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: 8.01 ‘Still Charmed & Kicking’
Writer: Brad Kern
Director: James L Conway
Original air date: 25 September 2005
The Charmed Ones are dead. Or are they? Coming into the eighth and ultimately final season of Charmed, there was a strong sense of, well, witch way now? Back at the end of season seven, showrunner Brad Kern had no idea if the sisters would be returning because their network, the WB, wouldn’t give them an answer either way. Kern was forced to write a quasi series finale (‘Something Wicca This Way Goes…?’) in which Piper, Phoebe and Paige faked their deaths, changed their appearances, and strolled off into the sunset with Leo.
If Charmed had ended there, it would have been a perfectly decent sayonara for the Halliwells. If anybody had earned the right to a demon-free existence, it was them. But then the WB gave Charmed a final hour reprieve and, as a lovely little “welcome back!” present, slashed the show’s budget. Which left Kern and his team in a bit of a pickle. How do you continue a show that you’ve already wrapped up?
The answer lies in this surprisingly strong and intriguing season opener, which sees the Halliwells sticking with their fake death plan, and now posing as their fictional cousins, Jenny, Julie and Jo. After a memorial service at the manor, they decide to ditch their destiny and embrace their newly simplified lives, creating new identities that allow them to stick a pin in monster hunting, seemingly for good.
Happily, despite the new identities, it’s still Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan in the lead (although an early version of the script envisioned new actresses taking over, gasp!), and one of the great joys of this five-episode arc is watching the show’s stars cut loose and have fun with stories that keep the demon-slaying at a distance.
Charmed has always been a show that bounces back after a blow: just see its dark and complex fourth season, which actually benefitted from the loss of Shannen Doherty. The same applies here. There’s huge potential in the demon-free arc and the writers waste no time diving into the real-life ramifications of the girls’ decision.
Not only do we see how that decision affects the sisters, but also the underworld, where ‘yoof’ demons are planning an uprising. Meanwhile, Homeland Security leaves Agent Murphy (Brandon Quinn) to keep an eye on Halliwell Manor. Stir in a new witch Billie (Kaley Cuoco), and you have an extremely busy season premiere.
Somehow, though, it works. ‘Still Charmed & Kicking’ is a breath of fresh air, partly because this feels like completely new terrain. The sisters have never turned their back so completely on magic, and it’s huge fun watching them attempt to navigate their newly demon-free lives. Grams’ reaction to the destiny ditch is brilliantly haughty (and Jennifer Rhodes is always a delight), while it’s interesting that Paige is hit hardest by guilt. Forced to give up her calling as a whitelighter-witch, she discovers it’s not quite that simple, because she’s constantly being summoned by a fresh young witch.
So, yes, enter Billie. A peppy proto Buffy, she’s the most Marmite character to ever appear on Charmed. Her introduction is played just the right side of enigmatic and, at this point in the show’s life, the idea of new witch blood is welcome. It is, of course, exactly four years after Charmed last introduced a new long-term spell-caster. Billie plus side: it’s great to have telekinesis back in the show. Downside: Cuoco would struggle with the more dramatic scenes to come, having been raised a bubbly sitcom kid.
OK, so Billie’s presence inevitably riled fans. As the season progressed, her storyline diverted a lot of focus away from the Halliwells. But this season’s eventual shortcomings can’t be blamed on her and, in this episode at least, she’s a fun addition who injects fresh energy into proceedings. Meanwhile, those budget cuts barely register beyond the absence of Darryl, although it’s odd to think about where the money DID go. Did I mention this is also the episode where Paige transforms herself into “celebrity guest” Janice Dickinson? Welcome to the new world.