A Flash from the Past: Sabrina The Teenage Witch vs The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Edirin Akonoghrere

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Sabrina The Teenage Witch are two different shows based on the same character. Sabrina The Teenage Witch is a comical show from the 90s which talks about the life of Sabrina who finds out that she belongs to a family of witches on her sixteenth birthday. On the other hand, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is about Sabrina Spellman’s journey from her dark baptism (which is the day she gives her soul to the Dark Lord, basically Satan).

Sabrina The Teenage Witch premiered on ABC in late part of 1996 and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina came out on Netflix in the late part of 2018, both shows are based on the Archie Comics of similar titles. They are both of the fantasy genre but differ in method of delivery. The ABC version of the comics was more comical and wittier in delivery, it changed a good portion of the story line by making Sabrina oblivious to her family history and upon discovery makes “teenage-like” decisions to fix things and sometimes cause things. However, the Netflix version was filled with more gore and horror, a bit more similar to the comics. In this version, Sabrina is fully aware of her family’s history and what is required of her once she turns sixteen. She ends up having to deal with more serious issues because she refuses to assume a role that is required of her. She believes that she can still be a witch without having to sign over her freedom to the dark lord.

One of the many things both shows do similarly is by making Sabrina a girl who doesn’t abide by the set rules. In the 1996 version, we see Sabrina defying the rules set on how to use magic and how she only uses it for her personal gain. In the 2018 version, we see that Sabrina believes that the Church of Night, which is the church that the servants of the dark lord subscribe to, needs reformation, and change in some respects. She is in fact half-mortal and half-witch and believes she can find a solution to the resentment both sides have for each other. This doesn’t go as easy as she planned but she remains determined defying the traditions and rules of the church to bring modernization.

Another similarity both shows share is the presence of Harvey, Sabrina’s first love and boyfriend. In both versions, we get to meet Harvey Kinkle, the mortal boyfriend whom she falls in love with. They build and have a wonderful relationship and grow to become a beautiful young couple. Initially, both versions of Harvey have no idea the girl they love is a witch and on finding out they end their relationships with them. In the 1996 version, Harvey finds out when Sabrina tries to end a squabble between him and a friend, who are both fighting for Sabrina’s love and affection. In the 2018 version, Harvey finds out she is a witch when she tries to bring his brother back from the dead and ends up bringing only his body and not his soul. She struggles to go and get his soul from limbo but was unsuccessful when his soul got eaten by the Soul-eater. She goes back to tell him the truth and why she needed to kill him. The main difference in these relationships is that, 1996 Harvey still ends back up with Sabrina despite their relationship challenges, but 2018 Harvey leaves Sabrina for her best friend and doesn’t end up going back to her.

A distinct difference in both versions is the storyline that Sabrina goes to a magic school to learn the art of magic and all things evil. Sabrina The Teenage Witch, the 1996 version, has no inclusion of a magic school or a need for her to go to an institution to learn such arts. However, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the 2018 version, requires Sabrina to leave her mortal life and commit fully to the Academy of Unseen Arts as well as the Dark Lord. It is a difficult decision for her to making seeing that she spent majority of her younger years in the mortal world.

I feel another major difference was how the show was presented. The Netflix version of this show goes deeper into the horror and goes as far as making a light mockery of the Catholic Church and its doctrines. Meanwhile, the ABC version stirs clear of anything majorly controversial and maintains a comical approach to things. Considering the time, the ABC version was released, religion was a sensitive topic to play with and could easily land the producers in some unwarranted trouble. These days the case is different, seeing that more people are vocal on their decisions to not stand by the societal norms of blindly following a religion and the fact that people are more conversant with the Christian religion; it is easier to make jokes that are understandable and relatable to the audience.

A major stereotype both shows enforce is the idea that big life decisions and discoveries are made at the age of sixteen. Though it is fictional, it takes the path that one discovers secrets and makes life altering decisions at such a young age. It gives the idea that sixteen is some sort of adulthood when one discovers the love of their life and decides he/she/they are their soulmates. This can turn out to be a long-term effect for young viewers who would view that age as such. Another stereotype is the fact that witches have cats in their lives. It gives the sense of cats somehow being synonymous to evil.

In terms of social issues, I think a main social issue which both shows touch on is the fact that many times we don’t plan on the things that happen to us, no matter what age we are. Contrary to my previous opinion, I know it gives the sense of big decision making at a young age, but the fact still remains that life is unpredictable and in many situations we might have to make life changing decisions; sometimes we can ignore them, other times we have to face them head on. I believe it teaches young people the importance of taking responsibility as early as the find themselves needing to do that.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was a more horror filled series with more focus on the Dark Lord and the responsibilities Sabrina placed on herself to reform the Church of Night. Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a comical trip you took for the relief and the laugh, the horror was way less if not inexistent. It helped audience focus on the funny aspects of life and decision making as you grow into a young adult.