For Latinx Audiences, the Second Time's the "Charm(ed)"

By TV / Video Download Archives
Cover image for  article: For Latinx Audiences, the Second Time's the "Charm(ed)"

A growing trend in series reboots is changing the ethnicities of the main characters in an easy effort to expand on diverse storytelling and inclusivity.  In the recent reboot of CBS’ Magnum P.I., which previously starred Tom Selleck, the iconic role has been taken over by Jay Hernandez, an American actor of Latinx descent.  On Netflix, the seventies sitcom One Day at a Time was reworked with a Latinx cast.  A reboot of the classic Bewitched with an African American cast is in the works.  The CW’s Charmed, a reboot of the popular WB series, is retelling the story with a trio of Latinx sisters on a journey of self-discovery after learning they have supernatural abilities.  In keeping with The CW’s slogan “Dare to Defy,” Charmed is unafraid to tackle modern social issues such as misogyny, patriarchy and sexism, and focuses heavily on diversity and inclusivity.  The decision to retell the story with Latinx characters is indeed a bold choice and one that I am sure will resonate with my community, as it is among the many traditionally under-represented communities in television programming.

Telecast on The CW’s new Sunday night, Charmed begins with the mysterious death of Marisol Vera (Valerie Cruz), a university Women’s Studies department head, leaving behind her two daughters. The girls couldn’t be more different -- Mel (Melonie Diaz) is a women’s studies grad student and feminist, while Maggie (Sarah Jeffrey) is a loving and empathetic college freshman who is rushing the school’s bubbly sorority.  Three months after the tragedy, which investigators rule an “accident,” Maggie has had her fill of Maggie because she constantly obsesses over their mother’s death and refuses to accept the investigators’ conclusion.

Mel starts butting heads with Harry Greenwood, her mother’s staff replacement, who constantly checks up on her.  Mel thinks it’s outrageous that a “cis male” (the term used for those who identify as their assigned sex) was put in charge of the Women’s Studies department.  Maggie and Mel soon receive an  unexpected surprise when they discover they have an older sister, a young geneticist named Macy (Madeleine Mantock).  Mel initially does not welcome with open arms, but eventually warms up to her after a shocking revelation:  The three have suddenly developed magical powers.  Mel has the ability to freeze time, Maggie is a mind reader and Macy has telekinesis.

Harry brings the sisters together and reveals that they are the Charmed Ones, a trio of powerful witches destined to save the world, and that he is their Whitelighter, a mentor assigned to guide them on their quest.  The girls learn that their mother had kept their abilities under a spell in order to protect them, but when she knew the world would soon be in peril, her final spell was to activate their powers the night she died.  Harry also confirms Mel’s suspicions, that their mother was indeed murdered, and that the four of them must work together to vanquish the dark forces that killed Marisol and the rest of the demons that roam among them.

Thankfully, the series does not really follow a “monster of the week” procedural format, but instead focuses on the major plotline of finding Marisol’s killer and stopping the apocalypse is the driving force of the story.  The sisters also continue to develop their relationships with one another and learn more about their newfound abilities and train with Harry to grow stronger, not just individually, but together, harkening back to one of the last things their mother told them: “You are better together, your differences are your strengths, and nothing is stronger than your sisterhood.”

Something I particularly like about Charmed is that the writers don’t make the show about the girls being Latinx.  They don’t explain it or make it a plot point because they don’t have to.  It’s rarely explained or justified when a cast is Caucasian, because it’s not necessary, so when a show like Charmedtakes place in a diverse, modern American town, there’s no need to explain why these characters are the color or ethnicity that they are, either.

While only one of the three actresses playing the Vera sisters, Melonie Diaz, identifies as Latinx, it is important to keep in mind that Latinx people come in all shapes, sizes and shades of skin.  Some are of indigenous heritage, others have European ancestry, some identify as Afro-Latinx while others (like me) are from mixed backgrounds.

Diaz plays a strong-willed young woman with ease, and in the many heartfelt scenes with her sisters gives a very moving performance.  Mantock has the most complex role, in my opinion, as she has the most to deal with, adjusting to life in a new town, starting a new job in a local laboratory, meeting her new sisters and coping with the death of her mother (who she thought died when she was an infant). But Jeffrey is the stand out as Maggie, the youngest of the three sisters who is practically forced to take on the role of mature head of the house while Mel is obsessing over their mother’s murder.  Jeffrey plays her with a headstrong attitude yet has a vulnerability and heightened emotions that make her character relatable and authentic.

As Harry Greenwood, Rupert Evans brings much charm (pun unintended), wit and hilarity as the much-needed comic relief amongst the darker plot points of the series.  Despite his comedic timing and wit, there is also an underlying sense of mystery about the character, heightened all the more when the girls get a message from their mother at the end of the pilot, “Don't Trust Harry.”

The cast is supported by the sister’s trio of love interests, including Ser’Darius Blain as Macy’s coworker and friend Galvin Burdette, Charlie Gillespie as Maggie’s high school boyfriend Brian and Mel’s on-again off-again girlfriend detective Niko Hamada, played by Ellen Tamaki.

The overall tone of the show, despite its dark plot, is unlike The CW’s other supernatural series Legacies and mega-hit Supernatural.  Instead, Charmed is fun, energetic and a bit campy, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.  It is very much a dramedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It reminded me of The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow, a series in the ever-expanding DC Comics television universe about a group of misfit heroes and villains fighting to stop an apocalyptic threat that could destroy not only the entire world but unravel all of time.  Sounds serious, but it isn’t, except for the end-of-the-world thing.

Charmed, like Legends, knows how to tell a heightened, outlandish story without being brooding or melodramatic.  It may take fans of the original series some time to warm up to The CW’s reboot, but those going in as new fans will enjoy it and have fun.

Charmed is telecast Sundays at 9 p.m. on The CW.

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