Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix)

I wouldn’t normally think of watching something so apparently aimed at the YA market as this Netflix Original series, except that it is filmed in Vancouver and, as a Production Assistant, it’s possible I might work on it someday, so I might as well be familiar with it. I was quite surprised by how dark and mature it was, given the audience it is aimed at, and I find something delightfully subversive in that.

This is absolutely nothing like the 90s tv show¬†Sabrina the Teenage Witch, despite their common origins in the world of Archie Comics. The whole approach is rather more horror-inflected than its sitcom predecessor, and it is very dark and very gory, yet the show does have its laughs and never feels heavy. There is a lot of Satanism, witchcraft and demonology in the show, far more than I expected, and it is really quite thrilling to see series protagonists casually say things like “Hail, Satan” in a big-budget, mainstream series aimed at a younger audience.

The writing I think is very good, balancing light and dark pretty well, and I think the cast is excellent. Kiernan Shipka is a decent lead as Sabrina Spellman, half-breed daughter of a warlock and a mortal, playing things competently straight while everyone around her is dancing on the edge of camp, at least as far as Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis as her aunts Zelda and Hilda are concerned, to say nothing of Richard Coyle as Father Faustus Blackwood (that name alone is awesome), the leader of the Church of Shadows, to which the Spellman family is intertwined. Michelle Gomez is also mesmerizing as Mary Wardwell (she has the most incredible eyes and cheekbones). The rest of the supporting cast are all quite interesting and I admire the show for its diversity and progressive attitudes.

I’m only halfway through the first series, so I can’t say how it all pans out, but so far I find it immensely entertaining. I think just about everyone on the cast is compelling in one way or another and I am excited by the unapologetic handling of black magic themes and ideas as well as the feminist thrust to the whole show. Most of all, I love watching the actors maintain that tension between serious and silly that the best kind of fantasy thrives on, in my opinion. I really like this show and I would recommend it.

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