Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Part 1

“My name is Sabrina Spellman, and I will not sign it away!”

It’s ironic that a series about two different worlds colliding would struggle to manage that disconnect early on. The opening stretch of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina features some wonderful moments that are beautifully shot, and mostly well performed, but there’s an obvious clunkiness in one aspect of the series that takes a while to morph into something exciting.

In this modern take of the character, Sabrina Spellman is a half mortal half witch who, on her sixteenth birthday, has to sign a deal with Satan in order to become a full member of The Church of Night, a following that her family has been a part of for centuries. Because of her love for her mortal life and her mortal friends, she fights that birthright so she can continue to be a part of Baxter High.

It’s those segments depicting Sabrina’s mortal life that are a bit of a drag when the series begins. Her boyfriend Harvey is a little dull, her friends aren’t all that interesting, and the Baxter High scenes are all a little boring. This is made all the more apparent when the more magical parts are such a delight to watch from the get-go. The Spellman family in particular are well written and cast; Miranda Otto’s take on the character of Zelda Spellman is a personal highlight amongst an already fantastic cohort of characters.

Outside of the Spellman household, the magical world that Sabrina is a part of is a lot darker and creepier than the zany one of the 90’s sitcom; there are no talking cats or flying vacuum cleaners to be found, here. This take on that world is fascinating, and the people that Sabrina interacts with when she finally enrolls in the Magical Academy are infinitely more fun to watch that their mortal counterparts.

Prudence is a stand-out in that respect; a fascinating rival of Sabrina’s who after a bit of conflict with the titular hybrid, comes to respect Sabrina. She also eventually learns that she’s the daughter of the Church of Night’s leader, Father Blackwood. That twist isn’t explored a lot after the fact, but there’s a lot of potential for it to get complicated between them as she has to accept the fact that he disowned her. It’s obvious that there’s so much more to unpack with Prudence in the next part, and her scenes in 'Part 1' feel like a teaser for more great character beats down the line.

Sabrina’s “mentor”, Mary Wardwell, is also a fantastic character. Michelle Gomez plays the role to perfection, with all her scenes being laced with just enough masked malevolence to sell her subtle manipulation of Sabrina. We learn at the close of the season that her true name is “Madam Satan”, which is no surprise to those who are even vaguely familiar with this series’ source material. It’s the reveal of her plan to groom Sabrina as Satan’s right hand that makes her role even more fascinating, especially since there’s a chance that Sabrina could prove to be Wardwell’s downfall if she appears as a stronger candidate for Queen of Hell than “Madam Satan” is proving to be.

None of the mortal characters come close to most of the witches in terms of appeal, but when Sabrina’s different lives start of clash the series really takes off. Sabrina's mortal friends eventually become entangled in the supernatural, resulting in their respective B-plots becoming heaps more fun to watch. Susie’s odd communications with her ancestor Dorothea and Roz’s family ties to the persecuted witches of Greendale boost the appeal of their otherwise unnecessary screen-time, though it must be argued that Susie’s role as a non-binary character was always important in terms of representation.

Harvey remains a total drag until his family’s history of witch hunting is brought to light, and his brother Tommy ends up dying and is brought back to life through a questionable resurrection spell cast by Sabrina. In particular, Harvey having to kill the lifeless zombie version of his brother is a huge turning point for him and his relationship with Sabrina, which winds up crumbling when he learns the truth about what she is, and the spell she cast to resurrect Tommy.

Plus

Kiernan Shipka is mostly great in the role of Sabrina, which was a surprise to me given that I never really liked her in anything else she’s been in.

Sabrina’s housebound cousin Ambrose is equal parts beautiful and charming.

Salem is part of this version, but he doesn’t talk. Instead, he’s a familiar who helps protect Sabrina in cat form.

Zelda helps Father Blackwood’s wife to deliver twins, though Lady Blackwood dies during delivery. Zelda keeps the female twin’s survival a secret when she winds up being delivered ahead of the male; a problem for the babies’ father, who is only interested in a male heir.

Zelda’s proposal of raising the baby side by side with Hilda backfires after Hilda asks to move out of the bedroom they share.

Episode 5 was my favorite episode. With a demon preying on the sleeping Spellmans, it was like a Harry Potter version of Buffy’s Restless.

There’s an inevitability to everything that transpires over the course of this ten episode run. Sabrina eventually signing the Book of the Beast and accepting her dark nature was always going to happen, and her relationship with Harvey was naturally going to suffer in some way when she joined the witching world. The decision to spread her journey over the course of this “half season” works in terms of organic character development, but winds up hindering the plot, which is often badly paced. Sabrina’s official inauguration into the Church of Night gives the show the chance to finally embrace its signature weirdness to its full extent, which should hopefully result in an even stronger and exciting second chapter.

7 out of 10 pentagrams.

3 comments:

lisa menaster said...

What exactly do the Spellmans do for Satan? They got their full witch powers in exchange for working for him, but we never see Zelda, Hilda or Ambrose doing anything for him.

Anonymous said...

I really loved hits, and ep 5 was so Buffy-esque. Harvey was dull until the sombie brother thing, true.
Umm.. I don't know what they do for the devil. Midwife duties for the other witches? Or is it that they can't show the truly awful stuff? But this show is already so dark with cannibalism and death soo..
mazephoenix

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to add that Harvey was played by Ross Lynch, better known as a Disney star from the show Austin and Ally, which aired somewhere between five and ten years ago. So all the teenage girls who are going to watch this show (most likely the intended target audience) are going to remember him from that. Not that it's that important, but it did add a fair amount of surrealist kind of humour for me when I watched it.