Netflix’s latest addition to the Archie Comics universe, The Chilling Tales of Sabrina, is a bit of a mixed bag. The production quality of the horror elements are great and the Satanic characters are all intriguing. Plus, Salem is really freaking cute. Even some of the more Riverdale-esque elements of Sabrina’s school life are quite interesting. And thank goodness there’s not a musical number every five minutes (they still sneak them in, but not nearly as painfully frequent).
However, it becomes increasingly difficult to continue watching when you just want Sabrina to make up her damn mind for once. It is also amazingly easy to get distracted by the fact that the entire premise is basically a bloodier, American version of Harry Potter. The villain is literally known as He Who Must Not Be Named or the Dark Lord. Her parents died and she has to go to a school of witchcraft. Come on, guys!
Much like Riverdale, The Chilling Tales of Sabrina also attempts to address particular social issues. Wiccan themes and feminism often go hand-in-hand in modern film and television, and this series definitely tries to use that to their advantage. Essentially, every major plot has a feminist undertone, from Sabrina wanting free choice over her body and magic, to her mortal friends creating a women’s rights club at Baxter High. However, while the intentions come from a good place, the emphasis on it can be a bit heavy handed. The writers feel the need to spell out everything to the audience, which becomes quite condescending.
Even so, whether intentionally or not, some great female and nonbinary roles have been uncovered by the new adaption. Others may need to go back to the witch’s cauldron.
Titular character Sabrina Spellman is the next in a long line…. Not just of witches, but also of absolutely dull Netflix leader female characters. While she does have some decent moments, like adamantly standing up for her friend Susie, she is mostly underwhelming. While she does progress to more than impassiveness as the series goes on, it does little to draw you in. It is her friends and co-characters who drive the show forward.
Hilda and Zelda Spellman
Hilda and Zelda don’t have their own category each because their one-dimensional nature wouldn’t survive without the other, despite being totally toxic in relationship. Zelda is loyal to Satan and that’s pretty much her entire personality. Meanwhile, Hilda is far more likeable but she doesn’t go far past the archetype. She has her moments, but it may be more down to the actress’ experience in comedies, rather than anything intentionally written for the character.
Also known as Madam Satan, she can come across as a little irritating but she definitely has her moments. A personal favourite is the line: “Don’t disrespect me. High Priest or not, you’re still a man. And I feast on male flesh.” Same.
Prudence Night (and the Weird Sisters)
If the weird sisters are the Plastics of The Chilling Tales of Sabrina, Prudence is Regina George. Unlike Agatha and Dorcus (Archie Comics naming strikes again), Prudence’s character gets a little more rounded out as the show progresses. What was originally a Shakespeare reference to the three witches in Macbeth, these girls don’t get to go too far past the frenemies archetype. They do, however, get a badass scene in episode 2 that was very reminiscent of Riverdale’s introduction to ‘Dark Betty.’
Roz is one of the few characters that brought the show to life. She’s multi-dimensional, grounds the show in reality. She has greater one-liners, but she’s far more than that. It was one of the smartest moves they made to create mortal characters that are just as interesting, if not more, than the magical ones.
Susie is a nonbinary student at Baxter High and is first introduced in the show as the target of bullying. This became one of the most profound moments of the series despite being used to drive Sabrina’s plot forward. Susie relies on their friends and stands up for themself on their own, which hopefully will be influential to the show’s younger demographic. She also has genuine discussions with her friends, magic-related and otherwise, which is a welcome change from Sabrina’s angry rants or driveling and heart-eyes to her boyfriend Harvey (who is actually quite an enjoyable character as well).
Overall, The Chilling Tales of Sabrina has its highs and lows, but definitely holds up against its sister show’s first season, as well as a lot of the teen dramas out at the moment. It isn’t hard to pick holes in the characterisation, but the use of feminist themes through the show should be commended. What other show could use a fighting Satan as a metaphor for fighting the patriarchy?
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is now streaming on Netflix.