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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina - Advance Preview

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When it was first revealed that Netflix had not only picked up a Riverdale spin-off, but picked it up for 2 seasons? I was extremely sceptical. At best I describe Riverdale as a guilty pleasure. The plot doesn’t always make sense, there’s a lot of continuity issues, things blatantly being made up as they go along, and it got to the point where I only watched every week to make fun of how dumb it was.

Initially this preview was going to be quite scathing. As with 99% of Netflix shows, Sabrina starts out quite slow and makes the first 3 episodes a chore to watch. Thankfully it does massively improve in quality from episode 4 onwards, and it’s fair to say it’s not a coincidence that happens when the show focusses a bit more on supernatural aspects rather than the grounded mortal drama.

It’s important to note the show is based off the Archie comic series and is NOT a remake or revival of the popular 90’s show. Anyone tuning into this show expecting a light-hearted, comedic affair is going to be massively disappointed. It’s noir in feeling just like with Riverdale, and as a result impossible to really know just what time exactly the show is set in. Sometimes it feels like it’s stuck in the 60’s, other times it feels modern.

The opening episodes serve as an introduction to Sabrina’s world, her family, her friends and the opening two episodes centre around her upcoming 16th birthday. On that day she’s supposed to join the witch coven, and say goodbye to the moral world. It’s fair to say she isn’t exactly happy with that. Hearing her proclaim she doesn’t want to give up her friends or Harvey because she loves them so much, was bad enough once. This conversation and the drama that surrounds it being a repeating theme through the first 3 episodes is repetitive, tedious, makes the episodes feel far longer than they actually are and tested my already limited attention span to the limit. Being caught between two worlds is a conundrum plenty of shows have covered before, and far better than this.

We’re constantly told how in love Sabrina and Harvey are, but an action in the opening episode that is brushed over puts the relationship in murky waters. Some might not see any issue with it, but I can’t help feeling if the roles were reversed it’d be more controversial. We’re also constantly told how much Sabrina loves her mortal friends, and they do share some screen time with her but it’s nothing truly substantial. It’s hard to care about someone being bullied when they’re hardly given screen time to develop into a character that stands on their own for us to invest in. Thankfully by the end of episode 3 a resolution is reached, the writers allow the show to completely bathe in the supernatural and it is only upwards from here.

Episode 4 sees Sabrina deal with a spate of initiation bullying, which is difficult to watch at times but the plot soon becomes about much more than her. It’s extremely difficult to tell just who exactly is on her side and who isn’t, but I suppose that’s part of the fun. Episode 5 is all about nightmares and it reminded me a lot of an early episode of Buffy in ways. It could be construed as filler since it doesn’t exactly move the plot forward, but what we do get are some extremely interesting character moments as dreams descend into nightmares. As you’ll have already seen from the last trailer that Netflix released, Hilda and Zelda have what I guess can be defined as a volatile relationship. Hilda annoys Zelda quite a lot and where most of us just walk out on relative in a fight, Zelda takes to killing her. Not something Hilda really appreciates but Zelda’s unrepentant in her actions. The way Zelda often treats Hilda leaves both her and indeed us viewers at times wondering whether Zelda even likes her sister. It’s not a coincidence that both of their dreams revolve around each other, but in very different ways, and Zelda’s reaction to an event leaves us in doubt as to her true feelings for her sister. Sabrina’s dream also provides a bit more insight into her relationship with Harvey, and more specifically her fears over the future and Ambrose’s dream sets up his journey for the rest of the episodes.

Episode 6 sees Sabrina gets answers of sorts on another characters actions, but of course everything isn’t what it seems. It also sees the mortal and demonic world collide as Harvey and Sabrina’s friends are haunted by a demon. Sabrina of course decides to step in to help which almost takes her life, and inspires a surprising team-up to get rid of the demon once and for all, but not without a life being lost. Episode 7 changes things up by taking the focus away from Sabrina, and shifting to Prudence. We get a bit more of a feel for the character as some major revelations are dropped, and the episode ends with a shocking turn of events that leaves lives in danger. Episode 8 more or less picks up straight where the previous episode left off, only the focus this time is on Harvey. The crumbs for his relationship with his father had previously been laid, so the episode adds to that. It also presents Sabrina with an interesting moral dilemma. She’s an extremely caring and loving person, who when she sees someone she loves suffering wants to make it all better. Her actions are admirable and once again understandable, even if episodes like this do serve to remind us that she is a na├»ve of sorts 16 year old girl. She rightly gets a dressing down from Ambrose for her actions, not that it deters her, and it will be extremely interesting to see how the show wraps things up in the last 2 episodes of the season.

I think it says enough that I don’t actually remember the names of Sabrina’s friends, but can quite easily tell you about her frenemy Prudence and the weird sisters. They have featured quite heavily in the promos in the build-up to the series release, and Tati Gabrielle is a standout. Prudence starts off as the typical, bitchy frenemy that you just want to put down a well and forget all about, but as season 1 progresses she gets more airtime and we see that there is more to her than meets the eye. The same can be said for Father Blackwood. Every supernatural show needs to have a good villain, but the motivation needs to be clear. At first it’s hard to tell whether he is a good guy, bad guy, somewhere in between or what exactly he wants with Sabrina. Over the course of the episodes that does become slightly clearer, but it really shouldn’t be a guessing game to understand. I also have to mention Michelle Gomez who plays Sabrina's mentor. She's probably most famous for playing Missy on Doctor Who and briefly appeared on Gotham, and she's a fantastic actress. It's clear from the word go that there's more to her than meets the eye, and as the season unfolds we do get some answers even if there's a question over how much of it we can believe. Michelle never misses a beat and is an absolute delight to watch on screen.

When Ross Lynch was first cast as Harvey, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the casting choice and I still feel that way. He’s a decent enough actor but he doesn’t really have the charisma for a character like Harvey. He’s supposed to be an innocent, love struck boy but instead just comes across as rather dumb. As the episodes go on, Harvey does get a bit of development with his own story away from Sabrina and we do get to see his family life and in particular his relationship with his father. It’s emotional moments that are designed to pull at the heartstrings, and make us feel bad for Harvey, but it’s difficult to feel emotion for a character who walks around so gormless. Towards the end of the season his acting does improve slightly, but it’s still difficult to feel an emotional connection to him.

The show will live or die on the Spellman family dynamic and thankfully it is excellent. Even if she is allergic to cats, I completely get why Kiernan Shipka was first choice to play Sabrina. She’s a talented actress who fully owns the role. Whilst some of the storytelling is tedious and boring, I understood Sabrina’s point of view, and the feeling of being torn between two worlds. Thankfully this isn’t a girl who has just come into her powers and is acclimatising to them, and we don’t have to sit through numerous episodes of her being taught the ways of magic. Even if she doesn’t completely understand her powers, she understands the fact she is powerful, she has a great heart and is smarter than many older and more senior witches. She’s not afraid to go toe to toe for what she believes in, even if others around her do unfortunately feel the consequences of that.

Hilda is of course the good cop to Zelda’s bad cop but they’re both wonderfully played by Lucy Davis and Mirando Otto. Some of the best scenes of the season involve both of them. Sharp on wit, sharp on emotion and it’s entertaining to watch. Amidst all the drama what is never lost is how much they do both love Sabrina, and how much she does love them. The family has many a secret, and it’s interesting to piece all the crumbs that the show drops together.

Given this is a show about witchcraft it is probably expected, but a brief warning for anyone who isn’t exactly fond of eight legged creatures as they do feature at times in the show.

The opening episodes were difficult to get through at times, but once you’re past that, this is a show with tremendous potential. The storytelling is interesting eventually as worlds collide, drama at every turn and some unexpected alliances form. There’s no worries that you have to have watched Riverdale in order to watch Sabrina, since the show exists as a separate entity with only minor shout outs. For those that are a fan of Netflix’s imaginative opening credits, you’re certainly getting a treat here as the credits run for approximately 99 seconds.

You can catch Chilling Adventures of Sabrina when it hits Netflix on 26th October. In the meantime sound off in the comments with your questions, and if they aren’t too spoilery, I'll try my best to answer.

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