TV Review: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina


Ashley Chen

Teenage witch Sabrina Spellman returns on the air, enchanting audiences with a new take of blood-curdling adventures.

Most ‘90s kids remember a certain quippy teen-witch accompanied by her sardonic black cat and two zany aunts from the sitcom, “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Sabrina Spellman’s origin dates further back, having first appeared in the Archie comics and a popular ‘70s cartoon that spellbound viewers. This time around, she returns to the screen with a dark, new spin on her occult story. Released on Netflix during the spooky Halloween season, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” readapts the previous lighthearted narrative into a mature, macabre horror, rife with devil worshipping, dark baptisms, demon possessions, and — most frightening of all — high school barbarity.

Far different from the old series’s wacky endeavors, this new show is less optimistic and more solemn as Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) battles a Catch-22 situation, where she is forced to choose between her half-witch and half-human identity. Upon turning 16, all witches and warlocks must partake in a “dark baptism” wherein they sign their body and soul away to the Dark Lord in promise for immortality and a grandiose enhancement of their magic. After the ritual, they will also be whisked away to the Academy of Unseen Arts (essentially a more Satanic Hogwarts) where they will learn magic and permanently pledge their livelihoods to him. Sabrina becomes doubtful of whether she should follow the tradition of the coven or remain in the mortal world where a majority of her friends reside. As her outright rebellion becomes a threat to the cultish Church of Night and even Satan himself, Sabrina simultaneously wrestles with family expectations and the evil forces that desperately want to oppress her. She begins to question the many binaries of her life, such as her dual witch-mortal nature, the path of dark versus light, and its respective meaning of power or free will.

The show isn’t all paranormal and devilish, though, as it also attempts to tackle real issues including belief systems and feminism. Sabrina’s resistance to her ancestry’s creed of devil worship broadly speaks to finding an independent faith instead of blindly following one that others and even close family — like her aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) — try to indoctrinate her into. Not only does the young witch fight against her heritage’s belief system, but she also fights against the patriarchy of her high school, which is teeming with misogynistic jocks and run by a sexist principal. However, there are some campy, tongue-in-cheek moments that overtly push the idea of how toxic this male-dominated society is. These moments aren’t usually seamless; instead, it feels as if they’re patronizing the audience and intentionally teaching them something they already know. Yet, the show delivers its message loud and clear about the importance of autonomy and female empowerment.

As previously mentioned, this Netflix series isn’t as blithe, but it does sustain some degree of dark comedy that leaves a curled lip upon viewers. The ‘90s sitcom, “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” had an iconic form of comic relief: Salem, a former warlock who tried to dictate the world but became imprisoned within a cat’s body. Wry and snarky, Salem was endowed as a fan-favorite character, so people were upset upon learning that this modern version of the beloved feline couldn’t talk. It feels like a missed opportunity, but the show supplants his golden one-liners with other characters’ twisted jokes about death, casual murders, and deviated values. So, there are at least sinisterly humorous moments for audiences nostalgically craving the goofy tones of the prior series.

Sharing the same creator as “Riverdale,” “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” has been said to resemble similarly stylized visuals. The show also has a unique Gothic aesthetic that elicits an eerie atmosphere, as if to pay homage to classic horror, melodramatic films. The witches’ home is creepily antique — stashed with ritzy knick-knacks and festooned with Victorian-esque art, making the audience feel like they’ve been transported centuries back. Despite this, the show also includes heavy ‘60s and ‘80s references to music and culture. With all these layers of juxtaposing historical elements, it’s really ambiguous on which year it is. The setting feels like a timeless and nebulous space, but this only enriches its aura of mystery. The aunts wear some lacy and opulent confection, but Sabrina’s costume stands out as her character dons a splash of crimson to her every attire. Her accented red especially pops out in any misty, grey backdrop, making the cinematography beautifully well-crafted and appealing. Natural backdrops, like the mossy forest, add to the ethereal and spectral ambience of the series’s environment.

Although the reboot completely contrasts its predecessor, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” bewitches viewers with its grisly, sensible tone and visually-stimulating setting. The audience is left transfixed by a supernatural world, one that is beckoning to be discovered with more grim and ominous adventures. With deeper concepts of freedom and power, the show becomes more intriguing as we follow Sabrina Spellman’s bumpy journey into both womanhood and witch-hood.

Grade: B+
Based on: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Archie Comics
Developed By: Roberto Aguirre-Saccassa
Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Ross Lynch, Lucy Davis, Chance Perdomo, Michelle Gomez
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Rated: TV-14

Image courtesy of Netflix