tek's rating: ½

Just Add Magic, on Amazon
Cindy Callaghan; facebook; IMDb; TV.com; TV Tango; TV Tropes; Wikia; Wikipedia

Caution: spoilers.

This series is based on a book I haven't read. It's about three tween girls, and that certainly seems to be the target demographic. But I like supernatural stuff like magic, so when I got a chance to watch some Amazon Prime shows, I checked it out. And I liked it enough to keep watching the series, and became more invested in it throughout the course of the first season. It's still something that would probably be more appealing to tweens (particularly girls) than to adults (particularly men), but I don't generally worry about things like that. And I think it's reasonably fun and interesting, and the characters definitely grew on me.

Season One
The series is set in a town called Saffron Falls. The main characters are three best friends named Kelly Quinn (Olivia Sanabia), Darbie O'Brien (Abby Donnelly), and Hannah Parker-Kent (Aubrey Miller). They find a cookbook in Kelly's attic, and it turns out that the recipes are actually spells. (It seems like sometimes a spell affects the person who eats the thing they cook, and sometimes it can affect others when the girls themselves eat what they cooked, which doesn't really make sense to me, but whatevs.) Spells do come with a price, though, which will be somehow related to the effects of the spell itself. There are various episodes where the girls are cooking things to create spells for whatever random problem they're having in that episode, or whatever. But there's also a larger story-arc, at the center of which is Kelly's desire to find some way to break a curse that her grandmother, Becky Quinn, is under. Sometime prior to the start of the series, Becky had just mysteriously lost the ability to speak, and started seeming sort of generally confused, and stuff. Kelly's parents, and her little brother, all naturally assume Becky has some kind of medical condition, though doctors have been unable to figure it out. And it's only after discovering that the cookbook is actually a spellbook that Kelly and her friends realize the truth.

Meanwhile, they also have a friend named Jake Williams, who works at a coffee shop/bakery run by a woman named Ida "Mama P" Perez (Amy Hill). When Ida and Becky were around the same age as the three girls in this show, they themselves were best friends, along with a third girl named Gina Silvers. Back then, Ida, Becky, and Gina were the "protectors" of the cookbook, but eventually their dabbling in magic broke up their friendship. And it apparently had something to do with a boy named Chuck Hankins, who had vanished into thin air, in 1965. (We learn a bit about that in season one, but a lot more in season two.) Anyway... the girls eventually reveal the truth about the cookbook to Jake, who does whatever he can to help them out. But for most of the first season, it's unclear whether Mama P can be trusted or not. Also for most of the season, the girls find Ms. Silvers scary, and assume she's definitely not to be trusted... though I always thought they'd eventually turn out to be wrong about that. In any event, the girls do end up trusting Mama P for awhile, and gladly accept her advice and help (especially since they need various magical spices that only she can provide them with). Oh, and there's a mysterious woman called the Traveler (Mira Furlan), who is like the guardian of the cookbook. She had given it to Ida, Becky, and Gina when they were young, to be its protectors at that time. But Kelly, Darbie, and Hannah are meant to be its protectors in the present. And the book itself is supposedly ancient, or something, so I guess it's belonged to a lot of different people, over the years. (I'm not sure how old exactly the book is, but considering the Traveler looks the same now as she did in the 1960s, I assume she's immortal.)

Season Two
So... I must now spoil things about season one. As I expected, it did turn out that Gina was a good person and Mama P wasn't. Mama P had been under a spell that prevented her from leaving Saffron Falls, but at the end of the season, she cast a spell that broke that spell, so she could leave, but it froze just about everyone else in town. The current protectors of the book cast their own spell to break Mama P's, but it also broke all spells, including the one Becky was under. And the one that had made Chuck disappear in 1965. So this season, he's back, and he becomes the main antagonist. Also, Mama P had gone to Paris, but she ends up coming back to Saffron Falls (because of another spell). And she ends up sticking around and becoming a sort of ally of the three current protectors, along with Becky and Gina. (The girls call the three older women the "OC's," for "Original Cooks," although of course they're not the actual original cooks.) There are some other things going on this season, like Darbie's dad dating a woman named Amy, and Hannah planning to go to a new school called Fox Canyon, and Kelly becoming addicted to magic. And they learn that there's a girl named Rose who is trapped in the cookbook.

Well, the whole Chuck storyline is wrapped up at the end of the first half of the season. But it's kind of odd that, while the first season had 13 episodes, the second season had 26, broken up into two parts. I'm not sure why they didn't just call the second half of season two, "season three." (Especially since the two halves were released a year apart.) But I suppose it doesn't really matter. Anyway... in the first half of season two, we briefly saw a guy named RJ, who knew about magic. When the second half of the season starts, it seems like he'll be the main antagonist. However, it's not long before he forgets that magic even exists. The current protectors eventually learn that he was part of a trio of protectors who had the cookbook after the OCs, but before Kelly, Hannah, and Darbie. The girls decide to call them the "In-betweeners." The second one of them is a chef named Noelle Jasper, who had opened a restaurant called Saphrön (pronounced "safroon") in the first part of the season. But I won't reveal who the third In-betweener is.

Over the course of this half season, anyone who knows about magic gets spelled, one by one, to lose any memories related to it. So the girls have to try to figure out who's behind it, and stop them. Meanwhile, Kelly's mother, Terri, is running for mayor of Saffron Falls. She gets a campaign manager named Jill (Sprague Grayden). And Mama P lets them use her shop as their campaign headquarters, though it turns out she's actually spying on them for Terri's opponent, Adam Lever. Also, Becky starts working at an antiques shop. And Darbie gets involved with a school play, a murder mystery, which ends up being a sort of neat parallel to the mystery the girls are investigating. She also befriends a girl named Piper, who's in the play. And Hannah has a teacher at Fox Canyon named Mr. Morris, who she believes is too hard on her.

And... I don't want to spoil any more plot details. So I'll just say that the current protectors do win in the end, but there's a sort of cliffhanger... which I also don't want to spoil.

Season Three
Well, first I should mention that at the end of last season, the girls were the only ones left who remembered magic. Also, they restored a secret garden full of magical spices. And they had thought that the downside of that would be the book moving on to new Protectors, but it didn't. In the second episode of season 3, they have to deal with a different problem, which they now assume to be the downside of the spell they used last season. (Spoiler: it's not. But they won't learn the real downside until the end of this season, and I'm not going to spoil what it actually is.)

But in the first episode of season 3, the Becky from 1975 uses magic to travel to the present, to see how life turns out for her newborn son, Scott (Kelly's father). She meets the current Protectors, and when she learns that magic had caused a rift between her and her friends in the past, she returns to her own time and changes the timeline. Things get much worse in the present, so the current Protectors go back in time to set things right. While in 1975, the girls learn that Ida (Mama P) had been working on a spell to keep the cookbook forever. So they destroy that recipe before it can be used, and return to the present, where the timeline is back to normal.

Mama P sells her shop to Erin Chua, a manager for a Starbucks-like franchise called Springtown Coffee. And Mama P moves to the Bahamas. Jake continues working at the shop, though he isn't very happy about all the changes, and he's hurt that Mama P left without saying goodbye, or anything. Also, I should mention that Erin has a young daughter named Zoe, who we see occasionally, but she's not particularly important to the plot, at this point. Meanwhile, the Protectors have spent a lot of time harvesting spices from the garden. But one day, they discover that a particular spice group, all the night-blooming varieties, have been stolen. They decide to refer to the unknown thief as the "Night Bandit," and much of the season deals with their efforts to learn who that is, so they can stop whatever plans he or she might have. We also see Erin pay occasional visits to Mama P, each time temporarily restoring her memory of magic, so she can help Erin craft a certain spell. So, it seems that Erin must be the Night Bandit, though it will be a while before the Protectors come to suspect her.

At one point, a spell leads to Piper wanting to end her friendship with Darbie, so the Protectors decide to tell her about magic, about which she becomes quite enthusiastic. And another spell causes trouble for the girls, so they use magic to "wake" Miss Silvers (i.e., restore her memory of magic), to help them un-spell themselves. And eventually they wake Jake, so he can help them, once they come to believe Erin is the Night Bandit. However, they soon learn something about Erin that I don't want to spoil. In fact, I don't really want to spoil anything more about the season. I'll just say there's plenty of drama, but a fairly happy ending. And while it seems like a good place to end the series... it also seems like a good place to start a new direction for the series. So, I have no idea if there'll be any more seasons. I'd really like there to be, but if it doesn't happen, I'll be content with how the series ended.

Season 3, part 2
So... like eight months or so after it seemed like season 3 ended, a single new episode called
New Protectors was released, and once again, rather than calling it a new season, it's still season 3. I need to say that at the end of the first part of season 3, Kelly, Darbie, and Hannah came to the conclusion that it was time for the book to move on to new protectors, and so it vanished... and reappeared in a box that Zoe was packing for her and her mother Erin's move to Bay City (which is apparently far away from Saffron Falls). So it was clear that she would be one of the new protectors. When the second half of the season starts, we learn that Erin is about to marry a man named Nick, who has a son named Leo. Also there's a girl named Ish, who lives in the same apartment building as Nick and Leo (and now Erin and Zoe). After Zoe mails the cookbook back to the previous Protectors, thinking it got in her box by some strange mistake, the girls use a spell to transport themselves to Bay City, to give Zoe some guidance. At first she naturally doesn't believe them about magic being real, but when the weather threatens to ruin her mom's wedding, she takes a chance on cooking a spell... and it works, but the downside could be even worse for the wedding than the problem it fixed. (Which kind of reminds me of every prescription medication commercial ever.) But Zoe finds a counterspell to use, with the help of Leo and Ish, whom Kelly, Darbie, and Hannah quickly realize must be the other two new Protectors. And so, the wedding is saved, and the girls return home, after letting the new Protectors know they can call any time for advice. Oh, and it does seem the book chose the new Protectors well, because Leo is already a good cook (since his father owns a restaurant), and Ish has her own greenhouse on the roof of the apartment building, where she can grow magic spices. Meanwhile, a new mystery is being set up that once again involves Chuck, back in 1875.

In January 2020, there was a spin-off series called Just Add Magic: Mystery City.

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