The challenge with pilots is they’ve got such specific remits the writers can’t afford to get creative. Characters and contexts may vary, but the approach seldom does: have the heroes meet or assemble a supporting cast, cram as much information about them as possible, present a self-contained plot that summarises the shows’ larger arc, and end the episode with a vague cliffhanger that likely won’t get resolved until November sweeps or the season finale. It can get monotonous.
The pilot for the new Charlie’s Angels revival comes across as a breath of fresh air, which is not to say the series shows promise beyond that extra bit of cleverness. The gimmick here is to treat the show as if it’s already had a couple of seasons, letting the audience fill in the blanks from stray bits of conversation. For example, this week’s villain, Pajaro (Carlos Bernard), hints at having been the shadowy villain at the heart of many imaginary episodes centered on Gloria (Nadine Velazquez). Of course, we know nothing about her, so the whole thing feels like a big joke at our expense, albeit a funny one.
This year, though, the producers are replacing one of the angels. Presumably, Velazquez didn’t want to renew her fictitious contract, so they killed off her character and brought in Eve (Minka Kelly), cheekily presented as the archetypal best friend from nowhere. It should be noted that Kelly is drop-dead gorgeous and can deliver her lines with more conviction than the rest of the cast combined. I confess I may tune in again just to watch the attractive lady run around and say tough things.
The other angels don’t appeal to me as much. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen them before on She Spies, which, in fairness, parodied the original Charlie’s Angels. Maybe it’s because Annie Ilonzeh and Rachael Taylor, who portray Kate the corrupt cop and Abigail the cat burglar respectively, can’t act. Taylor, in particular, struggles with the role of hotheaded rebel. She also looks spectacularly awkward climbing walls and jumping out windows. Oh, and she can’t throw a punch.
It doesn’t help that the action sequences are shot with the skill of a hamster in an industrial paint shaker. I’ve never been a fan of Paul Greengrass’ shaky-cam technique, but I do recognise the craft involved. You can’t just make small circles with the lens, speed up the film, and expect it to engage the viewers. This really brings down “Angel with a Broken Wing”, which otherwise delivers some interesting flourishes. I like the swipes and split screens. They’re campy but dynamic.
All right, so that takes care of the pilot, but what about the series as a whole? The bad girl trope is somewhat of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, our heroines will beat up men who belittle them on a weekly basis, and nerd girls may find that empowering. Executive producer Drew Barrymore certainly does. On the other, some may read the angels’ association with Charlie (Victor Garber) as gender domestication. After all, the voice bossing them around has as its only discernible trait the fact that it’s male.
Reintroducing the idea that Charlie may be a figurehead or, in this case, a stilted cell phone app, the new Charlie’s Angels tempers the issue by depicting Bosley (Ramón Rodríguez), the possible man behind the curtain, as a hunky twenty-something hacker whom the angels see as puerile but harmless. Of course, he wants to surround himself with beautiful women; of course, he’s going to play out every man’s childhood super-hero fantasy; and, of course, the show’s going to get cancelled before it can catch up to its make-believe run.