Pop Culturing: Darker & More Progressive, 'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' Returns for Season 2

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday April 5, 2019

Kiernan Shipka, left, and Gavin Leatherwood, right in "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina."
Kiernan Shipka, left, and Gavin Leatherwood, right in "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina."  (Source:Diyah Pera/Netflix)

The first season of "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" reshaped the Sabrina franchise for fans and casual viewers. Before Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa brought his version of the Archie comic book to Netflix last year, most people associated Sabrina with the 90s sitcom that was part of ABC's iconic T.G.I.F. programming block, "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," starring Melissa Joan Hart. When Aguirre-Sacasa's take on the show debuted, it totally flipped the script, making "Sabrina" one of the darkest and most progressive teen dramas of this generation.

In Season 2 — or "Part 2" as Netflix calls it — "Sabrina" continues to push boundaries and the limits of a teen soap. Its sister show "Riverdale," about Archie Andrews and his pals in the titular town, airs on the CW and is bound by typical network restrictions (although it certainly does get away with a lot!). Being on a streaming service like Netflix, "Sabrina" is allowed to be as twisted, graphic and forward-thinking as it wants; no subject is too taboo here. But the issues Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) and her friends face in Season 2 are handled smartly and with care, never feeling exploitative or rash and feel like teachable moments (even when the Dark Lord is lurking around the corner) without being too preachy.

Season 2 is less plot-driven than Season 1, which focused on Sabrina, who is half witch and half mortal, and her decision if she'll sign the Book of the Beast, effectively giving her soul to the Dark Lord in order to become a full-fledge witch. Now that she's acclimated to her new life, taking classes at the prestigious Academy of the Unseen Arts, Season 2 sprawls out and takes the time to be more of a coming-of-age drama. Most notably, "Sabrina" is a queer show, including a number of LGBTQ characters, like Sabrina's warlock cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) who is pansexual. Many of Sabrina's classmates from the Academy aren't specifically labeled as queer but they're seen being sexually fluid, giving the show a progressive tone without being explicit and try hard. Susie (Lachlan Watson) has been on a path of self-discovery through Season 1 and that continues in Season 2 as she tries out for the boys' basketball team. Her attempt to join the team and use the boys' locker room has awful consequences but it also leads to a powerful transformation.

Pictured: Adeline Rudolph, Chance Perdomo, Tati Gabrielle, and Abigail F. Cowen in "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina." Photo credit: Diyah Pera/Netflix

Elsewhere, "Sabrina" pulls out some tried-and-true teen soap tropes. Sabrina and her boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) have split up but she's moved on to the tall-dark-handsome-and mysterious warlock and Academy classmate Nicholas (Gavin Leatherwood). It's a classic setup where we watch a protagonist leave a partner the audience knows to be good for someone possibly nefarious. But "Sabrina" adds another layer here with Harvey developing feelings for Sabrina's BFF, Roz (Jaz Sinclair), who is dealing with her own trauma of slowly going blind, which also gives her a sixth sense. Meanwhile, Sabrina's aunt Zelda (the delicious Miranda Otto) is continuing her relationship with Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle), the High Priest of the Church of Night and dean of the Academy, which ends up being a central conflict of Season 2. Another mysterious plot line this season is the Dark Lord suddenly calling on Sabrina, tasking her with twisted tasks that she must perform or risk her loved ones being in danger.

Like Season 1, Season 2 is incredibly stylized and sexy. One of the best episodes is "Lupercalia," a pre-Roman holiday that's the dark world's version of Valentine's Day. It's an exciting episode where the romances driving "Sabrina" come to a head but it's considered and filmed brilliantly, full with excellent music drops. It's also a striking episode when Sabrina decides to confide in her aunts about having sex for the first time. It is a frank but open discussion that's not treated like a scandalous moment but a tender one that's insightful and warm.

Kiernan Shipka in "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina." Photo credit: Jeff Weddell/Netflix

Though "Riverdale" may be limited by the FCC, it does benefit from time constraints, running about 45 minutes an episode. Netflix, of course, doesn't have ads and its programs can range from 15 minutes to...more indulgent running times. "Sabrina" falls in the latter category with episodes clocking in just about one hour or a few minutes over. Some episodes in Season 2 drag and viewers may really feel that hour, especially in episode four "Doctor Cerberus's House of Horror." It feels like a filler episode — similar to the classic "Treehouse of Horror" episodes from "The Simpsons"— but...not as good. It also happens to be the longest episode of the five Netflix provided for review.

Despite its occasional bumps, fans of the first installment of "Sabrina" will be delighted with where Season 2 goes. Aguirre-Sacasa's vision of the teenage witch is a radical approach but a necessary one, creating a teen show that isn't afraid of darkness and taking the time to tackle some difficult teen topics.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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