ENTERTAINMENT
26/10/2018 06:01 BST

Sabrina's New Adventures Are Certainly 'Chilling', But Do They Have To Be So *Long*? - HuffPost Verdict

We're a long way off the 'Teenage Witch' we know and love in Netflix's new series.

Netflix

K E Y   P O I N T S

  • ‘Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’ is Netflix’s new adaptation of the Archie Comics series of the same name
  • The comic series is a reimagining of the comic ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’, which spawned the hugely successful children’s sitcom in the 1990s
  • However, as the title suggests, ‘Chilling Adventures’ offers a far dark darker version of Sabrina Spellman’s story than the one we already know and love
  • Sabrina is played by rising star Kiernan Shipka, while aunts Hilda and Zelda are both present and correct, as are Salem the cat and love interest Harvey Kinkle
  • The new Netflix show was developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who looks after ‘Riverdale’, also based on characters from Archie Comics
  • Debuting right before Halloween, the show is a new spooky treat for Netflix viewers, coming out the same week as ‘Stranger Things 2’ debuted last year

S N A P   V E R D I C T

This review is based on the first five episodes of ‘Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’.

Before we get into what ‘Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’ is, it’s probably best to get out of the way what it isn’t, and that’s a reboot, remake or even a reimagining of the 90s children’s sitcom, ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’, which millennials are still quoting to this day. Both are based on characters from Archie Comics (although it should be noted, they’re actually based on two different incarnations of the titular Sabrina), but Netflix’s new show tells a story that couldn’t be further away from the Sabrina we already know and love.

We never saw the 90s Sabrina, for example, battling for her freedom in a court battle against Satan himself. We never saw her stripping off in the woods with her heartthrob Harvey so he could help her hunt for a “witch’s mark” on her body. We never saw her Aunt Zelda frustratedly murdering Aunt Hilda and burying her in the garden (don’t worry, folks, she’s fine following a short self-resurrection later). And we certainly never saw her cousin, in one nightmarish sequence, performing an autopsy on himself, pulling out his own heart and then taking a big bite out of it.

With that out of the way, though, what can we expect from ‘Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’?

Well, on one hand, it’s actually a pretty standard American teen drama, not surprising when you hear it was developed by the same team as ‘Riverdale’, though with a few modern details. We quickly meet Sabrina Spellman, a seemingly normal student at Baxter High. She loves her friends and her boyfriend (Sabrina’s scenes with Harvey are almost sickeningly sweet, but you can’t help but root for them), she stands up for what’s right and she’s fed up of the white patriarchy that’s reigning supreme at her high school.

So far, so 2018, right? Well, not quite, because Sabrina has a secret she can’t tell her schoolmates about, and it’s left her feeling all conflicted.

You see, Sabrina is just days away from her 16th birthday when, as a half-witch, she’s expected to undergo her “dark baptism”, sign her name in the “book of the beast” and pledge her soul to the devil for all eternity. Ultimately, it turns out that Sabrina’s refusal to bow down to authority and give up her independence extends even to the Dark Lord, and over the show’s action-packed and, yes, “chilling” 10 episodes, this has huge consequences not just for her but for everyone she loves.

Heavy stuff, right? And it certainly puts whatever petty drama they’re whining about on other teen shows into perspective. This is ‘The O.C.’ meets ‘American Horror Story: Coven’, a mix that won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but will hit the sweet spot for anyone looking for something to give them a scare over Halloween.

And when we say “a scare”, we really mean it. We were half expecting something between ‘Hocus Pocus’ and ‘The Addams Family’, so we were surprised at just how far ‘Chilling Adventures’ goes in its quest to make us jump. It’s probably not anything hardened horror fans would lose sleep over after watching, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its genuinely frightening and unsettling moments.

Thanks to its talented cast, though, it’s also a show with a lot of heart, veering into cheesy or mawkish territory on only a small number of occasions. Kiernan Shipka is a more than capable leading actress, easily switching between portraying Sabrina as courageous and hesitant, confident and unsure, worldly and naive.

It’s Miranda Otto and, especially, Lucy Davis who steal the show though, as Aunts Zelda and Hilda respectively. Lucy (best known for her role in Ricky Gervais’ ‘The Office’) plays Hilda as less sarcastic and more nurturing than ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’ fans will remember the character. This makes for a less gif-able character, perhaps, but also a much more multi-layered and well-rounded one, and her scenes are among our favourites.

One complaint we would have about ‘Chilling Adventures’ is that when we’re dealing with a spooky teen series, we’re not sure it’s necessary for each episode to be so long. Critics moan a lot about the “Netflix bloat”, but in this case they’d be more than justified, with some episodes clocking in at more than an hour each (the opening credits alone going on for more than a minute and a half).

We’re not saying we’d necessarily want to cut any of the action - of which there is a lot - but most episodes of the show could have benefited from being split in two, which would make sitting down to watch them feel like a whole lot less of a commitment.

Netflix

B E S T   L I N E S

There are so many delicious things about being a witch, but the one really bad thing is saying goodbye to you.” Sabrina tries to explain her situation to Harvey (before ultimately changing her mind and erasing his memory)
It's witch law. The path of light or the path of night. But not both.” Aunt Zelda
She annoyed me. So I killed her. And buried her in the yard.” Like we said, Zelda and Hilda’s relationship is a little different to how we remember it

T A K E   H O M E   M E S S A G E

Anyone tuning in for a dose of 90s nostalgia should probably turn elsewhere (there’s always ‘Friends’ for that, we suppose...), but if you’re looking for a thrill over Halloween, or a new teen drama with a difference to sink your teeth into, then you’re in luck.

T R A I L E R