The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Why You Should (or Shouldn’t) Give it a Go
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is back and, judging by the end of the season three finale, it’s not over yet. Interestingly, I’ve had issues with this show since its inception, but that has not kept me from absolutely loving it and anxiously awaiting season three. Initially, my main complaint was Kiernan Shipka’s acting; it seemed very unnatural and forced in comparison to that of the other main actors. It took me all of season one to get over it. However, that is not to say that Shipka is a poor actor, it’s quite the opposite. Shipka made a name for herself as Sally Draper on Mad Men (2007-2015), and last year I very much enjoyed her performance in John R. Leonetti’s The Silence, a horror/thriller not unlike John Krasinki’s The Quiet Place (2018). There is no doubt Shipka is a highly talented and mature young actor, but something just seemed a bit off during season one. This could simply be a matter of personal taste, a matter of directing, or perhaps it took Shipka a bit to get comfortable in Sabrina’s skin. Either way, Shipka irrefutably comes into her own as Sabrina in seasons two and three.
Another issue I’ve had with the show is how incredibly cheesy it is. Of course, I suspect this has something to do with the fact that the target demographic is youngsters, teens, and adolescents, and any tv series worth its salt directed at youth has its share of cheesy writing. Take Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example. It is one of the greatest supernatural tv shows and boasts painfully trite writing at times; Buffy’s series finale is also on many pop-culturalists top series finales lists. Thus, cheesy is NOT necessarily synonymous with bad or superficial when it comes to entertainment texts; it’s all about personal taste and finding things within the text that resonate with you. So, if you love Sabrina and all Greendale has to offer, don’t be ashamed! Those that try to make you feel ashamed about your pop culture preferences are simply ascribing to the ideology of mass culture which, according to Ien Ang in Watching Dallas basically “makes a search for more detailed and personal explanations superfluous, because it provides a finished explanatory model that convinces, sounds logical and radiates legitimacy” (Ang 96); that is, it’s enough to accuse a film/series/song/book of being popular culture in order to defend the position that it’s low-quality. This ideology is not only wildly arrogant but misinformed; you don’t have to believe me, read the work of scholars such as Ien Ang, Dick Hebdige, and Stuart Hall, all of which confirm that it is not so much the encoder of a message that determines its interpretation but rather its decoder( receiver). For more on the ideology of mass culture and the interpretation of popular culture texts please see our other article “Why Your Guilty Pleasure Should NOT Make You Feel Guilty.”
While Sabrina gave us musical tidbits before season three, including a tribute to The Phantom of the Opera’s “Masquerade” number from Joel Schumacher’s 2004 film at the end of season two, it’s season three that really took the musical component to the next level. Almost every episode, except for episodes three and five (if I’m not mistaken), contain a musical number. I was not a big fan of how Sabrina’s “Masquerade” number was executed in terms of choreography (they could have done much more than make Sabrina act "sexy"), but the singing was very good and the aesthetic in terms of costuming and setting was breathtaking. I was a bit put off when I realized season three would be rife with musical numbers; despite my love of musical numbers, too many can ruin a good thing if they feel forced. Fortunately, they didn’t irk me as much as the “Masquerade” number.
One thing everyone can appreciate about the show is the detailed and sometimes hybrid nature of its mythology. Everything from Haitian voodoo and Christian lore to the pantheon of Greek gods is included. In the third season, specifically, we are introduced to a group of pagans whose ancient gods present the latest threat to Greendale.
Regardless of whether the show is for you, it has some very redeeming qualities. First, its human teen protagonists demonstrate themselves to be a group of very capable, kind, courageous, and, because of these things, powerful young people with a strong sense of social justice. Naturally, they constantly mess up, but they never give up, and what better lesson is there for young people? Every human teen in the show has a slew of issues to deal with and they all manage to do so beautifully with a little help from their friends.
One of my favorite characters is Theo, whose deadname is Susie. Theo’s coming out process and transition makes his storyline one of the most compelling in the show, from when he still went by Susie and had to constantly fight off dip-shit jocks in season 1, to befriending and facing those same jocks when they attempt to bully his love interest, Robin, in season 3. Theo refuses to be afraid and refuses to be harassed, and if you’re like me and are no stranger to harassment and fear, you know how incredibly hard it can be to stand up not only for yourself, but also others. Of course, Sabrina, Harvey, and Ros share these traits with Theo, which is why they are all besties.
The last thing that is great about this show is that nothing is black and white; Sabrina’s hybrid nature and general goodness make it so the lines blur between good and evil. Already in season one, we learn that however dark and tied to Hell she may be, Sabrina is a good soul at heart. Though there has only been mention of light, Heaven, and God, it’s clear that upcoming seasons will delve further into these concepts and introduce us to the characters that define them. For example, in season three, despite her infernal responsibilities, Sabrina not only ushers an innocent soul meant for Hell to Heaven, but also suggests that eventually Hell should collaborate with Heaven. Clearly, the plot and characters have much room to grow which leaves me to believe that there is a lot to look forward to in season four.
Ang, Ien. Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination. Routledge, 1989.
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