Riverdale meets American Horror Story
Whilst The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is certainly not the first coming-of-age story about a teen white girl with a supernatural ability, it definitely holds its own among other Netflix original series. Passing the Bechdel test at every turn, it’s progressive, diverse, and manages to tackles issues relevant to the modern viewer.
The most significant message from the show is one of female empowerment. The phrase “women should be in charge of everything”, is casually stated by one of Sabrina’s teachers (played by Michelle Gomez, otherwise known as Missy from Doctor Who), but refreshingly isn’t used in a satirical, hyperbolic context. Through her journey to become a witch, the show maps out a fundamental dilemma that Sabrina, and all women in Western society, must engage with: in order to be accepted and achieve her full potential, she must give up part of her freedom. Obviously most women don’t have to face signing their soul away to the literal devil, but any woman can relate to what Sabrina goes through in one way or another. Whether it’s finding the middle ground between what your family want for you and what you want for yourself, or having to compromise yourself in order to fit better into the mould society has made for you, these issues are universal.
Duality is one of the main themes in the series, and because of that, having to negotiate with Satan is only half of Sabrina’s battle with the patriarchy. She also faces issues that we as an audience find more familiar (pun intended, shout-out to Salem). The school for witches that Sabrina attends has a trio of popular, attractive “mean girls”; the jocks at her mortal school bully Sabrina’s friends, and there’s a male principal trying to limit the feminist literature on offer at the school. While some of her methods for dealing with these issues are pretty questionable and undeniably scary, the overall messages to stand up for what you believe in and for women to support each other outweigh some otherwise morally dubious actions.
All of this is pulled off marvellously by Kiernan Shipka playing the title role of Sabrina, who is originally known for playing Sally Draper in Mad Men. Having recently turned 19, she is not far off the actual age of her character, which already sets the show apart from its established companion series, Riverdale. The show is packed full of strong female characters, and overall the casting of the show is difficult to fault: Ross Lynch (Sabrina’s boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle) uses his five years as a Disney star to add a wholesome feel to a generally sinister show; non-binary actor Lachlan Watson plays trans girl Susie, and the delightfully wicked Tati Gabrielle portrays Prudence, the ‘Regina George’ of witches.
Although ‘tis now the season to be jolly, and Halloween seems but a hazy memory, now seems the perfect opportunity to distract from the horror of overplayed Christmas music and overcrowded shopping centres by binging a new Netflix series. That way you can be all caught up in time for the holiday special, ‘A Midwinter’s Tale’, which will be available to stream on Netflix on the 14th of December 2018.