Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a Netflix Original that follows Sabrina Spellman; half witch and half human on the cusp of her 16th birthday. Once she hits sixteen then she has to make a choice: will she follow in her father’s footsteps and go to the Academy of Unseen Arts or will she choose a mortal life and stay with her aunts, her boyfriend and her cousin?
Those of you of a certain generation might remember the Melissa Joan Hart series Sabrina The Teenage Witch that was kicking around in the late 90s. That is pretty much my only exposure to Sabrina; I’ve got no prior knowledge of her comic book origins, whether that’s in Archie or her own titles. This incarnation of everyone’s favourite teenage witch, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, is a long way off the knockabout teen sitcom with its talking cat and silly shenanigans. The new series is something entirely different.
This first chapter, “October Country”, introduces a very different world than the brightly lit and brightly coloured scenes of the “original” series. One of the most striking things is the wonderful gothic aesthetic that seems to have been crossbred with a little slice of 1950s Americana. It’s what I would imagine Happy Days to look like if it was to be remade by peak Tim Burton, and that’s no bad thing. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly when the show is set, time-wise, but I loved the contrast between the 1950s stylings and the gothic weirdness of Sabrina’s house.
Despite the retro feel of the series, the attitudes on display are definitely something born of our time. Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) and her friends are smart and not afraid to stand up for a worthy cause. This chapter starts to bring in elements that echo through the current social climate, and hopefully, this will continue to build a really positive message.
The story starts out in a familiar way. We have Sabrina in the care of her aunts as she is about to make the transition to full-time witchery. I was expecting that we get dragged through a full origin story, where Sabrina has to slowly understand what her powers actually are. Thankfully, that’s not the case here, as we get thrown in when she’s already a reasonably accomplished witch. Kiernan Shipka (of Mad Men fame) is really good at balancing the normality of high school life but also injecting enough kooky weirdness to make a really engaging lead. Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto seem perfectly pitched as her aunts, who mirror their counterparts in the previous incarnation of Sabrina but with a grungy, twisted edge.
There’s no question that we are going to get long-running story arcs in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, as this episode set up more than mystery. I can’t quite get a handle on how things will play out as yet, but there are certainly enough plates spinning (or being levitated) to keep me hooked in.
The first episode does just enough to set the scene and give us some idea of the stakes, as Sabrina essentially has to make big choices about her future. I have a feeling things aren’t going to go quite to plan though, with seemingly a few antagonists appearing on the horizon. “October Country” has left me feeling like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is going to be something between Harry Potter, Stranger Things and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is certainly no bad thing.