Teenagers. Witchcraft. A black cat named Salem. Even if you’re not currently watching Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which has its second season debut on April 5, you’ve probably still seen the ads for the series. Maybe you’re a little bit curious to check it out, but something is making you hesitate. Perhaps you were a fan of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, the series’ television counterpart from the 1990s, and you’re wary about this new adaptation of the story. Perhaps you’ve tried watching Riverdale, the series’ sister show currently airing on the CW, and you just couldn’t get into it, dissuading you from starting another television show based on Archie Comics. Or, perhaps you’ve had a glimpse into the series’ darker undertones, hearing the phrase “Praise Satan!” uttered more than once in previews and wondering what in the world this is presenting to a younger audience. However, if you push all of that external noise aside and give the show a chance, you’ll find that it’s much more than you initially believed. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (referred to as CAOS from here on out) offers a fresh take on the story, has an amazing cast of relatable and sympathetic characters, and offers insight into and discussion on topics such as religion, sexuality, feminism, and gender identity – which, when combined, make an introspective and fantastic series that should be on everyone’s must-watch lists.
(A word of caution: some spoilers ahead.)
First of all, the series offers a completely different take on the content from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. While CAOS is not lacking in humorous moments (the show never takes itself too seriously), the series’ genre is definitely not rooted in comedy as its predecessor was; rather, it is more of a horror/fantasy, closer to a combination of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Preacher (which, unsurprisingly, are two of my all-time favorite television series). This dark undertone gives the series such a different feel from the original that it’s often difficult to remember that they come from the same source material – and this isn’t a bad thing, as it can make it easier for fans of the original Sabrina series to adapt to this new incarnation. Plus, since it is not a carbon-copy of the original, CAOS offers viewers a fresh look at the story and characters, which gives it an edge over many films and television series that have been rebooted in the past.
Additionally, despite the story’s roots in magic and fantasy, the characters on CAOS are relatable and sympathetic. For instance, the teenagers act according to their age moreso than on Riverdale, in which the main characters often behave like adults even though they are in high school. Moreover, the characters on CAOS exhibit realistic reactions even when the events that transpire are otherwise unrealistic. Add in the series’ inclusive human representation – such as having several series regulars be people of color (Ambrose, Roz, and Prudence), giving Harvey a simultaneously sensitive yet masculine nature, and following Susie’s transition as he comes out as Theo – and you have something that modern audiences are drawn to. To top it off, the performances all around are superb, with series regulars including Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) as Sabrina, Ross Lynch (Austin & Ally) as Harvey, Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead and Wonder Woman) as Aunt Hilda, Chance Perdomo (Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators and Midsomer Murders) as Ambrose, Michelle Gomez (Doctor Who) as Mary Wardwell/Lilith, and Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings series) as Aunt Zelda. The series’ guest stars even offer callbacks to the horror and sci-fi genres, with season two including inspired choices like Alexis Denisof (Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Mary’s boyfriend Adam, Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) as the Anti-Pope, William B. Davis (The X-Files) as Methuselah, and Veronica Cartwright (The Birds) as the Fortune Teller. In other words, attention given to the series’ casting is stellar, and the actors convincingly make each of their respective characters come to life.
Most importantly, the main reason why CAOS is a must-watch is because the series offers a surprisingly introspective look into today’s society via the underlying themes with which it presents its viewers. For example, Susie’s journey to coming out as Theo in seasons one and two clearly highlight gender identity and the LGBTQ+ community, a sign of this more inclusive and representative era of television. However, the struggles that Theo faces throughout his transition – such as bullying and a lack of acceptance from some of his male classmates – gives the audience a stark reminder that the modern world still has a way’s to go in terms of the acceptance of people of all genders and sexualities.
Another modern theme highlighted within the series with regard to sexuality is feminism. A large part of the plot in season two focuses on the future direction that Sabrina’s coven will be taking – and whether or not that direction will raise the witches up and empower them (the stance taken by Sabrina and her late father), or force them to go backwards and become subservient to warlocks (the stance taken by the High Priest of the coven, Father Blackwood). The parallels this has to the current state of political affairs in the U.S. today are almost terrifying, but the series gives a positive outlook by the end of the season, with the witches regaining control of the coven and Father Blackwood on the run – something that can offer hope to viewers who may be feeling frustrated by the times.
However, possibly more interesting than this is the inclusion of Lilith as a main character, something that ends up being very eye-opening. Lilith is often presented as the mother of demons in popular culture and at first, she doesn’t start off too far from this depiction; she spends season one as Satan’s servant who is helping to push Sabrina down a path of darkness on his orders. However, by season two, Lilith is largely questioning Satan’s master plan – and by the end of the season, she is actively working against him. It is revealed that she originally ended up serving him because she had nowhere else to go when God banished her from the Garden of Eden after she refused to lie with Adam. While this is no surprise to people in the real world who have studied her over the years, what some viewers may not know is that Lilith is a major figure in Judaism, where she is actually presented as Adam’s first wife before Eve – but she is completely missing from the Bible, and Christianity didn’t exist until after Judaism already did. It is therefore possible that Lilith was written out of the Bible because she refused to be subservient to man, which implies that our largely Christian society may have been primed from very early on to believe that women are not autonomous over their own bodies. This opens up a very interesting conversation about feminism and why so many people in the world still believe that women come second to men – and this type of conversation is important to have if we ever want to move forward and see real change.
One last theme that this leads to is religion, which is probably the most overt theme that CAOS has to offer. Sabrina’s coven is called the Church of Night, one of many organizations comprised of witches and warlocks who are dedicated to serving Satan. Many members of the Church happily devote themselves to Satan without question; however, Sabrina, who is half-mortal, is constantly questioning Satan’s motives and whether or not some of the Church’s teachings are truly evil. This has a lot to do with the fact that Sabrina is very pure-hearted, as is her Aunt Hilda; even Aunt Zelda, who is seemingly a very loyal servant of Satan, appears to be somewhat afraid of him at times, and she is more than willing to stand against him if his will poses a threat to her family. This means that there is some sort of ambiguity within the members of the coven, with not all of its witches and warlocks being completely “good” or “evil,” despite the fact that they are said to serve Satan. Likewise, when angels are sent to the coven to exterminate its members, the treatment of the witches and warlocks by God is put into question; after all, if God really wanted to convert them, shouldn’t his offer be forgiveness instead of death? This puts the whole idea of whether or not organized religion can affect the inherent character of its members into question. In other words, it brings to light the fact that just because someone is religious doesn’t make them “good,” and just because someone is not religious doesn’t make them “evil.” In today’s world, this is definitely something that is worth highlighting in popular culture, as there are still places where people are persecuted for their religions, and spirituality, Agnosticism, and Atheism have become more commonplace in others. As a result, CAOS offers viewers the important reminder not to judge people based on their beliefs, something that brilliantly allows the series to transcend fantasy and to become something about humanity instead.
In conclusion, while CAOS may look redundant – or even Satanic – to those looking in from the outside, the series is truly an outlier in the best of ways. While the series can be dark at times, it offers a fresh take on the story, setting it apart from other interpretations like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. The cast brings something new to their respective characters as the episodes go on, exercising their range as a whole and the amazing chemistry that they have with one another, as well as allowing for continuous and realistic character development. However, it is the combination of the series’ underlying themes that truly make it a spectacular watch. The way in which CAOS is able to address things like gender identity, sexuality, feminism, and religion, using a modern approach to explain both the old and new age thinking on each of these topics, opens up a larger conversation about how society can move forward to adapt to the times. It isn’t something that you’d expect from a horror/fantasy series about witches and warlocks – but sometimes, the best art forms come from the unexpected. To me, this makes CAOS a must-watch, and I highly recommend giving the series a chance if you haven’t already. After all, you may find yourself pleasantly bewitched.