L. Scott Caldwell

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e10 – The Witching Hour

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Ross Maxwell co-write, sending off of “Sabrina”’s first season, with a deus ex machine of an episode where Michelle Gomez decides she’s been waiting too long for Kiernan Shipka to embrace the Dark Lord and it’s time to get drastic about things. If Gomez can’t sabotage Shipka’s friendships with mortals—in addition to the big action, Shipka also reconciles (enough) with boyfriend Ross Lynch and other friends Jaz Sinclair and Lachlan Watson embrace her immediately upon the big “I’m a Witch” conversation in the high school bathroom.

Incidentally, I don’t think the show’s writers know how to deal with telephones in general. Sinclair and Watson tell Shipka they’ve been calling her all weekend and apparently Shipka just hasn’t been answering… but they’d have to answer the phone at the house because it’s a mortuary and a business. Sure, they eat the bodies in the closed caskets, but it’s still a business.

Anyway, it’s a telling oversight. Same goes for astral projection, which was a huge no no in the first or second episode but now is literally how the witches check in with one another because they don’t have cellphones. Astral projection is the texting of “Sabrina” world.

Gomez brings back thirteen witches to destroy the town; the sequence where she brings them back is the only good use of the digital Vaseline filter in iMovie the series has done (and, sadly, not in all the shots), but it works because Gomez is flipping amazing in the scene. Just awesome.

So the witches are going to protect themselves and let the ghost witches eat the townsfolk and Shipka, along with Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, and Chance Perdomo all decide they’re not going to let the mortals die, causing a rift between various parties. But the scene where Otto decides to play hero is pretty great. And Davis has some very nice stuff this episode, particularly with boss slash love interest Alessandro Juliani, who has been around for a while on the show but hasn’t made much impression apparently because I thought he was Taika Waititi.

Doesn’t matter. Nice stuff this episode.

Lynch and romantic rival Gavin Leatherwood team up to protect Lynch’s drunk-ass dad, while Sinclair and Watson protect Sinclair’s grandmother, L. Scott Caldwell, from the ghost witch attack. Throw in Shipka’s turn to the Dark Side of the Force—relatively speaking—Zelda kidnapping one of Richard Coyle’s newborns, Perdomo joining Coyle’s Jordan Peterson-esque like cult of male students, not to mention Gomez’s big reveal where she lays it all out to her captive audience.

Literally captive audience; she narratives the episode, from the beginning, like every episode is some tale she’s telling to her listener. As the episode progresses, we find out more and more about the listener, but we’re all in it together. Fantastic finish, fully delivering on all the promises of Gomez’s character throughout the season, including expectations from the comic. It’s very good.

In fact, everything’s so good it makes up for Shipka’s wanting arc. Once she gets the proverbial Force Lightning, she stops being the protagonist and becomes the subject of the show. Not a great place for the next season setup, though maybe it’d work better if they hadn’t wasted a couple minutes flashing back through the entire season when Shipka’s got to make her big choice. Instead of let her act the season, they let the clips do it for her. Not a good move.

But otherwise a successful end to a very successful season. Though I do hope they get Shipka back as show lead next season. They didn’t take it away from her—turning it into an ensemble—until the very end of the episode, but they’ve been moving in that direction for a while now. Fingers crossed for next season.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) s01e07 – Feast of Feasts

Netflix did drop “Sabrina” all at once so who knows if this Thanksgiving episode was meant to “air” on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving theme doesn’t last long—enough to introduce the hilarious idea of Miranda Otto sitting and watching football all day for the violence–but once the witch alternative, the Feast of Feasts, comes in… it’s all about the Feast.

Apparently witches don’t do communal Thanksgiving every year and only some people get to attend. The Spellman family—Otto, Lucy Davis, Kiernan Shipka—just haven’t been invited since Shipka’s been old enough to remember. Because she’d remember the event where a woman is chosen as Queen of the Feast and then eaten at said Feast.

While the episode sets it up for Shipka to be Queen—she demands to be the Spellman Family contestant, even though Otto’s already doing it—that setup is just… garnish. Oanh Ly’s script for the episode is strong, dialogue, pacing, plotting. So it comes as a big surprise when Sabrina (Shipka) doesn’t “win,” losing to witch academy nemesis Tati Gabrielle. But to keep Shipka essential to the episode—“Sabrina” has yet to give any of the supporting cast a showcase, it’s very much Shipka’s show—Shipka becomes Gabrielle’s handmaid, which means pampering her until she gets eaten by the coven. A great honor, especially after Gabrielle moves into Shipka’s; they don’t have a slumber party, in fact Gabrielle doesn’t even invite Shipka to the orgy.

One assumes the teen orgy wouldn’t have made it past Standards and Practices at a network, even the CW.

Shipka’s disgusted at the whole “eating another witch” thing and tries to get Gabrielle to see reason, which doesn’t work, but the subplot does prepare the audience for Shipka then discovering things are not what they seem and maybe it isn’t Satan who wants Gabrielle gone but someone else. The discussions of blind faith are fairly sharp so one’s got to wonder if the show’s aware the commentary it’s making on Christianity or if it’s actually as unaware as it appears to be; along with the lack of cellular technology, the world of “Sabrina” also seems absent the Religious Right.

Bitchin’.

Pal Jaz Sinclair has a subplot involving grandma L. Scott Caldwell, who tells her about the family curse—the women go blind, but they get the Shining in return. It’s called the Cunning. It’s whatever psychic power the show needs someone to have to nudge the plot along. It’s not an eye-roll so much as a squint and a nod. Sinclair and Caldwell are good enough to get through it.

And now for the big lede bury—Michael Hogan guest stars as Ross Lynch’s grandfather. They’re all going hunting this Thanksgiving, first time for Lynch, which is important family bonding because they used to hunt witches not deer. Lynch being in a family of witch hunters is a great reveal, especially for episode seven; anyway, on the hunt, they kill a witch’s familiar—in the form of a deer—and get on Sabrina’s witch acquaintances’ bad side.

It’s an excellent episode. Not just because Hogan. It’s got the right mix of Shipka’s justness, witch creepiness, and supporting cast material.

Even if it not being a Thanksgiving special seems like a missed opportunity given how funny it’d be to watch Otto and Hogan watch a football game together.

All Rise (2019) s01e14 – Bye Bye Bernie

This episode is series story editor Mellori Velasquez’s first episode as the credited writer. And, wow, either she’s really and at the dialogue or they went exceptionally cheap on the supporting cast. For example, Chelsea Rendon’s murder trial defendant. There’s no reason Rendon should be bad and she certainly seems earnest in her performance, but it’s not a good one. The dialogue between Rendon and her lawyer Jessica Camacho, where Camacho tries to empathize with Rendon over being Latinx and in the system (Camacho, big reveal, was in juvie for a bit as a teen), is painful and then made worse by the scenes going on a line or two too long. So maybe director Michael M. Robin’s fault too.

Then again, with Carlos Miranda as the prosecutor on Rendon’s case? He’s just plain bad. He’s got terrible dialogue but he’s also bad.

As the episode, with its plots for almost the entire regular cast—save Lindsay Mendez and Ruthie Ann Miles, of course—started to wind down, I got thinking about how they’ve managed to make “All Rise” a melodrama without making it particularly soapy. This episode’s got Simone Missick dealing with the Rendon trial, which doesn’t require much from her, as well as the perceived fallout from her mom, L. Scott Caldwell, talking about the racism in the criminal justice system. The subplot—which introduces Brent Jennings as Missick’s peacemaker father—culminates in Caldwell and Missick yelling at each other about how Caldwell basically thinks Missick’s a sell-out. The show positions Missick as surrounded by White people evaluating her as a Black woman judge, with Missick’s reaction often being filtered for that audience (as well as the White audience of the show). This scene with Caldwell could’ve been something.

And it’s not. In fact, the show goes on to walk it all back so they can get to a happy ending for the episode.

Also happy ending for the Wilson Bethel subplot with dad Tony Denison. I was thrilled to see Denison in the pilot’s opening credits but they’ve completely wasted him. Even this episode, presumably his last for a while, doesn’t give him anything to do. Velasquez’s forte is not the parents of grown children in the legal field.

Bethel’s case is at least effective, if manipulative, as he tries to get justice for an older woman possibly suffering from dementia (a decent enough Debra Mooney).

Throw in fourth-billed bailiff-turned-lawyer-to-be J. Alex Brinson interviewing for clerkships, Denison’s defense attorney Lindsey Gort flirting a little more seriously than usual with Bethel, and it’s a packed episode.

Maybe the most significant development is Bethel and Missick getting into an argument, which Velasquez cops out on almost immediately, but it’s at least interesting.

“All Rise” really seems to want credit for humanizing prison inmates and people with dementia; it’s a TV drama equivalent of “Please clap.”

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