The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are Not so Adventurous

In my opinion, the world of fantasy is where the best entertainment lies. I am fortunate to have grown up in a time where young adult books, commonly written from the genre of fantasy, line shelf after shelf, and even more fortunate that the hype from these story lines eventually extended into movies and TV networks. There is a wellspring of supernatural based shows with high viewer ratings and amazing storylines — Vampire Diaries(which is moving into its third spinoff!), The Secret CircleTeen WolfTrue BloodSupernaturalLegacies— I hope this trend never ends. After all, it’s starting to become a staple of American culture.

When The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Spellman came out on Netflix, I thought I would just have another show to add to this champion collection. Finally, Sabrina Spellman would have the potential to be revamped into a modern show full of rich storylines, murderous intrigue, and gorgeous graphics. However, like the Charmed reboot, I should have known not to hold my breath.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Spellman takes viewers to the edge of “edgy” and then dives into the abyss beneath it. I don’t think anyone can really look favorably upon this over-the-top journey — even critics seem unsure with the strange new directions Netflix continuously seems to be trying to go. Defining it as avant-garde, as some have hesitantly tried to do, seems a little too generous.

Maybe it’s the fact that our main witch worships Satan, who literally has cloven hooves. He’s demonic in a tribal sense, and I never imagined a walking goat could be so very disturbing with some cheap lighting effects and face shadowing. The icing on the cake is the fact that Sabrina has to pledge her body to him as part of her special coming-of-age ritual. Is this in the metaphorical sense? No. It’s literal, as the show goes to great lengths to prove. One of the “weird witches,” the magical version of mean girls at Sabrina’s occult boarding school, suggests that she “cock teased the dark lord” by attempting to get out of the pledge. I’m not sure what the show is trying to accomplish here. I sense some kind of attempted feminist arc, but its sexual exploration in the form of hedonism lands it in an uncomfortable realm of creepy misogyny. Miss Wardwell, who worms her way into Sabrina’s life as a trusted mentor but secretly intends to manipulate her into pledging to Satan, does tell a fellow confidante intent on doing the same thing that he went about his goal in all too much of a forceful, masculine way. She tells him, in so many words, that the goal needs a woman’s sly manipulation. Reminder: the goal is to trap a girl in an arranged marriage with a demonic being that will take sexual advantage of her. 

But maybe I’m looking too much into it.

These disturbing contexts might be less disturbing and more intriguing, albeit very dark, if they were actually portrayed as antagonistic forces. Yet they’re treated, on the whole, as rather minor details in the midst of the show’s true conflict: how can Sabrina Spellman be a part of both worlds?

            Yes, it is hard to believe that Netflix could turn a show with a corrupt religious court of law headed by screeching warped-face creatures (no joke), a pedophilic Satan, and a network of adults who treat Sabrina like a pawn in what reads as a Miley Cyrus coming-of-age story, but these really are Sabrina Spellman’s true concerns. She walks into every situation with such a bullheaded naivety that it’s hard not to almost feel offended by her stupidity. 

The casualty and lack of importance to every disturbing element in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Spellman makes the show feel fundamentally wrong on some level. 

I, like any millennial, enjoy a dash of dark humor, a good anti-hero, an element of darkness, and even a blurring of lines in my movies. However, when the dark, twisted details of a storyline are set as a casual way of life and the evil characters in it are part of the scenery, not the opposing players, it becomes disturbing as a whole — in a way that makes it a don’t-watch.

Sabrina particularly successful at saving the day either. One thrilling example: her boyfriend’s brother is killed in the mine by her fellow witches due to a feud between witch hunters. A typical protagonist would save the day, but Sabrina casually takes it upon herself to “right a wrong” by raising the boy from the dead, revives only his body Pet Sematary style, and then gets his soul eaten by the aptly named soul-eater. 

It will not surprise you that after no more than ten episodes, Sabrina ends up pledging herself to the devil and gives up the fight to keep her name, as she puts it, which was the only interesting point of contention in the whole show. Following this, she gets souped-up powers and a wardrobe change, but it feels moot and all over the place. 

Beyond that, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, simply put, is boring. The charming Salem mostly appears in the weird, blurry transition shot of the Spellman home, which is supposed to be artistic but comes across as bland and strange. He rarely appears in many other scenes, which is strange, because he is an integral element in the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch series. Sabrina herself rarely does magic, except when it’s graphic: graphically slitting throats, graphically creating an illusion of herself that seduces a boy into sex for revenge, and so on. The plot feels aimless, the conflict promised isn’t there, and the only antagonist is seriously misplaced teenage angst. Good writing is ne’er to be found here.Ambrose Spellman, of course, is exempt from such criticism as the only bright point in this disturbing and mundane mess. If someone could please make a T-shirt of him, I would be eternally grateful.