15 Years After Its Premiere, ‘Charmed’ Is Better Than You Remember


It’s no surprise that I used to watch Charmed. Call me the offspring of the Harry Potter generation, but I have the deepest soft spot for stories about witches. And Charmed delivered threefold. The show, which premiered 15 years ago today, centered around three sisters who discover that they’re witches, destined to fight evil and protect innocents. The Charmed Ones’ possess more combined strength than any single witch thanks to their “power of three” — which is a cheesy phrase, if not premise. But even though the show was no Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and never would have been lumped into the oft-proclaimed current Golden Age of Television, it’s still worth watching, years later.

I think everyone appreciates a healthy dose of self-conscious hokeyness, and Charmed provides all that and more. The theme song is an alt-rock cover of a Smiths hit, for goodness’ sake! Indulge in the show’s “prevailing power of love” trope, the time-traveling plots, the campy wizarding school the writers desperately threw into the mix in the sixth season — you’re supposed to. As an Aaron Spelling-produced drama, Charmed was made to be pop-culture comfort food. But while it hooks you in with its demon-encrusted claws and sugarcoated darkness, the true strength of the show lies in the Charmed Ones’ relationships with each other.

I feel like a Lena Dunham repeater for insisting that Charmed‘s true romance is among the platonic female relationships, but it’s true. Their sisterly dynamic is infinitely more interesting than any of their romantic entanglements. The show starts when Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs), and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) move back into their childhood home after their grandmother dies. For the first time in a long while, the Halliwell sisters are not only living in the same house, but in the same city. And Charmed accurately reflects the tension and joy that comes from living under the same roof as your sisters when you’re all adults. Your siblings know you and don’t know you in a way that is simultaneously irritating and comforting. The characters are sisters, and they act like sisters: the Halliwells protect each other, they fight with each other, they give each other all kinds of shit. When their half-sister Paige (Rose McGowan) enters the picture in the fourth season, their sisterly dynamics change, too, and it’s interesting to watch them orient themselves in this new arrangement.

Perhaps it’s my nostalgia-tinted glasses, but I can see why I chose to watch the show amidst The WB’s other offerings. I wanted to be enveloped in the world of Charmed because of its witchcraft (duh), but also because of the female bonding, the exploration of what it means to be a sister and to grow into adulthood with your sisters. Charmed ran for eight seasons. In that time, a main character was killed off and a new one was added. The sisters got married, had children, dated evil warlocks and demons, opened new businesses, started new careers, “found themselves.” They weren’t always perfect. Their power came with weaknesses. Their lives didn’t neatly wrap up at the end of each episode, but they were OK. They had each other.

As the show progressed, the Charmed Ones became more new-millennium fashionable: tighter clothing, fuller hair, glossier lip gloss. Descriptions of the show mentioned their sisterhood and witchcraft in the same breath as their cleavage. But something — maybe sentimentality — prevents me from calling the show frothy or reducing it to a mere Buffy-lite. You can’t ignore the power of having three female leads in one television show, none of whom greatly overshadowed the others. With three women kicking ass and looking good while doing it, Charmed naturally drew comparisons to Charlie’s Angels. The only difference is that the Halliwell sisters weren’t answering to a disembodied male voice. If there was any allegiance, it was to the wisdom of their matriarchal line. They loved guys, sure, but they loved each other more. There was never a question as to who was more important.