Netflix’s new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series is easily the best new show to come out this fall next to the latest season of Daredevil. While it doesn’t necessarily break new ground it manages to turn its heroine into a role model for young girls and a definitive badass.
Let’s be honest, there’s been a bit of a gap since Buffy went off the air all those years ago. There have been plenty of copycats, from BBC’s Class to almost every CW show that has aired since, but only Sabrina seems to really nail the vibe. That’s saying quite a lot given the shoes it is trying to fill.
Putting the show on Netflix rather than the CW was definitely a good move. It allows the show to tell a tighter story across 12 episodes rather than dragging it out across 23 or more. That means the producers can put their efforts into bringing in an A-list cast (which they have) and creating a totally unique world (doubly so).
By the end of the pilot episode the viewer knows exactly what kind of world Sabrina lives in and, more or less, how it works. This isn’t your grandmother’s Sabrina. Hell, it isn’t even your parent’s Sabrina. The modern Sabrina could kick the Sabrina from the 90s ass and she’s way younger.
Much of that has to do with the instant paradigm shift in storytelling. This Sabrina has grown up knowing she’s a half-witch, it’s not an earth shattering surprise when her 16th birthday rolls around. The more alien part of her life isn’t the supernatural, it’s the mortal part. She knows what she’s supposed to become but doesn’t know if she wants it. Contrast that to the 90s Sabrina where everything revolved around being invited to a cool party or asking out a boy. The stakes are much higher this time around.
Much emphasis is placed on her Dark Baptism which, all things considered, is handled really well. Despite the fact that she’s a part of a coven and deals directly with Satan everyone’s stance is that while they might worship Satan it’s not that much different from any other religion. Her Dark Baptism is directly compared to a Bat Mitzvah or a quinceanera making it immediately relatable.
The show itself isn’t afraid to be gutsy and it shows right from the start. Kiernan Shipka plays Sabrina totally straight, despite all the craziness surrounding her. Even her aunts (Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto) which tend to be portrayed as zany in the past have many layers to them and arrive as three-dimensional characters, not just comic relief.
If anyone suffers though it’s Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch), he’s not given much to work with in the show. To be fair, he’s not the focus, but the audience never really gets to know him, which is a shame since he’s someone Sabrina considers close. Sabrina pulls a mind wipe on him in the first episode which, while understandable, seems to really lessen the character. It makes him expendable and way too malleable of a character to get invested in with the series.
It should be noted that despite the title and its comic book origins, this Sabrina is actually scary. There are plenty of monsters and demons and villains that it might unnerve younger viewers. For those that want to introduce their children to the world of Sabrina I would start with the comic books and work your way up to this version.
Having already been renewed for a second season it will be fascinating to see where the show goes. It’s a brand new world out there for the teenage witch and anything could happen.