The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Spellbinding Success

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Rating: A-

When I heard that the creators of Riverdale were producing a new Netflix show based on the Sabrina comics, I’ll admit I was skeptical. As a vocal Riverdale-Hater (yes, I watch it every week, but only to make fun of it mercilessly, okay!!), I was truly fearful of how The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina would mess with Melissa Joan Hart’s sitcom perfection. Thankfully, I had nothing to fear—Sabrina is an exhilarating, supernatural triumph.

The series is set in the Riverdale-adjacent Greendale, a place that seems to exist in a stylized small-town spook-scape. Sabrina Spellman (played by the shockingly age-appropriate Kiernan Shipka) is introduced to us with her normal high school friends, doing more-or-less normal high school things (that is, if you consider earnestly discussing the deeper meanings of horror movies to be normal high school things). We are quickly shown, however, that Sabrina’s life is not normal. There is a murder/possession within the first ten minutes of the pilot, and we soon learn that the witches of this Sabrina are a far cry from that of the 90s sitcom. They worship Satan! They can come back from the dead! They occasionally practice cannibalism!

The main conflict of the series revolves around half-witch Sabrina’s (understandable) reluctance to sign away her agency to Satan in order to become a full witch. In this world, every witch must sign her name in “The Book of the Beast” on her 16th birthday in order to reach her full power potential. Our girl Sabrina doesn’t want to do this, as it would require her to give up every aspect of her mortal life—including her best friends and boyfriend (more on that later). Because of Sabrina’s reluctance to fully embrace the Witch Life, the series is split between her normal and supernatural lives, and her attempts to fully exist in both. The supernatural half requires her to attend a witch boarding school, which contains a powerful hottie named Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) and the Mean Girls of the witching realm, the Weird Sisters (led by the captivating Tati Gabrielle). In these scenes, we’re given glimpses of what a full-witch life would look like for Sabrina, and, honestly, it’s maybe not great (for her—for us it’s entertaining as heck).

While the otherworldly aspects of this adaptation draw comparisons to to Riverdale’s edgy ridiculousness, in Sabrina, the darkness works. I mean, she’s a literal witch—why shouldn’t she encounter pentagrams and bloodthirsty demons?

The strongest part of the series by far is Sabrina’s relatives, who occupy the Spellman Mortuary and Funeral Home. Aunts Zelda and Hilda are enigmatic and enthralling twists on the lighthearted characters we know from the original show. Zelda (Miranda Otto) is a Satan-praising purist; she’s mainly controlling, occasionally vulnerable, and always compelling. Hilda (Lucy Davis), on the other hand, is eccentric and caring, a fascinating foil to her sister. The dynamic between the two sisters is one of my favorite aspects of the show; the occasionally toxic, complexly intriguing interactions kept my focus fastened to the screen. When you add in Ambrose (the ridiculously charming Chance Perdomo)—Sabrina’s housebound, free-spirited cousin and confidante—I am almost at peace with the fact that the Spellman house’s Salem isn’t the wisecracking icon of the original show. (Almost.)

Sabrina’s family and the magical community in which they are ingrained is so intricate and engrossing, that my main complaint about the series is that I felt that too much screen time was devoted to the normal high school dramas. I genuinely found Harvey (a brunet Ross Lynch) endearing, and Sabrina’s friends Ros (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie (Lachlan Watson) were likeable and interesting characters in their own right, but too much of the show seemed to be asking us to care about what was going on at Baxter High, when there are witches and rituals and a witch boarding school (!!!) that we could be watching instead. As the season progressed, thankfully, the more ordinary storylines of Sabrina’s friends began to merge with the main magical plot, so I was able to forgive the writers for leaving us entrenched in the seemingly-needless high school dramas for the first half of the season.

The thrilling season finale left me with a satisfying feeling of (mostly) closure, and a whole lot of excitement for what season two will bring. I have a lot of confidence that there are many more amazingly atrocious aspects of the witching world we need to explore, and I personally feel a lot of regret that I finished this season so quickly. Luckily, Sabrina has already been renewed for a second season, and according to Kiernan Shipka, the filming has already begun. So hopefully it won’t be too much longer until our favorite half-witch returns to Netflix, ready to embrace her supernatural destiny.

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