6 Reasons Why 'The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina' Is Utterly Spellbinding
Move over, Melissa Joan Hart.
Although I wasn't a huge fan of the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch series starring Melissa Joan Hart back in the '90s, I am indeed a fan of all things witchy. So I knew that when the magical Netflix reimagining was cast (see what I did there?), I'd most likely be into it, although I couldn't have known just how enraptured I'd be. Let's just say, "into it" is an understatement. Not only did I binge-watch the entire first installment of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in two days, I'm currently in the process of watching it all over again for the second time. It's just that good.
Indeed, this version of Sabrina, played by Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men fame, is nothing like her '90s counterpart. The first season of TCAOS starts with the famous teenage witch's birthday, or "Dark Baptism," on Halloween — at which time we quickly realize this is no ordinary baptism. In fact, this seductive and diabolical adaptation takes the Spellmans one step past secret practitioners of witchcraft, and well into full-blown Satanism. And it just gets better — and darker, and more twisted — from there.
This goes without saying, but this article contains spoilers for 'The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,' ahead.
The Show's Many Influences
Plentiful pop culture references and contemporary witticisms abound (tongue-in-cheek and otherwise), which likens TCAOS to a modern Mean Girls for witches, even down to the Burn Book I mean, Book of the Dead. Sabrina even pays homage to her saccharine-sweet forerunner MJH on the first episode, when she enters her home for the first time and turns the radio on with a flick of her finger. And the sleep demon episode? Gloriously reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In addition, the show draws from rampant horror film influences, including Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, Suspiria, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, and more.
The Spellman Dynamic
Sabrina's compelling dynamic with her family, including her cousin Ambrose, who is on house arrest for nearly 75 years for trying to blow up the Vatican (casual), makes for an easy watch. And although the aunties make some pretty cringe-worthy decisions early on, they eventually rally around Sabrina, just as they should.
I especially loved the spooky Halloween-chic set design at the Spellmans' house, down to the shoes arranged on one of the walls — each shoe belonging to a person Aunt Zelda's put a hex on. As long as their shoe is on the wall, they'll remain hexed. The Spellman estate also happens to double as a mortuary. Well, where else would the witches source the occasional human body parts they need to conduct their esoteric spellwork?
Aside from Sabrina's family, the rest of the cast, too, is spot-on, with the deliciously creepy Mrs. Wardwell, aka Madame Satan, stealing just about every scene, crow familiar in tow. Even Sabrina's "mortal friends" are solid additions — although if you're anything like me, you can't help but be a little more enthused about her witchy classmates at the Academy.
After all, Prudence is goals, like a modern day witch from The Craft carrying herself with the elegant swagger of a reincarnated Eartha Kitt — and if you disagree with me here, you're wrong. Actress Tati Gabrielle herself mentioned that she channeled the late, great singer and actress in her portrayal of Prudence on the show.
Again, the opportunity to pay homage to the Ghosts of Magical Influences Past does not go amiss by the show-runners. After all, the famous chant from The Craft, "Light as a feather, stiff as a board!" is directly referenced in Episode 4, when the ghosts of children killed by harrowing on school grounds chant it as part of a levitation spell.
THE SUBVERSION OF TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS IDEALS
The subversion of traditional religious dogma may be a little on-the-nose (okay, completely on-the-nose, much like the show's soundtrack), but that doesn't stop it from being laugh-out-loud funny at times. The amount of times Zelda, the High Priest, Prudence, and other characters cry out, with the fervor of a cultish religious zealot — which is, after all, essentially what they are — "Hail Satan!" is all too ironic, especially when you consider a little thing like thousands of years of the opposite sentiment, historically speaking. References to the "mortal" (read: Christian) belief in a "False God" and "False Church" are also peppered throughout.
See what we mean about turning conventional religious ideals on their heads? Not to mention the Academy features a prominent statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed deity and occult symbol, which we're led to believe is Satan's incarnation. (Incidentally, The Satanic Temple is suing the show for its inclusion of this goat-headed deity.) Can you imagine a series this controversial being released in the '90s? Melissa Joan Hart could never.
A New Love Interest
Okay, can we all go ahead and agree that Harvey Kinkle is seriously vanilla, and always has been? I, for one, couldn't have been more excited to discover the inclusion of a potential new love interest for Sabrina, and one with a passion and understanding for her father's legacy, at that.
After all, what's not to love about a sexy warlock who will stop at nothing to help you and your friends, one who's even willing to put his life on the line for your ex-boyfriend? Seriously, the scene in the season finale when Nick shows up at the Kinkles' to protect Harvey from the Greendale 13 (let's not forget his calling Harvey "farm boy" in the process), is the moment when he really enters the running for Sabrina's affections.
Plus, you can't help but giggle when Nick first introduces himself as a friend of Sabrina's, after which Harvey's immediate response is: "What kind of friend?"
Sabrina's Agency And Outspoken Feminism
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina also gives us overt and contemporary feminism — starting with Sabrina and her Muggle friends' forming a club named WICCA, short for Women’s Intersectional Cultural and Creative Association, at her high school. She is most definitely woke, and the show's inclusive casting of POCs, queer and gender nonconforming talent in supportive rules is, too.
Sabrina consistently shuns the confines of the patriarchal system set in place to steal her agency, whether in the "mortal" (non-witch) world or in the magical one. She straddles the lines between both worlds — literally, there's a moment when the half-witch, half-mortal girl enters the realm between life and death to find Harvey's brother Tommy's lost and aimlessly wandering soul. Most importantly, Sabrina's refusal to sign away her free will to the devil without questioning it, despite pressure on all sides, cements her identity as a witch who will not easily be coerced. It makes her a force to be reckoned with.
Ultimately, my favorite part of the show is this importance it places on Sabrina's claiming the path of witchcraft as an assertion of her own power. The witch archetype in today's world is, after all, claimed by women who refuse to conform to societal standards. Witches aren't afraid to embrace their own authenticity, and to step forward into their own power in the process. They refuse to conform to societal standards, collectively shirking rules set into place by those who would stamp out their individualism and agency.
Under this definition, Sabrina has always been a powerful witch, whether or not she signs The Book of the Beast — and we can't wait to see what kind of trouble she'll raise in Season 2.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is streaming on Netflix now.