Yes, ‘The Power of Three’ still crack­les with new per­son­nel

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - ROBERT LLOYD TELE­VI­SION CRITIC

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 (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.

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 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 and tells them they’re “des­tined to save the world from im­pend­ing doom.”

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 pro­choice en­ter­prise,” while the “cur­rent pres­i­dent” of the United States is iden­ti­fied as the first sign of the not-yet un-avoid­able apoca­lypse.

There are nits to pick here, and some fans of the orig­i­nal (and at least one of its stars) may be put off by the re­vival, on prin­ci­ple. But “Charmed” 2018 is good, of­fer­ing 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.

Katie Yu The CW

MYS­TER­IES un­fold to sis­ters por­trayed in the new “Charmed” by, from left, Melonie Diaz, Sarah Jef­fery and Madeleine Man­tock.

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