Originally published for Broadly.
“Cold Takes” is a column in which we express our passionate beliefs about insignificant events and Internet discourses at least several months too late.
From 1998 to 2006, the world got to know a trio of sister witches, known as “Charmed Ones”— Piper, Phoebe, and Prue Halliwell (and later their half-sister Paige after Prue’s untimely passing) — the most powerful forces of good of all time. An immediate hit for The WB network, millions flocked to the show —myself included— to watch three single women in their twenties engage in self-exploration and rediscovery of familial bonds while kicking ass and taking names.
To put this in context: Nothing like Charmed had ever existed on television —gorgeous, independent women engulfed in lore with witty one-liners. The hit joined the running list of Aaron Spelling executive produced 90s classics like Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, and 7th Heaven that defined an era of kitschy, but yet provocative, programming.
Using their combined abilities of telekinesis, premonition, and time manipulation with the assistance of their ancestrally inherited spellbook the Book of Shadows, the “Power of Three” spent eight years literally going to hell and back while simultaneously coping with loss, heartbreak, and the nuances of the juxtaposition of good and evil in human existence. It’s a beloved legacy of stories that is now being inherited by a new trio of girls in the reboot that premiered on October 14, with all of the weight of the Halliwell legacy to live up to on their shoulders.
One of the more notable episodes in their arc came in their second season, titled “She’s a Man, Baby, a Man!” in which the sisters combat a succubus; a demon woman that possesses charms to lure men, only to feed on their testosterone using an elastic tongue.
The episode starts with Phoebe being hot and overwhelming horny —no doubt a treat for fans of Alyssa Milano, who played the sexy witch. Turns out Phoebe has had days of sex dreams that always end with her killing the men who appear in them. “I’m so turned on and then… and then I killed him,” Phoebe notes. In trying to understand these intense dreams, Phoebe discovers that they are actually revelatory moments of seeing the succubus at work— luring men to bed then sucking their testosterone and leaving them with “severe cerebral trauma.” Her sister Prue is confronted with this epidemic after Detective Darryl Morris seeks her out to help find what’s harming all these men, who, coincidentally have been using a dating service called “Fine Romance.”
Turns out, the succubus uses the pre-Tinder dating service to lay claim to a series of victims that psychically connected to Phoebe through her dreams —prompting the sisters to take action and attempt to track down and vanquish the succubus. In their efforts to locate the succubus, Prue herself gets turned into a man as a lure —and what follows is a campy, 90s-era look at gender roles in dating.
“I’m wearing clothes from the ex-boyfriend pile, I’m growing facial hair, and I have a penis,” screams Prue.
Hysterically given the moniker “Manny Hanks” with a soul patch and goatee straight out of a 90s sitcom, Prue is armed with all of the tropes of “macho male” behavior. Enhanced with the stimulant of testosterone, “he” is suddenly into trucks, as opposed to ogling men with her sisters. When challenged, Manny’s ego gets the best of him, and he picks a fight and lands himself in jail. In an ironic twist of fate, Prue ends up chatting with the guy she was starting to date (he has no idea she’s now a man) before the magical gender switch and finds out he’s just as confused about heterosexual romance as she is.
As comically regressive as Prue’s male depiction is, “Manny” is not the only representation of manhood on the show via the round-robin dating service; in the course of their investigation, Piper stumbles upon the dating videotape —from the same matchmaking company— of her love interest, Dan. In watching, she uncovers him to be revealed as a more muted counterpart to what Manny presented: reserved, kind, and more down-to-earth where Manny was bellicose —highlighting that, contrary to popular belief, men can actually exhibit more than a limited range of character attributes.
It is that same pushy energy that draws the succubus to Manny —this retrograde association of aggression to masculinity that she seems to want to eradicate. She ultimately fails and is vanquished by the Halliwells, but not without the sisters gaining their insights into the varied expressions of masculinity along the way in the midst of them trying to resolve romantic questions of their own. Oh, and the reward for the audience keeping up with this crazy plot, is a performance from The Cranberries at the end of the episode.
Luckily, in 2018 we now understand that testosterone doesn’t inherently come with a side of chauvinism —and thankfully we have evolved well past the soul patch trend. However, where the show was a bit myopic in its understanding of gender mapping and aesthetic styles, it did attempt to explore the range of masculinity and expectations in dating, while continuously managing to create witchy storylines in campy entertaining ways. In essence, the Power of Three will always set us free and we are so thankful the 90s brought this gem of a show.