Regardless of whether you watched the ’90s classic TV show or grew up with it as most of us had, Netflix is in the business of subverting expectation. This adaptation of the comic book is darker, gritter and more inconspicuous than it’s predecessor and presents a Sabrina who’s reinvented. She has a darker side,exuberates with heavy confidence, more serious and stands up for what she believes in. And almost immediately the show makes it a prerogative to ensure that comes across, even in the opening episode.
For those who have not seen the 10 episode show, The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina stars Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina preparing for her 16th birthday, one that is not your typical Sweet 16 as it will be commemorated with a Dark Baptism in which she will declare her devotion to live her life in service of Satan. No big deal. Unlike other witches, Sabrina is born a half witch, hailing from an infamous warlock father and a human mother who died when she was an infant; finding herself torn between her life as your regular teenage girl or a supernatural being.
She lives in the town of Greendale (already hinted on Riverdale as a spooky place to say the least) at her family’s funeral home with her kindle hearted spirit Aunt Hilda, her strict Aunt Zelda and her Cousin Ambrose, a troubled warlock who is to remain under house arrest at the residence as punishment for crimes he committed years ago.
Overseen by writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, whose career with Archie intellectual property dates back to 2003 and Ten years later, after Aguirre-Sacasa built a thriving career writing for the stage and television. With Roberto Aguirre- Sacasa, it seemed extremely apparent that it was in their interest to create the aesthetic of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to submerge expectations all the while enticing a new fan base while intriguing a familiar one(we’ll get to that later). Sabrina shares a certain amount of visual ques and colour gradients all too similar The CW’s Riverdale( which seems to be on an inevitable crash course with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). The series uses it’s top tier set design to make Greendale a character on it’s own acting as its own agency- chilling, dark, mysterious- Greendale helps bring the show to life.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina makes a conscious effort to make a quasi-political statement and use their main protagonist as it’s catalyst. As the season progresses the narrative of the show intertwines with discrimination based on a tree of preconceived hierarchy, stemming to focus on the discrimination of “minorities”, in this case witches, and a central theme revolving around the manipulation and exploitation of women.
Sabrina’s balancing act between being a Witch and your regular teenage girl almost creates two different series until the back end of the show. That duality is present throughout the series which sees Sabrina and her friends take on issues ranging from bullying and demonic possession in both the human and witch realm. But rather than try balancing the two acts, there is a glaring weakness that unfortunately plays a pivotal part of the show; her mortal life. While her friends Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie (Lachlan Watson) eventually get their own worthy(albeit forced) storylines, they do very little to seperate themselves from the rest of the teenage angst filled students that infest Baxter High. Although the lack of depth around Sabrina is alarming, the more problematic aspect of her mortal life is the corny and forced relationship that Sabrina has with her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). The relationship that Sabrina has with Harvey should be the heartbeat of the show, carrying the majority of the weight but the chemistry, much like other things in the weird world of Greendale is dead on arrival.
While the show does divert it’s attention from Greendale, an aspect that needs more attention in the first season is the Academy of Unseen Arts. Overseen by the mysterious Father Blackwood and ruled by a trio of extremely violent sisters (Tati Gabrielle, Abigail Cowen, and Adeline Rudolph), the Academy acts as Hogwarts evil step sister. The darkness that followed Sabrina around the Academy of Unseen Arts creates an everlasting dread, but the back and forth between her regular and supernatural life halts any momentum the show made. The majority of the the show’s best moments — and in turn, Shipka’s strongest scenes— come when Sabrina is facing off against the trio of sisters and ultimately making uneasy alliances with their leader Prudence (Gabrielle), and the developing relationship between herself and the intriguing warlock student Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood).
For as disinteresting as some of the scenes in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina regular life is, it’s easy to imagine the endless potential that Sabrina could have had if the show had fully embraced the Academy. Many of the scenes that captures the interest of viewers involve some combination of Academy students, satanic lore, and the laws of the underworld that make it feel like such a promising entity and seemingly a heir to the YA crown.
Approximately midway throughout Season 1, the show makes a decision to blend the two worlds of Sabrina’s life into one, which results into one of the messiest closings I’ve experienced with a Netflix series. Sabrina struggles to figure out exactly what its tone is as the two worlds collide, struggling to find the balance its darkness and its campiness.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has the potential to reinvigorate the YA genre, introducing a darker and more ominous show that is rarely seen outside of a select shows. But the inability to deliver a consistent tone and the lack of depth surrounding Sabrina’s supporting cast leaves the show in a peculiar place heading into Season 2.