“Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch” episode review: “Dances With Werewolves”

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On Saturday, the newest TV series based on Archie’s “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” debuted, “Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch.” The series takes a more action-oriented approach than previous Sabrina incarnations. Yes, SPOILERS ahead.

Background

The show’s premise sees Sabrina forced to split her time between the “Witch World” (better known as the “Other Realm,” “Magic Realm” or “Netherworld” depending on previous incarnation) and the Human World. In the Witch World, Sabrina’s apparently being trained in the use of her powers, with much interference by Enchantra, the Head Witch. Her main rival there is Shinji, an egoistical warlock and son of Enchantra.

In the Human World, Sabrina attends high school, deals with typical mortal—er, “human” stuff, and lives with her Aunts, who’re running some sort of coffeeshop/knickknack shop. Also living with the Spellmans is Salem, who in this incarnation is secretly an agent of Enchantra’s, whose goal is to get Sabrina to live full-time in the Witch World and become her heir to the throne. Apparently Enchantra’s also big on pairing Sabrina up with Shinji, despite that the two can’t stand each other.

In the debut episode, Harvey’s shown preparing for the debut of a new werewolf movie by putting on a jacket he gets at the Spellmans’ shop. Unfortunately, thanks to sabotage by Salem, the jacket’s cursed, which makes its wearer become a werewolf (permanently, according to Aunt Hilda). Sabrina spends the remainder of the episode trying to keep Harvey under control, while also dealing with an annoyed Shinji.

The episode shows this series will present a more “action”-filled take on Sabrina, with a bit less comedic tone than the previous Sabrina TV incarnations. Not sure about some of the changes from previous versions—Harvey as a werewolf? The names “Witch World”/”Human World?” Shinji’s personality here (versus the comics)? Still, willing to give the show a chance…

Besides the elements I’ve previously noted, the show’s a mix of aspects from various versions of the comics/TV shows:

Aunts Hilda and Zelda

Hilda in this series speaks with what sounds like a New Yorker accent, while Zelda sounds like she’s from Minnesota or Wisconsin. Both seem to have reverted to their general body types from the earlier comics and Filmation TV series, where Hilda was skinny and tall, while Zelda was short and heavy-set. Both are still dressed in modern clothes, however; earlier comics/the Filmation series had them dressed in stereotypical witches’ clothes… see pictures from both versions below:

The AuntsFilmation Aunts and Salem

Harvey

Harvey, as previously noted, seems to be geekier here. Sabrina and Harvey, however, don’t seem to be a couple as in other versions (Sabrina seems more interested in Harvey’s friend in this episode).

Salem

Salem’s voice, for some reason, sounds like the late actor Paul Lynde, who did some cartoon voice work (such as “Where’s Huddles?” and Hanna-Barbera’s Mildew Wolf). I’m half-wondering if Salem will refer to Enchantra as being “savage” or call Sabrina “Samantha” by mistake…

Salem also possesses a limited degree of magic powers in this series. The comics originally presented Salem as a non-powered ordinary orange cat; the Filmation series, however, showed Salem with a limited degree of magic, as did the 2000s animated series. The 90s sitcom gave Salem his present coloring (black) and backstory; both of those elements were quickly adapted to the comics and all subsequent versions. Salem in the comics continues to be non-magic powered, however. Similar to this new series, the Filmation Salem also raised his tail to cast his magic.

Jessie

Jessie is Sabrina’s best mortal (or “human,” to use this show’s terminology) friend in this series. She seems to play as heavy a role in keeping Sabrina’s secret as Chloe did in “Sabrina, the Animated Series.” I assume future episodes will give more screen time with Jessie.

Shinji and Enchantra

Enchantra seems similar to her comic book self (an obnoxious, bullying ruler of the other witches; as the Aunts noted, there’s a reason why they live in the mortal world). However, here she’s particularly interested in Sabrina as some sort of heir. Shinji, however, greatly differs from his comic book self; here, he’s egoistical, looks down on humans, and can’t really stand Sabrina.

Other elements

The show’s taken other elements from previous versions:

  • A friend of Shinji’s is a blonde kid named Ambrose. In the comics, Ambrose was a black-haired, adult cousin of Sabrina’s/the Aunts’, who had a personality/role similar to Salem’s. That might be why he rarely appears in modern stories.
  • A girl at the school dance asks if Ambrose is from Riverdale. The comics have varied on what the name of Sabrina’s hometown is; earlier comics and the Filmation series show her living in Riverdale alongside Archie and the gang. The 90s sitcom (and for awhile, the comics) named her town “Westbridge.” The 2000s animated series (and most modern comics) state it’s Greendale, a town near Riverdale. Despite the remark to Ambrose, I assume this new series is using Greendale as well; otherwise I’d half-expect Archie and the gang to appear. Though we’ll see…
  • Sabrina’s shown casting magic using a wand, Harry Potter-style. The 2000s animated series “Sabrina’s Secret Life” also showed Sabrina using a magic wand.

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