TL;DR – Sabrina is a show that blends the occult with whimsy in a way I have not seen in a long while. It is a show where cannibalism and finding your one true love go hand in hand, and that is either going to interest you or put you right off.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
I do not envy the task of anyone who is given the job of rebooting something that has not one but two beloved incarnations. Whether it was the original comic or the 1990s TV series, a lot of people have grown up with Sabrina being a touchstone in pop culture. So, will bringing Sabrina to a new generation create that same moment, well only time will tell, but today we take a look at how the first season came together.
So to set the scene, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is a young girl that lives with her aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) and her cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo). For most people in the town, the only odd thing about the family is the fact that they run the local mortuary but they all hide a secret, for you see they are all witches, and it is coming up to Sabrina’s 16th birthday and her dark baptism. After your dark baptism, you have to leave the mortal world behind, but Sabrina has close friends Rosa (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie (Lachlan Watson) and of course her one true love Harvey (Ross Lynch). However, Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) the leader of the Church of Night, the local coven, is instant that Sabrina signs her life away to the Dark Lord, but is there another way, and what is Mary Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) or more appropriately the thing that occupies Mary up to. Now as we will be looking at the season as a whole, there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
Where you are going to create a series with such tonal dissidence, you have to put a lot of work into making the world feel realised or else you will lose the suspension of disbelief as you get whipped from one extreme to another. The first way they battle this is through the design and worldbuilding of Greendale. It is set in this old-timey gothic town, so before you even start it has an air of something dark and disturbing. It is also a town full of promise but has a dark past, a past of bloodshed, loss, and betrayal. Where we see this the most is in the Spellman house. It is an old building, off a dark forest, surrounded by death, it is a mortuary after all. Inside, you are reminded that it is a house of death with heads hanging at every point and an embalming table set up in the basement. But it is also a house full of warmth, from the colours to the fact that Hilda is always baking or bottling something in the kitchen, or that it is clearly a house of love.
The other thing that helps with the tonal whiplash is a cast that is giving it their all right from the start. Kiernan Shipka brings warmth and compassion to the role of Sabrina Spellman, as she tries to navigate the world of mortals and of magic. It is that drive to protect her friends that motivates a lot of the conflict in the show, but it is clear it comes from a true place of wanting the world to be better. You can see it when she raised hell (not literally … I think) when Susie was attacked and tried everything possible to leave the school in a better place. As well as this, even when things go wrong, it is her motivation and bond with her friends and family that drives her. On the complete other side of the spectrum, you have Michelle Gomez owning every moment she is on screen as both Mary Wardwell but also as the Mother of Daemons. I don’t know if it is a problem that she is often cast in this role as conflicted school-teacher but goodness does she play the hell out of it. Then we have the sisters the straight-laced Zelda and the bubbly Hilda. At first glance, they seem to be sort of one-dimensional yin-yang guides for Sabrina. However, as the series progresses you see that there is much more to them than first appears, there is a lot of love, and a lot of conflict between the sisters, and clearly there is also a lot of history. Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto are such amazing actors, and it great getting to watch them play off each other. Also, we have Sabrina’s friends who are all powerhouses in their own right. Now it at this point where I want to say that Harvey is being unfairly maligned on the internet, and as the show progresses and you see the life he has to live it his character makes much more sense.
When we look at the story of the season, the show is looking at a lot of interesting themes like tradition, abuse, faith, belief, destroying the patriarchy, and more. The one I think it most interesting is the theme of temptation, which is apt given the supernatural and mythological setting. Each character in the Spellman family is tempted by something they truly desire. Ambrose is tempted by getting out of his house arrest, and that makes him blind to the manipulation that is happening to him. With Zelda, she is tempted with the thoughts of rebuilding the Spellman name in the local coven and her devotion to the Dark One. With Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) it was being the perfect sacrifice, for Father Blackwood, it is the position in the Church’s hierarchy, and it goes on. However, most importantly for Sabrina, it is the temptation of not letting her friends down, which of course Mary manipulates for her own reasons.
With the story as a whole, it did start to feel like this was more of a first half than a full season, and while different sources call it Season One or Part One (with a back half filmed at the same time) it does still feel like something is missing. I don’t know if jumping right into our Hogwarts surrogate was the right move and well it is not well explained or realised in the show. As well as this, it seems that everyone in Greendale has some connection to past factions, which leads to you needed to follow many different threads, none of which are paying off yet. Finally, you can kind of tell that this was a show positioned for cable TV before making the jump to Netflix, and some of that awkwardness has yet to be worked out.
In the end, do we recommend Chilling Adventures of Sabrina? Well look I think you already know if a show about people who worship Satan will be a show that you will want to watch or not. But if you are interested in that kind of supernatural setting combined with a teenage coming of age story, then I think you will enjoy Sabrina.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you seen Chilling Adventures of Sabrina yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Directed by – Lee Toland Krieger, Rob Seidenglanz, Maggie Kiley, Rachel Talalay, Viet Nguyen & Craig William Macneill
Written by – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Ross Maxwell, Donna Thorland, Matthew Barry, Joshua Conkel, MJ Kaufman, Oanh Ly, Lindsay Calhoon, Christianne Hedtke, Axelle Carolyn & Christina Ham
Created by – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Based on – Sabrina by Archie Comics
Starring in Season One – Kiernan Shipka, Ross Lynch, Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, Chance Perdomo, Michelle Gomez, Jaz Sinclair, Lachlan Watson, Tati Gabrielle, Adeline Rudolph & Richard Coyle with Justin Dobies, Alvina August, L. Scott Caldwell, Abigail Cowen, Alessandro Juliani, Gavin Leatherwood, Ty Wood, Darren Mann, Bronson Pinchot, Sarah-Jane Redmond & Kurt Max Runte