Please Note: Light spoilers for season 1 of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” ahead.
A young orphan, raised by his aunt, comes of age with the new development of his magical abilities. He’s part of a trio of friends at school who are constantly called into the headmaster’s office and getting into trouble. He frequently squares off with his arch-nemesis at school, an entitled brat with a trio of his own. The hero has a mysterious connection to the Dark Lord, and is intently watched by a teacher who may or may not align himself with said Dark Lord.
This is the general outline of the “Harry Potter” series. However, it seems that the creators of Netflix’s new series “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” recognized the success of this story structure and swapped the gender of the main character. “Sabrina,” written by the team behind the CW’s “Riverdale,” is a bizarre series that simultaneously steals from J.K. Rowling’s books and completely misses what makes them great.
“Sabrina” follows its titular teenage witch as she rises through the ranks of the world of witchcraft. The first few episodes show a lot of promise: there’s creative uses of magic, intriguing mysteries, and, perhaps most surprisingly, solid commentary on the state of modern religious tradition. The writers utilize the dark campiness of the show’s Satanic coven to poke fun at the modern-day church, and should prompt religious viewers to take a step back and re-examine the level of trust they put in a worldly institution.
Unfortunately, whatever momentum the first four episodes built is promptly obliterated in episode five, which, for some reason, tries to emulate better mind-bending series like “Legion” and “Maniac” in a dream sequence episode. The intent of the episode is clear: to reveal the characters’ personalities by entering the depths of their psyches. But while the aforementioned series use dream-sequence character development for an entire season, “Sabrina” attempts to cram the same amount of content into one short episode. The result is a rushed, poorly-constructed hour of television that squanders some solid potential.
The remaining half of the season seemingly abandons the conflict that was set up in the first episodes, in favor of smaller story arcs that aren’t nearly as satisfying. The characters barely use any magic in the latter episodes, and the finale is extremely anticlimactic.
The main issue with “Sabrina” isn’t the story, though. “Harry Potter” didn’t connect with millions of readers exclusively because of its plot. No, Rowling’s main strength is in her ability to create a rich, fully-realized world of magic that is inhabited by exceptionally charming characters. “Sabrina” lacks these key qualities. Its characters are one-note, and seem as though they don’t exist outside of what is immediately shown on screen. It’s impossible to tell if the cast is good at acting or not because they are given so little to work with. The magical world feels undercooked, and its rules are never clearly defined. Most of the conflict is inexplicably solved by a handful of witches shouting for thirty seconds. While it’s not a terrible show, “Sabrina” definitely wastes its potential. If you’re a fan of “Riverdale” and are intrigued after reading this, check out the first episode or two. If you don’t like “Sabrina” by then, it definitely isn’t going to get any better.