Oh good, a darker and edgier reboot of a children’s series. What could go wrong?
Welcome to Alfea, a university led by Headmistress Dowling (Eve Best) on an alternate plane where magically gifted women with fairy blood learn how to use their abilities. Among the new class is Bloom (Abigail Cowen), a fire fairy who grew up on Earth; her roommate Aisha (Precious Mustapha), a water fairy; Terra (Eliot Salt), an earth fairy; Musa (Elisha Applebaum), a psychic mind fairy; and Beatrix (Sadie Soverall), an air fairy who shoots lightning. They have a friendship and rivalry with second-year Stella (Hannah van der Westhuysen), a princess who is also a light fairy. The school also trains non-powered warriors called “specialists” who help defend the fairies, including Stella’s ex and Bloom’s love interest Sky (Danny Griffin), his best friend Riven (Freddie Thorp), and Terra’s brother Sam (Jacob Dudman). Together, they have to survive an attack by the “Burned Ones,” evil magical humanoids.
I’m aware that this was a cartoon show on Nickelodeon when I was younger, but it was marketed towards young girls and I generally never heard anything about it, so I knew basically nothing going into this review. I probably would have completely ignored it if it wasn’t the number 1 watch in the US on Netflix. I can only assume this is because a lot of people had watched the cartoon or because nothing else of note came out this week.
This show’s not good unless, I imagine, you have a lot of nostalgia to work with. It reminds me of everything that I didn’t like about the first season of Titans, where it goes too far out of the way to be “darker” than its source material. There’s not as much over-the-top brooding and swearing, but it’s filled with a lot of teenage angst and weird relationship drama. Apparently the team that made this was largely picked up from the Vampire Diaries and, even though I’ve never seen that show, that information seems to completely track.
The performances aren’t bad, and I actually liked Eliot Salt’s portrayal of Terra, a plus-sized and sweet girl living in a world filled primarily with extremely stereotypically attractive people, but the plot and the dialogue are so damned dull and overplayed that it’s irrelevant. Also, it seems like they skip over much of the mythology of the world and that’s kind of a bad thing when you’re in a fantasy setting like this.
Overall, just not great. If you like trashy teen fantasy, though, this is right up your alley.
Throw your Yule log on the fire and get ready for tales of child abduction and murder from two separate sources, it’s Sabrina’s Christmas Special!
It’s the holidays: a time for family, for decorations, for love, and for warding off evil spirits through the use of magic rituals. In this case, the Spellman household is gearing up for the winter holiday that they celebrate: Solstice (which takes place on December 21st instead of the 25th… and occasionally on the 22nd, I guess… and in June if you’re on the Southern Hemisphere… stopping now). Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) is still having a little bit of a difficult time adjusting to the recent events of her breaking-up with Harvey (Ross Lynch) and signing her soul away via a signature in the Dark Book of the Beast in order to gain the power to save Greendale. However, she is at least a little relieved that she doesn’t have to hide her witch nature from Harvey or her friends Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie (Lachlan Watson).
Susie is excited that, for the first time, she was allowed to play the Christmas elf for the local Santa, Mr. Bartel (Brian Markinson). However, she is soon shocked to discover that his famous wax elves that accompany him in his workshop are actually the trapped souls of children that he killed by dipping in wax. Also, he’s a demon, but the first part is more important. He kidnaps Susie and prepares to dip her in wax.
Meanwhile, Sabrina enlists the weird sisters (Tati Gabrielle, Adeline Rudolph, and Abigail Cowen) to help her in a seance to speak with her mother who is trapped in Limbo. They succeed, but are sabotaged by the efforts of Madam Satan (Michelle Gomez) who undoes the Yule Log that wards off evil spirits during Yule. As such, several mischievous ghosts called “Yule Lads” enter and start to play tricks on the occupants of the house, including Zelda (Miranda Otto), Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), and a visiting Hilda (Lucy Davis).
The elder Spellmans reveal that the Yule Lads are all the ghosts of orphaned children that were abducted (but apparently not killed, only cared for until they died) by a powerful witch named Gryla (Heather Doerksen) to make into her family. They invite Gryla over to ask her to take the ghosts back. She does, but she also discovers that Zelda’s recently adopted/stolen baby Leticia is in the house. Sabrina and her mother’s ghost trick Gryla into leaving without the baby, right as Roz arrives and announces Suzie is missing. Hilda and Zelda deduce Mr. Bartel’s demonic identity and realize they can kill two birds with one stone: Gryla will forgive their deception if she is told of the identity of a demon that preys on children, because she apparently hates things that kill kids that have parents. Gryla kills Bartel and saves Susie.
Zelda makes a decision to give Leticia over to someone else to raise so that she won’t be found by her father, Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), who would kill her. Sabrina cures Harvey’s dad’s alcoholism, which upsets Harvey who doesn’t trust magic now. They stay broken up. At the end of the episode, Sabrina and the Spellmans read A Christmas Carol before the fire as three mysterious demonic figures emerge into Greendale and the episode ends.
So, as far as specials go, this one doesn’t really feel like a “special” as much as another episode of the show that happens to take place at Christmas, which is what it probably was supposed to be. This is backed-up by the fact that it’s just listed as Season 1, Episode 11 on Netflix. Nothing major happens in the episode aside from Zelda giving up Leticia. None of the character relationships are particularly changed and, aside from the three demons walking out at the end of the episode, nothing happens to set-up season 2. Given their resemblance to three Demonic Magi, the demons might even just be a Christmas joke that I missed during the episode, rather than a lead-in to the next season.
But, aside from that, this wasn’t a bad episode. It’s interesting to see how the Satanic Witches, who I again maintain are just Southern Baptists with a few name changes, celebrate the holidays. It’s honestly not that much different than how most people celebrate Christmas: They have parties, they drink, they make cookies, they decorate, and they read holiday stories. The main difference is that everything is focused around the solstice and the height of demonic power associated with it.
Gryla is an interesting character and I’m glad she was brought in. Her backstory is that, during a famine, several witches agreed to eat their children to survive. Her kid was eaten first and the others all changed their minds afterwards. Since then, she’s collected orphaned children to raise and add to her family. Given the voices of the children, it appears that she might specifically collect the ghosts of orphaned children, but we also see her try to adopt a live one. Given her hatred of people hurting children, it doesn’t sound like she kills them, so… I guess the ones that grow up just live their own lives? I dunno, but I hope they bring her back for answers.
I’m going to have nightmares over the thought of someone being encased, alive, in wax. Even in most versions of House of Wax, the people aren’t still alive when they’re made into sculptures and in none of them are their immortal souls being tormented inside of the statue. That’s super cruel, guys. At least in most horror films, death is the end of the pain.
Overall, it’s a solid addition to the series, but now I really just want the next season not to be 4 months away.
As many of you who read this blog regularly will already know, or anyone who sits near me for even a brief period will find out, I hate the show Riverdale. It strikes me as a generic CW show that only distinguishes itself by being based on Archie Comics, which also pisses me off because the comic book Riverdale was supposed to be like Mayberry: It’s a place where people are who they should be. They’re not perfect, but the good try to be better and the bad are taught to be good. Instead, this Riverdale is full of darkness and teen angst. This is the only kind of reboot or reimagining that I usually will protest: It’s profaning that which its source held sacred, but not doing anything imaginative with that profanity. And yes, I watched the entire first season to give it a fair shot. So, when they said they were going to do a spin-off of the show featuring Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, most people thought I would oppose it.
THOSE PEOPLE WERE WRONG.
While Riverdale stands against everything that Archie Comics originally stood for, Sabrina the Teenage Witch has always been a little creepy and macabre. Even the 90s series with Melissa Joan Hart had a lot of stuff that, in retrospect, was dark as hell. I mean, she regularly manipulates memories, changes people’s personalities, causes giant weather phenomenon, and punishes people with curses for arbitrary reasons. Those are all things that, in a less comic setting, would be objectively horrifying. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is just taking that to its logical conclusion.
Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is about to turn 16 years old on Halloween under a Blood Moon… at which point she shall have to undergo her “Dark Baptism” and sign her soul into the Book of the Beast and pledge herself to the Dark Lord Satan. However, Sabrina is a rare existence, a half-witch half-human, which gives her a choice: She can embrace her magic side and gain longevity and power, or she can stay in her human life with her human friends, including her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). Her aunts, Hilda and Zelda (Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto) and her cousin, Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), are all practitioners of the Dark Arts who give her guidance… and sometimes commands that she disobeys.
Ultimately, this choice and how she tries to avoid it, negotiate it, or pick a third option is most of her character arc for this season. At the same time, her magical presence is revealed to be impacting Harvey and her friends Susie (Lachlan Watson) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair). Additionally, she has to deal with the dark path offered by Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), the head warlock of her coven, the temptations of Ms. Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), a demon inhabiting the body of her teacher, and the semi-racist ire of the Weird Sisters, three witches that act like the Plastics from Mean Girls (Adeline Rudolph, Tati Gabrielle, Abigail Cowen).
Like most of Netflix’s shows, this is a serial that builds towards the season finale… which itself mostly just sets everything up for the next season. Since Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has already been given an order for a second season, this isn’t much of an issue. I think the pace of it is pretty solid, moreso than most of the Netflix Marvel series. There are a lot of subplots that start off fairly slow and do a great job building over the course of the season, while the main plot involving Sabrina keeps shifting enough that it doesn’t feel overly repetitive. Some of the episode gimmicks seem a little cliche or lame but, honestly, the show’s acting and atmosphere consistently overwhelm any of those issues.
The performances are pretty great. My favorite character has to be Chance Perdomo’s Ambrose, who is under house arrest throughout the series. In one of his first appearances, if not his first appearance, he’s shown having a laptop outside of the Spellman home, signalling that he is much more modern than any of the other witches and warlocks depicted. He is pansexual, and also genre-savvy and sassy as hell, which would normally make him the only sane man in the show, but his constant love of mischief, rebellion, and boning instead make him appear as a roguish mage, which… well, works.
Hilda and Zelda are both great characters as well, each one encouraging Sabrina in different ways and directions. Susie, Roz, and Harvey are all really great at selling the idea that they’re close to Sabrina and would be worth forsaking magic for. Then there’s Sabrina.
I think what surprises me most about Kiernan Shipka’s portrayal is that it both seems similar to Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina and yet is completely distinct. She’s very loyal, supportive, and upbeat, but has an enormous dark side (the kind where she accepts that she’s going to be bathed in human blood and pledged to wed Satan). The best thing is that she represents a lot of kids out there, just in a twisted way: She’s in a family that is firmly rooted in tradition and devotion to god (just… not the Christian God), but she wants to be independent and question why things are still done this way. It’s an old trope, but it’s one that’s been beautifully turned on its head by the show.
Another thing that I love in the show is the atmosphere. The town it’s set in, Greendale, is described as being a place where every day feels like Halloween, and the show really took that to heart. The trees, the stores, the characters, everything feels like it’s got a layer of cobwebs over it. But it’s still got the feeling of a small town underneath, where people still walk to school and work in coal mines and watch black-and-white horror films. It’s Real American Nostalgia, but with pumpkins.
And I can’t go without mentioning the Satanism. I think the way they handle Satanism in the show is literally the best part. Look, the show doesn’t beat around the bush: Everything that the witches do is suuuuuuper messed up. They eat people on holidays. They steal organs and blood from corpses. They alter memories and commune with demons. However, aside from when they’re actively doing those things… they’re Southern Baptists (or any equivalent small-town religion). I grew up in a Southern Baptist community, and all of the times that the show has a witch saying “hail Satan” is the exact moment when a Baptist woman would say “praise Jesus.” Sabrina is constantly told that things are just done a certain way and not to question it, she’s told to not fool around with her boyfriend (and she doesn’t), and everyone views the church as the social, political, and moral center of the community. Every time she tries to be “progressive,” her family loves her but they wish she’d just quit ruining their perception in the church, even if she’s right. That’s why it’s so easy to buy the way that the witches worship in the show; they’re literally just a dark reflection of an existing culture.
Overall, I loved this series. It’s dark, but in a good way. It’s got actual morals and themes to discuss, even if it’s disguised them beneath a layer of blood and goblins. It’s progressive, but it’s not exactly preachy about it. The sets, music, and acting are all wonderful, and the end of the season shows that things are really just heating up. WATCH IT NOW!