Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, season 1

Kiernan Shipka in chilling adventures of sabrina

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has already been renewed for 4 seasons by Netflix, after the first season aired. The teenage half-human, half-witch who is torn between her allegiance to mortals and her witch family is a big hit.

My most predominate thought, watching each episode of season one, was this: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is like Lost Girl for a younger demographic. The intended audience shouldn’t be troubled by frequent brain alerts about how much this story is just like Lost Girl. That’s probably a good thing.

The heroine, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka), has trouble choosing between the mortal world (light) and the world of witches (dark). She questions authority in both places and upsets the people around her who have lived by the rules for centuries. She doesn’t understand her powers. She wants to skip ahead to the most complex spells and incantations before she learns the basics. There are demons, monsters, beasts, and a red string.

Sabrina’s mortal friends are her boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) and her two best friends Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie (Lachlan Watson). The special skill Harvey has is for art and for loving Sabrina. Harvey’s family has a history of being witch hunters – oh, oh. Sabrina’s love for these humans is both her greatest strength and her most vulnerable weakness. There are hints that the reason the dark lord wants her so badly is because she somehow links the mortal world and the dark realm.

Jaz Sinclair and Lachlan Watson in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Roz is losing her eyesight but gaining what her family calls the cunning, which allows her to see visions of both the past and the future. Susie looks androgynous and gives off vibes of possibly transitioning to male. In season one, Susie’s chief skill is talking to her long dead relative Dorothea, a woman who made her living as a pirate and carried women to safety when they were persecuted.

Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Sabrina’s immediate family runs a mortuary business. Her family includes two aunts who raised her when her parents died. Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) is a warm and fluttery sort. Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) is more distant and cold, and much more concerned with following the rules of their dark lord. Also living with them is Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo). Except for Sabrina, who is a mere 16, the witches and warlocks around her are all centuries old and very experienced with witchcraft.

When Sabrina turned 16, she was supposed to sign in blood in the book of the beast, pledge her eternal obedience to her coven and its dark lord, and forget about mortal concerns. She wouldn’t sign. What a brouhaha that created.

Sabrina wanted both the power of her witch half, and the freedom of the mortal half. (She wanted to live the life she chose.)

While Sabrina held out against a lot of pressure to sign the book, she compromised by agreeing to go to The Academy of Unseen Arts part time.

The coven and school was run by Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle). Three weird sisters lead by Prudence Night (Tati Gabrielle) gave Sabrina a lot of grief, but eventually became sort of allies with her.

Michelle Gomez and Kiernan Shipka in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Ms. Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), a teacher in Sabrina’s mortal high school, was a witch. For some crazy reason I could never grasp, Sabrina trusted this shady woman. She went to her for advice and help. Ms. Wardwell – you’ve gotta love the character names in this series – was plotting the whole time to get Sabrina signed up under the control of the dark lord.

Kiernan Shipka and Ross Lynch in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

The storyline in season one dealt with Sabrina and Harvey’s budding teen romance. Sabrina’s abilities as a witch and her frequent choices to upset everyone around her by doing something forbidden like a resurrection were a constant theme. Each character in her family and among her friends had their own storylines. My favorite among them was cousin Ambrose’s romance with another warlock named Luke (Darren Mann).

This new update on Sabrina Spellman’s life is dark. Literally, dark. Dark storylines and scenes so faintly lit you could barely tell what was happening. Events happened at night, or obscured by mist and fog, or in dimly lit spaces. The supernatural world of witches and warlocks isn’t a bright sunshiny universe.

The beast
The beast gets all the light – as in actual spotlights.

The dark lord, the beast, when not in human form looked like a goat. His representation inside the witch’s school was lit with spotlights. I wish they had spread some of that wattage around inside houses and rooms where the characters lived.

The religious aspects of the story were both interesting and a little jarring. Everything was reversed. Holy was unholy. The lord whose name was invoked was Satan. There was a limbo just for witches. However, the leadership style and behavior of the church patriarchy were all too familiar. Girl babies (like Sabrina?) had no value and needed rescue to survive.

There were some sexual goings on, but only between the older characters. Sabrina and her human boyfriend did lots of kissing, but that was it. I consider this an outstanding characteristic of this tale aimed at teens.

Many mysteries about Sabrina are unsolved or merely hinted at by the end of the first season. There’s no hurry to unravel the story – we know it’s set for 3 more seasons.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the second teen/adult series to come from the Archie Comics universe. It’s a spinoff from the popular Riverdale on The CW. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is creator of this show and also chief creative officer of Archie Comics. There were only 2 women directors in season 1: Rachel Talalay and Maggie Kiley.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, season 1”

  1. Netflix committed to 4 more seasons? That’s huge. Maybe they realize that suddenly canceling a bunch of shows wasn’t good for business. (Why get emotionally involved in a show only to have it yanked away? SyFy does this, too.)

    I’m liking Sabrina, despite some misgivings. The Christian framing of paganism is rather upsetting. Paganism ≠ satanism. But given the whimsical feel of the show, I’ve decided to roll with this.

    I never got further than episode 3 of Lost Girl. (I tried it years ago and liked Bo, but was not hooked by the whole rival vampire gangs thing. I’m intending to give it another shot someday, especially after discovering Zoie Palmer in Dark Matter.) I have seen all of True Blood (from dazzling opening through its decline), and Sabrina definitely has a similar feel and humor, though with less blood, less of that HBO violence.

    Kiernan Shipka carries the show. She stood out in Mad Men. The other performers are fun, especially Lucy Davis. And I love her mortal (or are they?) girlfriends. I hope we get more of their storylines next season.

    The Christmas Special touched me. I don’t think I can say why without spoilers. I am looking forward to season 2. I am hoping, though, that Sabrina wakes up to the fact that Ms. Wardwell is not a witch. They need to move on from that device because it limits the mystery of what lies beyond.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Laura. Good to hear from you. I was a little shocked by the apparent Satan worship aspect of the show’s version of witchcraft, too. I’ve never thought witchcraft to be that.

      The very first post I wrote for this blog was about Lost Girl. If you search on that term on the blog, you get 13 pages of search results. You could say I’m a huge fan. A couple of key posts that might sway to to watch it sooner rather than later are “It’s all about Bo on Lost Girl” and “I Love Lost Girl and You Should Too”

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