Witching hour: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” brews a fun TV potion


Now that Halloween is past, we’ve all hopefully made it through the spooky season unscathed. My wish is that you’ll be able to say the same about the first season of Netflix’s recently released “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” which I’ve discovered to be full of TV tricks and treats.

Camp and style abound in the show, which follows teenager Sabrina Spellman as she treads the line between her dual nature of half-witch, half-mortal to combat demonic control in the small town of Greendale. Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s darker take on the “Sabrina” story is adapted from the Archie Comics title of the same name, and Sabrina takes on an atmospheric, eerie tone similar to that of Aguirre-Sacasa’s “Riverdale” on the CW network.

As you’d expect, comparisons to 1996s “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” sitcom will almost immediately spring up in viewers’ minds, typically along the lines of why is this Salem the cat mute, and why must we be deprived of his snark? I can empathize: these types of reactions might come naturally to the Sabrina-familiar. While the Netflix series certainly has an edge to it, there’s still room for a lot of fun in this fresh adaptation, whether or not viewers are acquainted with previous takes on the characters.

Familiar teen faces — including Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman and Ross Lynch as Harvey Kinkle — ground the show in a healthy dose of high school drama, following in “Riverdale’s” footsteps. But the more out-there supporting characters — such as Sabrina’s witch aunts Zelda and Hilda Spellman, portrayed by Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis respectively, and Chance Perdomo’s portrayal of warlock cousin Ambrose Spellman — truly bring the supernatural fun in to the show. From the first episode onwards, Michelle Gomez’s Ms. Wardwell is absolutely bonkers, but in every way you’d hope an eccentric antagonist to be.

The show is a gold mine (pardon my mention of such a place, Harvey Kinkle) of old-school horror references, including obvious nods to classics such as “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Fly.” Also, teen girl protagonist fights the monster-of-the-week? It’s almost as if I asked, and Netflix delivered: I’m definitely not the only viewer to notice that the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” vibes are strong with this show. A rare serialized Netflix series, “Sabrina” digs up the campy, cathartic high-school-as-hell motif from its TV grave and puts it to good use in the episodes of the first season.

While the show’s more serialized installments deliver threatening and enjoyable episodic mysteries for “Sabrina,” viewers beware: similar to “Buffy” and other shows in the supernatural genre, a larger season arc looms with big-bads for Sabrina to face. Her clashes with the witch community in Greendale — headed by High Priest Faustus Blackwood, played by Richard Coyle — raise questions of agency and patriarchal control for Sabrina as a young female protagonist. As a genre show, I’ve found that Sabrina does a mostly successful job of tackling these issues with some quotable, empowering moments — even if only by invoking them on a surface level as campy horror takes center stage.

Though there’s not much focus on realistic depth in a given episode of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (nary a reference to Sabrina and Harvey’s next Calc exam?), the show doesn’t need this. This “Sabrina” story does what it wants to do deliciously well, which is bring a timeless, fun and frightening world to life. Be afraid, be very afraid: it’s almost scary how quickly “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” can hook you in, if you’re not careful.