Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger was charmed against his will.
Our reviews of Charmed: The Complete First Season (published February 2nd, 2005), 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 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.
Once lucky, Twice smart, Three times Charmed
Our story so far: On the heels of a wave of pop witchcraft came a new series by Aaron Spelling. Slammed by some for being a "me too" cash-in on trendy Wicca, Charmed had a compelling enough cast and a unique enough flavor to build an audience. Over the next three seasons, behind-the-scenes relationships flared up and the power of three was broken as Shannen Doherty left. Enter Rose McGowan at the 11th hour; a cast change that went surprisingly smoothly given the nature of the show. Indeed, Charmed had survived chaos that would have ruined shows with lesser stars and lesser producers at the helm. Ironically, the shift that most threatened the show was something entirely different: The marriage of Piper to her Whitelighter, Leo, and the domestic issues that come with it. Welcome to Season Five, the season that many Charmed fans consider a line in the sand.
Facts of the Case
The surviving Halliwell sisters Piper (Holly Marie Combs, Picket Fences) and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano, Fear) continue to wrestle with the arrival of their gifted half-sister Paige (Rose McGowan, Scream). Phoebe is shocked by the return of Cole (Julian McMahon, Fantastic Four), the powerful Demon who broke her heart. And Piper deals with the powerful magical being growing in her womb. Season Five (cleverly released on 6/6/06) brings us these episodes:
• "A Witch's Tail (1)"
Allow me to cast a quick warding charm: This is my first exposure to Charmed. Though I have an unhealthy fixation with Shannen Doherty and love Alyssa Milano as much as the next guy, a series about three peppy witches living in San Francisco never tickled my fancy. In fact, were it not for the positive review of Season Four by Judge Cynthia Boris, I might never have peeked into this world at all. So if I don't grasp the nuances of the show's history, that's why. Please don't cast the Evil Eye my way.
As a lover of grim, serious shows, I wasn't expecting much. To that end, Charmed did not let me down. Glib and campy, the show makes no pretense at being serious. In fact, it passes up no opportunity to poke fun at itself or its characters. For ironclad evidence, I need point no further than "Witches in Tights." This episode recasts our heroines as comic book caricatures, replete with skin-tight, comic-book-porn outfits (with the customary cleavage portals). They gain heroic powers like super-speed. They confront evil in the streets, knocking down baddies like bowling pins. Between the stoic underacting of Rose McGowan, the frantic overacting of Alyssa Milano, and the preposterous nature of the episode, I learned that Charmed had no limits. If you could bottle up every "Zoinks!" uttered by Shaggy and the gang and somehow bring that essence to life, it might look like "Witches in Tights."
Yet something very strange happened. As I let go of my preconceived ire, became numb to the zaniness, Charmed hooked me. That hook wasn't ironclad; I could stop whenever I wanted to. But as you'll soon see, I was sucked in enough to review Season Six.
What could possibly be compelling about such a farcical show? In the traditional departments, not much. Julian McMahon is surprisingly watchable as the tortured bad guy Cole. Other than that, the acting isn't really acting. Rose McGowan clips off the end of every sentence, often growling more than annunciating her lines. Milano is over the top in every way. Whatever emotion Holly Marie Combs is expressing at the moment, be it irony, ire, or desire, she does it to the nines. Brian Krause would be lost were it not for the tried-and-true forehead pinch. Subtlety is lost in this show.
The stories are the same way. If plot were an anvil, we'd all have huge lumps on our heads. If characterization were ether, we'd all be punch drunk from swimming in fumes.
Through these lapses in characterization and plot comes a sense of fun. The writers, guest stars, and cast are having a ball. The viewers are, too. An through the age-old magic of melodrama, the exaggerated stories and characterizations reveal sisterly, womanly bonds that are larger than life.
Those bonds are tested in a season that fundamentally alters the chemistry of Charmed. The first half of the season builds to a crescendo as Cole's destiny looms. A suicidal Demon with such great power is no small problem. Cole's increasing danger to himself and the universe creates unbearable tension. Interspersed throughout this buildup are rest-stop episodes such as the aforementioned Witches in Tights" and "The Eyes Have It." This episode returns to the roots of the show, highlighting the importance of magical heritage in a way that will probably please Season One fans. The Highlander himself, Adrian Paul (Highlander: The Series, Season Six), makes an appearance as a lovestruck Immortal in "Y Tu Mummy Tambien."
The Cole plotline, Phoebe's heartache, and the tension between the sisters climaxes in Charmed's 100th episode (cleverly titled "Centennial Charmed"). Day turns to night. The grasshopper drags itself along the sky. In other words, the Charmed universe turns upside down in a powerful episode. The producers, writers, and cast put their all into this one. Paige turns the corner into full witchhood. As an alternate reality manifests, Cole's pain is given the ultimate voice. The sisters are thrust into vastly different roles, and darkness takes the place of frivolity. By the time the episode closed, even I knew that a chapter of the series (indeed, an entire volume) had closed forever. It was strangely moving.
After "Centennial Charmed" wraps, the tone of the series is distinctly different. As Paige fully embraces her destiny and loose ends are cut, the spectre of Shannen fades away. The baby plot takes center stage, a change that would alienate some viewers. The second half of the episodes is not nearly as compelling as the first half, with the periodic exception of great episodes like "Sense and Sense Ability." Even the no-holds-barred finale has a strange vibe, as the domestic bliss of Piper and Leo turns into a warped version of Kramer vs. Kramer.
Despite the ups and downs, Season Five had enough charm to draw in this jaded reviewer. The "Demon of the Week" pattern grew somewhat tiresome, and I came to learn that most problems were solved at the zero hour by a revelation from left field. Yet the years have given Charmed a complex world of witchcraft, secret identities, and supernatural subplots that wind around the central relationships.
Paramount's presentation also has its ups and downs. Going by DVD Verdict's early reviews, the video and sound quality has improved. The image is bright and clean, if not spotless, while the audio has enough oomph and polish to stand proud. Like every other set in the bunch, Paramount has included no extras.
Spelling knows goofball dramas featuring hot women. Whatever criticisms have been levied against Charmed, the show has outlasted all of them.
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