Who asked for the following: a half-witch / half-mortal, two witch aunties, a warlock cousin under house arrest, and a non-talking cat? Were people begging for a darker take on the ABC/The WB classic Sabrina the Teenage Witch? The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is not a revival of the Melissa Joan Hart sitcom. Instead it’s based off the 2014 comic of the same name, detailing the darker origins of Sabrina. And it’s to die for, or maybe just worth writing your name in the Book of the Beast to view Part 2 sooner.
As someone who watched Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I tried to set aside expectations while watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It wasn’t difficult, as the Netflix show only shares the character names. The original Sabrina didn’t know she was a witch until her sixteenth birthday. In the 2018 show, Sabrina Spellman, played by Kiernan Shipka, already knows her origins. Sabrina must embrace one of her halves: remain in the mortal world with her friends and boyfriend Harvey Kinkle or have her dark baptism and pledge her devotion to Satan.
That’s where the similarities end. In the new Sabrina, Salem the cat is Sabrina’s familiar. He serves as her companion and protector, and he does not speak at all; he doesn’t say a sassy quip once. In the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the sardonic Salem encourages Sabrina to make poor decisions, often driving the plot of each episode. In the new Sabrina, Salem is a 500-year-old warlock turned into a talking cat because of his plans to take over the world. Cousin Ambrose steps in as the sass replacement, played by the charming Chance Perdomo, and later in the season it’s revealed why.
The new show is much darker than expected, and straight up nightmare-inducing at some points. It’s also infused with social commentary that tactfully addresses topical issues: one of her best friends is a transgender girl, and Sabrina defends her and starts a new club on campus to include her. And yet the show is still funny thanks to Sabrina’s aunties Hilda and Zelda, played by Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto. They provide much needed dark humor without being the butt of the joke.
The show is enticing. Sabrina attends mortal high school and The School of Unseen Arts to study witchcraft. Throughout Part 1 Sabrina is faced with evil forces, all working to push her towards her “fate.” It’s a bingeable plot-driven show that has a fluid, dark, romantic aesthetic throughout.
The show can be improved upon in its writing of Sabrina’s mortal friends. They exist purely to further the plot. They are set up with intriguing mystical backgrounds, but they are barely explored and explained.The series also name drops the neighboring town of Riverdale multiple times — not surprising as the show creator also created the CW hit. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was also intended to air on The CW as a companion series to Riverdale, but eventually was moved to Netflix. People are itching for Netflix to Part 2 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, particularly to see if there’s a Riverdale crossover. A date hasn’t dropped for Part 2, but there will be a Holiday installation coming to Netflix December 14.