Charlie’s Angels (2011)

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It may seem the height of pointlessness to bother with a review of a series that was axed by its US network just four episodes into its run, but it’s the very speed of its demise that is the major point of interest here. The show had reasonably solid storylines and good production values (its exec producers previously helmed Smallville to a ten-season run) and while never more than average filler occupying an hour of scheduling time, it was certainly a lot better than some of the longer-lasting fare seen on TV such as the execrable CSI: Miami with which it shares its Florida location and much of its hi-gloss visual styling. So why was this so quick to be cancelled?

For one thing, this remake exposes all too clearly just how wafer-thin the original series’ premise was in the first place. It just so happened that the 1976 version came along at precisely the right moment in time: the point where women’s lib finally broke through, but before the sight of pro-active female lead characters in action/adventure roles became commonplace. That window of opportunity lasted no more than three or four years before the show’s unique selling point was lost and the novelty wore off. The series was quickly exposed as otherwise wearing the equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and sure enough the original Charlie’s Angels duly imploded at that point.

One thing that the original series did get right was the casting: its original four leads (Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett and her rapid replacement Cheryl Ladd) were all extremely capable actresses who went on to many distinguished dramatic roles after they left the show; moreover, they managed to project real personalities into their roles and distinguish themselves from one another. This one good thing was also the sole redeeming feature of the otherwise witless, overblown 2000/2003 feature film outings, which also cast sufficiently different, famous and unmistakably charismatic actresses in the lead roles (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu) and then spent enough time in the script to develop their respective characters.

By contrast, that’s exactly what the 2011 version fails to do: the three lead actresses (Minka Kelly, Annie Ilonzeh and Rachael Taylor) are certainly stunning to look at and are capable actresses, but they have startlingly little star presence. They’re not helped by scripts that do little to give their characters any actual character or much to do, and as a result they quickly become little more than glamorous window dressing in their own show: the very antithesis of the spirit of the original 70s series. This becomes very clear even before the halfway point of the eight filmed episodes, when suddenly whole plots are instead structured around the only character with any really interesting backstory development. Whereas in the 70s version David Doyle’s role as the toad-like, asexual factotum was a glorious juxtaposition to the stunning Angels, in the 2011 version the role of Bosley becomes arguably the most beautiful eye candy in the line-up as played by the only actor with genuine movie star credentials, presence and charisma (Ramon Rodriguez having appeared in the The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 remake, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Battle Los Angeles as well as the TV series The Wire.)

When even the writers seem more interested and energised at the thought of making John Bosley, P.I. and dumping the Charlie’s Angels concept as fast as they can, you know the show is in real trouble. Add to that a vocal performance by Victor Garber (so excellent in Titanic and Alias) that confuses “suave and smooth” with “bland and bored” as the voice of the titular Charlie and you know this is deservedly going down with all hands. Garber projects none of the character and playfulness that John Forsythe did in the original and in many ways this sums up the mistakes made by this aborted reboot overall. First choice Robert Wagner might have fared better, but given the rapid cancellation I’m sure Wagner is relieved to be well away from the scene of the crime – his Spidey-sense was clearly tingling.

We certainly don’t disagree that cancellation was the right outcome for this misfire, but so many other series have managed to escape a similarly appropriate demise. And what about the question of “why so fast?” Perhaps more than anything, the fate of 2011’s take on Charlie’s Angels demonstrates that while rising on the coattails of a cherished TV golden memory can be an admittedly effective short-cut to the top, getting it wrong and failing to meet the raised expectations of an audience that is all too aware of their rose-tinted memories being desecrated can be an equally rapid fast-track to oblivion.

Currently all eight filmed episodes are being shown on E4 in the UK on Wednesdays at 8pm. A DVD release is (how can we put this tactfully?) extremely unlikely.

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