Teenage half-mortal, half-witch Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) receives a welcome dark update in the new Netflix Original Series, doing justice to the childhood comic turned sinister theme, akin to its sister series Riverdale. “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” a comic that had inspired the popular ‘90s and early 2000s TV show, is presented with a darker tone and twist in “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” the first season premiering on Netflix last Friday.
The premise is perfect for the spooky Halloween season , and still includes beloved characters from the source material. Sabrina is preparing for her upcoming Dark Baptism, coinciding with midnight on her sixteenth birthday – quite fittingly, on Halloween – where she will sign her name over to the Dark Lord and the Church of Night.
Sabrina, whose parents passed away in a terrible “accident” (the suspicious ambiguity of their deaths is later questioned in the series), lives in Greendale with her witch aunts, Hilda (Lucy Davis), Zelda (Miranda Otto) and her cousin, Ambrose (Chance Perdomo). As for the human influences in her life, Sabrina attends school with boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch – yes, that Ross Lynch), best friend Rosalind “Roz” Walker (Jaz Sinclair) and other close friend Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson).
As a daughter of a former High Priest of the Church of Night, she feels an obligation to commit herself to her father’s witch heritage, yet struggles with leaving her friends – and the Path of Light – behind. Sabrina’s struggle with her mortality and desire to assimilate into the coven, without having to sacrifice all aspects of her human life, serves as the emotional crux of the show. The intervention of other evil forces, such as the Weird Sisters, a trio of malicious witches, and Madam Satan, threaten Sabrina and her upcoming Dark Baptism.
The representation in the series, such as Ambrose’s pansexuality and the diverse cast of female characters, are refreshing to see in the reboot, especially a modern fantasy series that would not typically address real-life social problems. Even if the series carries a ‘60s vibe, it emphasizes a modern take on important social issues, and just like Sabrina, the show does not shy away from addressing the problems head on. Their presence is incorporated naturally in the plot, and doesn’t feel forced or used merely as plot devices. The discussion of feminism is tackled immediately in “Chapter One: October Country,” with Sabrina’s initiative to create a club that supports and protects women, for Susie who was harassed for “looking transgendered.” Sabrina also looks to question her initiation into the Church of Night, and her challenge of the old-fashioned traditions of the institution reveal her as a strong-willed character.
Let me also point out that the series frontrunner, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, has now twice cast an old Disney actor in his series, just to stir up the fanbase. First Cole Sprouse, now Ross Lynch – if Aguirre-Sacasa wants to create a new series with any actors from “Good Luck Charlie” or “Wizards of Waverly Place,” my heart would burst from nostalgia.
The show does well by incorporating a “chilling” and spooky vibe that sets it apart from the more light-hearted original series, without feeling too artificial or outrageous, like Riverdale tends to be. This is where “Sabrina” benefits from its source material, as a show about a witch is more suited to a darker twist. The show is appropriately scary at times, with its ominous cinematography and eerie scenes of voodoo scarecrows and goblins turning into a cat. However, the vivid characterization of its cast, its worldbuilding and incorporation of lively music remind the viewer that the titular character is but a teenager. Sabrina’s aunts repeated exclamtions of “Hail Satan” and use of “delicious” to describe human blood are sardonic enough that they fit well into the tone of the show.
Although the plot feels slow and repetitive at times in the tone and stakes, the overall witchy plot is dark and complex enough to keep the viewer enticed. Sabrina’s constant threats and fun rhyming spells kept me on my toes the whole way through. Her desire to be a witch and to use her powers fulfilled my “Stranger Things” void for a fantastical show. The formula for the series isn’t perfect yet, such as with the inconsistent acting at times, but it’s nothing the second season can’t fix in time for our next foray on the Path of Night.
Hollie Lao is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.