No one ever confused the original “Charlie’s Angels” with great television. It was what it was – what Jerry Krupnick, my predecessor on The Star-Ledger’s TV beat, liked to call “supertrash,” a formula show that was entertaining despite its lack of ambition – and never apologized for it. It was an excuse for three terrifically attractive women to run around in tight outfits in service of perfunctory detective stories, and it was a huge hit.
It was also very much of its time (it was considered shocking, for instance, that the Angels were so often clearly bra-less), and modern remakes have had to figure out a new approach to the material. The first “Charlie’s Angels” film, directed by McG and produced by star Drew Barrymore, was a cheeky, self-aware action comedy; it was greeted with reviews that were almost surprised by how good it was.
The new ABC series version – also produced by Barrymore, but mainly run by “Smallville” alums Alfred Gough and Miles Millar – on the other hand, has gone the opposite route, deciding that the key to unlocking “Charlie’s Angels” in 2011 is to take the concept, and the Angels, very, very, deathly seriously.
And it’s a much bigger mess than ’70s critics ever accused the original of being.
In the original, the Angels were cops who left the force due to sexism. In this version, they’re lost souls collected by the mysterious, faceless Charlie (now voiced by Victor Garber, though not in the version I got to see in time for reviewing): dirty cop Kate (Annie Ilonzeh), socialite-turned-thief Abby (Rachael Taylor) and car thief Eve (Minka Kelly). Bosley, who in the original was a dumpy middle-aged guy who mainly seemed confused to be surrounded by a trio of hot, violent babes, here is a chiseled young dude (Ramon Rodriguez) who’s a brilliant hacker and almost as good with his fists as he is with an iPad.
Young Hunky Bosley isn’t especially exciting, but his introduction at least suggests a self-awareness and sense of humor that the rest of the show is so painfully lacking.
We meet the Angels as they’re rescuing a kidnapped teen about to be sold into white slavery. “You don’t look like cops,” she tells her new heroines, to which Abby replies, straight-faced, “We’re not. We’re angels.” Other lines delivered with crushing sincerity include “I never thought my heart could hurt this much!” and “You know why Charlie calls the women who works for him ‘angels’? Because they show up when you least expect it and when you need them most.”
The show is serious to the point of being grim, which seems a waste of both the premise and its three actresses. Minka Kelly may not be the most impressive actress when you take her away from her “Friday Night Lights” support system, but she’s no more wooden than, say, Jaclyn Smith. Here, though, her wardrobe (like that of her co-stars) is either unglamorous or unflattering – it’s as if the wardrobe department accepted a dare to see how much they could dowdy up three very beautiful women – and she spends most of the pilot scowling and struggling to emote. It’s probably not an ideal use of a former Sexiest Woman Alive winner with limited range to ask her to re-enact the Martin Riggs torture scene from the first “Lethal Weapon.”
Taylor (who was Karev’s love interest last season on “Grey’s Anatomy”) comes closest to escaping the various shackles placed on her by the script, the wardrobe, direction, etc., but even she can’t overcome a show that wants you to care so much (dammit!) about the Angels that its sober nature becomes its own form of unintentional comedy.
Is there still a market for this brand, 35 years after the original and a decade after the movie? Maybe, maybe not, but this version isn’t what anyone’s looking for out of either “Charlie’s Angels” or just an hour of television.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org