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TV Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Horror, Netflix, TV Review, Kiernan Shipka, Bronson Pinchot, Miranda Otto, Lucy Davis, Chance Perdomo, Netflix

SYNOPSIS:  Chilling Adventures of Sabrina imagines the origin and adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch as a dark coming-of-age story that traffics in horror, the occult and, of course, witchcraft. Tonally in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, this adaptation finds Sabrina wrestling to reconcile her dual nature — half-witch, half-mortal — while standing against the evil forces that threaten her, her family and the daylight world humans inhabit.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Horror, Netflix, TV Review, Kiernan Shipka, Bronson Pinchot, Miranda Otto, Lucy Davis, Chance Perdomo, Netflix

REVIEW: Archie Comics were never cool when I was growing up. In fact, as much as I loved reading all sorts of comics, Archie just seemed to vanilla and goofy for my tastes. Then, there was the awfully goofy sitcom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, starring Melissa Joan Hart. Even stumbling over that show in reruns makes me groan. So, when I caught the pilot of Riverdale a few years ago at San Diego Comic Con, it was a unique take on the original material updated with a noir-ish sensibility. That was quickly followed by word of this dark and scary revival of the Archie spin-off, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Even before the teaser was released, I went into this series with low expectations despite the interesting cast led by Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka. The results are a show that is firmly designed for a younger demographic but full of some well executed horror homages. Sexy, violent, and still pretty funny, this version of Sabrina is definitely not for those who can't handle some good old-fashioned Satan worshipping.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, like the comic of the same name it is based on, is set in a period out of time. It looks and feels like it takes place in the 1960s but there are anachronistic references throughout. There are cell phones and vague references to social media, but the characters deal with timely topics like gender non-conformity, bullying, censorship, and women's rights. Before you roll your eyes and write this series off as another show with a liberal agenda, the topics are handled well and don't take too much focus away from the main plot. Central to this story is the impending sixteenth birthday of young Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) whose father was a warlock and mother was a human. With both parents killed when she was a child, Sabrina lives with her aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) at the family mortuary. Also in the house is Sabrina's cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), a warlock under house arrest. In many ways, this series is similar in setup to the Harry Potter novel, although with a lot more goat-headed devils and dripping blood. Imagine if JK Rowling's series focused on Hermione Granger instead of Harry and included a lot more direct references to sex.

Sabrina's birthday will also mark the date of her Dark Baptism where she will leave her boyfriend Harvey and mortal life behind to attend the Academy of Unseen Arts and begin her life as a witch. This forms the crux of the first half of the season as Sabrina must come to terms with saying goodbye to everyone in her hometown of Greendale while also figuring out what she wants out of her own life. This is further complicated by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of her parents as well as the arrival of an evil entity that embodies Sabrina's favorite teacher at school, Mrs. Wardell (Doctor Who's Michelle Gomez). In many ways, it plays like an edgier version of Harry Potter but with some hints of Twilight thrown in for good measure. It also incorporates historical and fictional characters into the narrative, just like the comic book. But, unlike The CW's current hit Riverdale, Sabrina doesn't feel like a pulpy noir. Instead, this is the perkiest horror series you can imagine.

Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who also penned the comic series of the same name, and producer Greg Berlanti have created a world here that could easily cross over with Riverdale but is a wholly distinct show. But, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina actually feels a lot more in line with the work of Ryan Murphy, whom Aguirre-Sacasa worked with on Glee for multiple seasons. Aguirre-Sacasa, who wrote the meta-horror movie THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, knows how to infuse this show with references to iconic scary films like THE EXORCIST, ROSEMARY'S BABY, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD that it feels authentic and doesn't go down the self-referential rabbit hole of films like SCREAM. There are actually scary scenes in this show that could never be pulled off on a network series which makes Netflix the perfect home for this show. Yet, it still feels weird watching it and comparing it to the family friendly sitcom that preceded it.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Horror, Netflix, TV Review, Kiernan Shipka, Bronson Pinchot, Miranda Otto, Lucy Davis, Chance Perdomo, Netflix

While the time we spend with the Spellman family and explore her supernatural world of witchcraft and demons is very well executed, the series fails when it comes to Sabrina's human friends. Her boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), is a boring and generic character who we spend far too much time with. His family strife and struggles is incredibly cliche and he never feels worthy of inclusion in the series. The same goes for Sabrina's best friends, Rosalind and Suzie. One is a bookworm and the other is a struggling transgender student who is getting bullied. Together, they and Sabrina form a group with a horribly on the nose acronym of a name which puts them at odds with the school principal played by Bronson Pinchot. Pinchot is great in a minor role as he gets to play a stereotypical school administrator. It works where Suzie and Rosalind do not because they, as Sabrina's best friends, end up feeling very two-dimensional despite ample screen time. So, when things go wrong for Sabrina's human friends, it never feels authentic as you just never care enough about them.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is edgy enough to please fans of the horror genre even if it still comes across as a bit of a youth-oriented series. It is also welcoming enough for younger audiences who aren't quite ready for the more extreme elements of scary movies. The production values are very good and the show benefits from a cute and talented lead in Kiernan Shipka with solid veteran supporting players in Miranda Otto, Lucy Davis, RIchard Coyle, and Michelle Gomez. However, the rest of the cast falls a bit short of making the entire ensemble click. As a nice Halloween binge, you could do a lot worse than Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It comes close to casting a spell on viewers but may need a little more practice before we fully succumb to it's magic.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina premieres October 26th on Netflix.

Source: JoBlo.com

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