Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Season 1

Netflix’s dark and twisted reincarnation of 90’s hit casts a nostalgic spell on its now grown-up audience

It’s unlikely that anyone who grew up in the 90s won’t have spent at least some of their youth watching Sabrina The Teenage Witch. The hit show aired from the mid-90s onwards, ran for more than 150 episodes, spawned 3 television movies and made actress Melissa Joan Hart a household name. Funny, colourful, wholesome and with an audience of millions, the much-loved show, which still airs today, has been prime reboot real estate for some time. It was simply a question of who had warts big enough to do it.

Enter Netflix and writer/producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. 

Based on the Archie comic, their new incarnation joins the half-witch/half-mortal Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) a few days shy of her 16th birthday. Like all teenagers, she has been excitedly awaiting this landmark age, but for Sabrina turning 16 means so much more than just a later curfew: It’s the day when she will be baptised into the Dark Lord’s forces and, like her aunts and late father before her, leave the mortal world to attend witch school.

But as her dark baptism draws near and with her mortal friends and boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), going through tough times, Sabrina feels increasingly torn and starts to doubt her life-long plans to leave and join the Dark Lord’s forces. Much to the dismay of her aunts — and the Dark Lord himself! 

As expected, Netflix has spared no expense in bringing the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to the screen. It has even set it within the same universe as its hit show, Riverdale, which has foreshadowed the town of Greendale, featured in Sabrina, as being located on the other side of Riverdale’s own Sweetwater River.

Familiar enough to satisfy the nostalgic cravings of those of us who watched the original TV series in the 90s, this Sabrina’s darker edge also proves enough to satiate the need for newness and appeal to a new audience. Sets and costumes, inspired by a mixture of decades from the 1950s onwards, give a depth of history to the show’s sumptuous look and add a sense of timelessness to the horror genre in which this reimagining sits. 

The talent of the creative team behind the camera is in no doubt. The delicious and distinct colour palette screams of autumn and creates an appropriately ‘Halloweeny’ atmosphere. But what really impresses is the casting. 

Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings) imbues the stern aunt Zelda with strength, raw sensuality and a deep vulnerability that alongside Lucy Davis (The Office, Wonder Woman), who blends her comic genius with great innocence to create the endearing aunt Hilda, makes the relationship between Sabrina’s aunts one of the best things about the show by far. 

Writer/producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s talent for writing engaging characters is clear, and the casting of Michelle Gomez as the deliciously compelling Miss Wardwell/Madam Satan is yet further proof of his producing acumen.

The supremely talented Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men), easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the cast in her portrayal of Sabrina. Self-assured, caring and brave, Shipka’s Sabrina is everything the teenage witch should be. 

Wonderfully constructed in its balance of old and new, there’s not much not to like. Yes, there’s a little unsubtle exposition, some slight fuzziness in the main plot and it’s a tad unwavering in tone but, these things are entirely negligible when it comes to enjoyment. Filled with nostalgia, comedy, horror, pop-culture references, all the fantasy tropes and new twists you could wish for — not to mention a fair amount of feminism, the show has a lot to get excited about.

But what really puts the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina above shows like it, is that it feels like a show made by people who loved both the comics and the original TV series. By people who wanted to give it back to the now grown-up fans that loved and continue to love it so much. And as far as this fan is concerned; consider me bewitched! 

If you haven’t watched the first season yet, do it now. Season 2 drops on UK Netflix on April 5th 2019.

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