This holiday season we have truly been given a gift, and when I say holiday season, my holidays begin at Halloween. If you are an 80s – 90s baby, you remember Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch, you remember it so very fondly. How could we forget? This is not that Sabrina. Let’s be clear, this is the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina who is a teenage witch.” If you think you are going to get cute spells, talking cats, and teenage humor acted by 30 year olds (ok you might still get that), but you are in for rude awakening with this reboot otherwise.
If you haven’t watched the season yet – I get it you are thinking what everyone else is thinking…damn that Charmed reboot is not winning, why would this? Because this is in a whole nother category. Coming to us from the creator of Riverdale and Glee (I know that does not sound like it would be what you think it is) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has pulled out all the double double toil and trouble with this one.
Not only is the full season rich, complicated, engaging, and frightening, but we get even more with this Christmas special. It’s like they knew from Halloween to Christmas we would NEED this fix. So, let’s do a bit of a recap on the season and review of this spine-tingling holiday special.
THE GIRL WHO LIVED
We begin the series just getting to know Sabrina Spellman played by Kiernan Shipka, (Jinora, Legend of Korra). Don’t worry spoilers will be at a minimum, but really just go watch it. We see Sabrina at the movies as a regular teenage girl, seeing a horror film of course. All those around her shrieking at the jump scares, and she is enjoying every minute. Sabrina seems smart, cool, collected and clever. Alliteration aside, we see how close Sabrina is with her friends and boyfriend Harvey played by Ross Lynch (Jeff Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer). He even says he loves her, and her him. The show does a great job of blending those classic teenage problems that feel like they matter with some real evil magic ish. Once she gets inside her house, you get that teenage coming home after the chocolate shoppe, dancing on the grand dark stairs AAANND killing crows that fly into her window while speaking incantations.
We learn quickly that Sabrina’s birthday is just around the corner, on Halloween, a blood moon, and it also happens to be her sweet 16. Basically, the planets have aligned at the time Sabrina is to sign her name in the Book of the Beast, signing her allegiance to…well, Satan. Once she signs this book, she gives up all her mortal connections and will be shipped off to the Academy of the Unseen Arts, with all the other young witches and warlocks. You see the conflict within her between her birthright and her nurtured mortal life. You find out that Sabrina is actually half mortal half-witch on her father’s side. Her father having been a high-ranking warlock in the Church of Night whose wed to her mother was a point of contention in the church and – well you see later on there is much more to this than we understand or is even revealed in this first season.
Sabrina’s mother and father had been killed in a tragic plane crash, which is presented as maybe not so much of an accident. As Sabrina is trying to piece together who she is – you know teenager stuff, she is learning so much more about her path than she could have ever predicted.
My favorite scene is her with Father Faustus Blackwood played by Richard Coyle (Tus, Prince of Persia). This scene is a game of poker, where each player is prodding to find each other’s tell. Blackwood says right out – I heard you not about signing this book – let me convince you. Sabrina’s all like, word! Ok, I have some questions then. She goes in about burning in hell is not her bag, and he’s like naw child, that’s why we sign, burnin’ in hell is for mortals – you good! You just get powers, long life and free will – just give up your mortal nonsense. She’s like – hhhmmmm – cuz she knows he has the illest poker face and some crazy card up his sleeve. For real, this is out of this world and the best form of exposition I have seen in a series to date.
A COVEN OF ONE’S OWN
Throughout the season, we get deeper into the cauldron adding a slew of ingredients including the lives of Sabrina’s friends and the witches of her coven. I want to applaud the show for its phenomenal character development and casting. The devilishly charismatic cousin of Sabrina, Ambrose, is played by somewhat newcomer to U.S. series, Chance Perdomo, and he is reason alone to watch. Ambrose is a very skilled and clever warlock who is bound to the grounds of the Spellman household. For some reason, he is unable to leave the premises. You get a glimpse into why but not the full story. He is all knowledgeable, a confidant to Sabrina, and the mortician in the house. Oh yea, I forgot to mention they run a mortuary – of course, so fitting. Some here at BNP say he is the embodiment of Salem the cat! I agree hands down.
In this series, a familiar is something a witch has when they come of age, a Goblin that takes animal form in order to better serve their masters. Sabrina in an unorthodox way summons a familiar, and Salem shows up out of their free will. First of all, that was my favorite moment. My heart literally turned icy when Salem arrived in true form! I won’t even spoil it for you. It’s like the first episode so get on it. Salem does not talk in this series, and I half wanted him to speak but realized later that would have looked real cheesy in this world. Salem is a BOSS though, and you can tell Sabrina’s connection to him is real and she can understand his meows perfectly fine.
Salem doesn’t need to talk, because they gave us an infinitely better character in Ambrose. No offense to the iconic and lovable black feline. Ambrose’s story is mysterious, and I am undoubtedly excited to see more of his background: Why he is on permanent house arrest, where his experience comes from, where are his parents, and how closely is his relation to Sabrina and her story? And he is just so dashing!
The characters bring more and more intrigue, and the people of color in lead roles continues to be exciting! The three witches known as “The Weird Sisters” are evil, seductive characters, whose complexity makes them even more alluring as the story progresses.
The main witch in charge is Prudence Night. Because she is an orphan, I feel like the last name Night is similar to Snow in this situation. The actress, Tati Gabrielle, does a phenomenal job. She is evil, sly, and you just love her. Sure, she tries to hex Sabrina in so many ways, but this storyline provides such great character building. Prudence being seen as an orphan, unwanted and unimportant, Sabrina being in a similar situation but still regarded as high born and more important – even as a half-breed. There is visible contention between the witches and Sabrina coming into their world. These three sisters make us see just how powerful young witches can be and how evil can truly be so fun.
Her mortal friends are the ones that make this world a big mixing pot, and I’m not just talking diversity. These friends seemingly have a regular teenage life but find themselves in the thick of magical circumstances that they don’t even know. Our girl, Rosalind Walker, played by Jaz Sinclair (first off boss ass name) is a revolutionary outspoken young woman repping POC for sure! At one point, she is protesting the school for not letting her read The Bluest Eye for class and talks about the principal’s denial of her Daughters of the Black Panthers club. *Me – giving piercing side eye to this principle.* Oh, and that principle is definitely a racist, homophobic, misogynistic ass. Rosalind has a strong presence, yet she is gentle; a good friend who is determined for truth and justice. She also has some special abilities that I was jazzed to see – sorry, I couldn’t help myself with that pun. Her family history brings up some red flags in the show but are accurate for the time period. And yes to natural hair on powerful people!
Also included in Sabrina’s friend group is Susie Putnam played by Lachlan Watson (Kyle, Nashville). Susie is Sabrina’s friend who is presented as non-binary, and the actor themselves identifies as non-binary; however, friends and other characters refer to Susie as “she” in the show. Susie is bullied consistently by the star football team players for not conforming to the standards of what a “girl” should be. This and issues within the LGBTQ+ community are a big part of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s narratives in his television work; bringing issues to audiences in a way that builds empathy. Some viewers have felt this narrative was not handled in the best way and was a bit muddled. I was glad to see representation as we all like to say, but I’m really looking forward to the evolution of non-binary characters in TV and film. I would like to hear more of Susie’s story. How does Susie identify? If we don’t get into this, it may be a missed opportunity. I do know having Susie there can only open doors for more nuanced characters in TV and film and begin to honestly reveal the true complexities of the human experience.
Then there are Sabrina’s aunts. They are just as you remember them from the 90s – kind of. We have the talented, Miranda Otto (Eowyn, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) playing Aunt Zelda and the comparable Lucy Davis (Dianne, Shaun of the Dead) playing Aunt Hilda. They bring in the religious family values, where one is by the book and the other sees in between the lines. I love this because you see their beliefs just as any other household where religion is a strong part of their lives. Zelda praises Satan when someone is stabbed to death because now they have human blood for their ceremony, and Hilda mourns for the family, but does understand the good timing for their needs. It’s just terrible, which is the point! Using statements like “Hell forbid,” honoring rituals just as in many religions, and the amount of times and reasons they say “praise Satan” really makes you think. And really you kinda want Sabrina to embrace the coven, kinda like a family wants their kid to get confirmed. It does a good job of making the magical satanic world relatable…
This special holiday episode came right on time – well, of course, it did because showrunners, producers, writers… they all know what they are doing. I want to say they know it will make money, but to be honest, I am not sure how Netflix makes money. I know product placement for sure, but is that enough? Whatever they do, please keep doing it. When I saw this episode was a thing, I knew it was gonna be the season one epilogue we needed. This episode brings in tales of yule logs and solstice celebrations, showing the true pagan use of Christmas traditions. Sabrina now white haired and dark lipped – better resembling her comic book character is decorating the tree with her aunts and cousin as addition to the family which I won’t go into…
Sabrina is so much more now – she is so much more fiery and even more strong willed. It almost feels like she has nothing to lose anymore. She’s ready to conduct séances to see her mom and get to the bottom of her family’s mystery. This episode is actually chilling. They do that thing with children’s laughter – why is that soooo creepy?? The lore is explained as the yule log must stay lit in order to keep out the bad spirits. It’s so funny cuz you think they like bad spirits, I mean – we’re praising Satan, but it’s way more complicated than that, that is for sure. Sabrina does her own thing just breaking rules and not thinking too much about the consequences. She brings in the orphan sisters, and Prudence has the illest haircut!! Buzzed with a swirl design cut into it and fully blonde – I am about it.
The episode takes us on a journey for sure! From demon kidnappings, mother daughter reunions, estranged boyfriends, and mischievous children heralded by a bitter witch who wants all the babies. It rounds out the season and gives me the kind of holiday season feeling I like, a little bit of magic, fright and presents!
In magical reality, the show is so good – I was re-watching it as I was writing this and got caught in the story – I already know what happens! But I am like what! Next episode! It is not without its faults of course. The only black characters are either bound to house, and unloved evil orphan, or a young girl whose family is cursed by witches – damn. But it’s also not that simple, those characters have been given some of the best storylines and great material to work with as actors. Optics can be a terrible fault of a show and in this case, they have moments obscurity, but it does not change the impact or brilliance of the show and the world it is building.
Want to get Black Nerd Problems updates sent directly to you? Sign up here!