The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Episode 1 Recap

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It may be that we’re in a creepy television renaissance. For years, there was a bit of a drought with only a few series populating the landscape, such as The X-Files. 

Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
The symbolism is strong in Episode 1, Season 1 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

But lately, there’s been no shortage of good, creepy fun thanks to the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. While The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina isn’t new, having debuted a few months back, it’s still pretty fresh and I hadn’t had the chance to watch it yet. Having finally settled down to do an episode by episode review of the new series, I can say that, as of episode 1, I am intrigued.

The first few minutes were almost cute enough to be slightly annoying, especially with regards to Sabrina and her friends’ post-movie dialogue. I’ve ensured that I’ve stayed pretty spoiler free. However, I had understood, at least from the trailers, that this series was to be set in the 1960s. But upon actually watching the first episode, it’s clear from the dialogue and several other holes in the temporal wall that, at least thematically, this series takes place in some alternate form of the 1960s/present. If you stick with me on this blog long enough, you’ll learn that I have a thing for weirdly anachronistic settings in fiction and art, so I’m here for it. 

Sabrina’s dialogue, following a screening of Night of the Living Dead, dips well into the 2000s when it comes to zombie lore. This threw me, having thought the series took place in the 60s, but there’s enough weird time anomalies to explain such an out-of-place piece of dialogue. Despite these fun time cues, the overzealous teen chat following the movie at Cerberus Books and the smoochy-smoochy between Sabrina and Harvey made the teens seem almost uncomfortably twee at first. Luckily, this seems to wear off some by the middle of the episode as we sink further into the narrative. 

This episode is obviously putting all the pieces on the board from her controlling Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) and her long-suffering Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) to the now possessed Miss Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), whose entire existence seems to rest on ensuring Sabrina makes it to the alter of her Dark Baptism.

But perhaps the most interesting character, at least from the viewing of this first episode, is her cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo). Under house arrest for an as of yet unstated crime, he is confined to Spellman Mortuary, the funeral home that serves as both business and home to Sabrina’s family. After Sabrina’s friend Susie (Lachlan Watson) is attacked by some high school jocks at Baxter High, she and her friend Ros (Jaz Sinclair) commence creating an intersectional girls’ club to combat the toxic masculinity that seems to permeate the walls of Baxter High. And if you were still under the impression that this was the 60s, the inclusion of all those terms is a solid clue that this wasn’t anywhere close to that decade.

The only thing that stands in their way is Principal Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot or, as you may know him, Balki), whom Ros is certain will act as a foil to their plan. Enter Ambrose. When Sabrina goes to him with her dilemma, he works with her to terrorize him with an army of spiders that keeps Hawthorne away from Baxter High long enough to allow Sabrina and friends to create the group they need. Ambrose provides mystery (why is he under house arrest?), support for Sabrina (he is THERE for her unlike any other character yet) and charm (so much charm!).

I suppose it’s clear that I have a favorite character.

There’s a lot that happens in this episode, from Sabrina and Ambrose’s hexing of Principal Hawthorne to her final brush with a glimpse of her fate, but so far it’s a promising adventure that, despite some hiccups, looks like a fun ride.

My biggest complaint – and it’s actually a huge turnoff for me – is the focus effects. I actually looked it up to make sure it wasn’t just me, but apparently the show’s creators decided to employ some weird (and, IMO, off-putting) soft focus, vignette effects in just about every frame of the show. I suppose this was meant as a narrative nod to say that this place isn’t Kansas anymore, but I think that should have been obvious with the magic and odd anachronisms.

I hope that, when the next season rolls around, the creators will consider toning down this effect. It takes away from some from some of the beautiful set design and atmosphere that permeates the show.

Have you watched Sabrina yet? What did you think? Who’s your favorite character?

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