When I was a kid, I used to deliver the Sunday paper. Having a paper route was a sort of rite of passage for kids back then, although I think most of them are now managed by older individuals with cars looking for a second source of income. I didn’t like getting up so early on Sunday, especially on those cold mornings in Maine when every breath I took hurt my lungs, but I did enjoy the extra money in my pocket every week.

I mostly spent my money at the arcade on video games, or at the Corner Cupboard store on snacks, cheap toys, and comic books. In the many years that have passed, I’ve learned the word bodega as slang for a New York convenience store, originally stores specializing in Hispanic food although it seems to have become generalized over the years. This was my bodega, the place where the storekeeper always me, and knew what I wanted.

Along the way, he introduced me to the concept of destroying magazines he couldn’t sell after first ripping off their covers. He got reimbursed some amount, and ripping off the cover was supposed to show they couldn’t be sold any more. He did the same thing for comic books, and I swear this is going someplace, just stick with me. Most of what he stocked was kid stuff, like Richie Rich and Little Lulu, but I read just about anything at the age of ten, and he started giving me the ones with the covers ripped off. This included a fair number of Archie comics… and a few of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. See, I told you it was going somewhere!

As I recall, Sabrina comics were pretty much like Archie comics. Silly humor, teenage dating troubles, but with a dash of slapstick horror slapped over it. I never thought much about them, and had no interest in the television sitcom that was on the air in the 90’s. Especially not after seeing that grotesque puppet cat thing.

Netflix rebooted Archie with what I heard – because I have no interest in seeing it – was a grittier story line with more realistic characters. Meh… not interested in teen angst based on old teen joke comics. When Sabrina dropped I waited a few days and decided I’d heard enough good things to give it a try, so the wife and I binged our way through it this past week. Here are my thoughts (and there’s a “BONUS!” review after).

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – (SPOILERS AHEAD)

The Good:

The actors are the best part of this series, with many memorable and well realized characters. Kiernan Shipka, who was the daughter on Mad Men, is fantastically perfect at the role of Sabrina. She captures a sense of naivete and vulnerability, while also able to project strength. And while she’s a pretty powerful witch for a girl who is still half mortal, it’s all reasonably well explained over the course of the ten episode arc. No Mary Sue here, just a girl born into a powerful family who also has a dark future (if Satan has his way).

Her aunts are Zelda, played by Miranda Otto of Éowyn fame from the Lord of the Rings movies, and Hilda, played by Lucy Davis who had a small but memorable part in the Wonder Woman film. Zelda is the stern taskmaster and totally devoted to the dark lord. For many episodes I began to wonder if she even really cared about Sabrina as anything other than a body to worship Satan, but rest assure she does finally break down in the final episodes and shows us some real emotion.

But it’s Hilda who is the sparkling revelation of this show. She’s the always happy, charmingly funny, much put upon younger sister of Zelda who never seems to have a harsh word for anything, not even when Zelda kills her in the first episode (no worries, she’s a witch, they don’t die like we do). You can rest assured if Hilda is actually mad at you, you did something REALLY FUCKING WRONG, as Sabrina later comes to realize. I loved the way Ms. Davis approached this role and she’s one of the reasons I kept coming back. She’s got real growth in the story, too, and by the end of the episode ten I was all in on team Hilda. She’s the true moral center here, not Sabrina (but that can be a good thing, and works well in this series).

Other secondary characters, like Sabrina’s boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle, and her two best friends, Ros and Susie, are well played, and the later two give the show deeper diversity, along with the character Ambrose, Sabrina’s cousin (also a wonderful character and well acted). But a shout out must go to Tati Gabrielle, who plays Prudence, Sabrina’s chief rival at the Academy of the Unseen Arts. She steals every scene she’s in, oozing sexuality and barely contained violence. She ruled the screen, keep an eye on her. Dug her 30’s retro hairstyle, too!

The So-So:

The plot was decent, with generally decent writing. I was worried there would be too much time spent on teen angst, and while we get a dose of that, I thought it was deftly manipulated to become not the usual up/down, back/forth stuff that drives me nuts, but an actual necessary part of the plot line that moved things forward and led to serious consequences. Those moments in most teen dramas when they do something stupid, but by the next episode the previous stupid is forgotten for the new stupid doesn’t happen here. And forget dumb love triangles, which it almost seemed they were going to set up.

Still, there are some well-worn tropes being trod here. Magical school? Check. Prophecy? Check and check. Dead parents with a hint they knew or did things that might have gotten them killed by other witches? Check, please! We also get a healthy dose of slut shaming regarding witches’ proclivities towards casual sexual relationships (in multiple of course). It’s the 21st century, folks, you can come out of the narrow minded closet about people exploring sex and sexuality. And while the original Sabrina comic may always have been about a girl who is half witch, half human, and her difficulty fitting in in either place, it has too many strong shades of the Harry Potter series, with its use of mudbloods as an insult for half muggles, half witches. Whether or not it came first, they should have considered finding a different way of exploring the tension between Sabrina and the other witches.

The Bad:

Magical blind people? Tell me you did not just do this, Netflix. Not only magical blind people, but magical blind people of color, playing to two stereotypical tropes at once (magical disability; magical black people). I love Ros, I really do, but this could have been far better handled than it was. I have no problem with both Ros and Susie having their own special gifts. Hell, give Harvey one, too. Maybe there’s something about Sabrina that brings out the powers in others.

Also… there are a LOT of people dying in this show. Like… how does the FBI not form a task force to investigate this many deaths and disappearances? It’s like ground zero for brutal murder in the country.

And daddy just gives up searching for his son after a mine collapse? Ah… no. Never would happen. Even if he wanted to, the authorities would take over and keep going until all the bodies had been recovered. Weak, lazy writing there.

Some poor writing decisions that contribute to show weakness and led to some folks abandoning it.

The Upshot:

All in all I found the show very enjoyable. Some of the tropes feel a little tired and shop worn to me, but they were juxtaposed by a reasonable number of new ideas and some really lovely acting that kept me coming back, unlike other shows recently (I’m looking at you, Lillehammer… I may give you ONE more shot, but if this guy doesn’t start showing redeeming qualities soon, I’m done). Come for the magic, but stay for awesome Auntie Hilda! Team Hilda!  On a scale of 1 to 10, I give The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a 7, and I’ll certainly tune in to the second season when it drops next year.

*******

Bonus review!

Looking for something to watch last night, we settled on Netflix’s original movie, The Outlaw King. It’s the story of Robert the Bruce and his quest to reunite Scotland and oust the British, ultimately successful. Chris Pine plays Robert, and well… he did great, honestly, but it’s Chris Pine. Did you really need someone so spectacularly handsome in the role? The man is just gorgeous, and when they showed his naked ass (I assume it was his, but maybe a stunt ass?), well… that’ll turn a lot of straight guys gay, that’s a hell of an ass.  Ahem.

Other actors were decent to… hammy. The man who played Edward the II in particular really really went overboard on his derangement. I found his acting cringe inducing.

But other than that, I really enjoyed this film. It’s far, FAR better than Braveheart and much more accurate (basically starting near where Braveheart ended, with William Wallace not yet captured but soon to be). There are a few minor liberties with historical details, like having Edward the II at Loudoun Hill, which he most certainly was not. However, most of those didn’t detract from the film in any measurable way, unlike Braveheart’s version of the Battle of Stirling, where they entirely forgot the “bridge” part of that battle during the filming.

Great film. If you’re into historical films that set a fairly high price on accuracy, with a decent story and acting, you could do far worse than this one. If you’re not into war films with big, set battle pieces, you probably won’t care much for this one other. I give it an 8 out of 10 myself, but I do enjoy these types of films.

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