Commentary: The guilty pleasure of 'Charmed'
As the show reaches a milestone, a secret fan comes clean
By Joshua Levs
Special to CNN.com
(CNN) -- As an openly confessed "Buffy"-"Friends"- "Alias"-aholic, I take pride in getting into shows that probe new ground, have top-notch writing and offer surprising depth.
Which is why I'm as shocked as anyone that, in recent months, I've become somewhat addicted to reruns of "Charmed," a show that celebrates its 150th episode Sunday.
I would keep this as a shameful secret -- like that old Olivia Newton-John CD I still have on my shelf -- were it not for a conversation with a friend who shares the same newfound fascination and my subsequent discovery that more and more people I know are attracted to the show's amusing, comforting, often hilarious universe.
For those who haven't followed the show through its seven years, the premise: Three sisters find out they're witches with superpowers, descended from generations of similarly empowered females who, along with the demonic world, knew that one day the "charmed ones" would be born and use the "power of three" to advance the forces of good in a never-ending battle against evil.
The Halliwell sisters, meanwhile, are trying to lead "normal lives" in San Francisco, where the astoundingly clueless people on their street don't notice the front windows of the sisters' house being smashed in on a regular basis, their house disappearing on occasion and people, or even a dragon, flying around outside.
Then again, no one but Gladys Kravitz ever noticed such things on "Bewitched" -- a show "Charmed" sometimes playfully references.
The Halliwell women fight evil and win -- sometimes at a price but rarely with the heaviness of "Buffy" (in fact, a bunch of plotlines came straight out of "Buffy," minus some depth). These witches come, they conquer, they joke, they move on. It's generally angst-free.
Even potential moments of seriousness don't last too long. When the sisters are wounded, they just scream "Leo!" and their personal "whitelighter" magically appears, puts his hand over them, relieves all ailments and makes their clothing good as new.
Speaking of clothing, there's the main thing the show uses to draw in guys -- a steady stream of costumes so skimpy you realize the episodes were written just so the actresses would have to put them on. This week Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) is a mermaid! This week she's a leather-clad comic-book hero! This week she's topless on a horse! (Wondering what Phoebe was turned into in one episode, older sister Piper looked at her outfit and guessed "a French hooker.")
To be fair, part of the reason I've gotten into "Charmed" is that it is -- brace yourself -- surprisingly good. The actors do all they can to make this stuff believable and provide nuance.
Shannen Doherty made uber-responsible older sister Pru at least somewhat plausible until she left the show and Rose McGowan joined up as the lovable, secret, younger half-sister given away at birth. Holly Marie Combs, as Piper, is the show's solid foundation. And -- casting directors, pay attention -- Alyssa Milano can act. Mark my words: Someone will put her in a film, she'll astound the critics, and the movie will get major free publicity.
Phoebe's (Alyssa Milano) skimpy outfits have brought biting comments from older sister Piper.
Julian McMahon, who spent a few seasons as Phoebe's star-crossed half-demon love interest, Cole, deserves the accolades he's getting for "Nip/Tuck." His return for Sunday's 150th episode of "Charmed" is promising.
I give props to the writers, who deliver on something I look for in a show: consistency within their imaginary world, rarely changing the rules on us. And they've made the central romantic matchup, Piper and Leo, interesting throughout the entire run by throwing in major wrenches left and right. I can't think of another series that's pulled that off.
I'm not asking you to set your TiVo. There certainly are better things to do for an hour. But if you ever feel like crawling into a bright, colorful world in which demons lose, good wins, and there's still time to make it to a trendy club for a live performance of a hot new band at the end of the episode, the Halliwells are waiting.
And I promise -- I won't tell.
"Charmed" airs on The WB, like CNN a division of Time Warner.