TV

If You Like Horror And Fun, You’re Gonna Love ‘The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’

The much cooler, goth sister of 'Sabrina The Teenage Witch'.

Welcome to ‘Should You Bother Watching’, Junkee’s new column which helps to answer the streaming-age’s biggest question: is this show for me? In this one, we tackle The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.


In a world saturated by reboots, held hostage by the overwhelming power of nostalgia, it seemed inevitable that someone would resurrect the long-forgotten corpse of peak nineties fave Sabrina The Teenage Witch. But, like all necromancy, the results of such an undertaking are often darker, stranger and more sinister than anyone could have expected.

And that’s what we have with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: instead of the blonde, bubblegum pop-confection like its predecessor, we have its much cooler, goth sister.

The story is superficially the same — Sabrina, a half-witch, half-mortal struggles to balance her two identities while living with her eccentric and fabulous full-witch aunties. Obviously, the conflict stems from the friction between being a regular mortal teenager with a boyfriend and friend at high school, and the weirder, magical world of being a witch.

But that’s where the similarities end: this Sabrina Spellman does not get up to hi-jinks and goofs. Her magic is less twinkly and is instead deeply visceral and witchy, all blood and reagents and dire consequences. Her cat doesn’t so much crack wise as turn into a horrifying goblin thing to attack her foes.

Her struggle is less about fitting in, and more about furiously struggling to maintain her own identity, her autonomy and freedom, in a dark and confusing world. There’s a deep feminist core to the show, that I predict will become more and more relevant to the plot: there’s something slightly wrong about the sisterhood in the Church of the Night at the moment, and I think that’s on purpose.

Of course, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina isn’t really based off the Teenage Witch TV show, nor the regular Archie comics, but rather a specific comic book run from 2014 that’s also called The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

It’s apparently a fairly faithful interpretation, but fans can rejoice in just how fun and spooky the TV series is.

Pros

The Horror Show

The first thing we have to note about Chilling Adventures is that it’s both a kitsch homage to horror and at times genuinely scary and dark.

It isn’t adverse to the odd jump scare, and actually features some actually upsetting monsters and scenes. It’s steeped in a kind of dusty, malevolent vibe that permeates the entire show.

The first few episodes revolve around Sabrina’s dark baptism, which is her official induction into the local coven, the Church of Night. This is no feel-good, mother-nature, new-age Wiccan coven, but a Satanic coven steeped in blood and fuelled by pacts with Lucifer.

The Coven can be both sinister and banal, a weirdly inverted examination of fundamentalist modern Christianity, as equally at home organising church dinners and ritual sacrifices.

There are compelling monsters-of-the-week episodes, such as a nightmare demon, or the swarm of ghost-witches, that are straight out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and are highlights in what can be a slightly meandering main plot.

Masters of Horror

But it’s also an extremely fun show, that isn’t afraid to delve into double-feature kitsch.

In one episode, you’ll have Aunt Zelda killing her own sister and resurrecting her, purely out of spite, and in another actually delving into their ancient and thorny relationship. Schemes and nightmares and drama and tragedies are equally juxtaposed by humour and whimsy and some very Riverdale-esque orgy scenes.

This show is confident about what it’s doing and isn’t afraid to wallow in how much it’s enjoying being a spooky witch show for teens. And that’s brilliant.

Michelle Gomez

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a ridiculously lush and defined spooky aesthetic, like a thousand Halloweens condensed into one weird town — and unsurprisingly the outstanding casting is a big part of that whole thing.

Kiernan Shipka is a great Sabrina — she’s calm and determined and full of righteous hellfire. Considering her soul and identity is literally the stake the show revolves around, this is no small feat.

However, she is our intro into that world, so she is overshadowed by necessity by the more glamorous and outrageous witches and warlocks around her.

If you’ve ever wanted to watch Miranda Otto wander around a mortuary with a cigarette holder clenched between her immaculate nails, yelling “praise Satan” and being exasperated by everything, then you’ve hit the jackpot, baby. And of course you want that, you’re only mortal. Meanwhile, Lucy Davis plays a warmer, more befuddled Hilda, who perfectly complements Otto’s Zelda.

Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose is a hot young warlock who has been under house arrest for 75 years, and his abs and extremely homosexual sex-life are both prominent parts of the story, and it’s very good. Sabrina’s friends are all very plucky and cool, while her nemeses at the Witches Academy start off feeling a bit Cheryl from Riverdale-lite, but end up being excellent characters.

But all of them — all of them — pale in comparison to the sheer mastery that is Michelle Gomez (Green Wing, Doctor Who) who plays as Sabrina’s favourite teachers, Mrs Wardell — who is actually possessed by Satan’s handmaiden.

Gomez is all huge slinky hair and evil eyes and whispered malevolence — in a show full of witches, she’s somehow the witchiest of them all. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is littered with opponents, but there’s only one villain, and she’s perfect.

Cons

Harvey Kinkel

There’s not a long wrong with this show, to be completely honest.

It feels like it goes a bit flabby in the middle, where you sort of forget that there’s an overarching drive here, a goal. Sabrina literally has to remind people what she’s trying to do long-term every so often (which I’m being intentionally vague about, because spoilers), because it feels like we’re not really getting there. But! It’s not a huge issue and feels mostly resolved by the end.

It also veers dangerously close to being too Riverdale-ish at times, which makes sense, as they share showrunners and extended universes. But — they usually pull back in time.

Instead, the only real issue is that Sabrina’s love interest, the sweet and ordinary Harvey is… well, just a bit nothing. He’s boring. He’s nice. Maybe that’s OK, but he is meant to be Sabrina’s defining tie to the mortal world. He’s probably a great first boyfriend, but he’s hardly “my one reason to turn my back on power and immortality”.

So, Is The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Worth Watching?

Oh my god, yes. If you EVER enjoyed even a single moment of Riverdale or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you will love this. Oh and make sure you watch the opening credits, they are brilliant.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina drops on Netflix on October 26.

Patrick Lenton is the Entertainment Editor at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.