About a week ago, some of my favorite TV critics started tweeting about their firsts: the shows that incited their love for television. In most other situations, I would’ve jumped in, hoping at least one of them would reply and give me the momentary delusion of being a part of the club.
But this time, I kept my tweets to myself. Because these people had glamorous firsts. They had “Buffy” and “The X-Files” and “NYPD Blue” and “Dawson’s Creek” and “Alias” — all shows I consider to be among the greats for their own reasons, but ones I didn’t discover until late in my TV-lover development.
My first was a little messier. In fact, it was one hot mess of a first. The very first TV show I ever loved was the WB’s supernatural drama, “Charmed.”
The summer before I started seventh grade, my mom hired a girl from our neighborhood named Mallory to watch my sister, Alex, and I during the day. I was 11, Alex was eight, so we didn’t like calling her our babysitter. We thought of her as more of a super-awesome older sister who made the best egg salad sandwiches and told the best stories. Everything Mallory did and said was pretty much instantly deemed the best.
One morning, my sister and I drifted downstairs and found Mallory waiting for us with the television on. We asked her what she was watching.
“You’ve never seen ‘Charmed’?” she asked. “You guys will love this.”
I still remember the episode. It’s the one where the sisters travel 10 years into the future to save Phoebe from being burned at the stake. Alex and I were spellbound.
From then on, we made a daily ritual of watching “Charmed” in the mornings with Mallory. Those were the days when TNT screened the show four times a day — twice in the morning, twice in the afternoon. And the morning installments were on a different timeline from the afternoon ones, which was confusing, especially when mornings were pre-Paige and afternoons were post-Prue. But we religiously watched in this fragmented way for months, even when summer ended and Mallory left.
These were also pre-Tivo days, when it was quite inconvenient to be so dedicated to a television show. Stacks of VHS tapes piled up next to the TV, with episode titles scrawled across labels in my ragged handwriting, along with warnings like “CHARMED: DO NOT TAPE OVER.” Marathons posed a particularly difficult logistical challenge when it came to scheduling tape changes. When a thunderstorm-induced power outage struck right at the end of “A Witch’s Tail: Part 1,” we had to wait a whole year to see chapter two of Phoebe’s bout as a mermaid.
A part of me likes to believe that, deep down, I knew that the show was complete crap, that the burgeoning critic within was wincing at the incontinuity, hilariously overwrought dialogue and transparent acting (though I will defend Holly Marie Combs to my grave).
But I’m fooling myself. I loved that damn show blindly and unconditionally — as first loves tend to go — from the supercharged camp, to the atrocious visual effects, to the smoldering half-demon Cole, to Phoebe’s belly shirts. I plastered my door with pictures of Combs, Alyssa Milano and Shannen Doherty (never, ever Rose McGowan) and experienced online fandom for the first time, joining the WB message boards where I was known as “PiprLorelaiClark” (sic, I know, sic!). I even named my cat Piper and bought a Book of Shadows. My parents really should have seen the early warning signs of my obsessive personality.
Even though I tend to stay quiet about my sordid history with “Charmed,” I still have plenty of residual opinions (Barbas was the best demon, Prue > Paige forever, please don’t ever talk to me about season eight and/or Kaley Cuoco because I’ll become engulfed in rage). By now, I’ve seen every episode four or more times. I can still recite some of the spells. I know it’s a bad show, I promise I do. But it had its moments, and I have a long history of loving anything in which ladies kick serious ass. And aren’t first loves supposed to be kind of damaged?
Before you revoke all of my remaining critic cred, hear me out. “Charmed” might have been a disaster of a show. The time I tried — and failed with grandeur — to convince my friend LaToya that it was better than “Buffy” might be one of my life’s most embarrassing and regretted moments (keep in mind that I’d never actually seen “Buffy” yet). But “Charmed” taught me how to love TV.
Sure, I now watch “Breaking Bad” and “Homeland” and “Louie” and a staggering slew of other shows to which “Charmed,” even on its best day, could never hold a candle. But I also am genuinely upset that I’m behind on “Pretty Little Liars” right now; and I watched every single episode of the “Charlie’s Angels” reboot; and this summer, I marathoned “H2O: Just Add Water,” an Australian program about teen mermaids.
“Charmed” taught me that a show doesn’t have to be a work of art for me to love it. Along with giving me a never-ceasing crush on Julian McMahon and a love for pairing casual, oversized sweaters with leather pants, “Charmed” made my love for TV unpretentious (I’ll admit, I can be a snob at times, but I also take pride in the fact that not many critics love the CW as loudly as I do).
So, thank you, Mallory, for letting Alex and I watch a show that our parents would’ve deemed inappropriate for an 8- and 11-year-old. Without you, my first could have been something far worse … just imagine how my TV tastes might have turned out if you’d been watching “7th Heaven” when we came downstairs that morning.