Hollywood has entered the golden age of remakes, reboots and sequels. One could say that this fascination with the past is due to a collective longing for normalcy in our tumultuous political and social climate. Others would say that this trend is simply uncreative and stale, which accurately describes at least half of these films and series. However, one of the few revivals that manages to capture both the allure of previous iterations, as well as embrace new twists and turns, is Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.”
Much like its sister show, “Riverdale,” Sabrina Spellman and friends were revived by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the chief creative officer of Archie Comics. Both the original Archie and Sabrina the Teenage Witch comic books fall under the umbrella of Archie Comics, causing for both “Riverdale” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” to exist in the same canonical universe, with the occasional off-hand reference to one another.
Despite the former’s success, its witchy counterpart has not seemed to quite achieve the same level of pop culture recognition it deserves. When comparing the two, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is generally more cohesive in both its world-building and its character arcs. Additionally, the series attempts to make its social commentary have more impact by making it a centerpiece rather than a side note.
With equally iconic characters and dark and twisty elements, one would think that these shows would be considered on the same level of popularity as “Riverdale.” When looking at “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” as a whole, Sabrina and her friends surpass all expectations and create a viewer experience that is not only immersive, but transformative.
When asked about a teenage half-witch named Sabrina, most people’s minds probably wander to the late ’90s sitcom, “Sabina the Teenage Witch.” The series, starring Melissa Joan Hart, was extremely popular with a total of seven seasons, with the first four seasons airing on ABC and the last three on The WB.
This version of the comic series concentrated on the light-hearted, daily struggles of a secret witch-in-training in high school. Main plotlines were concerned with her boyfriend Harvey, fitting in with the regular kids and trying not to turn her classmates into pineapples. Plus, she had a sassy talking cat to add on witty commentary — what more could viewers ask for?
The ’90s sitcom elements, such as a live studio audience and a static stage set, provided its own charm and made the show accessible and familiar to a broader audience. By all standards, “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” was a hit show that was archived in the minds of viewers with fondness.
Much like its traditional media counterparts, Netflix is no stranger to reboots, producing audience-pleasing hits like “Fuller House,” “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” and “Queer Eye.” “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” features familiar faces, including Kiernan Shipka of AMC’s hit show “Mad Men” along with Disney Channel veteran and star of “My Friend Dahmer,” Ross Lynch.
The main conflict of the series centers around Sabrina’s struggle to reconcile her mortal half with her witch half. Daughter of a mortal mother and a famous warlock father, Sabrina is forced to decide between the Path of Light and the Path of Night. Eventually, through a series of compromises, Sabrina is able to live her life both as a witch and a mortal, and consequentially, juggle her magical and mortal relationships.
Aesthetically, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” ditches the kitschy pointed hats and brooms and instead opts for a more, well, Satanic vibe. While this iteration is by no means a comedy, particularly chuckle-worthy moments include whenever Zelda declares, “Praise Satan!”
While the witches and warlocks are not necessarily evil, their religion emphasizes selfishness and worships the Dark Lord. This complete inversion of the Catholic Church into the Church of Night is so in depth and clever that it makes the universe even more engaging.
Besides its ghoulish jaunts, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is ambitious in its tackling of contemporary issues, especially those relating to feminism, sexuality and gender fluidity. These plotlines engage Sabrina’s own struggles, in addition to those of other peripheral characters.
For example, a major story arc of Part 2 is Sabrina unraveling Father Blackwood’s plans for a transformation of the old Church of Night into the Church of Judas with a doctrine based on misogyny and the subjugation of women. This is simultaneous to her own personal campaign to be the first female Top Boy, which is the Academy of Unseen Arts’ most prestigious student position.
Back at Baxter High, Sabrina and her friends even co-found a feminist club known as WICCA, or the Women’s Intersectional Cultural and Creative Association. The catalyst for the club’s establishment was their friend Theo’s constant harassment from a group of football players who bullied him for being transgender. While this approach to social commentary may feel slightly abrasive at times, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” receives an A for effort and a B for execution in this category.
Along with the doom and gloom of Sabrina’s involvement with the Church of Night, the series still finds plenty of time for the fun through “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”-esque high school antics. Sabrina and Harvey’s relationship still indulges viewers with cutesy “I love you” exchanges and Zelda and Hilda still play the supportive yet quirky aunts.
A major piece of the original sitcom puzzle that is missing is Salem’s speech, but that is easily overlooked when considering all the other positives “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” has working for it.
While this new, darker version of Sabrina may be shocking to lovers of Hart’s portrayal, the macabre aesthetics and intense plotline further develop the viewers’ experience within the witchy world of Greendale. Netflix has already cleared “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” for third and fourth seasons.
As far as a premiere date for Part 3, Aguirre-Sacasa is unsure. Fans of the teenage witch can expect the latest installment of the series sometime after Halloween. With major star power and acting chops from Shipka, the series is sure to have a long and fruitful run.