Three Women Against Villains: How Charlie's Angels Became Iconic

When it comes to spy movies, James Bond is usually the first to come to mind. And in women’s spy movies, there are no heroines more iconic than Charlie’s Angels. Brave and charming super agents captured the attention of the audience back in the distant 70s. Let’s talk about how they did it.

How Charlie’s Angels Came to Be

The history of Charlie’s Angels began with the series, which aired on the American television channel ABC from 1976 to 1981. At the time, ABC’s crime series starring male detectives was a hit. And producers Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling conceived a similar show with women.

The first confirmed actress was Kate Jackson. She starred in the TV series The Recruits, which also aired on ABC and was produced by Goldberg and Spelling. Jackson was very fond of the audience, and the producers decided that the new project could perfectly promote her on American television.

The show’s working title was Street Cats. According to Goldberg’s idea, the story was supposed to be something between The Avengers and the Honey West series about a female detective. The heroines had to differ not only in characters, but also in hair color: blonde, brunette and redhead. The title of the show did not sit well with Kate Jackson. It was she who came up with the idea to replace the word “cats” with “angels” when she saw the image of a cherub in Spelling’s office. She also suggested that the trio be secret agents.

Thus, the story about Kelly Garrett, Sabrina Duncan and Jill Munro, familiar to the audience, was gradually born. They are police academy graduates who work for a private detective agency. Their boss is the enigmatic Charles Townsend. He never shows his face and communicates with girls only on the phone. Each episode is a separate story about the next mission.

When Goldberg and Spelling brought the idea to ABC, the channel’s executives didn’t like it at all. But money had already been invested in the project, so the pilot episode was aired without really counting on anything. To the management’s surprise, the ratings were incredible. A week later, the episode was even shown again to make sure. Success repeated. As a result, the series “Charlie’s Angels” lasted five seasons and became one of the cult projects of American television in the late 70s.

Strong but stereotypical heroines

1976 – The heyday of the Second Wave feminist movement. It seemed that “Charlie’s Angels” fits perfectly into the new realities. For the first time in the history of TV soap, there are three women in the lead roles at once. Independent, strong and courageous. Moreover, the girls not only exposed another villain, but also supported each other and took care of their friends. Jacqueline Smith, who played Kelly Garrett, even said that Charlie’s Angels was primarily about female friendship. The heroines embodied sisterhood and mutual assistance.

However, the series was criticized by feminists. First of all, for the objectification of the heroines. Their outfits were often sexually suggestive: they didn’t wear bras and appeared in swimsuits in almost every episode. The series gave rise to the phenomenon of Jiggle TV – shows that emphasize the sexual attractiveness of the heroines. This explained the special popularity of the heroine Jill Munro, performed by Farrah Fawcett. A tall, tanned blonde with an attractive figure has become a real star. And her promotional photos in a red swimsuit were sold in large numbers.

In addition to objectification, they noted the stereotype of the heroines. Each “angel” had its own label: smart, athletic and streetwise (“knowing how to stand up for herself”). In the eyes of the fem-community, the “innovative” project lost out to another popular girl-power series of the time, Mary Tyler Moore. It was a comedy about a lonely woman in her thirties who worked at a TV station.

Feminist and critic Molly Haskell said that 1976’s Angels teetered on the edge between mocking sexism and a light version of feminism. Being a representative of the Second Wave of feminism, Molly, of course, wanted to see more women in films. But when Charlie’s Angels came out, she didn’t know whether to cry or laugh.

However, we have to admit that the long-running show about three strong women in the late 70s is already good. However, change does not happen overnight. The scholar Ilana Levine considered the 1976 Charlie’s Angels a bridge between “old” and “new” values.

Attempts to “resurrect” the “Angels”

By 1981, the project began to lose popularity. The audience especially loved the heroine Jill Munroe. Women copied her hair and style, men admired her attractiveness. But Farrah Fawcett left after the first season, which didn’t do the series any good.

The turnover in the “Angels” for the five years of its existence was terrible. The main roles were played by six different actresses. And each new audience was cooler than the previous one. The final season didn’t even make it into the top 30 in the Nielsen rankings (the level of popularity among the audience), while the first season at one time ranked fifth. The series had to end. They tried to restart the show, first in 1988, and then in 1989. But unsuccessfully.

By the way, the producers even tried to make a male version of the Angels. It was back in the late 70s, in the wake of the popularity of the original series. The spin-off was called Tony’s Boys. The male agents worked under the direction of an unknown woman. They even appeared in an episode of Angels. They were supposed to be presented, and then they planned to develop this branch in a new project. But he never saw the light.

The emergence of new “Angels”

“Angels” of zero

Again, “Charlie’s Angels” was remembered in 2000, when the full-length film of the same name was released. It was both a remake and a continuation of the original story. The cast is truly stellar. The Angels were played by Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu. Charlie’s assistant was played by Bill Murray. The film also features Matt LeBlanc, the star of Friends.

The film garnered mixed reviews from both critics and audiences. The plot did not shine with originality, but it was praised for its light atmosphere. The film did not pretend to be a serious movie, but rather sought to entertain the viewer.

Revolutionary for that time was the decision to take on one of the main roles a woman of color – an American of Taiwanese origin Lucy Liu. True, looking back, many critics noted that the appearance of the heroine became the reason for the “comic” scenes built on stereotypes about Asians.

Like their predecessors, the characters Barrymore, Diaz and Liu continued to wear sexy tight suits. Author Jessica Wong noted that 2000’s Charlie’s Angels was still a film made by men, for men. Explicit outfits that do nothing to help catch criminals are a typical example of male gaze in movies. And while some critics praised the film and admired the beauty of the heroines, others considered them stupid and useless.

“Angels” 2011

In 2011, ABC decided to release a remake of the original series. The script for it was written by the authors of Smallville Secrets. They tried to make the show darker and the heroines deeper and more modern.

But the audience did not appreciate the attempt. The 4.30 rating on IMDb speaks for itself. And critics did not like the new approach to history. Darkness and drama have become a minus for the show. After all, the Angels were largely loved for their light, playful approach to the theme of a spy thriller. As a result, the project was closed due to low ratings after four episodes.

Angels 2019

When the news of a new Charlie’s Angels reboot broke, many had high hopes for it. Directed, written and produced by Elizabeth Banks. Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska were cast in the lead roles. The iconic trio became ethnically diverse. And the invisible boss of the “angels” was a certain Bosley performed by Banks herself. By design, 2019’s Angels was a continuation of both the original series and the 2000s films.

Despite great ambitions, the film flopped at the box office and received a mixed response from critics. Directing Banks was praised, but someone called the plot too abstruse, and someone, on the contrary , was stereotyped. Some critics admired the new trio, while others said that it was significantly inferior to the charisma of its predecessors.

The 2019 film failed to replicate the success of the original series. The picture of the zero is now perceived more as a pleasant nostalgic movie, which sometimes you want to rewatch in order to plunge into the atmosphere of that time. But Charlie’s “angels” themselves forever entered the history of cinema.

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