DAVID BIANCULLI

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'The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' Returns to Netflix
April 5, 2019  | By David Hinckley
 

One of the several cool supporting characters in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina gets a well-deserved feel-good moment as the show returns with its second round of fresh episodes.

The nine episodes officially called Part 2 of Sabrina become available Friday on Netflix, where response has been strong enough that the show has gotten the further green light for 16 more episodes.

The feel-good moment requires the intervention of title character, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka), acting in service of Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson).

Susie is one of TV’s first characters to be defined, like Watson in real life, as non-binary. It’s an unusual situation with a predictable and all-too-familiar consequence. The meatheads at Baxter High School, which Sabrina and Susie attend, delight in bullying anyone they don’t understand, especially someone who is physically smaller than they are.

When Sabrina and Susie find an opening to retaliate, all except hard-core meathead fans will rejoice.

While a moment of sweet revenge is hardly revolutionary in a high-school drama, in this case, it also doubles down on a wider point of the show: Sabrina is in a crucial and central way non-binary herself, and therefore is vulnerable as well to attempted threats and intimidation.

Specifically, Sabrina is half-witch, on her father’s side, and half-human, on her mother’s. Her father was a big deal in his world, the high priest of the Church of Night.

This has left her straddling two worlds since the beginning, and the first part of the series made it clear she finds much she doesn’t want to give up on both sides.

Turning 16, however, requires serious witches to start making a full commitment to the witch life and therefore cutting ties to human life.

For starters, she’s under pressure to transfer from the local high school, Baxter, to The Academy of the Unseen Arts, a training spot for witches and warlocks.

Harry Potter fans will peg The Academy as close kin to Hogwarts, and anyone who has attended any high school will recognize characters like the annoying dean, Dr. Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle).

Dr. Blackwood, who not incidentally is also the current high priest, takes an immediate dislike to Sabrina, which she fans by challenging the school’s insulting policy of total male domination.

This subplot soon becomes neither minor nor subtle, perhaps reflecting the fact Sabrina comes from an Archie comic rather than an exotic graphic novel.

Shipka makes it work, just as she makes us believe she can keep her Baxter High boyfriend, Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), clueless about her witch life. True, it helps that he’s blinded by having a full-throttle 16-year-old’s crush on her. Conversely, it doesn’t help that she has the same crush on him.  

When he gives her a locket to wear around her neck, she breaks into, quite literally, her happy dance.

It’s one of many moments when we, like Sabrina, don’t want moments like that to end for her.

For that reason alone, it’s good that the show keeps us busy with multiple dramas. That includes Sabrina’s decision to run for a coveted position in The Academy student hierarchy, defying the long-standing tradition that this position will only be held by a boy.

This unleashes unpleasant retaliation that seems disproportionate to her offense, except it’s really part of a larger and more ominous plot triggered by that half-witch business.

Seems some folks in the witch-and-warlock community see Sabrina as an unwanted and unwelcome intruder.

Fortunately, she’s got powerful allies who include her aunts Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto). But they face a complex web spun by people and non-people who have disturbing powers of deception.

Take Sabrina’s favorite Baxter High teacher, Mrs. Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), who really isn’t quite herself anymore.

Sabrina’s large cast, including student cliques like The Weird Sisters, populates a sprawling canvas.

In the end, happily, Shipka keeps things focused. For all the threats Sabrina faces, Shipka keeps her cheerful and endearing, and for all the show’s supernatural trappings, she remains a person we can all understand and like.

 
 
 
 
 
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