Don’t hex yourself or you’ll wreck yourself.
Sabrina Spellman has never been one to suffer fools. The witchy tale of a magical teen — depicted as a wholesome, safe-for-broadcast spellcaster portrayed by Melissa Joan Hart in the late 90s and early aughts — has gotten a decidedly darker update in its Netflix iteration. Death and deviance dominate this playfully spooky new take on the witches of Greendale, giving us a reason to divinate a few hours to watching this glossy new tale. After finishing Season 1, we’re dying to dig into the show’s already-announced Season 2, and flit more fully down the Path of Night.
Sure, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has its roots in the ham-fisted world of children’s stories (the original Archie Comics iteration is more in-line with the ABC version of the show), and some of that cornballery permeates this adaptation, but this version is based on the 2014 comic run of the same name, created by the series showrunner (and Riverdale EP) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. As with Riverdale, the tone here is decidedly dark and full of spooky unknowns. But where Aguirre-Sacasa’s CW show may have to zig to skirt the limits of broadcast television, Sabrina is allowed to fully zag without worrying about the censors or concerned parental groups who may be verklempt over Aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) frequently exclaiming “hail Satan!”
The main players are all the same — Sabrina (Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka), the titular teen witch, her Aunts, and her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) — but pretty much everything else about the series is different. Sabrina is a scant few days out from her Sweet Sixteen and subsequent Dark Baptism (like a communion, but for witches who love Satan), which will bring her into the fold of the Dark Lord as an acolyte in the Church of Night, sworn to do his bidding (and occasionally eat people. Seriously).
Watch the cast test their spell knowledge in our Sabrina Spell-ing Bee below:
But Sabrina, who is half human, half witch (on her father’s side), doesn’t want to give up her human life, dubious of the claims that hers is a religion of freedom. So naturally, Satan and his various minions waste no time trying to convince Sabrina that walking the Path of Night is what’s absolutely right. (And, as is often the case in these sorts of stories, there may be A Prophecy and A Chosen One involved.)
It’s hard to know how to immediately respond to Shipka’s interpretation of Sabrina — it’s a very different take on the character. But it quickly becomes clear that hers is a Sabrina imbued with confidence, self-assuredness, and a not-so-goody-two-shoes vibe that gives the series its storytelling teeth. Removing the treacly aspect of Hart’s Sabrina means the show exists in a much more shades-of-grey arena, making her choices (and the choices of others) all the more interesting and morally nuanced. Though, we will say: we wish Shipka were able to give us a bit more humor in her performance. With so many elements of (and odes to) Buffy the Vampire Slayer baked in already, it would’ve helped push the series that much farther into instant classic territory.
Thankfully, the supporting cast makes up for this in many ways: Michelle Gomez is perfect as Ms. Wardwell, a teacher at Sabrina’s human school (with a twist!), swaying about the series with the sort of cool, bemused bravado we saw in her past Doctor Who performances. As an adversarial advisor to Sabrina, her work can be at times exposition-y, but ultimately works in Gomez’s finely manicured hands. And the aforementioned Davis and Otto really ground the series as Sabrina’s aunts, but not without their own distinct personalities, even though they share a bedroom. (Really. We think it’s weird, too.) New additions like her human friends Roz (Jaz Sinclair), and Susie (Lachlan Watson), and witchy-but-under-house-arrest cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), add additional magical mystery, abilities, context, and human (and warlock!) levels to the series with their plights and passions throughout the first season.
With a few cheesy exceptions (a sleepy character from episode five comes to mind…), the series is a solid binge, strengthening in the places where it really lets the camp elements fly — like with the local coven, or at the Academy of Unseen Arts. Once you get through the “classic” Netflix bloat (the season could easily be three episodes shorter), there’s a lot to appreciate about this version, from both a visual and emotional standpoint. After all, this show can literally go to hell and back. And given where the series lands us at the end of Season 1, we imagine that’s going to happen a lot.