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 3 – The one where Piper loses it big time

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: 4.07 ‘Brain Drain’
Writer: Curtis Kheel
Director: John Behring

Every once in a while, Charmed pulled off something genuinely cool. There was the time Prue went undercover as a hitwoman (in season two’s ‘Ms Hellfire’), and that episode where they blew up the Manor (‘Kill Billie Vol. 2’). Top of the pile, though, is this scalpel-sharp season four entry, which flips the Charmed universe on its head as Piper is brainwashed into thinking she’s an inmate at a mental institute.

Well, it makes more sense than belonging to a family of witches, which is exactly why this episode works – as The Source kidnaps Piper, puts her into a coma and rewrites her life top to bottom, you totally understand why she starts to crumble and believe the lie. Her world has been nuts ever since she and her sisters first headed up to that dusty attic and found more than just spiders. In a nightmare of demons and ghosts, who can tell what’s real and what isn’t anymore anyway?

It helps that the Manor’s transformation from cosy antique repository to sterile hospital is so brilliantly realised. The show’s set dressers deserve serious kudos for completely renovating its central set, rendering it almost unrecognisable in the process. Sure, it makes little sense for a hospital to be located in an old manor house on a suburban street, but the transformation sells it, and it’s great fun discovering the Halliwells’ home all over again.

The same is true of the cast, who have a ball playing wacky variations on their now well-worn characters. In Piper’s coma world, Leo is recast as a sympathetic doctor (a nice nod to his past as a war medic), while Phoebe and Paige are no longer her sisters, but fellow patients. There’s a lovely moment where Piper’s told Prue isn’t dead but was merely discharged from hospital, and a brilliant gag involving Alt Phoebe’s childish Book Of Shadows.

Charmed Brain Drain

It’s very much a case of ‘Piper, Interrupted’, and the emotional journey Holly Marie Combs takes Piper on here is powerful stuff. At first disbelieving and snarky, she’s slowly broken down by The Source, (posing as a doctor) until she’s willing to give up everything just to be free of pain. Any episode that puts Combs front and centre is guaranteed to exhaust your tear ducts, and this episode is no different.

In a season that struggled to reestablish order in the wake of Hurricane Doherty, ‘Brain Drain’ feels bigger than most Charmed episodes, and that’s partly because season four is where the show became more of an ensemble than ever before. We get Cole and Leo working together to get Piper back (Cole even gets himself caught to lead them to The Source), while Paige has just moved in and is learning the rules, which mostly include ‘demons can attack at any time’ and ‘don’t keep anything nice’.

Charmed was often unfairly dismissed as a silly show with magic, but episodes like ‘Brain Drain’ scream otherwise. Sure, there’s a boobtastic seer in a gold bikini, but this is a seriously grown-up 40 minutes of supernatural entertainment. That writer Curtis Kheel manages to stitch his script with so many clever ideas without it ever unravelling is impressive – between the demon fights and hospital drama, we also get an explanation of why we never see any of the girls’ friends (they’re too busy kicking demon butt) and gags about the doomed grandfather clock (“dammit, we just got that thing fixed!”).

If there’s one downside to this episode, it’s that it kicks off Piper’s obsession with having a demon-free life. While it makes sense here, especially in the wake of Prue’s death, that obsession became the writers’ go-to crutch whenever Piper needed to have an ‘issue’ to deal with. (And what a sour issue to have when you can flippin’ freeze time.) If that’s the worst thing we can say about ‘Brain Drain’, though, we’re obviously dealing with a pretty potent witch’s brew.

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

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 1 – The one where Phoebe’s boyfriend dies (a lot)

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: 5.08 ‘A Witch In Time’
Writer: Daniel Cerone
Director: John Behring

Charmed 508 A Witch In Time Phoebe

Time travel episodes were Charmed‘s bread and butter – the writers gave us one every season, and they were pretty much always a highlight. While there was the odd stinker (season two’s ‘Pardon My Past’, season six’s cringesome ‘Witchstock’), this season five time-warper is easily one of the best as Phoebe attempts to keep her new beau Miles (a likeable Ken Marino) alive, despite a series of premonitions spelling out his fate.

With Piper and Paige facing the hard truth that some innocents may be beyond saving, especially when the Angel of Death is involved, they attempt to help Phoebe see the truth. Which, obviously, goes down like a led cauldron as Phoebe becomes increasingly determined to save Miles.

Written by series stalwart Daniel Cerone, ‘A Witch In Time’ is classic Charmed. Phoebe’s fashion is horrific (what is that knitted skirt thing?), Leo is verbally abused throughout, and Piper turns on the waterworks to goose-pimply effect. Which of course means this is up there as one of the show’s finest outings.

With only two guest stars, it’s a lean 40 minutes with spot-on priorities. The straight-forward plot is peppered with stellar sisterly interplay – it’s great to see a show (especially this one) trusting its three leads so completely. Special banter points go to Piper, who manages to have an argument with herself thanks to a time rift that has her meeting her future self (“I’m not standing in her way!”).

Charmed Piper A WItch In Time

There’s also some great action courtesy director John Behring, who oversaw many of the show’s best episodes (season two’s ‘P3 H20’ among them). A slow-mo table dash is pure John Woo, and a vertiginous, heart-in-mouth balcony moment would have Hitchcock cowering. (No really.)

That’s not to say ‘A Witch In Time’ isn’t crammed full of Charmed hallmarks – there’s Phoebe/Cole angst, a himbo warlock with a silly plan and (sigh) yet more quickly-reversed sister deaths. None of that matters, though, when those hallmarks feel organic to a story that genuinely wants to explore the notion of fate. If you saw the show’s other exceptional time-travel episode, season two’s equally poignant ‘Mortality Bites’, you’ll know where ‘A Witch In Time’ is headed.

This is undoubtedly Alyssa Milano’s episode, but it’s to the show’s credit that her co-stars never feel sidelined. Cole memorably chows down on Chinese takeaway – surely the most depressed person ever to live in a Penthouse – and despite Phoebe’s emotional cyclone, it’s Piper (as ever) who gets to really dig us in the ribs, particularly in the final act.

Coming in the middle of an unprecedented hot streak for the show (it was preceded by haunted house ep ‘Sympathy For The Demon’ and followed by the excellent ‘Sam I Am’, ‘The Importance Of Being Phoebe’, and ‘Centennial Charmed’), this is Charmed at its best: chirpy, clever and emotionally honest. Oh, and with awful, awful fashion.

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