With the “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” reboot "The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" coming to fight the demon patriarchy later this month and the CW reboot of the WB not-wicked sisters series "Charmed" premiering Sunday, this must be the season of the witch. Oh, yes — must be the season of the witch.
Like the original "Charmed," which ran from 1998 to 2006 and starred Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano (with Doherty later replaced by Rose McGowan), the new series is centered on three sisters who discover they are witches. It pushes all the old right buttons along with a couple of new ones
In the modern way, the sisters are not ordinary humans practicing dark arts, as in the old Salem days, but genetically distinct superheroes with individual superpowers, amplified when they collaborate: It's "The Power of Three."
These abilities have been handed down from series to series, although the women who wield them have new names, identities and ethnicity. (They are women of color now.) There is probably more texting in the new series; I would have to check to make that statement definitive, but I’m pretty sure.
Mel (Melonie Diaz) and Maggie (Sarah Jeffrey) are the daughters of Marisol Vera (Valerie Cruz), seemingly an ordinary academic at a college in a northern place called Hilltowne. (The locals call it Helltowne, little knowing whereof they speak.)
For all Mel and Maggie know when we first meet them, they are ordinary human sisters with opposite styles and approaches to life: Mel, a graduate student in women's studies, is fighting the power; Maggie, a freshman, is out to pledge a sorority.
"You’re better together,” Mom tells them. “Your differences are your strengths and nothing is stronger than your sisterhood."
One day close to the start of the pilot, Marisol, whom we have seen lighting candles and speaking Latin, or something Latin-y, dies under suspicious circumstances – one of the investigating detectives is also Mel's girlfriend, Niko Hamada (Ellen Tamaki) — and Mel, not normally an easy person, fills all the way up with anger. Not long afterward, new-in-town research scientist Macy Vaughn (Madeleine Mantock) — which I first heard as “Miss Yvonne,” and am willing to consider an homage to “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” — is drawn to the door of the Vera sisters' big old house. Long story short, unsuspected by all, they're sisters, though it takes Mel a while to accept it.
Math majors will have already tumbled to the fact that Macy’s arrival makes possible the aforementioned Power of Three, and suddenly the women find themselves manifesting strange powers: Macy sends a glass flying with her mind; Maggie hears people’s thoughts; Mel freezes time. They know something is happening, but they don’t what it is.
That is somewhat cleared up by Harry Greenwood (Rupert Evans), a comic-relief Englishman Mel has already met — he's the new chair of the women's studies department, whose hiring as a "cis male" she has criticized to his face, but it turns out he's also a sort of witch's guardian angel, mentor and assistant. Harry assesses their flowering powers (stopping time is "very popular with control freaks," mind reading "a testament to your innate sensitivity — or desperate insecurity, they're two sides of the same coin really") and tells them they’re "destined to save the world from impending doom." Why this pre-apocalypse must play out in some random college town is one of life's mysteries.
It has been pointed out that the original "Charmed" had feminist values, but the new series, which has been developed by “Jane the Virgin” creator Jennie Snyder Urman, wastes no time in making its topical intentions clear. As the episode begins, Marisol, Mel and assorted other students are protesting the reinstatement of a professor accused of sexual assault, and the fact that he is an old coot in a wheelchair will not make you trust him any farther than you could throw him. (“This is not a witch hunt, this is a reckoning,” are the first words you hear in the series, spoken by Marisol)
Mel puts up Time’s Up posters and tells a girl making out at a sorority party Maggie is attending, "Remember, when it comes to consent, you can change your mind anytime." The demon at the end of the first episode "has lived for centuries feeding off of strong women, draining their strength." The decision to accept one’s witchiness itself is described as a “fully pro-choice enterprise,” while the "current president" of the United States is identified as the first sign of the not-yet-unavoidable apocalypse.
There are nits to pick here, possibly, and some fans of the original series (and at least one of its stars) may be put off by the revival, on principle. But “Charmed” 2018 is good, offering up all one could want from a supernatural adventure series. It’s well cast; witty and fun; a little satirical, a little more suspenseful, but with solid emotional grounding (and the promise of romance); a little physical but with nothing too explicit in the way of violence. That it doesn't take itself too seriously doesn’t mean it won’t make you jump.
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and violence)