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TV Review: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Dark Makeover to Cult Favourite

Zahra Banday, BA English

When the news broke that “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” was to be rebooted by Netflix, die-hard fans felt a sense of trepidation. What was to become of these beloved characters? Especially since the producers taking on the project were the brains behind the endlessly frustrating “Riverdale”. It is safe to say that showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s portrayal of Sabrina Spellman’s world is nothing like we remember. This is deliberately not your childhood Sabrina, so purists look away.

This time the story is based on the darker Archie Comic of the same name, and depicts the backdrop of Greendale as a town that Sabrina remarks, “always feels like Halloween”. It follows Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka), half-witch, half-mortal, on the lead up to her dark baptism, a.k.a her 16th Birthday, a satanic ceremony that will make her relinquish her mortal side and become a full witch. Sabrina struggles with finding her identity as her relationship with her mortal side and witch side come into conflict. Unlike its predecessor, there is a very real capacity for evil in this new dark and violent world. Sinister, demonic threats strive to force Sabrina to relinquish her dual nature, but throughout she is depicted as fierce, outspoken and far from the somewhat passive first incarnation. She rallies around her friends and family, even creating a safe society for women at her mortal high school when her friend was brutally bullied for being non-binary. This version of Sabrina is very much reflective of the now: she is confronted with issues that are now receiving more attention on screen such as the stigma surrounding mental health, explaining disabilities and the exploitation of women. Sabrina, in her wake, fights the Devil metaphorically and literally, as well as the patriarchy. Sacasa may be tapping into the current idea of young women who fight back against the systems of oppression put upon them, themes which are also echoed in the upcoming “Charmed” reboot that features three women of colour in the leading roles. When these women use their powers, they use them to fight back, a strength perhaps drawn from the prominent women’s movements happening now such as the #MeToo movement or Time’s Up.

“Sabrina, in her wake, fights the Devil metaphorically and literally, as well as the patriarchy.”

Although refreshing to see these themes, the show is not without its faults. Sabrina’s domineering and more powerful Aunt Zelda reigns over her meeker, gentler sister Aunt Hilda. In context, they represent each of Sabrina’s halves, the light mortal side and the dark witch side. Yet, original fans will reminisce the warm and fuzzy relationship held by the previous counterparts and miss the adorable geekiness of Zelda and the hilarity of Hilda, who has birthed many a meme with her dry, relatable observations. Furthermore, the once innocent Archie Comics have reworked themselves for an older audience with their new themes of sex, violence and horror completely ignoring the younger market who were watchers of the first show. Without the same audience or target market they can distance themselves more from the fun, light-hearted, young show and create a wholly new one.

Regardless, this is the Sabrina of today and with the series greenlit for another season, hopefully they can expand the characters and create new cult favourites. When viewing the show, there needs to be a line drawn. Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina and Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina come from different times and different worlds. If nothing else, the lack of hair clips, chokers and chunky flip flops clearly indicate that time has truly moved on, and us along with it.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

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