Wyatt (Wes Ramsey). See, it turns out Piper’s grown-up son is the reason this future San Fran has fallen into ruin. Wyatt’s seized control of Frisco like some sort of supernatural Al Capone – only an Al Capone with a surfer bod and L’oreal-style golden curls (he’s worth it). With the Charmed Ones dead and their home turned into the Halliwell Memorial Museum (a fun touch), he’s run wild – and only Chris is brave enough to take him on.

This episode’s named after Chris, but it should really be titled ‘Wyatt, Erp!’ Though he’s given little more than five minutes of screen-time, Wes Ramsey owns ‘Chris-Crossed’. Kept mostly in shadow, he’s an imposing, smouldering presence, filling the attic with the kind of charisma that Charmed lacked post-Cole. Sadly, he’s at the centre of one of Charmed‘s biggest disappointments because, despite the promising storyline ‘Chris-Crossed’ establishes, the show never followed through on it.

Charmed Chris-CrossedA future San Fran destroyed by one of the Halliwells’ offspring is a thrilling idea ripe with story potential – so much so that fans spent years campaigning for a ‘Charmed Sons’ spin-off that never materialised. But, after his big debut, Man-Wyatt is all-but forgotten by the show’s writers. Wes Ramsey only appears in one more season six episode (the ‘blah’ finale) before fan demand saw him cropping up once in season seven (the forgettable ‘Imaginary Fiends’) and series finale ‘Forever Charmed’.

Apparently Ramsey’s schedule kept him from making more appearances, and season six – and the ‘Chris arc’ as a whole – suffers massively from that. After this, we got a string of filler episodes (‘Witchstock’, ‘Prince Charmed’, ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Halliwell’) before the show attempted to introduce a replacement Big Bad in the form of preening evil elder Gideon (Gildart Jackson). Yawn.

So ‘Chris-Crossed’ represents both the best and the worst of season six. In a year where the girls became involved with increasingly one-dimensional men (does anybody really remember Greg? Or Richard?), their real-life dramas were becoming oddly stale. Meanwhile, great ideas like Man-Wyatt and the Phoenix coven are left almost entirely unexplored. With Charmed getting a reboot, here’s hoping some of those ideas will finally receive the attention they deserve.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 8 – The one where Prue looks like Nicolas Cage

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: 2.05 ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Director: Martha Mitchell

charmed_s2e05_800x450Did it just get hot in here? Between all the sweaty cleavages, gorgeous men-folk and Phoebe proclaiming she’s “aroused” every ten seconds, it’s a wonder the cast and crew made it through this episode at all. Thank goodness they did, though, because with its sexy themes, memorable female villain and snappy banter, ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’ is one of the show’s most entertaining (and yes, sweatiest) hours.

See, a heatwave’s hit San Francisco and Phoebe’s burning up. Supernaturally. She keeps having saucy dreams about seducing hot guys, but the dreams all end with her killing them. Instead of this being a return for season one’s duff Dream Sorcerer (god forbid), it turns out she’s psychically linked to a succubus, a spurned witch who’s mating with horny men in order to fill her wardrobe with eggs (that’s not a euphemism).

Meanwhile, Piper’s blissfully unaware that neighbour Dan likes her as much as she likes him, and Prue’s baffled when a date says he’ll call and then actually does (go figure). And with Morris asking the girls for help tracking down the hunk hacker, he’s getting closer to the Halliwells’ secret than ever.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the small matter of Prue being turned into a man. Yes (baby), a man. After a spell backfires (shades of ‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’ here), she finds herself sans boobs and avec ween, which sends her sisters into fits of giggles and, despite her startling resemblance to a young Nicolas Cage, they rename Prue ‘Manny Hanks’ for the rest of the episode.

The ‘Prue as man’ plot is a spectacularly subversive twist for a show that was all-too-often accused of putting its stars in the skimpiest of outfits. (“The joke was they would always promote the show as Tits And Witches,” showrunner Brad Kern said in 2006. “Like, what are you doing?”) By covering Shannen Doherty up in man-shirts and facial hair (the make-up artist used a picture of Doherty’s then-boyfriend as inspiration), the show’s whole dynamic changes, and the episode cleverly toys with the question: what would’ve happened if the Halliwells had a brother?

2.5So Piper gets annoyed at Man-Prue’s bullish nature (forgetting she’s always like that) and there’s some laugh-out-loud physical humour in Prue attempting to emulate Dan’s manliness (“How about those niners?”). This is Charmed with its thinking cap on – there’s even a great, grisly villain whose modus operandi (a strangulating tongue) is brilliantly/disturbingly phallic.

After their patchy first season, the Charmed writers had clearly been thinking about what they wanted the show to be, and the first half of season two features some of its most innovative ideas. This is just one of them and, despite indulging in the season’s soapier elements (was anybody ever really rooting for Piper and Dan?), it opens up a fun discussion about how miscommunication and misunderstanding go hand-in-hand.

It’s particularly interesting to compare this episode with season eight’s ‘Battle Of The Hexes’. Where that Billie-centric episode regurgitated many of this hour’s sentiments, it did it with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. With ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’, Charmed struck an impressive balance between Paul Verhoeven-esque raunchiness and Species-style body horror. Perhaps most impressive: it boasts an ‘equal rights’ approach to gender politics that argues that, when it comes to matters of the heart, men and women really are as bad as each other.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 7 – The one where everybody’s been taking happy pills (except they haven’t)

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: 7.13 ‘Charmageddon’
Writer: Henry Alonso Myers
Director: John T. Kretchmer

ca1c9d81e9aaf43e741f1914499ba67eWhen it came to creating alt-worlds, Charmed often slayed the competition. Whether depicting a weirdly plausible near-future (in ‘Morality Bites’), the manor as asylum (in ‘Brain Drain’) or a post-Prue apocalypse (in ‘Centennial Charmed’), the show often excelled at turning its iconography on its head. And while the alt-world in this episode doesn’t quite pack the same punch as those other episodes, it still takes an interesting look at the impossibility of utopia.

Season seven’s Big Bads were the Avatars, an impressively ethnically diverse group of black-clad pacifists who first seduced Leo (by, uh, appearing as a scary floating head) before enlisting the Halliwells to help them bring about their vision of a ‘perfect’ world. In ‘Charmageddon’, that utopia has been rolled out globally, resulting in thinner newspapers (crime’s down), generally happier people (cue lots of awful bit-players) and, most importantly, a genuine shot at a demon-free existence for the Halliwells.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Phoebe’s boss (Elise, always welcome) may claim “it’s like everybody’s been taking happy pills”, but this supposed utopia hides a dark side – the cost of a ‘perfect’ world, it seems, is extreme fascism. With the Avatars stating they “simply cannot abide” conflict, anybody who rocks the boat is immediately scrubbed out of existence. Which, clearly, is sort of a problem.

‘Charmageddon’ came just 13 episodes after the hyper-happy world of season six’s (ultimately disappointing) finale, but it has starker questions in mind. Charmed was always best when it blurred the line between good and evil and, in this episode, it becomes increasingly clear that the Avatars are basically soft-spoken extremists – damn-near supernatural terrorists. Their message is essentially: “We want peace and we’ll kill to get it.”

On the flipside, demon Zankou (the excellent Oded Fehr) sees through the whole thing and quickly pairs up with Leo to try to fix things. We all know this utopia can’t last but it’s interesting seeing why it can’t. In particular, the peculiarly trauma-free issue of death (if you lose a loved one, you immediately accept “they’re in a better place”), which culminates in one of Phoebe’s best scenes of the season as she suffers an uber-premonition reminding her of every loss the Halliwells have experienced since becoming witches (yes, that includes a shot of Prue’s grave).

This is notable as the only time Charmed ever delivered a mid-season two-parter (it follows the brilliantly-titled ‘Extreme Makeover: World Edition’), and the concept certainly justifies it. Though its depiction of utopia is ultimately a little thin, ‘Charmageddon’ features a handful of great moments – Piper’s tearful breakdown at losing Leo, Zankou’s Egyptian tomb foraging (a clear nod to Fehr’s role in the Mummy movies), that uber-premonition. There’s even a poignant send-off for Kyle Brody (Kerr Smith).

The Avatars ultimately retreat, setting the world back to rights (and wrongs). If their withdrawal feels anti-climactic, it’s leavened by the fact that Zankou’s still around. There’s a wonderful cinematic shot in which he vanishes when a bus passes him on the street, and his prickly presence throughout the rest of the season offers a controversial explanation for why a ‘perfect’ world would never work – when the baddies are this good, who needs utopia?

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 6 – The one where The Seer proves she’s an evil genius

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: 4.15 ‘Marry-Go-Round’
Writer: Daniel Cerone
Director: Chris Long

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-18-48-14“Is this a wedding or a coronation?” jokes Paige at the start of this fiendishly clever fourth season episode as Phoebe plans her predictably lavish (and eco-friendly) marriage to Cole. Of course, Paige is right on both counts: Phoebe’s Big Day is, in fact, a wedding and a coronation as she’s unwittingly coerced into marrying (gasp) The Source and being made his queen. And you thought your wedding was a ball-ache.

Naturally, the masterminding of this dark plan comes courtesy of Charmed‘s best ever baddie. The Seer (Debbi Morgan) hasn’t got a real name, but that doesn’t matter when she’s this brazen, sly and downright awesome. Like the best ‘mission: impossible’ scenarios, she sets out the episode’s seemingly absurd stakes early, informing Cole (now imbued with super-evil The Source, but still presumed “as defenceless as a cat toy” by Piper et al) that to produce an evil heir, he’ll have to marry Phoebe in “the dark way”.

That means Phoebe has to drink his blood, marry in a cemetery and be presided over by a dark priest (a nifty little role for Tony Amendola). Y’know, no biggie. The beauty of ‘Marry-Go-Round’, though, is watching the Seer slowly move all of the pieces in to place. With some ingenious twists and double-bluffs, she pulls off her plan and doesn’t even crack a smile afterwards – that’s how bad-ass she is.

Unlike so many of Charmed‘s one-dimensional villains, the Seer’s always one step ahead, and she’s forever looking to further her ambitions – here, everybody’s a puppet and she’s the one with strings soldered to her fingers. Debbi Morgan appeared in nine of the show’s episodes, and though the writers fudged her big moment (in anti-climactic exit ‘Womb Raider’), she’s integral to Charmed‘s first big (and deliciously dark) arc. It’s not hard to see why she was a must-have guest star in the show’s 100th episode a year later.

The Seer’s crafty gameplay revolves around pitting the sisters against each other. New witch Paige, naturally, is the weak link in the Charmed chain, and the Seer fully exploits the fact that Piper and Phoebe don’t know her as well as each other. Paige’s wedding preparation ‘mistakes’ are trivial (picking up the wrong dress, uh, accidentally making Phoebe invisible), but that’s their brilliance – who’d ever expect the Charmed Ones to be destroyed by a spat over night cream?

This episode first aired during ‘sweeps’ in the US (when all shows bring out the big guns), and Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs are given a load of fun stuff to work with. Though Phoebe is inevitably the bridezilla to end them all (that fringe, though…), Paige gets many of the standout moments – she niftily orbs a sofa to cushion Piper’s fall during a fight, and selflessly surrenders herself so Phoebe can have her wedding. She’s also the one who keeps asking all the right questions, paving the way for her increasing mistrust of Cole/The Source.

‘Marry-Go-Round’ really is Charmed at its smartest and most darkly humorous. Even stunt casting in the form of rapper Coolio (avec his spider-plant hair) can’t ruin it as the “mean and unreliable” Lazarus demon, and there’s a hilarious dig at Shannen Doherty as Piper remembers her own wedding: “Only Prue could make my wedding day all about her.” Which is sort of fitting – this may be Phoebe’s Big Day, but it’s the Seer who steals the show.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 5 – The one in black and white

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

Charmed Noir“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.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 4 – The one at Halloween

It’s been 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: 3.04 ‘All Halliwell’s Eve’
Writer: Sheryl J. Anderson
Director: Anson Williams

Charmed All Halliwell's EveIt took them a couple of years, but Charmed finally delivered a Halloween episode with this devilishly entertaining third-season cacklefest. Mixing in time travel and resurrected baddies, ‘All Halliwell’s Eve’ accomplishes a neat trick in furthering the Cole/Triad arc, paying tribute to the Halliwell’s history, and digging into the fundamentals of witchcraft – all while giving Alyssa Milano an excuse to dress up (again).

You could never accuse Charmed of being slow, and ‘A Halliwell’s Eve’ stuffs its 40 minutes fuller than a fresh pumpkin pie. The sisters find themselves all dressed up with nowhere to party when, on their way to a Halloween bash, they’re sucked into a time portal and dumped in the 1600s. Targeted by witch hunters, they attempt to rescue a young pregnant woman from the clutches of witch Ruth Cobb (Judy Geeson). But unbeknownst to them, Ruth’s in league with Cole, who’s also taken a little trip down memory lane in an attempt to wipe out the Halliwell line for good.

Given it had never tackled Halloween before, Charmed wastes no time playing with the festive witch gags here. Piper freezes a demon using a plastic wand, while Phoebe both worries about outdated stereotypes and dresses up as Elvira. (Leading Prue to pithily observe: “I am so impressed that you can make a protest statement and show cleavage all at the same time.”)

Meanwhile, the episode niftily finds ways to further the season’s overall plot (read: Cole on the war/smoochpath) while delivering a cracking standalone. When it’s revealed that the pregnant woman is in fact the girls’ ancestor – and the mother of Melinda Warren – the episode takes on a whole new edge, reaffirming that the reason Charmed was great even during its patchier years was that it put family front and centre.

Speaking of, Leo and Darryl are as much a part of the Charmed family as ever here, finding themselves trapped in the Manor with a couple of Grimlocks (gurning like they’ve eaten too many toffee apples). While the Grimlocks are lousy foes, they give Brian Krause and Dorian Gregory an opportunity to buddy up for the first time in three years, having shared very little screen-time previously. (They both look pretty sharp in their uniforms, too, but that’s besides the point.)

Less interesting is Prue’s flirtation with a strapping villager, and the episode’s suggestion that she’s somehow fated to be with him seems wasted when he’s never seen on the show again. Still, the fun here is in the girls getting reacquainted with old magic, finding it in apples, broomsticks and, yes, even a conical hat. Phoebe’s jubilant flying broomstick moment (talk about a coming out) is hampered by dodgy special effects, but the rest – Piper’s Glenda The Good Witch costume, the Leo/Darryl banter, Cole’s deepening conflict – is fantastic. A bit of a treat, you might say.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.