Social Distance and Watch Charmed

One of many times the Charmed Ones are evil! Image from Netflix.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary practice of social distancing, Netflix has introduced a new feature: Netflix Party. Netflix Party allows viewers on multiple accounts to synchronously watch a TV show or movie, simplifying a difficult task teen-me used to attempt with my internet friends so we could watch anime together. Cool!

It’s a strange and difficult time, and I have a strange but simple proposition: rewatch the original Charmed, and maybe drink while you do it.

I stumbled into a Charmed rewatch about a year ago, when I visited a friend who was finishing her dissertation. She had an episode of the show playing casually on her TV when I stopped by, and explained that she’d let it run as a sort of mindless background while her brain needed to focus on math. I shocked us both by remembering a myriad of specific details about the series, and we had a fun chat about how Alyssa Milano’s biceps made us queer – ironic considering how painfully heterosexual the show was.

A screenshot of a bare-armed, delightfully muscular Alyssa Milano.
Sometimes you gotta show off those rocking biceps with a… shirt held up by a giant braid?

After that day I, like the the Charmed Ones in pretty much every other episode, was possessed. I kept thinking about these three sisters who discover their magical destinies after losing their grandmother, and engage in a seven season-long battle with the forces of evil. The pieces I remembered seemed hilariously dated or just outright silly, like a knit halter top Prue wore that stuck out vividly in my mind, or the episode where Phoebe describes sex to a teen by sketching eggs and sperm on the back of her homework sheet. I needed to revisit this show, and look at it with fresh, adult eyes. As I did, I quickly realized that this campy, trope-y series was begging to have its own drinking game.

There are a few inescapable issues that must be addressed before diving into a Charmed rewatch. The series is at it’s best when it embraces B-horror movie campiness, like in season 2’s “Chick Flick,” in which the sisters have to fight very stereotypical horror movie villains that walk right out of their films. It’s at its worst – and Charmed is, frequently, at its worst – when it leans carelessly into cultural ignorance and racism.

In what was perhaps a misguided attempt to acknowledge the mystical practices and stories of other cultures, Charmed doesn’t hesitate to include African, African-American, and Asian traditions and cultures in their episodes. However, they lean solely on stereotypes, generally use Asian and black actors only as victims and villains, and dress the actors – Alyssa Milano especially – in all the terrible, appropriative “Asian inspired” fashion of the nineties. “Dead Man Dating,” an episode from season one which appears on the lists below and that, incredibly, stars John Cho as the boyfriend-of-the-week, sends the sisters to investigate a murder in Chinatown. John Cho’s prominent role is possible only because he’s murdered in the episode’s intro and carries on as a ghost. The sisters are his white saviors, protecting his mother from a very stereotypical Asian mob, and they reprise this cringe-worthy white savior role repeatedly throughout the series.

Darryl (Dorian Gregory), the show’s only regular who is also a person of color, is horribly abused by nearly every plot that involves him and very reasonably threatens to stop helping the sisters at every turn. They use his role as a cop to stave off possible suspicion of their strange activities, barely treat him as the friend-of-the-family he supposedly is, and in one episode late in the series, non-consensually remove his soul from his body. Darryl, you deserved so, so much better.

Prue wears a strange knit halter top. Image from Netflix.
The knit halter top that haunted my memories.

It’s worth noting that the CW’s Charmed reboot makes strides in righting these wrongs. The show clearly had intentions to address the original’s race issues when it wrote the three charmed sisters as Latina. Though it was rightly critiqued for casting only one Latina actress — Melonie Diaz, who plays Mel Vera — to fulfill the three main roles. However, the writers also made an effort to have Maggie, the youngest sister, reassess her identity when she discovers her actual, biological father is black. Sarah Jeffery, the actress who portrays Maggie, is mixed race and African American. Additionally, In its first season, the reboot gave Galvin Burdette, portrayed by Ser’Darius Blain, depth and complexity as the grandchild of a Haitian woman with great magical ability. Finally, Mel, the eldest sister, is gay, thus from the get-go the show addresses the original’s painful ignorance of queerness. The CW’s Charmed has still made several missteps, but it is also putting in notable effort to be better.

There’s no shame in skipping over the original Charmed to try out the new and improved reboot. However, if you’re looking for something that requires little intellectual engagement and goes hard on absurd plot lines, I highly recommend taking a look back at the first ever Charmed Ones. It really is a treat, down to Netflix’s episode descriptions, which are really… something. My favorite is the description for Season 2, Episode 16: “Murphy’s Luck.” The simple, two sentence summary reads: “Piper tells Leo that she loves him, but she can’t tell Dan for a week since he is traveling.”

You can’t talk to people when they’re traveling, not in the early aughts!! Fortunately, since none of us are traveling right now, we’ve got plenty of time to watch Charmed.

Phoebe wearing what is supposed to be a fairy tale ballgown. Image from Netflix.
You ever start to design a dress and then get bored and just drape the extra fabric over a piece of rope?

To curate your witchy watch party, I have two episode lists: “Ridiculous Episodes,” which are just so absurd and often feature wildly bad special effects that you’ll laugh your way through, and “Actually Kinda Good Episodes,” which include decent acting, character development, or just lean into the campiness that made Charmed kind of great. Of course, you can always watch right from the beginning, which is the best way to see all of the really, truly terrible special effects.

Before you start drinking, take time to look over the drinking game rules below. The game laid out below is intended to be customizable. If you drink at every time sweat pours down Cole’s face or you spot a midriff, you will get very, very sick! I highly recommend you pick out a few rules that you find especially amusing. Also, take note of the rules that are only meant to be used ONCE per episode. These limited rules are limited to help you from getting too drunk too fast!

Drinking Game Rules (mix and match as needed)

Once per episode, drink when:
+ You see a midriff
+ You see a bra-less nipple
+ The sisters wear outfits that give conflicting messages about the weather
+ Cole is REAL sweaty
+ The boyfriend-of-the-week or monster-of-the-week (or both) actor is TERRIBLE at acting
+ The sisters ignore an obvious red flag
+ We all feel bad for Darryl having to be on this show, friends with these people
+ Something racist happens
+ Phoebe’s clothing is culturally appropriative
+ Someone hides like one room over and is magically not heard by the people in the next room

Whenever:
+ An actually good actor who is now way more famous has a bit role
+ Time travel is extraordinarily easy
+ A sister transforms into an evil creature or gives in to evil super easily
+ Cole is snarky AF
+ Everyone is miraculously good at hand-to-hand combat
+ A band no one has heard of or remembers plays a well-attended concert at P3
+ The special effects are so bad you laugh out loud
+ Someone mentions Darryl having a family and life outside all the chicanery
+ There’s a Buffy crossover actor
+ There’s a quickie marriage
+ A sister falls for an innocent who dies heroically at the end of the episode
+ Someone says “everything happens for a reason”
+ People switch bodies

Oded Fehrs head on a four legged animal of some kind. Image from Netflix.
Poor Oded Fehr.

Ridiculous Episodes To Watch

Season 1, Episode 4: Dead Man Dating
So yes, this is one of those hella racist episodes, but it stars JOHN CHO and there’s awkward ghost kissing! Also, Phoebe tries to get work as a cheesy stereotypical psychic and her outfit is A Lot.

Season 2, Episode 16: Murphy’s Luck
The innocent of the week in this one is Amy Adams, who is Irish and unlucky! The villain of the week is Arnold Vosloo who played THE MUMMY.

Season 2, Episode 9: Ms. Hellfire
I love this episode, it’s so, so silly. Prue pretends to be a hit woman and saunters around in super tight leather pants and a giant furry coat for the entire episode to get down with her bad self.

Season 3, Episode 6: Primrose Empath
I’ll warn you, Prue spends most of this episode crying in a corner, just like the episode of Buffy where Buffy gets overwhelmed by telepathy. However, she Matrix fights at the end and it’s a wild time.

Season 3, Episode 12: Wrestling with Demons
There are ACTUAL wrestlers in this episode and they wrestle the Charmed Ones. I’m not lying, it really happens.

Season 4, Episode 4: Size Matters
The sisters get shrunk reeeeal tiny and I just find that so funny.

Season 4, Episode 4: Womb Raider
This episode delivers on its incredible title. Also, I think anyone who watched the series when it originally aired remembers evil pregnant Phoebe. Evil Phoebe always has special hairstyles and extra weird outfits! I think this time around she gets micro bangs? Gotta love evil Phoebe.

Season 5, Episode 9: Y Tu Mummy Tambien
When I first drew up all my memories of Charmed, I could only remember sweaty, struggling-with-good-and-evil Cole. Friends, I completely forgot about snarky Cole, who makes fun of the sisters and is hilarious. He also wears something I refer to as his Sadness Bomber Jacket, and Phoebe wears a terrible belly dancing outfit.

Season 5, Episode 14: The Day the Magic Died
Piper’s baby is born in one of the wildest labor sequences ever. This episode also includes the incredible line, “Dad, I’m sorry about your demon wife!” said mid-labor.

Season 6, Episode 2: Valhalley of the Dolls Part 2
Honestly, maybe don’t, just fast-forward to the part where Paige talks to a dog and the dog talks back.

Season 6, Episode 11: Prince Charmed
The greatest gift of season six is Chris, who exists ostensibly for plot reasons but really exists to give us that good, good snark we lost when Cole was finally off the show. In this episode the sisters make a “Perfect Man” for Piper and Chris uses him to fuck with everyone, then delivers one of my favorite lines of dialogue in the entire series.

Season 8, Episode 22: Forever Charmed
It’s the series finale so it is, of course, the most absurd episode of them all. By my count, there are SEVEN different instances of time travel, and as closing as bad as the epilogue of the seventh Harry Potter book.

Actually Kinda Good Episodes To Watch

Season 2, Episode 18: Chick Flick
The episode in which B-horror movie villains come to life! This is the episode in which the writers really embraced the delightful campiness of the series that they should’ve embraced all eight seasons.

Season 4, Episode 2: Hell Hath No Fury
Piper deals with her grief in a way consistent with her character – she gets very, very angry. It’s actually very well done! She also turns hilariously into a Fury.

Season 7, Episode 8: Charmed Noir
This is another rare episode where the creators lean extra hard into the silliness that made the show fun. There are some great pieces of dialogue in this one.

Season 7, Episode 10: Witchness Protection
DEMON CORDELIA! Charisma Carpenter, AKA Cordelia Chase from Buffy, plays a demon who is fun as HECK, definitely bisexual and has chemistry with Phoebe. This episode, and the mini arc of the season, feature Oded Fehr, yet another actor from The Mummy.

All in all, be safe, have fun, stay home, and watch Charmed.

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa

Alenka Figa is a queer librarian and intense cat mom. She spends her days reading zines and indie comics, and twittering about D&D podcasts at @alenkafiga.

2 thoughts on “Social Distance and Watch Charmed

  1. A few more to consider:
    -any episode Piper is an abusive prat to Leo (not any TIME, because with the number of times she casually blows him up or threatens to do so, your livers will all be blown up soon enough)
    -any episode Phoebe is praised for her column
    -any time Phoebe is told (or the show tells us) that she must not give up on love
    -any time the Elders make a terrible, TERRIBLE decision
    -any time the grandmother ghost is a misandric jerk
    -any time the backstory is retconned
    -any time the thrust of Paige’s character is changed the episode following something established
    -any time a character framed as an antagonist says something about the protags that is 100% correct
    -any time Leo has better chemistry with a male co-star than his wife or sisters-in-law

    1. The second to last one – anytime someone rightfully critiques the Charmed Ones it kills me! That’s why I loved Chris, he spends so much time being horrified by their behavior. As terrible as his character is, the episode where Barbas puts them on trial is amazing because he’s totally right that they abuse their abilities for personal gain all the time!

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