Halloween may be done for 2018, but plenty of chills remain waiting in the shadows of streaming TV services to terrify us. Netflix in particular has several strong offerings, including the new series “The Haunting of Hill House” and a large offering of recent and classic horror offerings.
The Lovely Paula and I have been hooked on one of the more polarizing options, however: “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.”
As of this writing, we’ve watched all but the last two episodes of the season, which made its debut last week. In a nutshell: It’s a fantastic, binge-worthy show that I’m sure is going to frustrate me by the end.
The show has been polarizing, however, for its source material and darker twist.
It’s loosely based on Sabrina Spellman, a character from the “Archie” world of comics and later featured as “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Melissa Joan Hart played the lead role in a light-hearted sitcom featuring bad on-screen graphics, crazy antics and all the humor you’d expect from an ABC show in the ‘90s and early 2000s. Hart first played that role in a Showtime movie before the ABC series, as well.
In 2017, a darker version of Sabrina’s story was picked up by The CW as a companion series to “Riverdale,” it made the move to Netflix. When the first trailer for the show was released, it distanced itself from the brightly-lit, squeaky-clean world of the sitcom.
The result is a horror show that feels like the actors from a CW drama got acceptance letters to Hogwarts. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is clearly derivative, but it offers storytelling that is unafraid to dance with the devil, but doesn’t go home with him. It has all the outstanding storytelling qualities of “American Horror Story” without the brutality and excessive gore. It’s not for kids, but does not have all the horrors of adulthood.
Here’s what it does really well:
• Juxtaposition of religions. This version of the story starts days before Sabrina’s sweet 16th birthday, which happens to be on Halloween. She has her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle, two great friends in Susie and Roz, and a decision to make that could rip her away from her human life.
In just a few days, Sabrina is obligated to pledge her loyalty to the Dark Lord Satan and join his church via a dark baptism. That decision means she will have to leave her human life behind and study at the Church of Night’s special version of Hogwarts that totally isn’t Hogwarts.
Throughout the series, the Church of Night holds a ruling authority that demands subservience from its members. Sabrina’s aunts Hilda and Zelda try to guide her in the ways of the church, to varying degrees of success. The way the show portrays the Church of Night as just another church is brilliantly done.
• Development and expansion of story. What I’ve always loved about this new era of TV shows on Netflix is that producers aren’t obligated to follow a procedural pattern, and instead can fully dive into the world they created, and “Sabrina” is no different. Where the ‘90s sitcom featured Sabrina solving a problem with magic, but making an even bigger unintended mess, with math-like regularity, this Sabrina gets to learn much more about herself.
She discovers that she is a half-human child, the show’s special version of “mudblood” that totally isn’t “mudblood.” She encounters the Weird Sisters, a group of three students in the show’s version of being a Slytherin that’s totally not being in Slytherin. We also learn more about the supernatural connections her friends and boyfriend have to supernatural matters.
All of these side stories are woven in a compelling, natural manner. (The resolution of these side stories, however, is a hot mess, but we’ll talk about that later.) And here’s how strong the writing is: One episode features a fight against a demon named “Batty Bat,” and it never struck me as cheeseball while watching it.
• Outstanding casting. There’s not a single actor in this show who has annoyed me. Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina is a perfect mix of righteousness and rebellion. Ross Lynch’s Harvey is infused with earnestness and innocence that never annoys. Miranda Otto is so good as Zelda that I didn’t even recognize her.
My only concern about the show is that it keeps getting distracted by subplots and extra threads. While Sabrina rarely hesitates to take action, she keeps getting distracted from the really important things, such as finding out how her parents died, or what exactly is going on with one of her favorite teachers who turns out to be something different.
I can count about five major plot points that need some resolution over the last two episodes, but because a second season is under production, I know I’m going to get cliffhangered.
Still, it’s hard to be mad about that. The road to this particular cliff has featured some amazing scenery. Like a “Vampire Diaries” with the spirit and soul of “Supernatural,” it finds a comfortable shadow between light and darkness.
Joe Hadsall is features editor for the Globe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.