Sabrina Spellman was never someone who could put up with fools. The fascinating tale of a witchy teenager was shown as a safe-for-broadcast and wholesome spellcaster in the late 90s and more and was portrayed by Melissa Joan Hart. However, its Netflix iteration has come off as a little bit on the dark side. It is a spooky and playful new take about the witches of Glendale and is dominated by deviance and death, giving the audience a good reason to spend a couple of hours watching this shin new tale. Once you are done with the first season, you would want to watch the second season immediately, which has already been announced.
Yes, it is true that the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina stems from the ham-fisted world of kids stories and this adaptation also showcases some of the cornballery. However, this Netflix version is based on the comic run of 2014 that had the same name and is created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the series showrunner as well as EP of Riverdale. The original Archie Comics iteration is quite similar to the version of the show on ABC. Hence, just like Riverdale, the tone in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a bit darker and fully of strange unknowns.
The stark difference is that CW’s Riverdale has to zig in order to keep within the limits of broadcast television, but Sabrina doesn’t have to worry about concerned parental groups or censors and can zag easily. This means that the show doesn’t need to worry about Aunts Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis) frequently stating ‘hail Satan!’. There is not much difference when it comes to the central players; there is Sabrina portrayed by Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men, who is the titular teenage witch, her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle portrayed by Ross Lynch and her aunts.
This is where the similarities end as everything else about the series is drastically different. Sabrina is only a couple of days from her sixteenth birthday, which would bring about the Dark Baptism. This is quite like a communion, but is for Satan-loving witches. Once this happens, Sabrina would become an acolyte of the Church of the Night and would join the fold of the Dark Lord. This means that she would have to do his bidding and even eat people occasionally. The problem is that Sabrina, who is a half witch (from her dad’s side) and half human, does not wish to give up her human life.
She is doubtful of the claims that her religion is one of freedom. Therefore, it seems quite natural for Satan and his numerous minions to try and convince Sabrina that the right thing to do is walking the Path of Night. It is possible that there might be a Chosen One or a prophecy involved, as is known to happen in such cases. Shipka’s take on Sabrina is very different from what we have seen before and this makes it hard to decide how to respond to it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take long for it to become apparent that this Sabrina is not just some goody-two-shoes.
Instead, this one is imbued with self-assuredness and confidence and this provides the storytelling teeth needed by the series. Once Hart’s treacly Sabrina is removed, it automatically moves the show into a shades-of-grey area due to which the character’s choices as well as those around her become morally nuances and interesting. Nonetheless, Shipka’s performance does lead the audience to wish there could be some humor added to it. As the series already has a number of elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer inherent in it, the humor would be the perfect addition to push the series into the category of an instant classic.
Luckily, the supporting cast is able to make up for her lack of humor in a number of ways. The portrayal of Ms. Wardwell, Sabrina’s teacher at her human school, is done by Michelle Gomez. Like her Doctor Who performances, she sways about this series with a bemused and cool bravado. As she is an adversarial advisor, her work with Sabrina is a bit exposition-y, but Gomez does a fine job with it. Plus, the series is also grounded by Sabrina’s aunts and they might share a bedroom, but have their own distinct personalities.
The show adds some context, magical mystery and human levels through new additions such as Sabrina’s human friends, Susie (Lachlan Watson) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair) as well as her witchy cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), who is under house arrest. They add the passion and plights that help drive the season forward and makes it a fun one. Of course, there are some cheesy exceptions that you will find like episode five’s cheesy character. Regardless, the series is worth a solid binge-watch.
This is mostly because it strengthens in areas where it allows the camp elements to just fly such as at the Academy of Unseen arts or with the local coven. Once you get over the expected Netflix bloat, as the series could easily be a few episodes shorter, there is a lot of things you will appreciate in this version of the Sabrina tales. There is plenty to see and enjoy from an emotional and also visual standpoint because the show has the potential of literally going from hell and back. Also, given where the series is at the end of the first season, there is a good chance it is going to happen frequently.
In a nutshell, the greatest strength of the show lies in its witchy world, which provides the lead with room to mess up and deal with the fantastical consequences Sabrina literally goes up against the Devil and doesn’t shy away from anything that might be considered blasphemous, which adds more fun to it. Subverted and perverted in the most devious manner, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is definitely going to fill the hole in your heart that was left behind by lack of Stranger Things and is undeniably a few shades better than Riverdale.