There’s something to be said for consorting with the devil.
The perks include nearly unlimited power, awesome opportunities for revenge, and lots of sexy times. However, the downsides are just as lousy as one might experience in other fundamentalist religions.
And that’s what Sabrina Spellman must grapple with in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the Netflix adaptation of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s graphic novels. Aguirre-Sacasa’s dark revamp of characters from the Archies resulted in the CW's Riverdale, which started out as a fun, campy delight but quickly devolved into a trainwreck of messy plotting and desperate, nonsensical attempts to keep viewers’ interest. This is decidedly not the case with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which benefits from a far more generous budget and expert casting and writing.
Kiernan Shipa (Mad Men’s Sally Draper) plays Sabrina, a half-mortal, half-witch residing in Greendale, a small town just down the road from Riverdale, that has a history of abusing and hanging witches. The series opens with Sabrina on the eve of turning 16, at which point she’s supposed to shun the mortal world and hand her soul over to Satan. Unfortunately for the devil and the witch community, Sabrina is a fiery young feminist who says “OH HELL NO” to her coven’s patriarchal nonsense. And its this single act of defiance that lays the groundwork for the rest of season, in which Sabrina must try to navigate maintaining relationships with her witchy aunts, her human pals, her mortal boyfriend, a very angry coven, and especially Satan—who has a diabolical plan for eventually luring her into the fiery pits of Hell. (Which is something he excels in, after all.)
For those who need a sigh of relief, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is light-years ahead of its janky cousin Riverdale in its detailed plots, use of stylish horror tropes, and especially the actors, who are almost an unanimous delight. Shipa’s Sabrina is brassy, sassy, and likeable as a teen constantly at odds with her guardian aunts Zelda (a cool, haughty Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis, who you remember as Dawn from the British version of The Office, and is so very good in this). In fact, Samantha’s entire coven is populated with great acting, including Richard Coyle as the evil, misogynist warlock Father Blackwell and Michelle Gomez as Sabrina’s demonic (and scene chewing) high school teacher. The same cannot be said of Sabrina’s mortal pals, who—even after being given deeper character traits as the season progresses—are all pretty much drips. While it’s probably unfair to compare them to a vastly more interesting coven of witches, the series wisely keeps the mortals’ participation to a minimum.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina works on a number of levels, including being a sneaky parody of organized religion, a soapy teen drama, a horror enthusiast’s wet dream filled with all sorts of delicious Easter eggs—but its heart is entertaining, dark, and blisteringly pro-feminist. Sabrina speaks loudly and clearly whenever her sense of self is threatened by men or any other patriarchy-adjacent group—and her confidence is enthralling. But this same confidence is used against her in later episodes, showing the diabolical lengths society will take in order to keep centuries-old systems in place. And this is what makes Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a groundbreaking work, while simultaneously fun and creepy as fuck. I can’t wait for season two.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina starts streaming on Netflix this Friday, Oct. 26.