Darker reimagining of 90s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch takes on fan favourites with style and substance
There's no shortage of badass female leads on TV at the moment, and this is no accident. With conversations in Hollywood dominated by the events surrounding the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, there seems to be a general consensus that we're in need of more female role models, be they real or fictional. The makers of brooding teen drama Riverdale may or may not have considered this in their darker reboot of 90s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but in this reimagining, the Sabrina of the Archie Comics universe gives off vibes that are more akin to Buffy or the Charmed sisters, with nods to the nightmarish sequences associated with Stranger Things.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, based on the American comic book series published by Archie Horror in 2014, takes the familiar coming-of-age elements of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and distorts them into something much more ominous and sinister, as we follow the origin and adventures of Sabrina Spellman, minus the goofy Bewitched-esque shenanigans.
In this version, Sabrina, played brilliantly by Kiernan Shipka, is a strong-willed and multi-talented 16-year-old, who struggles to reconcile the two parts of her identity – half-witch and half-mortal – while fighting against the forces of evil that threaten the human world, which includes Satan himself. As in the original sitcom, Sabrina's aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) act as her guardians but where the duo's relationship was always light and comical, in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Zelda acts as a minor antagonist, stern in her manner and utterly devoted to serving the Dark Lord as a member of the Church of the Night. Hilda, meanwhile, is the bubbly mother figure to Sabrina, whose thoughtfulness is epitomised by her quirky humour and constant making of tea to diffuse any situation. The pair torment each other but there remains hints of dark comedy, for example, Zelda's repeated killing and burying of Hilda when she's particularly annoyed, knowing that Hilda will eventually resurrect.
Fans of the original sitcom may be disappointed to see Salem, Sabrina's familiar, as a non-talking, real cat but fitting with the darker nature of the series, Salem plays a more mysterious role as Sabrina's shapeshifting protector. But the sassy quips and witty one liners associated with Salem Saberhagen are instead taken on by Sabrina's housebound cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), enigmatic and amusing in his characteristics, easily filling the void left by Salem.
Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), Sabrina's boyfriend and true love, is his innocent and unassuming self and as in the original series, she does everything to prevent him from finding out the truth about her identity. But Harvey is given more significance here, tortured and troubled by the town's seemingly spooky goings-on. Elsewhere, Michelle Gomez is excellent as the series' main antagonist, Mary Wardell, Sabrina's favourite teacher, possessed by the menacing Madam Satan, who, in the comics, has a crucial connection to the Spellman family that has not yet been revealed in the show.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will still give you moments of comic relief, but the dichotomy between Sabrina's mortal and witch identity is far weightier here, offering true moments of horror and macabre developments. Similarities can certainly be seen to Riverdale as far as the gloomy scenery and uncanny, bloodsoaked storylines go, but it doesn't have the same sensuality that radiates from Riverdale. Instead, it feels more twisted, magical and somehow profound in both style and substance.
Episodes watched: One–five of ten.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is available on Netflix from Fri 26 Oct.