By Kate Brayden
Welcome to Riverdale’s neighbouring Greendale, where “it always feels like Halloween.”
The new Netflix reboot based on the Archie Comics original has already received hugely positive reviews, and now it's our turn to investigate.
From the opening theme with it's rich, horror-soaked animation paired with eerie music, Sabrina adopts the alluring fantasy of the supernatural and brings it into 2018.
Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men fame steps into the role of a sweet-looking girl with a wicked secret. We’re hooked already, tbh.
The modern-day teen drama is perfect for the time. Sabrina Spellman is a seriously empowered, political gal who we can easily see protesting on the streets looking glam AF, with Harvey on her arm.
On her 16th birthday, Sabrina will have to choose “between two worlds: the witch world of her family and the human world of her friends.”
The main gal herself is ordered to choose between the mortal world and the world of Satan, but it is only a deceitful imposter of a choice, in reality she has no control over what is going on around her.
Forces around her are trying to pull her a million ways, and the secret is simmering throughout the opening episodes in regards to why exactly she is being lied to about her heritage.
Her ‘Dark Baptism’ (what even?) is the night where her life-changing decision must be made, and it’s quite a scene.
Sabrina, whose father was a powerful Satanic priest (the Salem equivalent of your dad being on the Supreme Court) and whose mother was a mortal, is expected to pledge allegiance to the Dark Lord, Lucifer himself, and renounce her human ties.
In return, she gets unfathomable power—but only in return for total and unquestionable loyalty.
Naturally, Sabrina doesn’t want to leave her friends and boyfriend behind, which is the consequence of choosing to serve the devil. So far, so relatable.
Harvey is adorbs to be fair; Disney Channel doesn’t seem suitable for child actor Ross Lynch in this context. He’s a slightly minor character in the initial few episodes, with the main draw obviously being Sabrina and her struggle surrounding her Sweet Sixteen.
The show paints a far more macabre, historically accurate picture of witchcraft, which has long been associated with sexual deviance and the corruptible power of women.
First of all – I LOVE that she refuses to be bullied into making a choice – women are often cornered into sacrificing parts of who they are, but this gal is having NONE of it.
Her character is also more complex than her initial impression conveys- there are undoubtedly dark parts to her light aura. She is far too casual when discussing hexing her principal, for example. The spider scene which accompanies this hex is traumatic as a total arachnophobe, but I'll forgive them for it. Eventually.
I wasn't expecting to be genuinely spooked by some of the content, but it made it even more enjoyable. Think of it like a dramatic teenage female Harry Potter: an orphan with a colossal weight on her shoulders, an animal sidekick and some MAD sorcery skills.
Plenty of freaky stuff starts happening from the get go: she takes a bite of a malum malus—an evil apple, and has a vision of witches hanging from a tree.
She is told she must sign the Book of the Beast in the woods with her own blood. She gets a blood curse. The list goes on, really. The darkness and absurdity create a kind of gruesome and macabre humour, which grows as the episodes progress.
The audience becomes pretty desensitised to the weirdness, after all we have seen some pretty ridiculous stories from other YA series (Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight etc).
I was part of the generation that watched the 1990's Sabrina until the BITTER END. The bitter end being, of course, her wedding to long-time on and off boyfriend, Harvey.
The show ran from 1996 until 2003, and was far more comedic and slapstick than the current endeavour. Screwball humour, a hilarious witty cat named Salem and a leading lady who was far more relatable than other female characters on TV.
Kiernan Shipka, who plays the protagonist, said, “It’s nothing like the ‘90s sassy, mean Salem at all. That’s its own thing that we’re not going to try to compete with or be in the slightest because you can’t live up to that in any way. This is more of a subtle sort of nod, I would say, to the old show.”
She's dead right, the new show is 100% not trying to imitate any of its predecessors, and this works in its favour. Loyalists of the Melissa Joan Hart edition will be fairly baffled at the lack of humour, and disappointed about Salem the wisecracking kitty being MUTE.
I'll be honest, this devastated me. Salem was hilarious, the original was voiced by Nick Bakay and he's still iconic for his sassiness. The modern day Salem might well speak in future, the show's creator hasn't ruled it out.
The main positive of creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacaso's take on the show is the relevance to modern day and age of Me Too.
At Baxter High School, Sabrina stands up to bullies and founds a women’s intersectional cultural and creative association (WICCA) to provide students with support.
Her BFF Susie is gender non-conforming and suffers for it, and her STUH-NING cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) is pansexual. He is such an aesthetically pleasing man, here's his Instagram for you all to creep on if you don't believe me.
He could win Most Beautiful Mortician of All Time any day, but who can say if this is a hotly contested competition.
As a witch participating in various ceremonies, Sabrina publicly objects to the controlling behaviour of Satan himself. She's braver than us…
She’s of the social media generation, woke AF would be the phrase that immediately comes to mind. She's super savvy, and sniffs out injustices in her own world and in the supernatural.
We love a gal who questions authority. Witches historically have been used to fit the zeitgeist of the time, and the current political climate is part of the reason why the show could be taking off.
The notion of what would happen if women had supernatural power has terrified communities around the world since the 13th century.
The show has already been confirmed for a season two, before season one had even aired.
— Collider (@Collider) October 27, 2018
One down-side of Sabrina for me is the over-the-top theatricality in some parts, but we can’t deny it’s entertainment value.
The orgy scenes, for example, were a bit much considering Sabrina Spellman is sixteen and has an adorable boyfriend, but we get what they were going for.
Maybe they’re trying to embody the wilderness and confusion of adolescence, or maybe they’re just in the mood for some seriously sinister teenage drama. Who can tell?
What no one can deny about the Archie Comics reboots is that teenage angst is taken totally seriously; the adolescent frustrations, anxieties, passions and friendships are all explored and given a platform.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa of Riverdale fame has his roots showing in this context. Riverdale had a plot in season one and has now just completely gone off in bizarre tangents, hopefully Sabrina doesn't end up going down this route.
Melissa Joan Hart herself has given the Netflix effort her stamp of approval.
One thing's for sure: you won’t be bored, and you’ll definitely appreciate the fun she has with her wicked skills.
It's highly-enjoyable television that made me want to join a coven and curse the entire patriarchy. Well, even more so than I did before…
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is currently streaming on Netflix.
Feature image: TVLine