The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Quarantined Review


Two years ago part one of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was released on Netflix just in time for Halloween. As opposed to the original series, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the show takes a more serious tone. The intended audience has switched from teens to adults. This is obvious in the stylized differences between the two. Though it seems unfair to compare such different television shows.
With the amount of time spent slouched on the couch these past couple of weeks binging Netflix, I’ve found a plethora of shows that have piqued my interest. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was one that caught me off guard.
The show is a clear satire of the Christian Church, the main plot revolving around a highly conservative group of Satanic witches. As a teenager attending a Lutheran high school as well as an avid fan of the original series, I think breaking down the messages and talking about my own personal opinion of the show is important.
I’d like to give a brief synopsis before my review. Here is my warning: there will be major spoilers for the show, read at your discretion. The first few episodes are slow, taking a bit of time to get viewers accustomed to Greendale, the fictional setting for the show. In these first few episodes we’re introduced to the Church of Night, a satan worshiping coven of witches. The goal of Sabrina’s family, her two aunts and cousin, is to get her to sign her name in the book of the beast. This is something that actually appeared in history throughout infamous witch trails. Many of the accused ‘witches’ in history, would be said to have signed this ‘book of the beast’ which in turn sold their soul to the devil.
The show quickly derails from anything remotely grounded in history, as it becomes apparent that almost all of the Christian and secular holidays seem to have some sort of occultist counterpart. In fact this was personally one of my biggest gripes with the show, was that it seemed to just drag out the exposition and world building, instead of giving a genuine feel to the narrative.
Though it’s the goal of her family to get Sabrina to sign her soul away, this doesn’t happen. Later on in the series she is tricked into doing it to save her friends, but in the first season she tries to turn away from the religion as much as possible. I thought this was a really interesting aspect of the storyline. As a lot of the satire comes from things surrounding the church, but I can’t really pinpoint what this would be alluding to. Possibly the rebellion of teenagers away from the Christian religion? Maybe the stereotype of children raised in a church growing to instead hate it? It’s an odd part to include, but it makes up the majority of the storyline, so I understand why it was included.
If you can’t already tell, I didn’t really like it all that much. Not just because of the satanic elements, but I had a lot of other issues with the show. I felt like the writing took itself too seriously, I used to love the campiness of the original series, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Though as I said before, these are two completely different shows. While a serious take on the comics is a fascinating concept, the execution was lacking. There seemed to be no real sense of self for the main character, I always felt like I was rooting against Sabrina and I had no real emotional connection to her. By taking out all of the comedy of the original series, they also took away Sabrina’s personality.
I really liked the casting of this show, I thought it was unique and overall a good choice. It’s really just the writing that upset me the most. They didn’t let Harvey’s character have the fun and outright silliness I had expected. Ross Lynch is such a great actor and there was no fault to him. To me it feels like they replaced Harvey with a generic love interest side character, instead of letting him have any unique traits.
Speaking of side characters, this show is a great example of forced diversity. It’s amazing to have a diverse cast, but it is obvious to tell that to some degree, the casting for the side-characters was largely forced to help pander the show towards teenagers. And that struck me as offensive and insensitive on the part of the writers. I would have much rather had good characters with genuine and realistic arcs than any of the side-characters we actually got. They were all interesting, but we didn’t get to see much of them at all. After the first few episodes, they slowly begin to fall out of the overarching narrative. This really made me angry, because they did have good storylines, they just weren’t given the screentime to showcase them.
I have to credit them for something though, as I found most of the side characters and subplots much more interesting than anything that was happening with Sabrina or Harvey. I wish that Roz could have had more screentime. Honestly I think she would have made a much more compelling main character and since the show is so wildly divergent from the source material anyway, this could have been a possibility.
The plot concepts bring about interesting questions and the satire was probably my favorite part. It is obvious throughout the show that the satanic church is a stand-in for the christian church. The way characters behave and interact with the religion is not dissimilar to what we would see from people in the catholic church. Whether this was to make the church seem more real or to make it a mockery of the actual church, it was easily one of my favourite parts of the show.
The world building in this show is unmatched by any other supernatural series to date. That could be taken as a good or bad thing, depending on how much pointless and out-of-character exposition that you’re willing to sit through. I feel very disappointed in what happened with it. Overall, the story is good, it was just the execution that really broke what could have been another one of Netflix’s hits.
Though The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is not by any means a very good show, it is worth a watch. I enjoyed the subplots and nuanced characterizations of iconic characters from my childhood. I can tell that a lot of thought went into making the series new and yet still nostalgic for fans of the original. The aunts in the show were so complex and interesting that it truly felt like a real family dynamic. Many of the new array of characters had a lot of background and depth, giving the show this weirdly realistic approach to a concept that otherwise could be considered absurd, and I personally liked that.

While the show has a lot of flaws, by all means the worst of them all: Salem doesn’t talk.

Make of that what you will.