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TV Series Review

Sweet 16?

For some, it's more like Stress 16. I mean, you've got high school tests to take, drivers' licenses to earn, family issues to deal with. And if that isn't enough, well, you've got to participate in a dark baptism ceremony and sign your name in the Dark Lord's book.

Well, that wasn't an issue for most of us at age 16. But Sabrina Spellman is not like most teens—not even in the admittedly creepy town of Greendale.

Sabrina is a witch—or half a witch, technically. Her mom was mortal, but her pops was a high priest in the dark church, which gives Sabrina a certain occultic clout despite her mixed bloodlines. The Spellmans have a long, storied history in service to the Dark Lord. And even though Sabrina's parents are long gone—apparent victims of a plane crash—her aunts, Helga and Zelda, fully expect Sabrina to embrace the family's Luciferian legacy.

But Sabrina isn't so sure. Yes, she’d enjoy the perks of being a witch. But to sign the book means saying sayonara to the mortal life she's made for herself. She'd never see her friends again. No more public high school, either. At least, that’s what she’s been told.

Eventually, Sabrina chooses to sign the book, but only to save her friends and family. Now, she’s technically supposed to do all of Satan’s bidding. Unless, in Season 2, she can work with the nefarious witch Madam Satan to help bring down the Dark Lord incarnate.

NETFLIX'S WITCHING HOUR

Just as Sabrina comes from a long line of witches, so this show boasts an extensive legacy in its own right. Sabrina the Teenage Witch first showed up as a character in the Archie comics in 1962, getting her very own comic in 1971. Her character has spawned other incarnations, too—including a manga version, three animated television series, three movies and, of course, the seven-season sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart.

In most of these versions, Sabrina's magic is pretty naturalistic: Sure, in the early comics her aunts Zelda and Helga did have a penchant for cauldrons and pointy hats. But no one was explicitly worshipping Satan—certainly not Sabrina, who was an unfailingly chipper and well-meaning witch. And while her abilities are impressive, they're typically depicted as being morally-neutral, like double-jointed knees.

But as the title of this new iteration suggests, Netflix was aiming for something more here than just an innocuous, nostalgic retread. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina wants to get dark.

First, it aims, a bit like Charmed over on the CW, to appropriate witchcraft as a metaphor for female empowerment. When Sabrina starts a women's group at high school, for instance, her friend Rosalind dubs it the "Women's Intersectional Cultural and Creative Association," or WICCA. A darker, more evil witch known as Madam Satan blusters about "puritanical masculinity." And when Sabrina needs guidance over an important decision, her cousin Ambrose (who identifies as "non-binary") suggests that she should seek out a special apple—an apparent nod to the fruit of Eden's Tree of Knowledge. If a man sees it, Ambrose says, "It's an apple of evil. If it's a woman, it's the food of knowledge."

The magic here is dark magic—and explicitly so. While Sabrina doesn't necessarily owe her powers to the Dark Lord, her career as a witch is explicitly tied to infernal things. Her aunts sometimes let loose a casual "praise Satan" oath, just as Christians might praise God. Covens are aligned with the powers of darkness and are under the authority of dark priests. Spells and incantations summon occult powers, and potions are sometimes imbued with human blood. Medieval references to satanic witches crop up repeatedly. And the fact that Sabrina was baptized as a Christian when she was young stirs a great deal of strife amongst Sabrina's witchy relatives.

Neither Sabrina nor the show technically embraces Satanism. IndeedSabrina’s well aware of who the bad guy is here. .

But some characters here are explicitly in the devil's service. And at times, they come across as comical or sympathetic and sometimes both. Watching Sabrina might not lead viewers to hold midnight rites, but its portrait of witchcraft is muddled and, frankly, all too jokey for those who believe that Satan's presence extends beyond a CGI character on Netflix.

TOIL AND TROUBLE

Even if audiences could somehow find a way to navigate Sabrina's sympathetic depiction of witchcraft and its surrounding dark spirituality, the show's problems hardly end there.

The TV-14 series seems specifically designed to appeal to teens. It depicts teen sexuality and near nudity, including one episode that shows a teen orgy in which adolescents are depicted in their underwear. Sabrina is also surprisingly scary and quite bloody at times. I reviewed it after watching Netflix's far more adult The Haunting of Hill House. But nothing I've thus far seen in The Haunting exceeds a gruesome scene in the very first episode of Sabrina, when someone's neck gets run through with a pair of scissors. Language can be pretty foul on this Netflix series, too, including s-words.

Mainstream critics have praised The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina for being smart, scary and engaging—as well as socially progressive. But this witchy reboot's many problems remain devilish indeed.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

April 5, 2019: “Chapter Twenty: The Mephisto Waltz”
Oct. 26, 2018: "Chapter One: October Country"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman; Ross Lynch as Harvey Kinkle; Lucy Davis as Hilda Spellman; Chance Perdomo as Ambrose Spellman; Jaz Sinclair as Rosalind Walker; Tati Gabrielle as Prudence; Adeline Rudolph as Agatha; Richard Coyle as Father Faustus Blackwood; Miranda Otto as Zelda Spellman; Michelle Gomez as Mary Wardwell/Madam Satan; Lachlan Watson as Susie Putnam; Gavin Leatherwood as Nicholas Scratch; Luke Cook as The Dark Lord

Director

Distributor

Network

Netflix

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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