Thursday, September 25, 2003

I've been watching Charmed reruns in the past few months. It's not on as much as Law & Order, but it's on often enough that I've sampled all the seasons, those with Shannen Doherty (ugh) and then those with her replacement, Rose McGowan (yay!). Alyssa Milano has been there the whole run, and she's OK -- she generally plays a hassled but kick-ass young career woman. Her character, Phoebe, gets to be childish at times, outlandish at times, independent at times, and then finish off an episode with leaping karate kicks to incapacitate a demon so they can then vanquish him (well, almost always the evil guy is "him"). Cool. I like her even if her fashion taste seems a bit questionable at times.

Holly Marie Combs has also been there the whole life of the show: initially as the middle witch sister, then when Shannon's character was killed off, as the eldest living witch sister. Her character Piper is "earthy", the one who cooks food and nags her more footloose sisters to wear a sweater. She runs a club with cool music, which is supposed to make her character cool, but since she's often whining about problems at the club, it doesn't in fact make her seem cool and hip. She frets about her boyfriends or her husband, or her pregnancy, or her baby (depending on where you are in the long story arc) with the same whiny tone. In short, she's often a bitch, and she's rarely cute (like Alyssa/Phoebe) or funny (like Rose/Paige). Ekr frequently points out how nagging and demanding she is of her husband and how unsympathetic she is.

So I have two questions after thinking about this show, its writing, and its appeal to me. (1) Why, if Holly Marie Combs is the producer, and her character sometimes gets the "plum" parts in an episode (like being temporarily the nature goddess in last season's finale), is her character allowed to come across as a bitch? Is this an unremediable impression whenever HMC acts? (2) Why do I care about her character anyway? My hypothesis is that it's an endearing character flaw, to women, at least. She frets and worries and cares about the people around her even as she whines and complains and nags and demands. So maybe we understand that worry sometimes brings out the worst nag in all of us. I know it's not just me, although you find people obsessed with just about any major TV female character.

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