Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Reincarnation of Charlie's Angels

Thirty–five years ago tonight, the original Charlie's Angels began its first season on American television.

And tonight at 7 (Central), the reincarnation of that series will make its television debut. The timing of the premiere of this remake is hardly coincidental.

I won't be able to watch it — I teach a class at the community college on Tuesday and Thursday nights — but I will be interested in hearing what others have to say about it.

The original series, as I recall, was often ridiculed by critics for lacking substance. It was held out as an example of "Jiggle TV" because the "angels" usually wore skimpy or provocative clothes while carrying out their undercover investigations. (I have heard it said that creator Aaron Spelling wanted a bikini in every scene.)

That was what attracted viewers, critics complained — sex appeal, not clever stories or brilliant acting.

To be honest, I saw nothing wrong with that. I was a teenage boy when Charlie's Angels made its debut, and I watched it, as did my friends, for the same reason that teenage boys probably will today. We were curious about sex.

Savvy marketers know there is money to be made peddling fantasies. The angels of the '70s sure did inspire their share of fantasies (and, to be fair, so did girls in comedies like Three's Company), and the stars knew it.

"When the show was #3, I figured it was our acting," Farrah Fawcett said. "When it got to be #1, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra."

Of course, teenage boys in the 1970s had Farrah's iconic poster to inspire their fantasies when the show wasn't on. Today, I suppose, teenage boys will simply go to the internet to find pictures of their favorite 21st century angels. No doubt they will find many — legitimate and otherwise.

Well, that's what motivates teenage boys. I'm well past that stage in my life, and I'd like to hear the opinions of the veterans of the original series, but they've been disappearing in recent years.

Fawcett is gone now, of course. Her fellow angels, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, are still around — as are Cheryl Ladd (who replaced Fawcett), Shelley Hack (who replaced Jackson) and Tanya Roberts (who replaced Hack) — but the men of the series, John Forsythe (who provided Charlie's disembodied voice) and David Doyle (who played Bosley, Charlie's middle man), are deceased.

So, while it will be possible (in theory, at least) to get feedback from some of the original stars, I suspect, though, that the series remake will be a back to the future kind of experience for TV viewers who remember the original.

Sarah Bull of The Daily Mail wrote back in May — after previewing the program — that its objective appears to be "to live up to the legacy of the original TV series and film remakes."

Interestingly, though, Bull mentioned by name the stars of the movie that was inspired by the series — but not the stars of the original TV series, without whom the movie and the remake that airs tonight would not be possible.

The movies were pretty successful. I presume the series will be, too. But will it be successful because, like the original, it appeals to Americans' obsession with sex? Will it be successful because the writing is terrific and the acting is great?

Or will it be successful because of a combination of the above?