Remaking old classics with a darker twist has been a common trend in film and television lately, and Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the latest example of this. Sabrina The Teenage Witch was a comic book series published by Archie Comics starring a spirited girl who lived with her aunts and had to balance her normal life along with being a witch. A sitcom was made in the 90’s by the same name that maintained the relatively light and witty tone of the comics (it’s delightful! I recommend it.)
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina keeps much of the original details from the comics: Sabrina’s still an orphan and a half-witch (her mother was a mortal), she still lives with her Aunt Zelda and Aunt Hilda, and she still goes to high school with her mortal friends. However, the show adds another element to this premise that drastically changes the tone, clouding it with something more sinister. In this adaption, all witches and warlocks are members of the Church of Night, in which they serve the Dark Lord. This Dark Lord, instead of being some vague presence, is actually referred to as being Satan. The show’s script normalizes this Satan worshipping (such as with characters casually exclaiming “Praise Satan!”). There are also priests in this Church of Night, like the character Father Faustus, and every person who “walks the path of night” must undergo a “dark baptism.” These are some of the main examples of Christian symbols and elements being inverted for the purposes of creating this “other” world. This concept by itself is one thing but adding it to an already existing notion of witchcraft complicates the premise, making the show difficult to carry it out successfully and believably. Not to mention that equivocating witchcraft with Satanism is inaccurate and also potentially problematic.
In Netflix’s adaption, a giant statue of Baphomet stands in the central hall of The Academy of Unseen Arts, a magical school that Sabrina attends on a part-time basis. Baphomet is an image of a man with the head of a goat and is a deity present in many occult traditions. However, this statue got The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina into a bit of legal trouble recently. The Satanic Temple (religious and political activist group based in Salem, Massachusetts) claimed that the statue too closely resembled their own, thus violating copyright laws. However, the lawsuit has since been amicably settled. The Satanic Temple also addressed, as did many other spectators, that the show also inaccurately portrays Satanism. However, there were other Satanist representatives that went against this and said that they didn’t take issue with the show at all, so the reactions have been fairly mixed. It’s also important to keep in mind that there are also people who identify as witches and this portrayal of magic and witchcraft may be equally unsatisfactory to them as well.
Despite this faulty and often clumsy equivocation of witchcraft and Satanism, the show has many elements that I enjoyed. The cast is diverse and the characters they play are complex and interesting. The dialogue is witty and snappy, the visuals are beautiful, the soundtrack is great, and the story itself is very fast-paced and intriguing. I found myself fully invested in Sabrina’s life and the choices she made. I also thought that “The Academy of Unseen Arts” was really fascinating (who doesn’t love witchy boarding schools?) and thought that these positive aspects to the show carried it through.
However, all of the problems discussed above did stay in my mind throughout watching and I definitely think that this took away from the show instead of adding to it. The original premise of Sabrina The Teenage Witch could have been given a far more inventive and fresher “dark” twist than what was done. The continuous inversions of Christian symbols and rituals that I mentioned earlier got too obvious and overdone at certain points of the show and made it seem like they were over-emphasizing their point. The unseen arts academy, the elements of the occult and the magical creatures present in the show could have definitely stood on their own without the label of “Satanic” being attached to them.
Despite all of this, I understand creative license and the fact that this show is very clearly in the fantasy genre and does not explicitly aim to comment on real-world Satanists and real-world witches and pagans or try to misrepresent them as the same thing. Many people understand this, which is why despite the controversies and legal disputes, representatives from various affiliations have spoken up in defense of the show. Since it’s been so widely enjoyed it, it has been renewed for a new season. Admittedly, I am very much looking forward to it and I am curious to see what Sabrina gets up to next!
Contributed by Grusha Singh