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

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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 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.

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 2 – The one with all the Prues

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: 1.16 ‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Director: John Behring

Charmed 116 Which Prue Is It Anyway

It’s a question we all grapple with at some point in our lives: would the world be a better place if there were three Shannen Dohertys? On the evidence of this first season episode, in which Prue triples her power by magicking up a couple of colour-coded clones, probably.

‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’ is a standout hour for Doherty, who does much of the heavy lifting when a visit from a power-mad warlord prompts Prue to cast a spell that produces two doppelgängers. Essentially dividing her personality into three, we get Perky Prue (in pink, naturally), who’s a special kind of coked-up chipper, and Punk-Rock Prue, smouldering in black eyeliner and a constant come-on grin.

This really is, as Piper comments, “like The Parent Trap with a B-cup,” and the most fun is in the interplay between the three Prues, who compliment each others’ outfits (well you would, wouldn’t you?) and agree unanimously on everything. That latter development is particularly cute when Prue’s able to outvote her sisters with a ‘majority rules’ three-for-one.

With Prue dominating the story, Piper is sidelined taking inventory at Quake (who says Charmed never deals with real-life issues?). Phoebe fares a little better, having decided she’s “tired of being the one in the family with the passive power” and taken up kickboxing. It’s notable for a character who goes on to do much of the series’ fist fighting – and Phoebe even drop-kicks the week’s baddie in the final confrontation.

Charmed 116 Which Prue Is It Anyway

That baddie is a dull Jean-Claude Van Damme lookalike (check out that mullet) who wields a tacky fibreglass sword and comes complete with a useless sister who contributes nothing to the story. The episode’s biggest shortfall is the warlord’s dry, talky scenes, which would would have been better spent exploring Prue’s predicament.

Because, sadly, the clones ultimately give us little insight into the eldest Halliwell, and they prove ineffectual in the sisters’ fight against the Lord of War. They’re blade-fodder in an episode that takes macabre glee from repeatedly murdering one of its leads (small wonder Doherty became paranoid she wasn’t welcome on the show).

There’s also some truly terrible ‘grief’ acting from Ted King when Andy discovers Perky Prue laid out in the morgue. His attempt to deliver the news to Phoebe gives Alyssa Milano a chance to flex her comedy muscles, which only highlights how out of his depth King is. It’s hardly a surprise he was killed off six episodes later.

Season one of Charmed was definitely a see-what-sticks kind of year; the show ping-ponged between X-Files-type investigations and Buffy-esque monsters as it searched for its own identity. ‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’ is a confident step in the right direction, trusting its sisterly interplay and giving Doherty a platform to showcase her range – Perky Prue is a delight. The show often struggled to produce engaging villains, though, and this episode’s is a grade-A offender.

On the plus side, we end on a genuine cliffhanger as Andy puts together a creepy file on Prue. Seems he’s been keeping tabs on her for a while, and now he’s properly suspicious that she has some kind of witchy secrets. It sets up one of Charmed‘s first ever arcs (one that comes to a head in the season finale), and is perhaps the only really notable thing about an episode that never fully delivers on its fun premise.

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.