Magic, dark mischief converge in ‘Sabrina’s’ tantalizing reboot
The live-action series “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is out to prove that Baxter High’s teenage witch is no one-trick pony—and it comes just before Halloween!
If you think the 10-episode show is nothing but sugar and spice and all that hooey, scenes from the series like the one showing a witch killing a sibling for getting on her bad side will quickly change your perception about the adult sensibility of the new series.
In another episode, four spellbound troglodyte bullies are caught smooching with one another to “teach them better manners.”
The visually sumptuous latest incarnation of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” which premieres on Netflix beginning Oct. 26, is a dark coming-of-age tale that radically veers away from the “wholesome” iteration of the Archie Comics title that debuted in 1962.
It sees the winsome orphan wrestling to reconcile with her dual nature as her 16th birthday approaches—Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is half-witch and half-human.
Her father is warlock Edward (Georgie Daburas), one of the greatest thinkers of the coven of the Church of Night who had to make a sacrifice to get the Dark Lord to approve of his forbidden marriage to his mortal wife, Diana (Annette Riley).
Sabrina lives with her fun-loving Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis), the pragmatic Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto), and her gay cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), who runs the Spellmans’ mortuary business when he’s not locking lips with warlock Luke (Darren Mann).
Her black feline pet Salem, a former witch who was turned into a cat by the Witches’ Council as a punishment for her power-grabbing impertinence, keeps Sabrina company.
Salem is particularly protective of Sabrina every time she ventures into the dark nooks and crannies of Glendale Woods, as much the site of the infamous witch hunt in 1692 that claimed the lives of 13 witches as it was Sabrina’s place of birth 16 years ago.
Sabrina’s high school life is made eventful by the presence of her boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) and two best friends, Rosalind Walker (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson).
The feisty teens actively advocate female empowerment, and rail against racial and gender intolerance on campus when they aren’t justifying their activism in front of Principal George Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot) and their “strangely omnipresent” mentor, Miss Mary Wardell (Michelle Gomez).
Unknown to them, Sabrina is fighting a seemingly indefensible battle. She’s expected to renounce all her “meaningful connections” with mortals when she turns 16.
Thereafter, she must transfer to the Academy of the Unseen Arts, where she’s destined to meet charming warlock Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) and a trio of mean witches, headed by Prudence (Tati Gabrielle)—who can’t wait to demonstrate their displeasure over the arrival of the gifted “half-breed.”
Following Sabrina’s refusal to sign in the Book of the Beast, Hilda and Zelda find themselves suddenly stripped of their powers—and aging rapidly! It’s a condition that can only be rectified by their headstrong niece if she acquiesces to the whims of the coven’s high priest, Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle).
If she fails to defend her case, Sabrina has to abandon her mortal life immediately and, upon her death, she shall burn “in the pit” for 333 years!
The show tackles grim and gritty issues, but isn’t devoid of crowd-pleasing sequences, like Sabrina’s satisfying face-off with the Weird Sisters who need to be held accountable for a number of unaddressed cases of hazing, bullying and deaths.
Just as pertinent is Ros and Susie’s “mano-a-mano” against the ultraconservative school officials behind the “soft purge” of what they describe as “bad books,” which include Toni Morrison’s racism-themed “The Bluest Eye” or Anthony Burgess’ dystopian satire “A Clockwork Orange.”
Also, later in the series: Harvey faces a Solomonic dilemma involving his brother, Tommy (Justin Dobies); the Spellmans’ tricky clash with a sleep monster called Batibat; and Sabrina’s final duel with the Red Angel of Death and the wrathful witches of Glendale.
“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” isn’t just about a teenage girl attempting to conciliate her duality in the tantalizing world of warlocks, witches, sorcerers and demons she inhabits.
More than anything, it is about man’s constant struggle to choose between right and wrong.
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