2nd season of the witch

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (15)

Creator: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Starring: Kiernan ShipkaRoss LynchLucy Davis

Review: David Stephens

Depending on which episode guides you look at, or whatever onscreen menu you rely on, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” has just premiered episodes from Season 2, or Part 2 of Season 1. Whatever you want to call it, after an initial 10 episode run and a Christmas special, the original Teenage Witch is back to haunt Greendale and is available for streaming. The first run introduced us to the edgier version of the popular Archies’ Comics characters. Created and developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (“The Town that Dreaded Sundown”, “Carrie”), it was based on the comic of the same name and was a companion series to his much-praised “Riverdale” (although the links are subtle and understated). Whereas a generation had grown up with Melissa Joan Hart’s loopy adolescent sit-com, this was an altogether different brew featuring cannibalism, demons, and the odd dash of gore… and plenty of allegories for prevalent teenage issues as well. The show was critically well-received when it debuted on Netflix last year, and quickly established a core of fans that were eager to see how ‘Brina would cope with her decision to literally sign her soul away. There was a Christmas special (“A Midwinter’s Tale”) which kinda trod water a bit as regards progressing the main storyline, but now “Chapter 12” through to “Chapter 20” are on Netflix in the UK and US. So YGROY treads the dark path to see where it takes our white-haired girl…

When we last left Sabrina Spellman (a note-perfect Kiernan Shipka), she had turned 16 years old and had been coerced into signing the “Book of the Beast”, and thus declaring her devotion to the Dark Lord Lucifer himself. Of course, she only did it to gain the supernatural powers to save her community from powerful entities, but she can’t erase the past. This leads her to make the unhappy decision to distance herself from her mortal friends, and one-time boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch). But there’s always handsome warlock Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) to guide her through the confusing etiquette of witchcraft, although… can he be trusted? Meanwhile Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) is looking to climb the hierarchy of Witchdom, after slimy Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle) showers her with attention, and Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) has her head turned by local shopkeeper Dr Cerberus (Alessandro Juliani). Whilst Sabrina attends the Academy of the Unseen Arts, her “protector” Mary Wardwell (aka: Madame Satan, aka: Lilith, aka: the brilliant Michelle Gomez) has become the Principal of Baxter High after eating the last one, but she’s not happy with the situation. Behind all this is the Dark Lord… and Sabrina will be seeing a lot of him as his dark plans come to dark fruition. The thing is… how clever is it to play Chicken with the Devil himself?

With all the characters and premise previously introduced, you’d hope that the pace of the narrative would carry through and that predictable sub-plots would be wisely avoided. However, with the first couple of episodes you may be a bit disappointed. The Sabrina-Nick-Harvey love-triangle is played up, Sabrina bounces back between the Witch Academy and Baxter High, Lilith chews the scenery, the Dark Lord challenges someone to commit petty theft, Susie/Theo (Lachlan Watson) confronts gender identity issues, and Rosalind (Jaz Sinclair) deals with her “cunning” powers of seeing too much (and not enough). This is mixed in with minor revelations about Dr Cerberus, Sabrina’s fight to become… err…“Top Boy”, and plenty of Witchy escapades like “Lupercalia” (Valentine’s Day with wolves basically). Compared with the previous season, it feels a little directionless and not quite as pacy or compelling. Happily though, all that changes pretty quickly and you’ll fall for the show’s charm once again when its overwhelming fondness for the genre takes over, and the main story arc(s) of the show come together. Because if “Riverdale” used the slasher genre to engage with their audience, then “Sabrina” utilises everybody’s love for classic horror in the same way.

That is particularly clear with the brilliant episode “Doctor Cerebrus’s House of Horror” (NB: Peter Cushing’s “Dr Terror” obviously not being available for the engagement). This wonderfully pays homage to the great horror anthologies of yesteryear, whilst still continuing the progression of the main plot strands, and even hinting at the future of some characters. As expected it’s a collection of “imaginary” vignettes for each of the main characters, with various cautionary morals and violent outcomes. The best one is the mash of various Lovecraft short stories to create a nightmare scenario for Harvey’s artistic abilities. Whilst it is ostensibly a “filler” episode it just works beautifully and crystallises all the themes together. It’s at this point that you realise just how important the theme of classic horror is to these folks and the rest of the season just slots together in the best way possible. The latter part of the season is paced just right, and you can look forward to seeing great cameos from the likes of; Veronica Cartwright (“Alien”), Ray Wise (“Twin Peaks”), William B. Davis (CSM from “The X Files”), and Alexis Denisof (“Buffy”, “Angel”). There are also some great call-backs to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (complete with Pod-Person shriek!), “Frankenstein”, “The Descent”, and “Halloween”… as well as the Zuni Fetish doll from “Trilogy of Terror”. There are even pop-culture references to “Hulk” and the “X-Men”.

Best of all though are the narrative twists and turns that happen during the series, which divert greatly from the comics and sit-com show, and are often genuinely surprising. The “love triangle” element is eventually handled in a mature and non-cloying way, Sabrina is (rightly) taken for task in taking people for granted (she can be a self-centred asshole at times), and BIG questions will be answered by the end of Episode 20 (although it still finds time for a campy musical interlude nevertheless). All of the cast are great, but special kudos again to Shipka and Gomez who just seem to be naturally enjoying the show itself and love their characters. This also goes to Otto (icy but ultimately with a heart) and Davis (dotty… but with a murderous edge if you cross her). It wouldn’t work at all mind you, bar the fact that the fine line between whimsy and gore is balanced so well. So this is a show where you get mice giving evidence at a law court and grown adults eating “Graveyard Pops”, whilst the next scene might contain a body getting graphically sawn in half and a small animal being forcibly fed through a meat mincer! The corny reverse dialogue continues to make you laugh/groan as well (“Let’s get the Heaven out of here!”, “You are a Hell-send”). By the time the (teasing) final line is read, you’ll be glad you returned to Greendale and will have had a lot of fun there. Netflix has already renewed further seasons, so let’s hope this show continues in the same vein to entertain.

January 1, 2020

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It starts slowly as plot strands are tidied, but once the show gives us that wonderful anthology homage the landing gear from the broomstick is raised and it soars high. Shipka continues to embody strength and vulnerability and Gomez revels in the different aspects of Lilith. You’ll race through the latter episodes and enjoy the satisfying finale. You’ll just witch for more…
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