The original teenage witch is back. And she's much, much darker.
On Netflix | TV-14 | 1 season, 10 episodes
Genre: Campy Horror/Family Drama
Why I watched: If you follow us on Twitter, you'll know that Tess and I have spent the weekend watching the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina! I'm a big fan of Riverdale, the original series spun from the Archie horror comics. And with the same executive producer and writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, I was sure Sabrina was going to be my cup of tea! So I added it to my Netflix the day that the platform created a series landing page, set a calendar reminder, and wrote it in my planner, like any good witch would. In short: There was zero chance I was not watching this show this weekend!
You might also like: Get on the Riverdale bandwagon already, people. I've finally convinced Grace to watch the series, and she's now just as obsessed as I am! (Ok, maybe an overstatement. I am going as Betty Cooper for Halloween, and Grace is only on Season 1... but we'll get there!) Like Sabrina, Riverdale takes place in a new and darker version of the Archie universe, where serial killers and monsters occupy our favorite characters' days and nights. Fingers crossed for a crossover episode, people!
How did we get so lucky to have a wonderful, perfect witch show just in time for the week of Halloween? I really don't know. I knew I wanted to write about one of Netflix's new horror offerings this week and had been considering drafting something on The Haunting of Hill House, a slow-burn family horror series that people have been losing their minds over. But you know what? Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a better, more original original series. If you've watched a lot of horror films, you'll enjoy the familiar formulas of both. But Sabrina—helmed by Mad Men's Kiernen Shipka as the teen witch—is superb. The series takes genre standards in a postmodern, campy direction, and makes being scared fun again. And that's really what horror should be about, IMHO!
Sabrina Spellman is a half witch/half mortal on the edge of her sixteenth birthday, when she'll have to choose between the mortal world and the world of the dark arts. But while her aunts Zelda and Hilda have raised her in a magical household, getting her ready for her Dark Baptism (scheduled for Halloween, of course), Sabrina's been making friends of her own. And it's these relationships that cause Sabrina to hesitate pledging her soul to the Dark Lord like the rest of her dad's family did. Will she really leave her best gal pals and wholesome boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) behind for Satan? Tough call...
Sabrina's overall vibe is creepy vintage, like if you went back in time to the 1950s but it was haunted and there were cell phones? I like to think of the Archie universe as an alternate reality, split between past and present. From the get go, the wardrobe, set design, and very character-like characters should make it quite clear that this isn't the world we live in. So don't treat it like it is.
Set in the spooky town of Greendale, just across Sweetwater River from Riverdale, Sabrina's sense of place is one of its best features. Baxter High has the regular horrors of high school, from teenage boys to patriarchal principals (with a side of possessed teachers). The Academy of Unseen Arts is like Hogwarts, but if the whole place were Slytherin. Cerberus Books is pitch perfect as an indie comic book shop plus coffee house. The Greendale Mine is a very, very scary place on all kinds of levels. And the Spellman Mortuary—yes, the aunts own a mortuary where they also live—is so deathly that it's practically alive.
All of the pieces of the saccharine Melissa Joan Hart show from the 1990s are there, but this isn't a reboot. It's a rebirth. Sabrina thinks for herself and couldn't care less about fitting in at her high school—besides, she's too busy mastering her conjuring skills so that she can take on the Dark Lord and protect her town. Salem the cat is now the young witch's "familiar," a goblin pledged to protect her. Sabrina's aunts love their niece, but they're duplicitous, dark humored, and probably cannibals. There are new characters, too, including the Academy's magical mean girls The Weird Sisters and Sabrina's cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), a witty necromancer who doles out questionable advice while drinking tea.
The series' first season works hard to develop its staple haunts, perhaps taking more time with the town's geography than with its characters, especially early on. But we have plenty of time left for character development considering Netflix gave Warner Bros. funding for an initial two season run, a deal that lured Sabrina away from The CW network. I'll definitely be watching the second season, and wishing for many more. This series fills a void, offering a complicated heroine a closeup in the age of ensemble-driven series. And served up with a side of the supernatural, really what's not to like?
Happy streaming, witches!