If you’re a child of the ’90s, you probably remember a sitcom called Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It was a cute little show, but certainly a product of the times. The character of Sabrina and her incarnations were made famous by Archie Comics, mostly known for Archie and Josie and the Pussycats. While not as universally adored or glorified as Marvel and DC, most Archie characters, including Sabrina, have always had a strong following over the years.
A new version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch has recently arrived on Netflix recently in the form of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name. Unlike the light-hearted and cheesy nature of the sitcom, this version is darker and macabre. Developed by the same team behind The CW’s Riverdale, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina deals with our favorite teenage witch having to choose between her life as a witch or as a mortal as her sixteenth birthday approaches.
Just in time for Halloween, let’s take a look back at the history of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Sabrina Through the Years
Sabrina made her debut in the Archie Comics issue Archie’s Madhouse #22 in October 1962. She was originally created as a one-shot by writer George Gladir and artist Dan DeCarlo. Gaining popularity amongst readers, Sabrina continued to appear in Archie issues until finally getting her own series in 1971. It proved to be successful, running for 77 issues until 1983, followed by another series running for 30 issues from 1997 to 1999. Sabrina continued to make occasional appearances in other Archie stories in various crossovers throughout the years. There was even a Sabrina manga series developed by cartoonist Tania del Rio in 2004.
The first television version of Sabrina premiered in 1970 with Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies, also known as The Sabrina Comedy Hour or The Sabrina the Teenage Witch show. Airing on CBS and produced by Filmation—the same animation company behind several earlier Archie shows—it ran for 31 episodes until 1974. It lived in that bubble of obscure, cheaply animated Saturday morning cartoons, emulating the groovy nature of the ’70s.
It wasn’t until 1996 when Sabrina entered more mainstream familiarity with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the live-action sitcom created by Nell Scovell and starring Melissa Joan Hart as the titular character. There was even an unofficial pilot/TV movie released on Showtime before the series starring Hart, but it was ultimately retconned in favor of the television series we know today. The show was initially a success on ABC for its first four seasons until it switched to The WB for its final three. But even after getting canceled, Sabrina the Teenage Witch has been fondly remembered over the years, mostly as a comforting time capsule of the ’90s. It even spawned two TV movies: Sabrina Goes to Rome and Sabrina Down Under.
At the same time Sabrina the Teenage Witch was airing, viewers could get even more Sabrina with a new animated show entitled Sabrina: The Animated Series. The show borrowed certain elements from the sitcom but varied in many ways. Melissa Joan Hart appears on the show, but this time voicing Sabrina’s aunts Hilda and Zelda. Sabrina herself was voiced by Melissa’s sister, Emily Hart. Salem the cat appears in both versions and both voiced by Nick Bakay.
The show ran for 65 episodes on UPN and ABC. It even led to two spinoffs: Sabrina: Friends Forever and Sabrina’s Secret Life. There was also a short-lived CGI-animated show called Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch that ran on The Hub in 2012, starring Ashley Tisdale as the voice of Sabrina.
With the success of Riverdale, the dark adaptation of the classic Archie stories, fans wondered if Sabrina the Teenage Witch would ever make an appearance on the show. Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had initially planned for Sabrina to appear in the season one finale but decided against it in favor of her own show. Aguirre-Sacasa had been writing comics for years, including Chilling Adventures of Sabrina which he has now adapted for Netflix and is currently available to watch.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a huge departure in tone from the previous television versions of Sabrina. This time, the world of Sabrina partakes in straight-up Satanism. Sabrina, now played by Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka, is a teenage half-witch, half-mortal living in Greendale with her aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto). On her sixteenth birthday, she must choose between her family life in the witch world or the life of a mortal with her friends and boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch).
What’s unique about Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina is that she learns in the pilot that she is a witch. With the help of Aunts Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick), she learns how to use magic in her life. Previous versions have established Sabrina already knowing she is a witch, or even a half-witch, with her mother being a mortal. Sabrina’s group of friends has varied, but her love interest in the form of Harvey Kinkle has managed to stay the same. Kinkle is always unaware of Sabrina being a witch. In the live-action sitcom, where he’s played by Nate Richert, he eventually learns and accepts it. In most versions, whenever he learns the truth, Sabrina manages to erase his memory of it.
Another common element in Sabrina stories is the talking family cat Salem Saberhagen, a longtime fan favorite. Most versions retain the same backstory in which Salem was formerly a witch who was punished by the Witches’ Council for attempted world domination and sentenced to being a cat for an indefinite amount of time. He serves as a voice of reason for Sabrina, with a sarcastic and dry wit. However, in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the character is revamped to be Sabrina’s familiar, which are spirits or creatures taking the form of animals in order to do guide witches in their magical practices. And unfortunately, he does not talk in this version. Instead, we are introduced to Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), Sabrina’s pansexual cousin who was a supporting character in the comics, but never featured in other media. He’s proven to be a helpful but snarky substitute for Salem.
What’s interesting is the aesthetic that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina adopts. It has the look and feel of the 1960s, when the original comic took place, but the characters use modern-day speech and even current pop culture references. This is very similar to Riverdale, and fans are hoping these two shows may cross over at some point. And unlike the sitcom and animated series, where it was more episodic, Shipka’s Sabrina has an ongoing story dealing with her dueling worlds and the dark forces that threaten her family and friends on both sides.
Last Word on Sabrina
Even though Sabrina has gone through many variations over the years, they all maintain the same premise: Sabrina is a witch who lives with her two aunts and uses magic in her daily life to solve problems and help people. There are times when she tries to use magic for her own personal gain, but she has always proved to be kindhearted and ultimately does learn lessons. This was especially common in the original sitcom and animated series, but it still holds true in this dark Netflix dark adaptation.
If you can get past the Satanism of this version and see Sabrina for who she truly is, an empowering figure for young girls who is capable of making her own decisions, you may enjoy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. If you crave cheesy ’90s nostalgia, then Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Sabrina: The Animated Series are just for you. Or if you want to read comics that aren’t superhero-related, try and track down the original Sabrina issues. Witch-ever floats your broomstick, Sabrina the Teenage Witch will continue to cast her spells on fans alike.
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