Volume Seven, Issue Forty-Three!
“TV Review: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”
People who follow my column know that I’m a big fan of Sabrina The Teenage Witch and her comic The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. So naturally, I was very much looking forward to Netflix’s series based on the Archie Horror series. My expectations were high, possibly even TOO high, but after devouring the series over the past three days, I’m happy to say that The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is not only one of the best debuts of the year, but also something that worked well to revitalize the franchise for a new generation.
Loosely based on the comic of the same name, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina finds Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka), the half-witch half-mortal teenager, dealing with the fact that she will need to sign the Black Book on her sixteenth birthday, which will signal the beginning of her life as a Witch. But to do so, that means that she’ll have to turn her back on the friends she’s made in her town of Greendale, including her boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch). Her attempts to navigate both worlds leads to many complications, and that’s not even counting the times where her supernatural world intersects with her mortal one.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has to walk a very fine line, but amazingly, show runner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa makes the balancing act work. Hell, I’d argue that Chilling Adventures is a better balanced show than Riverdale, which is also overseen by Sacasa. The show is equal parts The Addams Family, The Munsters, and early Tim Burton, with a splash of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and elements of Harry Potter thrown in for good measure. That mix sounds like it would make for a mess of a show, but it ends up taking all of these elements, and, with the foundation of the original comic series, makes something really interesting and engaging, all anchored on the performance by Kiernan Shipka.
After making a name for herself on Mad Men as Sally Draper, Shipka easily steps into the title role. I was actively hoping that Shipka would be cast when the show was first announced, but I never thought she would be this good as Sabrina. Able to go from confident spell-caster to naive teenager with ease, Shipka really does wonders fleshing out the main character, and makes the role her own. She’s funny, charming, and badass when she needs to be, but the mistakes she makes are believable because at the end of the day, she’s sixteen. She’s impulsive, but that leads to her having to learn from her mistakes, and her overall growth over the course of the show is pretty great, and all signs point to Shipka making Sabrina into a cool role model for younger viewers.
Of course, Sabrina isn’t the sole focus of the show, and luckily her supporting cast is just as engaging. Her Aunts Zelda and Hilda, played by Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis, respectively, bring a macabre sense of humor to a lot of the scenes they’re in, and make for a really great odd couple pairing. Her mortal friends Susie (Lachlan Watson) and Ross (Jaz Sinclair) make for a good tie to the human world of Greendale, and the villainous Mary Wardell (Michelle Gomez) is a lot of fun to watch too. But none of them can hold a candle to Chance Perdomo’s Ambrose Spellman, Sabrina’s housebound cousin. Chilling Adventures is his first major work, and by all accounts he’s going to be the breakout star of this series, as he owns every scene he’s in.
As much as I love this first season of Sabrina, it’s not perfect. The opening episodes are a bit overstuffed, setting up Greendale, the cast of characters for both the mortal world and the supernatural, the villain, and the rules of the show, so much so that it feels like the show is going to buckle under it’s own narrative weight. There’s also a weird filming choice with the edges of the screen looking blurred out in some scenes. It’s supposed to make the show look a little otherworldly, but it ends up just making you think something is wrong with your TV. Salem, Sabrina’s cat, is also in the show, but outside of his appearance in the first episode, he doesn’t speak. Instead, he’ll meow and make other sounds towards Sabrina, and she’ll respond as if it’s a conversation. It is a bit of a bummer that he’s not a full on speaking cat like in the comic and the old ABC sitcom. Whether it was a decision the show-runners made to distance themselves from the sitcom or a budgetary issue is unclear, but it’s one of the few missteps that this otherwise great show makes.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was a show that I was probably TOO excited for, but I’m really happy with the end result. This is a show that really could have only played on Netflix, mainly because I don’t think a network would have let them get THIS dark (you’ll hear the phrase “praise Satan” A LOT in the this show), but that darkness is done in such a fun, tongue-in-cheek manner that it ends up being really entertaining. It’s the kind of risks that only a service like Netflix would allow, and it’s never so scary that it would freak out teen viewers that this show would attract. Even if I wasn’t such a big fan of the source material, I’d still count this as one of the best new shows of the year, and I can’t wait to see what season two brings.