Judge Brett Cullum would like to apply the Power of 3 to Paramount's collective behinds—and hard.
Our reviews of Charmed: The Complete Second Season (published October 5th, 2005), Charmed: The Complete Third Season (published December 14th, 2005), Charmed: The Complete Fourth Season (published March 15th, 2006), Charmed: The Complete Fifth Season (published November 8th, 2006), Charmed: The Complete Sixth Season (published November 8th, 2006), Charmed: The Complete Seventh Season (published March 28th, 2007), and Charmed: The Complete Eighth Season (published December 1st, 2007) are also available.
Phoebe: No. According to the Book Of Shadows, one of our ancestors was a
witch named Melinda Warren.
Charmed—The Complete First Season is something fans of the show have been waiting for patiently with bated breath. Charmed debuted in 1998, and has lasted for seven seasons now (with no official word on if it will end this year…fingers crossed for an eighth season) thanks to its legion of loyal fans. It's a fun show, an entertaining one, and very well done. It deserves all the respect and adoration that a studio can heap on it, but Paramount has cursed the show with a DVD release that is anything but charmed for those faithful followers.
Facts of the Case
Charmed—The Complete First Season shows us the year it all began. The Halliwell sisters (Prudence, Piper, and Phoebe) inherit a house in San Francisco from their grandmother, but little do they know that her legacy doesn't end with prime real estate in a really great market. Seems "Grams" was a witch, and so was Mom. And the three sisters? They are about to inherit a giant Book Of Shadows, the responsibility of great power, and a mission to "protect the innocent." Prodigal youngest sister Phoebe returns home one rainy night, and finds the spell book in the attic of the old house. She reads a simple incantation, and before anyone can say "Hocus Pocus!" or twitch a nose all three girls are changed. Eldest Prue can move things with her mind, Piper can freeze time, and Phoebe gets visions of the future. Together they are the invincible "charmed" ones, and they can cast spells more powerful than any other witch in the world. Problem is there are bad witches who want their powers, and will kill the girls to get them. Now they will face demons, warlocks, Grimlocks, and Wendigos (better not to ask, just watch), and save the world on a regular basis. So much for their social life and all the good-looking guys running around San Francisco! Who has time? Something Wicca has come, and they have to answer the call.
The first season includes the following episodes:
• "Something Wicca This Way Comes"
Season One of Charmed was an era when the show concentrated on sisterly bonds and witchy heritages. The girls dressed pretty sensibly, and the show focused on their relationships with each other more than their relationships with men (before it succumbed to the black power of the supernatural soap opera). Today, there is plenty of romance to be found, with Prue dating her cop boyfriend, and Piper first noticing the handyman named Leo (a fan favorite); however, the main thrust of the show here is three girls learning to trust each other all over again. All of this before the core cast changed too! The original line-up, the first spells, the great moments of meeting everyone for the first time…what's not to love?
In looking back at these first episodes I was stunned at how good the show was even in the early days. It seemed like a wiggy concept to create a show about three sisters who happen to be witches and have to save the world. Who thought of this? Well, we know who produced it. No surprise, but it's an Aaron Spelling production. The man has a pretty good track record with shows that features three lovely ladies who save the world, given that he cranked out the seminal '70s series Charlie's Angels. Think of Charmed as a supernatural twist on a tried and true formula. It also incorporated his skill with nighttime soaps like Beverly Hills 90210. But it wasn't only his guidance that locked in the show's success.
The cast for the first season was magic money couldn't buy (even though I guess it did). The three sisters were all hot-name child-stars who brought unique traits to each of the Halliwell clan. Shannen Doherty (Heathers, Beverly Hills 90210) was cast as the oldest sister, Prudence. Prudence (or "Prue") is the pragmatic no-nonsense leader of the group who's never afraid to lay down the law. Not only was Shannen a pretty good witch, but nobody gives good bitch quite like her. She's infamous for being hard to work with, but she's got a charisma the show needed. She knew how to make Prudence strong and vulnerable all at once, and they relied on her to be the wise leader who put her fist down when necessary. Shannen's best friend is Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), so Doherty had the start of a supernatural heroine support group in her social circle to start with.
She also dragged along another friend to the audition who had some serious acting chops. Holly Marie Combs had wowed critics on Picket Fences, and she had a sweet earnest nature that provided the right notes for well-meaning middle sister Piper. Piper is the most sensitive middle sister who seems to bridge the gap between the oldest and youngest—the diplomat. She could handle the drama handily, and anchored the show with her acting chops and Neve Campbell-esque brunette good looks.
Then along came the youngest sister, Phoebe. Who could they get? Alyssa Milano from the sitcom Who's the Boss proved to be the right choice. Phoebe is the wacky free spirit spitfire who often ends up in hysterical predicaments. Though not originally cast in time for a never-aired pilot, Milano provided an innate sense of comedy that rounded out the cast well. And it didn't hurt that she had filled out nicely, and brought her own much-heralded cheesecake quality that insured the cast was calendar-worthy. Alyssa was so cute she was the inspiration for Disney artists when they created Ariel in The Little Mermaid! They all had tattoos (fun to spot them in this first season as they try to cover them), they all loved horses, and they all seemed like sisters. It was a serious trifecta of inspired casting that wove its own spell immediately. What could go wrong?
Throughout Charmed—The Complete First Season you also get glimpses of a very strong supporting cast (some of whom would go on throughout the entire run). General Hospital legend Finola Hughes is revealed as their mother in "That '70s Episode." She remains to this day the cast member who gets the most fan mail. Jennifer Rhodes (also from Heathers) played a spirited Endora-like grandmother. Brian Krause (Sleepwalkers) made his first appearance as Leo, the hunky handyman with a secret (he slips in so quietly I almost missed him!). And in guest spots you will see The Lost Boys alum Billy Wirth, as well as David Carradine (Kill Bill) as an evil time-altering warlock. Ted King (General Hospital) also has a featured role as Andrew "Andy" Trudeau, Prue's high school sweetheart turned investigator for the San Francisco police department. The first season's major arc seems to swirl around him. Everyone seemed to be having a blast with the campy material, and the show gels quickly and sets a strong pace even in the first episodes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One time a friend told me about Charmed and proclaimed, "I liked this better when it was called The Craft." Charmed has been accused of being not very original, and I recognized more than just the same theme song (Love Spit Love's grungy take on The Smiths' classic "How Soon is Now?") as 1996's theatrical release about four gothic witches in Los Angeles. The plot seems to have been cobbled together from various witch-themed shows and movies. It seems like Charmed was the WB's way to corner the market on occult-themed dramas with young hot casts like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The demons have a tendency to be silly rather than frightening, so if you're looking for a show that's scary and about martial arts fighting, you'd be better off looking to a certain blonde stake-wielding slayer.
Charmed can get really repetitive in this first season. It seems like only a couple of variations exist for the plots. A witch or demon shows up and tries to kill an innocent, or the girls. They find them, usually with one of the three sisters in jeopardy from a vision Phoebe provides. Piper freezes them while Prue knocks them around a little. Then invariably the three chant a sing song spell about "the power of 3," and the beast is sent packing. Group hug; roll credits. They never escape the "monster of the week" formula for very long in this batch of shows…but it was only the first season. Charmed can be watched out of order without too many threads being lost in the plots. Its strength does not lie in its forward momentum (at least in the action department).
It's definitely not the show the Wicca community was hoping for. I don't know why movies and television can never get the rules right about one of the world's oldest religions. As much as we gripe in this society when stereotypes are perpetuated, almost no one notices what a mockery Hollywood makes of witches. Nobody has ever taken them seriously, and Charmed certainly doesn't. Maybe one day somebody will do right by the community, but at least this show portrays them as "good witches" without a broomstick in sight. (Well…except for that one show with Grams.) Still, the subject matter is not treated seriously, which bothers some people.
I've laid out some very minor gripes, but the really bad news comes from the technical side of the house. The DVDs released by Paramount are substandard in today's market, and possibly could be substandard in yesterday's VHS market. The shows are fullscreen, and chock full of grain and artifacts. I haven't seen worse transfers in a long time. I kept thinking my connections were loose or something, but the picture really is that bad. Sound mix is a two channel stereo that does little. And there are no extras. None! Not one commentary, not one feature on "the making of," and not one interview. It's rather insulting when I could literally get my twelve-year-old sister to burn these shows from a digital cable broadcast and still have better copies than what's provided here. Worse still, there are forced previews on the first disc for other Paramount releases like Happy Days and Mork and Mindy. Anytime you want to watch the first disc you have to watch Robin Williams go "Nanu—Nanu" and see Fonzie do his trademark "Aaaayyy!" I wanted to scream and hurl things at the screen. It's a really serious insult to fans who have been waiting for this one, and I know there are tons of possible features. The un-aired pilot? A blooper reel? That would have been nice. You can't make me believe that not one actor or director would want to talk about the show and how they came up with it. It's a cursed package…and it doesn't even look good. Static menus greet you at the start, and the cover art is downright hideous. The terrible truth is that if not for snipped bits from syndication, I would almost recommend a repeat viewing on a cable channel rather than investing in this package. Oh yeah, all this and no subtitles either.
Great show about magical sisters. It's light and fun with eye candy to spare (for both genders). Excellent cast, pretty good writing, and not-bad production values make Charmed an easy show to be…well…charmed by. (I had to do it once!) Its strength does lie in the powers of the three. The lead actresses take what could be a campy sci-fi romp about witches, and turn it something much more real and concrete. This line-up was especially strong, and many viewers contend the show really lost something when Shannen Doherty exited after the third season, so this is definitely where you want to start your collection. As tempestuous as Shannen is rumored to be, she still brought a lot to this collective table. And please, no tears for diva Doherty, because she still owns part of the show (and the profit-sharing continues to this day). Now don't get me wrong, because Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs are equal in this equation. Milano is smoking hot, and extremely funny (loved the episode where she became a hotel psychic). Holly Marie Combs is amazing, and knows how to really make you feel every beat of her performance. They are the reason to watch this show. The Spelling formula of three women proves powerful to this day. It's a joy to watch three adult women juggle their superhero powers with the mundane grind of life in their late twenties, and never feel that one side is compromised for the sake of the other. They have rich detailed personal lives, and that is where the show outshines its other supernatural soap peers. It's not an action show, but rather a show about emotional actions. Frankly, that's nice to see.
Too bad about the DVD. Paramount has dropped the ball with Charmed—The Complete First Season with wretched transfers that could be bested by videotape. And no extras? No subtitles? This one's been a hot seller in pre-sales, and I can only imagination the collective sigh of disgust when all the fans realize that all they're getting are the shows in a grainy mess with basic stereo. It's nice to own them uncut and commercial free, but it's definitely a spell that is missing a few ingredients.
Charmed is pure television magic, and I heartily agree the power of three has bound and moved me. (Insert mental image of cast tying reviewer up here…mmm…Wait! Focus on Verdict!) The Halliwell sisters are free to go for good behavior and a nice appearance in court that had us all smiling. But Paramount? Sorry, but it's lackluster releases like Charmed—The Complete First Season that make me dread any project appearing on your label. The court demands a double dip with gorgeous transfers and commentaries on each episode, and refunds for this set with proof of purchase. Either that, or I drop this voodoo doll with your logo on it into this boiling pot surrounded by candles. Consider yourself cursed!
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