Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e03 – The Trial of Sabrina Spellman

No Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa script this episode, Ross Maxwell instead, which initially confirmed my idea about how the first two episodes were the extended pilot and now we’re getting into series proper.

Actually, no, because this episode serves to set the series up to be, you know, a series. The episode opens with teenage half-witch who denied the Dark Lord Kiernan Shipka running out of principal and temporarily possessed by said Dark Lord Bronson Pinchot’s office and bumping into teacher Michelle Gomez, who’s also possessed—unknown to Shipka—by a demon in the Dark Lord’s employ. Their goal? Get Shipka to sign her soul over to the Dark Lord.

Then Shipka goes off and has flashbacks about the event, which occurred at the end of last episode. Like we didn’t just stream it. “Sabrina” seems like it was intended as a weekly show. Possibly with a two hour pilot episode. Meaning Aguirre-Sacasa left it up to Maxwell to get “Sabrina” from pilot to series, meaning a resolve to what came before while still allowing for an interesting future. So a trial.

Where Dark Pope and not Ewan McGregor Richard Coyle is going to try Shipka for not signing her name in the book—she breached contract, implied by her wearing a wedding dress to her Dark Baptism—and Shipka has to convince human lawyer named Daniel Webster (John Rubinstein) to defend her in court. Witch court. Meanwhile her boyfriend, Ross Lynch, has to contend with a bullying father sending him to work in the mines, which would be unpleasant even if Lynch hadn’t wandered down into them and seen the Dark Lord once in childhood.

Then Shipka’s friend, Jaz Sinclair, has a subplot about discovering Pinchot’s soft-censoring books from the school library while Chance Perdomo has a romance arc with fetching, suspicious warlock Darren Mann. It’s a full episode, with yet another strong lead turn from Shipka. The supporting cast is all good too. Rubinstein does a lot with a guest spot, Gomez is fantastically evil… Lucy Davis is really good. The story even seems to be going in a direction Miranda Otto could work out.

I would just like the show to start now. Like, a full quarter turn at the end of next episode should be expected at this point; the show hasn’t had to settle in yet.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e02 – The Dark Baptism

I started this episode very happy Lee Toland Krieger was directing and then immediately regretted it because Krieger uses these camera filters—the iMovie version of wiping Vaseline on the lens—to center viewer attention. So while “Sabrina” has that questionable streaming 2.1:1 aspect ratio… the action takes place in a traditional 1.33:1 TV frame. Not even 16:9.

It gets really, really, really annoying this episode, which just turns out to be a testament to the rest of the show’s quality. Save Miranda Otto, who’s not good enough, not opposite Lucy Davis, Kiernan Shipka, or even Chance Perdomo. Davis gets an amazing scene this episode. She’s a star reserve player.

Continuing from last episode are the days of the week title cards, including a very nice homage to Halloween, and by the finish, it’s clear Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote this episode and last as the pilot. I wonder how it plays without an artificial break, like a two-hour pilot or like a very open-ended two-hour feature. I’m thinking the former, just because of Aguirre-Sacasa’s attention to detail.

Sadly some of that detail is in a… I’m not even sure what the right phrase is—a gay panic blackmailing bit. Shipka’s done with the football players who are bullying friend Lachlan Watson and decides to teach them a lesson. So she enlists the mean girls from the witch school she’s going to be attending to help her. Her plan involves using witchcraft to get the guys to do gay stuff, then taking polaroids and blackmailing them. It doesn’t play well. Even if the scene ends up being effective because lead mean girl Tati Gabrielle is good and because Shipka’s able to act through even when the script’s off, which is both a good and bad thing.

The episode resolves what Shipka’s going to do about her sweet sixteen, which is also when she signs her soul over to Lucifer and goes off to witch boarding school, leaving her human friends behind.

The beginning of the episode has some more bonding with secretly possessed teacher Michelle Gomez—who’s awesome—the end is mostly about the soul signing ceremony and fall out. Dark Pope Richard Coyle is a little more effective when not a peculiar stunt cameo but he’s still not enough; Shipka, even when she’s playing coy, dominates their scenes. Coyle’s bombastically clawing at scraps while Shipka’s nonchalantly walking all over him. It works for the character too. The show, two episodes in (one episode in?), is a great showcase for Shipka.

Though type-casting fears are probably justified.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e01 – October Country

The opening titles of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” are, for the most part (if memory serves), Robert Hack art from the source comic book. Now, not only is the comic super-gory, it’s also a period(ish) piece; the show is set modern but none of the teenagers has a smartphone, so it’s a bit removed from reality. The episode opens in a movie theater, with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) hanging out with her group of very modern friends. While boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) is a non-jock White guy, Jaz Sinclair is the only Black girl in the town, and Lachlan Watson is non-binary. There’s a somewhat awkward thing about the bully-enabling principal—a fully dramatic Bronson Pinchot—isn’t an ally.

So some of the dialogue’s a little forced, but all the acting is good and, hey, at least there aren’t some mean girls causing problems too. Just some jocks, who bully and—oh, wait, physically assault—Watson, which Pinchot’s cool with because Watson doesn’t want to give up any names. Shipka tries to convince Bronson otherwise to no avail, which will eventually lead to her using witchcraft to even the playing field.

Shipka’s got the opening narration to set everything up: half-human, half-witch, raised by aunts Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto, T-minus five days until Shipka’s got to sign her soul over to Satan and go off to witch school in New England. Only Shipka’s not entirely sure she wants to leave her human friends, especially since her future witch classmates are mean to her for being half-human.

Further complicating matters is Michelle Gomez, one of Shipka’s teachers who just happens to have been possessed by a witch from Hell, whose job it is to make sure Shipka commits to her future as a minion of Lucifer only Gomez has to pretend to be the teacher. Of course, Gomez is playing a character from the comic and the show seems like a sequel to said comic, which show creator and episode writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa never finished because he started making TV shows. So I’ve got baggage and expectation with Gomez.

But it all works out, partially due to the great pacing.

Though Richard Coyle seems to be going way too hard on a Ewan McGregor impression; Coyle’s the cliffhanger arrival guest star… the Dark Pope, arrived to tempt Shipka to the cause. For the amount of build-up he gets, it’d be better if it were Ewan McGregor… It needs a final oomph.

Or would if Shipka’s acting weren’t on point enough to cover, which it is, which she does.

The show works because it’s well-written, Shipka’s a great lead, and the soundtrack is awesome.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 7 (August 2017)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #7This issue of Sabrina has almost no Sabrina. None as the lead. Instead, it’s got her dad, Edward, coming back to life in the body of Sabrina’s dead boyfriend, Harvey. It’s a frame for a flashback. You know, while Edward, in Harvey’s body, eats Harvey’s parents.

Because it’s a really gross comic. Aguirre-Sacasa knows Hack can sell the creepiness of the behavior while implication. There’s no need for gore. As horrifying as the visuals might get, Hack’s artwork is always lovely. Especially for the flashbacks, in which Edward appears to be a young Eddie Munster type. It’s downright fun for a while–Aguirre-Sacasa enjoys the less gory content fine, he just always punctuates with gore. And after it’s fun, it starts getting creepier and creepier.

It’s awesome. The creators aren’t trying to recreate the gothic, melodramatic horror comic, they’re just doing a good one.

CREDITS

Witch-War, Chapter One: The Truth about Demonology; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 6 (September 2016)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #6Aguirre-Sacasa starts this issue of Sabrina with some rather showy exposition. The series always has good exposition with a fluid narrative distance, but this opening is something different. It’s Aguirre-Sacasa using some of the goodwill he’s built up; he’s asking the reader to get excited. It’s almost like he’s pep rallying what’s going to come.

And it’s deserved. It’s a great issue, covering the histories of Sabrina’s family’s familiars. Samuel the cat is the focus of the comic, but Aguirre-Sacasa wants the reader to have to wait. He and Hack deliver a fantastic origin for the asps in the house. Then it’s Samuel’s turn and Aguirre-Sacasa starts it off really slow. He’s dragging the reader along, holding them hostage–is this origin going to be worth it? Because Aguirre-Sacasa sets it up to be a big deal–Samuel doesn’t want to reveal his origin and then he makes the asps promise never to bring it up again. That behavior, even for a witch’s familiar in the form of a cat, is weird. Is the origin worth it?

Yes, but not for the plot twists. Sabrina looks like homage to seventies horror, but it’s not. Aguirre-Sacasa does something different with it, mixing the psychological scares and the visual ones in different combination. The “disturbing” visuals in the series aren’t scary (well, maybe somebody mutilated but I mean the really freaky witch designs Hack comes up with). This issue has lovable witches even. Aguirre-Sacasa deals with the witch trials and he goes far making them sympathetic. Samuel might not like them, but he’s kind of a jerk.

While Aguirre-Sacasa is busy showing the reader how to read the comic, Hack is making sure the reader keeps going at the right pace. The creators seem more enthusiastic about the comic than they want the readers to be. But it’s also expertly rendered. Like I said, it’s a great comic.

CREDITS

Familiars; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 5 (July 2016)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #5Has it been a year since the last Sabrina? I guess it has been. Thank goodness Aguirre-Sacasa opens with a text recap (though I didn’t read it closely enough, which caused me some minor confusion).

Sabrina is on trial for cavorting with mortal boy Harvey, who is now dead. She wants to bring him back, unknowingly enlisting her nemesis to aid in the effort. And then Aguirre-Sacasa has a big surprise for that part of the story too. Sabrina is full of surprises and none of them are good for its protagonist, which is sort of weird. It feels like a melodrama, more than anything else, it feels like Aguirre-Sacasa is doing this giant teenage period piece melodrama with witches. It’s awesome.

Excellent art from Hack, who gets to do a nice variety of things here. There’s the witches trial, there’s the high school, there’s some other stuff. It’s great looking. There’s a lot of humor in the art this issue too. Hack’s having fun.

Sabrina is an excellent book. It has to be to be worth this kind of wait.

CREDITS

The Crucible, Chapter Five: The Trial; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 4 (September 2015)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #4Aguirre-Sacasa doesn’t mess around this issue. He keeps taking Sabrina down its dark path, spending the entire issue dealing with what happens when witches have to make a regular person disappear. Because if you’re a witch, sometimes you need to make hard choices and significant sacrifices to the Dark One.

While all this darkness is circling the regular cast, the kids from Riverdale show up–it’s not a full fledged Archie crossover but Aguirre-Sacasa does hint at future complications.

On one hand, the comic is just masterful horror. Hack’s art is simultaneously luscious and horrifying. The script–and the narrative design choices–are great. It’s terrifying while still being assuring. Aguirre-Sacasa finds the exact balance to keep it going just on the edge.

But he’s also doing a very aware reinvention of a (somewhat) familiar franchise and negotiating all those implications.

Sabrina is awesome. Just plain awesome.

CREDITS

The Crucible, Chapter Four: Harvey Horrors; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

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