If you’ve ever dreamt of visiting a town where every day feels like Halloween, Netflix has you covered. Their latest series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, takes the classic Archie Comics character, Sabrina Spellman, and presents life in her “idyllic” hometown of Greendale as though it exists on top of a Hellmouth. The new 10-episode series, which drops this Friday, makes for a perfect Halloween treat. No other show on TV presents this eerie mix of high-school drama, forbidden love, and, of course, Satan worship.
First things first. Don’t go into this series expecting the classic Archie’s character or the sweet-as-candy tone embodied by Melissa Joan Hart’s late 90’s sit-com. Chilling Adventures is to Sabrina, the Teenage Witch what The Dark Knight is to Adam West’s Batman series. To be blunt about this new version: Shit Gets Real! This is a program where an innocent woman gets stabbed in the neck and bleeds to death in the first several minutes, and a dumb jock punches a young girl in the face “for being different.” Despite these harsh moments, the show never loses sight of its black humour and devil-may-care attitude. It would be like experiencing life in the Harry Potter universe if J.K. Rowling told stories about those nasty kids in House Slytherin.
Showrunner, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa based this version of Sabrina Spellman (played by Kiernan Shipka) on the 2014 comic book Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a darker coming-of-age tale that revels in supernatural lore. The new series sees a 15-year old Sabrina preparing for a dark baptism on her 16th birthday. On that night, Sabrina’s two aunts/guardians, Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto), expect their niece to sign the Book of the Beast, a treacherous contract that binds her service to the Dark Lord.
But Sabrina isn’t your average witch. She’s half-mortal, and her desire to embrace both sides creates a stir. There are dark forces at play, secretly guiding Sabrina towards their insidious end-game. So, by defying traditions, she puts her family and human friends in great danger. The series follows Sabrina as she learns to balance the constant push and pull between her mortal life and supernatural side.
What separates Chilling Adventures from similar programs is how much Sabrina enjoys both sides of who she is. Unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Being Human, or Smallville, the character embraces her secret identity and has fun with her uncanny abilities. Sabrina is happy being a witch even though she conceals that part of herself from her close friends. It’s a blast watching Shipka own the role with her killer performance; you often see her play the character with a big silly grin on her face.
Sabrina is a film-nerd who goes to zombie movie marathons with her besties and then comes home to her devil-worshipping family. The Spellman’s casual attitude towards their wicked ways is one of the shows best running bits. They sit at the breakfast table discussing Sabrina’s commitment to the Dark Lord with the nonchalance of parents planning their daughter’s bat mitzvah. Things only get problematic on the supernatural side once evil forces disrupt Sabrina’s well-balanced life.
It’s easy to get caught up in the series’ genre elements – witch-hunters, demonic possession, a goat-headed devil – but at its core, Chilling Adventures’ story couldn’t be any more relatable. The show explores themes that haunt us all at some point: Who am I and where do I belong? And this story about a teenage girl discovering who she is has a pro-feminist bent. The show does lots of guy-bashing, often played for laughs. A recurring theme in the story is that the world would run more efficiently if women were in charge. I can already see the men’s rights activists’ heads exploding – which is fine by me.
Chilling Adventures doesn’t embolden Sabrina by taking digs at men; instead, it wryly points out all the ways that toxic masculinity suppresses strong, independent, and empowering female voices. You see this in Sabrina’s bozo high school principal Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot) banning feminist books and in the ancient rules of the Spellman’s Satan-loving society. As one character puts it, “Even the Dark Lord fears a woman with freedom and power.” The show doesn’t hold back on including LGBTQ characters either. The series’ inspiring messages may be on the nose, but given how society is currently unravelling, we need our entertainment to broadcast positive messages until its woven into pop cultures DNA.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina looks incredible right from the jump; it kicks off with a phenomenal opening credits sequence. I’m several episodes deep, and I’ve yet to skip the credits – and I suspect I won’t start. The art style resembles trashy pulp fiction novel covers from the 60’s, classed up with a dash of Roy Lichtenstein’s vibe. Once we’re into the show proper, Sabrina’s town of Greendale is no less alluring. Production designer Lisa Soper went to great lengths to give Greendale it’s distinct flavour. “I’ve always been fascinated with magical worlds,” Soper said. Soper also stated,
“I enjoy being able to do something that hasn’t been done before. It’s not about trying to make something look Victorian. It’s not about trying to make something look like Tim Burton, It’s about trying to give definition to the world of Sabrina.”
The result is riveting pop culture mish-mash which is part Happy Days, part The Adams Family, and part Bates Motel.
I can’t sum the vibe up any better than director and series executive producer Lee Toland Krieger. Krieger put together a mood reel which he screened for the cast and crew to help set the show’s tone. According to Netflix,
“It featured the horror classics Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, two highly influential works, along with films like Suspiria, Witch, The Black Coat’s Daughter, It Follows, Birth, and Legend.”
The range of selections should impress horror flick connoisseurs and establish Krieger’s genre cinema cred.
Cast member Michelle Gomez who plays the show’s most ghoulishly delightful character, Mary Wardell, had this to say,
“It was a crash course, going from The Exorcist to Rosemary’s Baby and back. What came out of it for me was this liberty to create a beauty that doesn’t necessarily happen much on regular straight dramas or television. It’s mind-blowingly beautiful!”
Much like it’s charming heroine, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is of two worlds. It’s a delightful teen drama, not unlike the CW’s slate of genre-tinged soaps (Riverdale, The Flash), and a devilishly fun walk on the supernatural side. With its charming heroine, scenery-chewing villains, and captivating setting, this series already begs for an all-out binge-session. When you also consider the galvanizing themes, the inclusion of LGBTQ characters, and Halloween-time release, the program looks even better. Unless you’re a horror light-weight that can’t handle the legit scares that put the chill in Chilling Adventures, there’s no reason to skip this new series.