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Nostalgia is as powerful as the Halliwell sisters in 2020

By Jared Alexander

Every weekday from 7 to 9 a.m., the TNT network does a true public service and airs reruns of Charmed. No, not the reboot currently on The CW, I’m talking about the one and only ‘90s original. I know this because at 7 years old, before I would walk to school, I would get up to watch some Charmed over breakfast. I was consistent: always up early enough to catch the tail end of one episode (filled with an intense climax and a demon vanquish) and the beginning of another (always consisting of the Halliwells pouring their morning coffee, recounting their nights with boys and of course whatever demon is currently on their radar).

Although I didn’t realize it, I was literally preparing for my morning with them as they prepared for theirs. I was an only child, and the Halliwell sisters and their dreams, hopes, highs, and lows felt as personal as my own little elementary ones. It’s no wonder that now, close to 20 years later, in the midst of a global pandemic and social revolution, I find myself turning to those precious TNT reruns every morning.

Charmed, if you were not lucky enough to fall into it as an elementary school kid like me, was a supernatural drama that aired on the now-defunct network The WB from 1998 to 2006. The WB specialized in niche, often teen-oriented dramas that permeated the zeitgeist in a fascinating way. From Buffy to Dawson’s Creek, The WB owned the late '90s. Charmed was a sort of middle child in their impressive lineup in more ways than one. Premiering a year after Buffy and a few before the whimsical favorite Gilmore Girls, its tone lies somewhere between those two hit shows. Set in San Francisco, Charmed follows the Halliwell sisters (Prue, Piper, Phoebe, and eventually Paige) as they juggle being “good witches” and single women on the brink of the 21st century.

The core of the show, as producer E. Duke Vincent explained in the show’s 2004 companion book, The Book of Three, is about “sisters who just happen to be witches," and that distinction is what has given the series such a long life. It has a little something for everyone: the teen-drama creature comforts of career highs, boyfriend drama, and magical home births, as well as darker bits, including evil warlock fiancés, a demon who is the source of all evil, and invisible gremlins (they clearly took the monster-of-the-week approach in those early seasons).

So at 7 years old, after getting my daily dose of magic, I would rush to school, eager to talk about Charmed with any of my friends. But unfortunately for me, virtually no one watched.  Why would they? By 2003, Charmed was in its sixth season on The WB, and it certainly wasn't geared toward elementary school kids in Connecticut. Still, despite my disappointment in the ignorance of my classmates, I never gave up on Charmed. If anything, my love for it grew even more, like it was my own little secret. In all of my imaginings, in playing with toys and my friends, I would always think of Charmed. If Piper’s magical power was to freeze people and objects with a burst of her hands, I would simply modify the recess game of freeze tag to accommodate for that. As I explained to my confused friends, it was more fun that way! 

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Once I got to college years later, I met a (now best) friend, and one of our first connections was stumbling across our mutual love of Charmed. When you find another Charmed fan, it’s kismet, like finding a long-lost sibling from your mother’s affair with a whitelighter (for those not versed in all things Halliwell, yes, this was a ridiculous yet impressively executed plotline used to fill in Shannen Doherty’s dramatic exit after Season 3). Hanging out in my dorm with my new friend, I casually referenced Charmed, which up until then was like reciting spells from the Book of Shadows into a void. When my friend heard this, she perked up and immediately asked the most exciting question for a Charmed fan to hear: “Wait, you watch Charmed?”

Like any fandom, there are a vast amount of levels to being a Charmed fan. There’s the casual viewer, who is familiar with the actresses, knows that it is about witches, and might realize there was a lot of drama on the set. And there’s the devoted Charmed fan, who is able to cite episode names, state a definitive case for who was really right for Phoebe (Look we all love Cole but it was not a healthy nor sustainable relationship, folks!), and can recite spells like remembering an old song (“the power of three will set us free”). I was relieved to find that my best friend was also a devoted fan, and to this day will spend hours chatting on the phone ranking seasons and episodes of our favorite show.

Beyond those levels, there are now even more types of Charmed fans. Thanks to Netflix, an entire new generation has now watched and fallen in love with the show. Although any true fan will tell you never to watch it on Netflix (the theme song and underscoring have been criminally replaced!), in 2015 Charmed was listed as the second-most-watched show on the entire streaming service. This re-peak in interest led to the current reboot (which the fans also have been very vocal about). For the Millennial, you watched on The WB as it aired or watched reruns on TNT. But for Gen Z, you probably stumbled across the show on Netflix, the retro styles cool again, shitty special effects now campy, the storylines still universal and powerful as ever.

Now it’s 2020, and I find myself at 25 faced with inheriting a country not quite living up to what I was promised (was it ever?) and am faced with intense uncertainty greeting me on my iPhone every day. In the height of it all, I find myself waking up a bit earlier, around 7:40, with just enough time to make my coffee, turn on my TV and catch the tail end and beginning of episodes of Charmed on TNT. Of course, I know everything that is going to happen. I find myself reciting lines with (accurate) inflection, and singing along to ‘90s bands that made guest appearances at Piper’s nightclub, cheekily named P3 (Barenaked Ladies, I am looking at you). I’m still invested, and rewatching this series gives my mind time to rest on something familiar, relying on stories that have been told to me for decades now to see my way through the present. 

Yes, we are in the middle of a social revolution, but to be vigilant and effective, you still need downtime, and that’s exactly what I give myself. Time to take myself back to the simpler times of my early school mornings, when my greatest worry was whether Piper and Leo would make it as a couple (the will-they/won’t-they of it all really grabs you in). Revisiting the series, I’ve realized that so much of who I am stems from what I learned from the show. The emphasis on family, on confronting one’s destiny, and an unabashed belief in true love are all aspects I find in myself, even if I’ve forgotten some of them along the way.

And so I take a moment to turn my brain off and head over to that red Victorian on 1329 Prescott Street to start my day, and I implore you to do the same. It doesn’t have to be Charmed, just find that thing. You know the one. The thing that takes you back, that always gives you comfort no matter how many times you’ve turned to it, even if just for an hour a day. For me, I get to bicker, date, and save the world with my sisters over my morning cup of coffee. After all this time, the power of three still sets me free.

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