Every morning before elementary school was spent watching reruns of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” I was raised on Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina Spellman, hilarious magical shenanigans and Salem the cat’s wit every morning. So, when it was announced that Netflix would be putting out “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” just in time for Halloween, I was ecstatic, but, slowly, this excitement grew to disappointment.
Based on the Archie Comics character, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” follows Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) as she tries to find a balance between her half-witch, half-mortal life while also fighting evils that threaten all that she knows. The show is also a spin-off of the hit CW television show “Riverdale”– the town of Riverdale is mentioned as neighboring Sabrina’s fictional, and creepy, town of Greendale.
The most likeable quality about the television show is the aesthetic. It’s an interesting blend of 50s, 60s and maybe even a dash of 80s due to Sabrina’s fashion, the setting of the Spellman mortuary and even some of the lingo, such as Sabrina using “groovy.” The overall aesthetic was able to capture an ambiance of an old time horror film unfolding right before a viewer’s eyes. However, at times, it does make a viewer confused as to what era this is supposed to be taking in due to the very ambiguous depiction of time.
The characters themselves are also very unique. Sabrina is 15 so, like a natural 15 year old, she is stubborn and reckless at times, but she’s written in a way that makes her personality feel very forced and unrealistic. This show has a great deal of interesting characters such as Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson), Sabrina’s non-binary best friend, and even the unique portrayal of Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda Spellman (Lucy Davis), Sabrina’s two aunts who contrast drastically from their other media portrayals. However, a lot of times the characters themselves feel forced. Their personality traits and motivations are fascinating, but don’t feel real at times. Maybe it’s because the show ties into “Riverdale”– which has unrealistic expectations for teenagers as well– but it’s also due to poor writing and poor character organization.
Ambrose Spellman (Chance Perdomo), Sabrina’s pansexual witch cousin from England, who is under house arrest, is awesome and probably one of the best characters, but also a complete rip off of what Salem the cat is supposed to be. Of course, the show includes Sabrina’s iconic black cat companion, Salem, but he doesn’t even talk. Without much explanation, the show introduces him as some sort of silent protector. Ambrose makes up for all of that and is one of the only truly interesting characters on the show who has some sort of motivation to get to know the character better.
The show also oversexualizes Sabrina in a light that doesn’t feel very appropriate for a character who is supposed to be 15. There are quite a few cringy scenes, but one is a specific scene where Sabrina gets out of the bathtub and it shows a very detailed outline of her body.
Sabrina as a character though is interesting enough. However, she is very naive. Spoiler alert, but in the very beginning scenes one of Sabrina’s teachers Mary Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) is murdered and possessed by the devil’s handmaiden. Ms. Wardwell, who was extremely uptight and strict, suddenly becomes laid back and grows to be a negative influence on Sabrina despite being described as her mentor. Sabrina does not pick up on any of the obvious hints, such as Wardell’s change in behavior and even style. Especially for someone who is supposedly wise beyond her years.
Speaking of the devil, this show is mainly about a satanic religion. When I first read about the series, I pictured a much darker version of the old sitcom that followed Sabrina and her friends getting involved all sorts of supernatural shenanigans. While that is there, it gets super dark when the plot is suddenly about Sabrina’s family trying to force her to sign a book that will basically sign her soul over to the devil, or the “dark lord.” There is an odd focus on this dark religion and the main plot develops into Sabrina trying to defeat the devil himself– which, personally, I have no idea how will play out.
The very first episode itself didn’t set up much background for what was supposed to happen within this series or give much solid background information about how the witch world works. While you gradually begin to understand the world itself, mentions of the world are tossed about in a way that can make it difficult for a viewer to follow.
Despite its flaws, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” also has a strong presence of determined female characters and a plot that is dramatic and mysterious enough to make a viewer want to know what’s happening next– especially with the multitude of secrets within the Spellman family. Sabrina’s friends are all outspoken women, and most of the members of this witch coven are also women.
“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” takes a dark path as it attempts to convey a more mystical and mysterious version of this usually light hearted character. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it definitely is an interesting binge for the spookiest time of the year. That’s why I’ll give it a 6/10.