Love It Or Leave It?
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
October 26, 2018
Right before Halloween, Netflix released two shows that fit the mood of the season, The Haunting of Hill House and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Both promised spooks and scares but only one successfully delivered on its promise and in fact, far exceeded those expectations. The winner of the award for “best new genre show”? Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Whereas Haunting of Hill House largely failed to be either compelling or scary, Sabrina is both and top notch dramatic television to boot.
From the mind of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Riverdale) and backed by television heavyweight, Greg Berlanti, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a dark re-imagining of the classic Archie Comics character, Sabrina Spellman. The darker take was previo9usly encapsulated in a comic book run, also written by Aguirre-Sacasa. The character, and her family, were previously portrayed on TV in the popular late 90s sitcom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
The series, which stars Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) as the eponymous witch, follows Sabrina, and her family and friends, as she wrestles with her dual nature of being half witch and half mortal. At its core, Sabrina is a tale about unconditional loyalty to your friends, honoring your family’s legacies and having agency over your own life and choices. And how none of those things comes easy.
The show picks up a few days before Sabrina’s “dark baptism,” a coming of age ritual for young witches and warlocks to be officially initiated into the the Church of Night. Joining the Church of Night and pledging herself to the Dark Lord (not Voldemort, think bigger picture Satan) comes with a price – abandoning the mortal portion of her soul and life. This includes, among other things, leaving her regular human school and regular human friends and breaking up with her mortal boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch ).
Though her aunts, Zelda (Miranda Otto, 24: Legacy) and Hilda (Lucy Davis, Better Things), take it as a fait accompli that she’ll sign “the book” on her 16th birthday (which happens to be October 31, Halloween) – she is the daughter of a former High Priest of the Church after all and she has the Spellman name to honor, Sabrina is less sure. The recurring theme of the witches and warlocks of Greendale treating mortals as being “less than” proves sticky for Sabrina who, being half mortal herself, heavily identifies with that life and feels an enormous pull to protect and defend her mortal friends.
Sabrina’s decision at the moment of her dark baptism propels the show into its backend of episodes as new complications and adventures arise in not only Sabrina’s life but in the lives of her friends and enemies alike. I won’t spoil anything for you here but its quite a ride.
Taking a page from what he did with Riverdale for The CW, Aguirre-Sacasa has crafted a world with familiar characters in a new, and darker, environment. And like Riverdale, Aguirre-Sacasa succeeds with Sabrina not because of the spooky mood and suspenseful horror (of which there is plenty), but because of excellent writing and character development executed with strong acting. Led by the impressive Shipka, the entire cast of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina puts forth strong performances which keep you glued to screen, even when we are working through the B and C plotlines.
Make no mistake, Shipka carries the weight of the show on her shoulders with ease and grace and a maturity that belies her young age but, she is not entirely alone. Shipka is assisted with dynamic and nuanced performances from Otto and Davis. These veteran actresses play her aunties – themselves vastly different witches representing a spectrum of witch culture which has influenced Sabrina her whole life (her parents died (were killed?!?) when she was quite young). Rounding Sabrina’s family is Ambrose (Chance Perdomo ), a Spellman cousin who is under house arrest for crimes committed years before. Ambrose, being closer in age to Sabrina, gives her a magical contemporary to bounce her (often horrible) ideas off of with only a fraction of the judgement that she gets from her aunts.
Playing antagonist to Sabrina and her family is Ms. Wardwell (Michelle Gomez, Doctor Who), a teacher in Sabrina’s mortal school who is possessed by a demon early in the pilot and is working her own agenda for Sabrina and Father Faustus Lockwood (Richard Coyle), the man who succeeded Sabrina’s father, Edward, as High Priest of the Satanic Church after Edward’s death.
There are several teenage friends (at her mortal school) and enemies (at the Academy of Unseen Arts – the witches school she has to attend) at play too, and the overall effect is a large cast which all work well together to create a well rounded and fully immersive town of Greendale. Greendale, itself, ends up playing a significant character in the story as a later season arc involves the town’s bloody history with witches coming back to bite it in the ass.
Season 1 concludes with a satisfying (well, complete – you may not be happy with the choices made such that you’ll call it “satisfying”) resolution to the Season’s plot threads while opening doors to endless stories for Season 2 and beyond. And there will be a Season 2; it was ordered when the show was initially picked up and word is, it’s already filming.
I haven’t focused on it much but the show, separate from its engrossing storytelling, delights in its horror and scares. The show never delves into gruesome territory but it will definitely make your pulse quicken with its frights, caused by special and practical effects, and make you wonder if you really want to watch this show late at night with the lights off.
Love It Or Leave It? I LOVE It! Seriously, if you haven’t watched this show yet, get on it! ASAP. With the amount of quality television out there, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina rises to high on the list of must watch and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re missing out.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s 10 episode, Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix. It was created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and the executive producers are Aguirre-Sacasa, Greg Berlanti, Jon Goldwater, Sarah Schechter, and Lee Toland Krieger. It stars Kiernan Shipka, Ross Lynch, Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, Michelle Gomez, Chance Perdomo, and Richard Coyle.