Based on the hit Archie Horror comic series Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Riverdale, Afterlife with Archie, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina dropped it’s 10-episode Part One on Friday, October 26. This darker retelling of everyone’s favorite teenage witch is an interesting take on the world of a character that had been prior to this series, light and carefree, uninterested in modern takes. While the horror is definitely there, the show does retain much of its own kind of humor without terror or jump scares, making for very enjoyable viewing.
While the comic book is set definitively in the era of the character’s original inception in the sixties, the show has a more ambiguous take on its temporal setting, long enough ago to still have house lines and no computers to speak of, but without much of the problematic features that plague an unvarnished look at the American past. Those elements that remain are exhibited by side characters you aren’t supposed to care about, while the main characters are widely diverse.
The show is, of course, about the eponymous Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka), a half-witch half-human who is a few days out from her sixteen birthday, which is, of course on Halloween. On that date, she is to take her dark baptism, signing her namein the Book of the Beast, taking her place in her coven, The Church of Night, swearing her soul and service to the Dark Lord Satan and coming into her full powers, leaving life as a mortal human behind. But she loves Baxter High School in Greendale, which is near the famous Riverdale, her boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch), and her best friends Ros (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie (Lachlan Watson). Pressured by her Aunts Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis), warlock cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), and the coven’s High Priest Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle) to sign, Part One is primarily about Sabrina finding her place in the two worlds she coexists in, that of the mortal humans and witches, and what, given her abilities, she is willing to do to protect those she cares about.
One of my favorite things about the series thus far is that it doesn’t shy away from the fact that Sabrina is barely sixteen years old, the final episode of Part One taking place only a few weeks after her Halloween sweet sixteen. She doesn’t know things, both in about how to interact with the world and about how to think about her actions before doing them, but thinks she does. She knows even less about the ins and outs of magic, not having formal training before her birthday and only splitting time between her human high school and the witch Academy of the Unseen Arts. She makes choices that she thinks she can weasel her way out of the consequences of, to disastrous effect and stands up to systems she knows is wrong that others shrug and accept as a fact of life. Add into the mix that she is manipulated by a demoness that had taken the form of her teacher Mrs. Wardell, wonderfully performed by Michelle Gomez formerly of Doctor Who fame. While Sabrina is rather mature, the story never forgets to remind us that she is merely a teenager in a game otherwise of slow aging adults and sometimes literally the Prince of Darkness.
But more importantly, this series is full of modern messages and themes, despite it’s setting. Whenever the masculinity rears its ugly head, there is always a character there to question it, to point it out as ugly and how it, ultimately, hinders the success of the offending person’s plans. Watson’s character Susie is a gender non-conforming character, who when they interact with several mystical characters, is referred to as they’re preferred pronoun, much to their relief. Other than the stock idiot football jocks who only exist to be bullies for them, and a monster playing on their worst fears, everyone else in the story just accepts Susie as they are, without ever bringing their gender identity up. Same goes for the British Spellman cousin Ambrose, who just is accepted in this pre-computer and cordless phone era America as gay.
In the current climate, a show where you get to see a modern feminist character use their rage to effect change and protect people is more than just welcome, it’s needed. That a horror reboot of a beloved comedy series from a streaming service is that needed show is rather surprising, but one shouldn’t look gift horses in the mouth. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is worth watching and is currently streaming on Netflix.
David Castro is a Puerto Rican writer from New York City. He has worked on the upcoming Undead supplement for Chill Third Edition and is working on launching a Patreon. You can find him on Twitter (@theinkedknight), on Tumblr (thedevilsyouknew), on Facebook (facebook.com/inkstainedstudios), and at davidrcastro.com